Nigel Gibson Post 1• 18 May 2020, 14:06 • Edited by the author on 18 May 2020, 20:03
Section 6, Activity 1
This thread is for Section 6 Activity 1
What added dimension, if any, do you feel this idea of the dual professional can bring to the tutoring of Open University students?
How might exposure to tutors with a combination of teaching expertise and specialist/subject based knowledge and its application in other sectors add any value for students?
This is an example of the type of post we might expect to see:
"For STEM students particularly the opportunity to study with academics who also have practical, industry experience can help students to see the practical application of their studies. It also gives students access to people who can offer advice on employability - many OU students study in order to change career"
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I have found that students tend to respond favourably to my "dual professional" status. Traditional students straight from A level study seem to value being ale to speak to someone who is really "out there" in the "real world" who can give some background and context to the sometimes abstract and seemingly arbitrary academic concepts being discussed. Equally, when I talk to learners who have been out of formal education for a long time, I find that my own history of working in industry then going back to distance learning helps me to understand and empathize with their situation.
Computing technologies moves very fast, from my expierence, having dual professionalship has helped to relieve students fears that the technology they are learning will be useful or help them get a job, and will not be obsolete.
A few weeks ago, I had a student say they were worried because their Dad had told them that he learnt Bash 25 years ago and that it must be out of date now. I could then give them examples of how I still used Bash frequently, and that with those skills I had to manage to make myself very valuable to organisations I had worked for.
I’ve also been able to point out the practical, transferable, skills. I have had students worried that Java is a ‘dying language’, but have been able to point out the skills you are learning, such as OO were vital to me in many jobs when I had to learn a new language.
I think the blended role can also offer a mentor for the student by confidently expressing from personal experience. When you practice skills repetitively as a career you gain confidence in what you are doing and can express it in a different way, in a 1-2-1 discussion the student is able to clarify context and process effectively what is being communicated.
I think it's really beneficial for tutors to have current or previous experience in the work place. In traditional lectures students really respond to stories from the real-world. I'm not a lecturer, but a friend of mine who is, has said how important these stories are to his lectures and how he can see the students immediately start paying more attention and looking more interested when he begins one. These could be done in tutorials, or through uploaded videos.
Many years ago, when I was just starting out in my career and feeling
very unqualified to work in technology, a friend told me that he had
learned all of the most important aspects of being a programmer on the
job. He had also had the benefit of a four year degree in Computer
Science at a very good university.
I think in a field like computing, work in the classroom is very different than it will be in a professional environment. Some of this has to do with the domain, some of it has to do with the people, and some of it with the particular socio-technical system that grows up in a company.
So I think one part of a tutor's job, in computing at least, is to help students develop the skills to reach beyond the facts and out toward the world, if that makes sense. Dual professionals may have an easier time doing this.
This is not necessarily true. There most probably will be benefits from being a dual professional, however sharing and communicating career experiences and knowledge effectively with students is a skill in itself and dual professionals may be less skilled at that side of the role.
You are perfectly right in distinguishing capacity for knowledge vs communication. I believe I was being carried away by the word "professional". I grew up in Italy and this word brings up an image an expert consultant. "Professionista" actually is never used for an employee but only for an external expert such as the lawyer of the company, the Tax Consultant and so on. Unconsciously, I was giving too much weight to that word. But I agree, just because you worked in an industry doesn't mean you can communicate your experience, actually often I have found that without an accademic background they may not even be able to conceptualise their experience in a larger context. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
I think tutors with practical industry experience can more easily give students example of when they might use things they're learning in context. As a school child I remember the constant cry of "When will we use this!?" in response to algebra or something, and being able to answer that question improves motivation and gives the student something to aim for in 'the real world'
A dual professional with experience in the IT industry can provide practical examples to the IT that students come across in modules e.g. applications of privacy and security. If there is a lack of student understanding of an IT concept then a tutor can give an alternative example from their work experience to help understanding or provide deeper learning .
Tutors who have practical experience in a module from work or previous study typically have better subject knowledge and this will help then in their tutor role as help students learn.
Tutors with work experience can provide insights what actual IT roles/jobs are like.
I feel that dual professionals can offer new perspectives to tutoring in OU. There will always be transferable skills and knowledge that they will bring to the table. For instance, the industry experience that a dual professional brings, becomes handy in explaining concepts that the students might otherwise find too abstract to comprehend. This will no doubt contribute to enhancing and enriching the learning experience of students in ways others never thought of.
The opportunity to blend in real world practice with academic theory.
Programming is a great example of the need to apply real world tips and encourage good practice of documenting code (variable within the real world).
Other aspects are project management when there is a need to deal with a critical path slippage, yet no scope to extend the time, budget or reduce scope.
I agree that tutors with a combination of teaching expertise and specialist/subject based knowledge and its application in other sectors are a value to students provided they adhere to the 'guide from the side' and explain the full context of real world use.
