Context & Scale
This pattern offers options for learning through real-world business problems and projects at scale with different levels of engagement with industry. Flexibility is helpful in this kind of design because of the challenge of managing industry-engaged projects at scale.
Real-world project designs may range from bespoke action research projects in local communities to business case studies. Project work that involves teams of students learning with industry partners is suitable for assessment and also for formative learning activities, where practical. Drawing on work-integrated learning research (Kaider et al., 2017), real-world business problems and projects may include or simulate a range of proximity to learning experiences in professional contexts. Authentic learning environments have similar problems, processes, or projects to real-world settings, so students may apply their university knowledge and skills to professional practice (Herrington et al., 2014).
Solving real-world problems in teams may be difficult to organise and coordinate in large student cohorts (O’Connor et al., 2021). This is particularly challenging with geographically diverse groups and in hybrid learning. Yet experiencing and reflecting on real-world problems and connecting them to one’s own experience, offer important experiential learning opportunities for students (Efstratia, 2014).
Flexible designs for real-world projects provide alternative models with different levels of complexity, both from an administrative and educational perspective. Educators may choose and adapt a range of designs and options so students may gain industry experience, and apply and reflect on their personal and professional knowledge in their chosen discipline. As noted below, the design and setup of such projects entail careful consideration.
Consider the project set-up from student perspectives.
- Students may not be able to physically or virtually attend industry visits. Perhaps some students can only attend on-campus or online sessions during timetabled class times.
- Each cohort is different. Try finding diverse projects or problems that cater to different student interests and skill levels.
Consider the project set-up from industry partners’ perspectives.
- Collaborate with industry partners, research organisations, and or community stakeholders to identify real-world project opportunities.
- Investigate if and how many industry partners are feasible and available to work with students.
- Industry partners may have different capacities to engage with students. At a minimum, project briefs (or authentic problems) are to be provided by industry partners.
- Decide and document the frequency and mode of industry engagement by mutual agreement. In some circumstances industry partners may record videos, provide stimulations, or other authentic asynchronous resources when in-person or live, online engagement is not practical or possible.
Decide on whether a choice of projects will be available to students. Where more than one project is offered:
- Provide sufficient information and problem descriptions for students to make an informed choice.
- Arrange teacher consultation times and/or an approval process for student choice.
- Ask students to provide a short rationale for their choice as part of the project.
- Ask students to provide documentary evidence of the agreement with the organisation, and potentially a contact person, if students can choose their own authentic local challenge, or project.
Source and provide access to authentic datasets, tools, software, or industry-specific resources relevant to each project. Provide information about the company and project. For example, the industry partner could present, record a video or provide a written brief.
Ensure data privacy and confidentiality. Students may be required to sign a confidentiality agreement to gain access to data provided by the industry partner(s). Other formal permissions may be required. Consider using secure survey tools to streamline this process.
Decide on a schedule of contact that students will have with industry partners and/or teachers. The project design should include opportunities for students to ask questions and work through the problem and monitor progress. At agreed times, industry partners could visit class, or attend webinars, or interact with students via discussion forums, for example.
Discuss with industry partners in what capacity they would like to be involved with student presentations of solutions and project reports.
- Seek student consent to share the project outcomes and solutions with them.
- Provide options for industry partners to attend a final project showcase event or request access to recorded presentations.
- Provide industry partners with guidance to give feedback on student work where relevant. An academic marking rubric and or/a formative checklist may be useful.
- Busy industry people may rely on teachers to triage the top presentations and reports, particularly in large cohorts.
Provide guidelines and templates for teams to define project scopes, deliverables, timelines, and resource requirements.
- Decide on the format in which students will respond to the project brief, considering authentic options such as reports, presentations, prototypes, or a combination of formats.
- Consider the specific requirements of each project and select the format that best aligns with the learning outcomes and showcases students’ understanding and application of the subject matter.
Examples of pattern in use
Data Analytics Projects with a Choice of Industry Partners
This pattern was evaluated in one semester of a postgraduate subject, QBUS6600 Data Analytics for Business Capstone, which is the final subject for the data analytics specialisation of the Masters of Commerce. There were approximately 500 students enrolled in the subject.
We would like to acknowledge the subject coordinator, Professor Peter Radchenko, who initiated and co-developed the intervention.
