The future of work is changing. For those students starting out in the new world of work today, their career is likely to switch track many times and they will be expected to seamlessly adapt to new technologies, techniques and professions as tasks are automated or just vanish. Postgraduate study, now, must be so much more than just an extra qualification for your resume; it’s an important part of that ‘life-of-learning’. And, as an education institution, we know we can do better!
Over the past few years, increasingly sophisticated, international and online alternatives to traditional studies have been flooding the higher education market, government funding has been in turmoil and many of our competitors have changed their postgraduate coursework degrees. As a result, some of the students who might have once studied with us are looking elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean we’ve lost them.
Prospective postgrads tell us they most value the industry-facing culture of UTS and the high quality of our research-inspired learning. And because they have busy, complex lives, flexibility is essential. That’s where hybrid learning experiences come in. To improve our postgraduate experience, we need to listen and change. Already we’ve begun to increase flexible study options, by:
1. ‘Turning up the dial’ on the on-campus/online mix of subjects. Where students need the face-to-face practical interactions and collaborations we create in our campus spaces, then that UTS experience should be first-class. Over the past 10 years, we’ve invested $1 billion-plus in developing a vibrant and engaging education precinct and we’re putting that to good use. However, if there are learning outcomes that can be achieved online, we must make that option available. The ideal postgraduate learning experience is likely to be a hybrid of on-campus and online, to fit the student’s learning and life needs.
2. Supporting academics to create those ‘uniquely UTS’ learning experiences, in the things we do well, that others cannot easily copy: connected to work, entrepreneurship, our signature research strengths and industry partners. That’s why we opened the LX.lab last year. It’s a place where academics can meet up with each other, and our learning specialists, to find inspiration and create experiences ‘by design’ that meet student learning objectives.
Of course, online study requires some different tools and skills to achieve the same quality outcomes as a good on-campus session. To help create new high-quality experiences, we have added to our specialist skills in learning design for postgrad. For some, this is pretty new stuff, but they’re not alone. The newest members of the team are Senior Learning Designer Michelle Hrlec and Assistant Learning Designer Natasha Sutevski. Michelle is currently working on new developments in the Faculty of Health, while Natasha is working pan-faculty to develop a new set of ‘online interactive’ modules with all faculties.
In the health subject Communicating and Collaborating for Optimal Person Centred Care, for example, Michelle is working with the academic team to create a virtual community – an Australian town with case studies, videos and realistic images to immerse students in the community and engage in authentic assessment. Most of these students are registered healthcare professionals. They’re not only time-poor, but tend to keep irregular hours due to shift work, making it even more important to scaffold, sign-post, and carefully guide them through their learning.
3. Showcasing our expertise to the world in a way that we have never done before. As our graduates move through their careers, they’ll need to re-skill or up-skill, not necessarily by completing new degrees, but by gaining the knowledge and proficiency they need at that time.
That’s where UTS, and UTS Open, comes in. UTS Open is our public-facing course platform launched in March. It offers ‘a taste of UTS’ with free, bite-size (three- to five-hour) mini-courses. The latest of our 11 offerings include, ‘What does Facebook know about you?’, and ‘Podcasting Matters’, and there are more on the way. In fact, our faculties are now working on a range of ‘for-fee’, larger mini-courses that will allow busy, lifelong learners to access UTS in new ways, even before they are ready to commit to a full degree journey with us.
If you haven’t yet tried ‘a taste of UTS’ for yourself, visit open.uts.edu.au
This post was originally published in the U:mag Learning & Teaching Edition, and is reposted here with permission.