Real world anecdotes are powerful learning tools.
A long time ago I trained as a marine engineer, which involved a mixture of college and sea time. Nearly all the lecturers at the colleges I attended had come from the industry which gave them a greater insight into how the real-world actually works as opposed to how it is in the text books.
This has continued throughout my career and into my time as an OU student. I feel it is important for tutors in STEM subjects to have up to date real world experience as the field changes so rapidly.
For sure dual professionals can provide concrete real examples in the tutorials and in supporting students, but even more important they are able to distinguish which concepts and skills are more important than others and justify this distinction with the students. They are able to confidently say this piece of knowledge is fundamental, they able to insist on nurturing specific skills. They can focus the students on what is important for them.
Academic knowledge is necessary, but knowing what the industry needs and values and how they think is even more essential for getting into a new qualified job. The dual professional is the portal to this extra knowledge. They can advise students on choosing their next course, making it relevant to their ultimate objective. They are able to be extremely valuable employment mentors and not simply tutors.
If you are a tutor without real experience, this is not quite possible.
If you are a tutor without real experience, this is not quite possible.
Oh yes it is. I don't have any industrial experience, I come from an education background, but have been a successful OU tutor for 16 years now. So please don't let a lack of industrial experience put you off applying to tutor.
Although you will have your own groups, you won't be tutoring by yourself. You will become part of a community of tutors who support and share with each other. No one can have experience of the whole IT industry, it is too big, and not all of our students are studying computing exclusively. Some of them will be studying computing with a second subject (maths, psychology etc), others may be studying the Open or Open STEM degrees, so mixing modules from different subjects.
So as tutors we can draw on the experience of other tutors in our modules and across the university.
You have some very good points in your reply, but let me tell you a story …
One day I come into work and said “Ehi Jim, this file is giving us some problems, We need to reduce its size. Can you do something about it” and I showed him a file printout to make my point (there were a lot of empty spaces, zero padded fields, country codes with the same value etc), Jim was THE senior programmer on the team: 6 years working for Internal Revenue systems, 7 years at his current position. He looks at the piece of paper, frowns and then says “How about using a smaller font size.” ----------- ?!? !*!? -------- and he was not joking.
With your 16++ years of knowledgeable experience, you have more real experience that Jim’s 12 years of industrial experience.
My phrase was in the context of the practical issue of helping a student “getting into a new qualified job”.
If I am working in the financial sector and the student is aiming for that kind of career, then I just may know “They are starting a new project and are looking for people with this qualification. I suggest you take/review this topic”, “They will be looking for new staff in the new budget year. It might be a good idea to send your CV in by next November.” or simply “I suggest you plan to take Prince2 Project Management. This is the single course that will give you the best chance of a career boost.”
If the student is looking to get into processing huge lab produced research data in real-time (e.g. the Diamond at Oxford, or CERN laboratories) requiring facility with numerical computation principles and tools, well I do not have any real experience to give him targeted advice.
But, and this is the very good point in your reply, the OU doesn’t only have dual professional’s experience, it has a community of tutors experience; something that other universities (I have found) do not have or do not nurture. “So,” I can tell the student, “although I do not have real experience in this sector, I still may be able to find the advice you need.”
As well as being able to motivate students with practical experiences I also think being a dual professional means the tutor can also use 'real life examples' to help students understand a concept they are struggling with. Often describing something in a different way or context helps students gain the light bulb moment.
I think there is tremendous value in staff who are professionals in multiple fields, for example if one is an industry practioner , the taught content has currency and this is something students respect. Also if one has worked in business, it is easier to translate actual real world examples of technology in application which help to concretise understanding for learners.
The dual aspect can also be mutually beneficial, eg presently my department is
undergoing rapid change in moving towards remote learning, as I am a practioner I am best place to manage this change with a technical understanding of what is involved at the delivery level and can appropriately support staff.
Change is also a constant in the IT field, so transferrable skills become more important, this is very evident in industry where for example SQL has stood the test of time despite numerous and current variants eg Big Data.
I had a look through the answers in this thread, had a bit of a think, before I started typing.
I am probably going to butcher how I explain this, but here goes. As an engineer, I have to communicate with people of various levels, both within and outside my organisation. Different people require different levels of information, so a Director may only require information relating to deadlines and risk, whereas a Technician may require a far more detailed technical response or instruction. I would suggest one dual professional skill from the workplace to the learning environment would relate to knowing your audience, and communicating the relevant and appropriate information to meet that recipient's needs.
To touch slightly on the practical application element, engineering is very much about compromise. You have to balance off cost, time, quality, safety, legislation amongst other things. To be able to contextualise problems or solutions involving these different factors can show a student many of the different aspects where their learning can be applied.