Problem-based teaching with practical application to real-world business problems (Literature Review of Project-Based Learning, 2022) was needed for this new subject. Through project work, students can integrate theory to practice, consolidating key skills developed throughout the specialisation. Real-world application of learning and career-readiness are emphasised in project work where students combine data analytics techniques and skills with business knowledge, to assist in business decision making via professional practice.
The assessment in this subject is based around a semester-long (13 week) data analytic project. Students work on the same project throughout the semester, across three assignments; two individual and one group. Hence it was important to offer diverse projects and data sets to cater to different interests and skill levels of the students. To be equitable, the objective and project questions were similar regardless of which industry partner was chosen. This also assisted teachers with grading the projects and meant that assignments did not need to be re-worked every semester.
At the beginning of the semester, students choose one project (and the corresponding data) from those provided by industry partners. The set-up of the project was carefully designed. An online module was developed to provide an interactive showcase on the companies and projects, and to show corresponding sample datasets, so students could make an informed choice.
All students completed weekly online modules that included video interviews with industry partners for insights into professional practice. However, different projects entailed three different levels of engagement with industry partners:
- no direct communication with the students, as all engagement was mediated through a discussion board and the teachers
- online Q&A sessions (1-2) at strategic points throughout the semester
- students emailed industry partners directly 1:1 with questions
All students must choose and sign a confidentiality deed poll to gain access to the authentic industry project datasets.
- Early in the semester, students research, conduct and report on their individual exploratory data analysis of the project. Students also form groups to work on the same industry partner project.
- In the penultimate week, student groups provide a written report, presentation video and corresponding python code for the project.
- In the final week students submit their individual critical reflections and lessons learnt.
Examples of a video and interactive poll used in the online modules to engage students with real-world examples
In a focus group conducted after the semester, most students agreed that QBUS6600 gave them the opportunity to apply the skills and knowledge of their specialisation to a real business problem and helped them prepare for real-world experiences working with industry. In a survey, students commented on their memorable and meaningful learning experiences in QBUS6600. For example, one student praised how they practised understanding data and patterns in daily life, “working with real data from industry for first time”.
Marketing Project with one Industry Partner
This pattern was evaluated in one semester of a postgraduate subject MKTG6600 Marketing Capstone, which is the final subject for the marketing specialisation of the Master of Commerce. There were approximately 160 students enrolled in the subject.
We would like to acknowledge the subject coordinator, Philip Le, Ulku Yuksel, and teaching team who co-developed the intervention.
The subject supports students in the development of practical skills with strategic marketing tools, concepts and frameworks with an industry partner. Students work collaboratively in teams to formulate a marketing plan and social media strategy in response to a real-life marketing problem faced by an organisation that is sensitive to social, ethical and environmental issues.
All students complete weekly online modules that move through the phases of developing a marketing strategy as they would in the real-world.
Example of an interactive diagram used in the online modules to aid students developing a marketing strategy
A ‘corporate expert’s corner’, with industry videos, provides examples of social media strategies and campaigns that are specifically linked to assignment tasks. Furthermore, students are provided guidance and feedback from the teaching team on their project in weekly workshops.
For the project, students work in teams to develop a plan for a real client, allowing them to apply marketing theory to real-world situations.
- Students must sign a confidentiality deed poll before working on the project.
- At the beginning of the semester students are introduced to the client’s project brief through a video recorded by the head of marketing and communications. This video outlines the client details, company background, target audience and the project objectives.
- In teams, students respond to the brief provided by the client, to develop a social media strategy plan and write a report.
- A live Q&A session with the client is held mid-way through the semester where students have a chance to ask questions about the briefing.
- Student teams produce a pitch slide deck and present their plan to their teachers and peers. Students are required to justify their decisions and respond to questions.
- Students provide peer feedback to each other to practice their communication and teamwork skills.
- The top 3 presentations are then selected to participate in a pitch competition, where teams present their marketing plan directly to the client.
- Finally, the client provides feedback to students on the final pitch presentations.
Interactive map of the student learning journey used to signpost progress for students in the online modules
In a survey conducted after the semester (n=35), all students agreed that the subject helped them apply concepts to a real-world business problem. Almost all students agreed that the subject prepared them for the world of work. For example, one student commented, “All my learning will definitely come in handy when I deal with the marketing problems in practicality.” Students felt that the subject helped them gather meaningful evidence of their marketing achievements. Almost all students attended the live Q&A session. The Subject Coordinator remarked on the excellent questions posed by the students. This successful industry partnership has been continued since the initial implementation.