In october 2018, James Cook University held its third annual technology design sprint, with 350 Townsville students and 30 industry partners from across Australia participating in the leading edge, academic event.
Based on a Google model and initiated by JCU’s Associate Professor and Head of Information Technology, Trina Myers in 2015; the Australian first, curriculum-based and themed Technology Design Sprint has gained significant momentum since the first challenge ran in 2016.
While previously only an assessment for IT students, the 2018 sustainability themed Design Sprint saw first, second and third year IT students and first year Engineering students step off campus and into two Hangars at Townsville Airport for the two-day event; collaboratively developing solution prototypes for live, partner specific industry challenges.
Participating national and local industry leaders, many of whom travel to Townsville specifically for the event, set an assigned group of students a challenge to solve which is current within their specific industry. Partner representatives then act in the capacity of mentors and subject-matter-experts across the two days, working with and observing students as they solve the problem allocated to their group.
“The Design Sprint has been growing in momentum since we embedded Design Thinking across the Bachelor IT curriculum based on the Stanford University model.” explains Trina. “In conjunction with Beau Tydd, General Manager Technology & Innovation – Queensland Airports and his team, our partnership network has grown to include many industry leaders including Townsville City Council, CBA, Optus, TechnologyOne, Coca Cola Amatil, RIoT, IBM, Glencore, SharkTank’s Glen Richards and Dell; all who have a vested interest in the development of graduating talent.”
EVOLUTION OF TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT AND TESTING
“Software development methodology has been evolving over the last decade and whereas development was once entirely software-focused; it’s now user-focused and co-design with users is undertaken prior to any programming commencing.” Trina explains.
“‘Design Thinking’ is a result of this agile programming methodology and Human Computer Interaction (HCI); and it is a skill that has become absolutely necessary for our future graduates to be successful in their chosen career paths.”
Trina explains that in the past a software engineer would listen to the user, go away and code the program and come back with the outcome – and fifty sets of ‘user instructions. Industry giants, such as Apple have demonstrated that technology should not be difficult, it just needs to work, so it has become vital that students develop user-centric methodologies and Design Thinking skills as a part of their curriculum.
“It’s not unusual for the participating partners to tap students on the shoulder and say call me when you’re ready”
ADVANCED LEARNING OUTCOMES
The Technology Design Sprint is an ‘authentic curriculum assessment’ and a valuable exercise in employability, with students working on a range of corporate, environmental and supply-chain management challenges as relevant to their assigned industry partner.
While a traditional internship allows employers to ‘try before they buy’, the Design Sprint forum provides an opportunity for them to ‘spy before they buy’. Partners get to interact with students, see them working and potentially these will be the students applying for jobs next year or the year after.
“It’s a win-win situation,” says Trina. “It’s not unusual for the participating partners to tap students on the shoulder and say ‘call me when you’re ready’. Many students have gone onto graduate positions with the likes of Optus, Telstra and IBM and JCU is capturing many of the available graduate positions, which is testament the model is a success.”
“The way our graduates approach their work, is in a problem-solving design thinking mode, rather than a waterfall project management mode.” says Trina. “This forum, is allowing our students to learn a great deal of transferable skills and our students are going in to interview for coveted graduate programs with a 100% success rate.”
Interviewing companies give a group of interviewing graduates a problem and observe the interplay between the interviewees; with JCU students leading the charge. “Our graduates have jumped into Design Thinking mode and tend to lead these challenges, because we develop a culture of design thinkers from the first year of the degree to the last.”
FUTURE PROGRAM EXPANSION
The Design Sprint is currently run separately across the Townsville, Cairns and Singapore campuses and having delivered improved outcomes for JCU graduates, 2019 will see the event expand further at each campus to include students from additional disciplines.
“The inclusion of Engineering and Science students this year saw some ground breaking solutions come out of the forum, because they were considered from the perspective of different disciplines.” Trina says. “Whilst it does take some detailed planning due to set timings for lectures, assignments and exams in each degree, futuristically, the inclusion of other degrees such as Business, Law and Environmental Science for example, will not only increase the interest of more industry leaders, but it will further strengthen the ability of our graduates to consider up and downstream areas in the real-world business environment.”