Coming late to this discussion, I can see that much of what I would say has already been said, especially regarding the fast pace of change in the technology industry. I have often noticed that fresh graduates may be quite geeen in the technologies actually used in practice versus those popular in certain academic settngs. Even technologies that are covered may be out of date with regard to the latest practice. Really this is inevitable and the ability to flexibly pick up and assimilate unfamiliar technologies is more important than specific prior knowledge. This is a lesson that the hybrid practitioner/teacher can usefully instill in students, whereas perhaps 'pure' academics may be less familiar with the need.
Furthermore the point is well made that pragmatism often wins over the ideal solution in the trading off of the competing pulls of the real world, often summarised as: you have it cheap, you can have it quick, you can have it right; now you choose which two you get. This is another lesson that industry experience will bring to the table.
I would consider myself to be in line to be a dual professional, having spent the vast majority of my 40 year working life in IT. Having spent a lot of that time managing IT (e.g. interviewing new starters - what are we really looking for!) I can certainly add another dimension to what value a range of skills and knowledge will bring to students.
Although we must be inclusive of all students' motivations, a common reason for students to engage with the OU must be to become more attractive in the jobs market / more useful as a member of the workforce.
Associate Lecturers with a background in industry can only improve the understanding that students will gain on the practical application of the academic material being consumed.
The student can learn how to do something but with an insight on the value it will bring in industry it will be more likely that the student will understand why it is important.
I think that subject based knowledge and an understanding of its application can be very useful to learners when combined with teaching expertise. This can bridge the gap between the academic and the practice or the theory and practical. I think it can also mean that one can find alternative ways of illustrating topics or their relevance beyond the straight academic content that is studied and is perhaps easier to make use of person centered learning and questioning as learners can be presented with a context tat is relevant to them or where they see their studies leading them.
However, I am mindful that there is value in a very academic approach at times and this may sometimes appeal to some students more. Overall I think OU students are fortunately to be able to benefit from both.
Having gone from industry to academia I have always appreciated the depth of understanding that this has afforded me, and the different perspective that it yields. More recently, having attained formal teaching qualifications such that teaching pedagogy skills now build upon my self-taught teaching skills, I further appreciate the variety of perspectives that this gives me. Additionally, in returning to studying briefly a couple of years ago to do this, I deeply appreciated the advice and roles of my own tutors in a way I did not initially in my undergraduate years, and it also caused me to reflect upon my own strengths and weaknesses as a lecturer in academia and to hopefully improve as a result.
I currently work in STEM education and have a lot of employer engagement activities. What I have found is that students develop skills that they wouldn't have the opportunity through mainstream and purley academic subjects. It puts acadmic theories into perspective, which helps to support learning as theory them becomes 'real' and not just something that they see written in a book or on screen. I have project briefs set by employers, and I do find that students learn more by doing it this way.
agree that dual professionals have an important role to play in higher
education – they are the exact reason why I decided to begin teaching alongside
my role as a web designer. During my own studies, I found them to be up to date
and inspirational. In particular in Computing and IT, it is paramount that we
bridge the gap with industry, to ensure a pipeline of graduates who are better
able to meet the fast moving needs of professional practice and hit the ground
I am a researcher in the field of Life Sciences. My life as a researcher has benefited of multidisciplinary inputs. I would like to instil these ideas that nowadays in research we need to work in multidisciplinary groups and help the new researchers to understand this concept in the real world.
I think it depends in the industry a person works in, but being able to bring these real life examples of cutting edge technology to life can only be beneficial.
I wish I had listened more in my haskel lectures back in uni though, as at the time we couldn't understand why this lecturer would teach us something that seemed obsolete then. Yet today haskel is making a come back.
I am hoping to work as an AL and continue to work in education - so the dual role would apply for me. I have 28 years in education as a professional and would expect to draw upon this experience but also be open to new learning. I think that it brings depth and understanding to the experience you may be able to offer a student.
I think a dual role becomes more valuable in the latter part of a student's studies. I think at Level One, the main focus is about understanding the subject more generally and developing study skills. However as students progress through levels 2 and 3, engaging with tutors with experience in a particular field can be more relevant, I think.
I think industry knowledge and remaining current is key. The only concern I have experienced over the years managing staff still in industry is that education can become a second commitment and issues with deadlines and sometimes not fully committing to teaching. However, being current and having up to date knowledge is key to enhance student experiences
I would expect an experienced professional who is looking to teach would be able to manage their time so that the commitment of teaching does not suffer. Personally my experience has given me the strength to push back on tight time scales in the projects that I work on.
Being a dual professional, someone that is working in the industry, lends legitimacy to the role. That is when you make a statement from your own experience it will have gravitas. The student knows that this is coming from the horse's mouth.
You could also give vital guidance on how they can approach an interview because as part of your role, you will be interviewing new candidates. A dual professional could give the student 'the inside track' on the best way to behave in an interview.
Particularly with regard to the Computer/IT STEM modules, one of the major virtues of having a tutor with industry experience is their insight not into the academic aspects of computer science, but the practical issues of working with the people who interact with exisiting systems, or want new ones, and the challenges that this can give rise to.