Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Navigating the lifelong learning boat through uncharted water (#197)

Patricia Mclaughlin 1 , Belinda Kennedy 1 , Julianne Reid 1
  1. RMIT University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

More than ever before, Australian tertiary graduates will rely upon innovative use of knowledge, work-readiness skills, and advanced multi-disciplinary understandings to solve future domestic and global workplace problems. This is critically evident in STEM disciplines, where global trends increasingly focus upon the need for multi-disciplinary industry-related teaching approaches, that maximise opportunities for future employment and lifelong learning. However STEM learning and teaching remains, for the most past, discipline-content entrenched. The evidence starkly indicates that Australia is falling short in educating future STEM graduates: something different has to be done! The STEM Ecosystem project: Water Innovation Challenge (WIC) at RMIT University created opportunities for staff and students from different disciplines to work alongside industry mentors in a multi-skilled team to design, build and present innovative water sanitation solutions for a Bangladesh community. The project client was Health Habitat, a global NGO, whose real-world problems necessitated a paradigm shift away from discipline-based knowledge transference. The project capitalised upon RMIT as a multi-sector institution with students and staff from various AQF levels working alongside industry mentors to achieve a client-focussed outcome. The project utilised approaches such as negotiated curriculum and assessment; self-directed, flexible participation in learning; innovative use of technology and social media, and multi-disciplinary teamwork.

The STEM Ecosystem project-WIC, resulted in significant impacts within the university, industry and government sectors. Results from student surveys and interviews indicate that this project directly enhanced students’ work-readiness skills and recognition of the importance of problem solving using multi-disciplinary understandings and innovative thinking. Students reported greater self-confidence in tackling future workplace challenges. The project and its outcomes have implications for how learning and teaching occurs in Australian universities, especially in STEM disciplines; and has the potential to create significant impact on the calibre of graduates and the future of the Australian economy.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

There is an urgent need to provide graduates with skills for the “future”. The dilemma facing all educators is what are “future skills” and how best do we ensure that students have opportunities to engage with and learn these skills whilst at university? The development of skills to critically engage with, access, filter and employ new knowledge required for future workplace solutions means addressing the way learning and teaching currently occurs in disciplines. This project illustrates how a multi-disciplinary team approach to a real-world problem in a diverse global community, can redesign curriculum. The project provided opportunities for students and staff to work alongside industry mentors to develop, trial and acquire new skills that will equip them for lifelong learning and employment. The project challenges traditional understandings of teaching and learning. It gives insights into how educators can create learning opportunities for students in STEM disciplines to equip them with the capacity to innovate, navigate and lead in a global future.

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