The collaboration between industry and education is an important part of innovation. Education needs to stay relevant to developments in the industry, while the industry needs the knowledge and insight from the education sector to overcome real-world obstacles and prevent future difficulties (Ankrah and AL-Tabbaa, 2015; Rynes et al., 2001). Additionally, collaboration between universities and the industry is regarded as a significant source of knowledge and technology acquisition. In a competitive market, the emphasis on more advanced products increasingly builds the need for effective collaboration (Ankrah and AL-Tabbaa, 2015; Rynes et al., 2001).
Current state of education
According to Uziak (2016), engineering is a field where technical and work-field related developments are frequently made. This results in an increased need for better social, organizational, and collaboration skills for new graduates. However, today’s engineering industry is not satisfied by the current professional abilities of new graduates. Since the majority of current education puts emphasis on technical knowledge, new graduates often experience difficulty adapting to a new work environment (Crosthwaite et al., 2006). As Kobayashi (2020) describes, students may be unprepared for the global workforce by lacking training in English or understanding globalized industry. Not only does the engineering industry express the need for better professional skills from students, Vande Wiele et al. (2017) indicated that the development of professional identity is a frequent point of debate in the Marketing sector as well. Higher education lacks the support for advancing students’ professional behaviours and professional identity. For these reasons, innovation in the current education curricula is important.
To improve students’ general and social abilities, lectures and traditional learning will not suffice. Students learn these skills by repeated practice, as needed, and through presented opportunities. One way to help students develop these abilities, is to integrate a more project-focused educational approach (Crosthwaite et al., 2006). The traditional approach of education has been used for decades and is still applied in several fields. This approach consists of letting the student learn the material and testing their knowledge by solving relevant problems. This may be effective for technical knowledge, however in order to develop professional skills a more project-focused educational approach is needed.
Collaboration between education and industry can procure many possible benefits for students, the industry, and the university. For students, the main benefit is personal development and preparation for the workforce, the
university benefits by understanding the needs of the business sector, and industry gains newer and broader theoretical knowledge for their sector (Slotte and Tynjälä, 2003). This type of collaboration is one part of the triple helix concept of innovation (Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff, 1995).
The possible gains from effective collaboration come with several challenges. As the work of Slotte and Tynjälä (2003) proposes, two of these challenges are the lack of collaboration opportunities and differences in educational perspectives. To elaborate on the last point, industry and universities often differ in their views on the best educational approach. Even in such a case, it is possible to find a shared understanding between all involved stakeholders (academics, industry, as well as students) (Goldsmith et al., 2011).
Other times new educational approaches prove successful, yet have difficulty being implemented in other departments of schools and universities. In order to do so, strategies to incorporate the approach into the course structure need to be developed, which requires senior staff members to be involved in creating a detailed plan for their department (Dunne and Rawlins, 2000).
The interests of universities and industry overlap in several fields. For example, both parties will profit from research, universities from project research and industry from practical research (Ivascu et al., 2015). Furthermore, both the universities and the industry have a common interest in reputation, universities by publications and industry by revenue (Ivascu et al., 2015). These shared interests can be a motivator to research more effective collaboration.
Two educational approach alternatives, project-based learning and problem-based learning, are implemented in a number of fields and universities (Mills and Treagust, 2003). While the implementation of project-based learning has been well documented in a plethora of fields, studies regarding these approaches in IT & Design are less common than in the engineering field. Since this study is about improving collaboration between education and industry, it was decided to focus on project-based learning rather than problem-based learning, due to problem- based learning mostly involving students without much input from companies.
Project-based learning (PBL)
An alternative to the traditional education method is PBL. This method involves students working on a project with predetermined goals in mind. The goal is to develop a product or perform research specific to a real-world problem. The final product is then evaluated for a grade.
Changing an educational approach can be difficult. According to two case studies in 2013, PBL allows students to work more collaboratively by being engaging and motivating (Chandrasekaran et al., 2013; Tamim and Grant, 2013). A case-study by Tamin and Grant (2013) found that teachers that implemented PBL reacted positively to the new change to the curricula. Another case-study by Crosthwaite et al. (2006) reviewed the chemical engineering curricula and changed it to be project-centered. The result was a successful framework for a new project-centered curriculum. This curriculum received endorsement from both the educational and professional sectors.
As Vande Wiele et al. (2017) concluded, the implementation of PBL will improve the professional behavior of new graduates. The result of implementing PBL was that students were more employable and had better communication skills in the work-field. This increase in better employable students lessens the gap between education and industry.
Professional Practice (PP)
Professional Practice is an educational program that makes use of PBL. This involves Dutch IT & Design students working for a company on assignments that they can expect in the work-field. This differs from teaching models as described by Rosemann et al. (2000) in that assignments are chosen by the companies, which have to be related to IT.
PP has a duration of 4 weeks, during which the students work to earn study credits and, depending on the agreement, get financial compensation.
This case study aims to find the best practices for a project-based course in the IT & Design curriculum. These practices can help guide and improve collaboration between education and industry. This is done by evaluating the course of the project and identifying key aspects to improve collaboration. Therefore, the main research question is: “What are the best practices for collaboration between education and industry in Professional Practice?”
The main research question was “What are the best practices to improve collaboration during PP”. To answer this question, the results of the analyses were inspected.
Several positive points of PP are revealed. The most notable of which were:
- Communication between student and company.
- Achievement of set goals.
- Quality of the final product.
In contrast, there were also some points of improvement which were frequently mentioned. These are:
- Clarity, relevance and fairness of the assignments and its guidelines.
- Guidance from the company to the students.
- Communication between the school and company.
Using this feedback, several practices can be deduced which can help the collaboration during Professional Practice.
To start, the assignment criteria should have clear and concrete guidelines for the companies to follow. For the companies, these guidelines should include the requirements their assignment has to meet. For the students, the guidelines should incorporate the workload of students and the relevance to their study.
The students had as recommendation more guidance from the company. One statement mentioned that weekly check-ups would help in this regard.
According to the companies, the communication with the school started too late and was an obstacle during the assignment period. Concrete agreements prior to the assignment would help reduce the difficulties caused by this.
Several students indicated they preferred to communicate using alternative platforms, such as Whatsapp and Microsoft Teams. Incorporating this in PP could help strengthen the communication between companies and students.
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