Industry Innovation Project: Transdisciplinary challenge-led learning at UTS

Case Studies

Institution:

TD School, University of Technology Sydney

Discipline:

• Health
• STEM
• Creative Industries
• Business
• Law
• Other

Model/s of WIL activity:

Industry/community based projects

Industry Innovation Project: Transdisciplinary challenge-led learning at UTS

Industry Innovation Project involves students in transdisciplinary teams addressing complex real-world challenges with external partners.

Positioned within the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation (BCII), the final-year subject Industry Innovation Project (IIP) involves students from diverse disciplines working with industry partners in small transdisciplinary teams to address complex real-world challenges. Working collaboratively with industry partners, students are encouraged to reframe the challenge they have been set and are guided through a process designed to facilitate creative thinking and innovative problem solving. The BCII has earned a reputation amongst students and partners as a “degree like no other” – a world-first transdisciplinary degree that brings together students from 25 different fields.

Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation

6 years (2017-2022), with over 700 students undertaking IIP in that time.

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

IIP differs from other challenge-focused WIL experiences through its transdisciplinary student teams, whereby each student is able to bring a different disciplinary perspective to the challenge. Students are also able to draw on three prior years of transdisciplinary learning designed to foster creativity, collaboration, systems thinking and the integration of diverse knowledges. Students work in a porous ‘third space’, positioned outside the traditional confines of ‘education’ and ‘employment’ (Kligyte et al., 2019). This applies to both the physical studio setting in which they work, as well as the space created by their relationships with partners, teaching staff and one another.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

Students benefit from exposure to real-world challenges and diverse perspectives, as well as the opportunity to demonstrate agency by reframing problems and designing responses. Each year, 25-30 partners such as PwC, Aurecon, batyr, UNICEF and Mission Australia gain access to new ways of thinking and opportunities to employ students (in a 2019 survey 40% of BCII students reported employment offers from partners in IIP or other subjects). Students with disabilities registered with UTS Accessibility are supported in groupwork by their tutors and subject coordinator. Several former students have returned as partners and teaching staff, enhancing the feeling of BCII as a community. Staff also benefit from the mutual learning that is embedded in the subject design.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

Aside from the standard UTS student survey for each subject, we also survey partners, hold staff debriefings and undertake co-design with students (Baumber et al., 2020). Feedback has been used to improve partner communication (e.g. advice on challenges, panel sessions, newsletters) and add new student workshops on teamwork, proof of concept, experimentation, and reflexivity. Sample feedback: “The best part of the subject is the relationship you get to form with your client” (student) and “What the students have done is really open up our eyes to what may be possible” (Nick Hazell, v2foods).

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders? 

    Addressing ‘wicked problems’ at global and local scales requires new ways of thinking that enable transcendence of existing paradigms and the creation of previously unimagined possibilities. This creates a need for transformative learning that requires universities to “operate as knowledge and reflection institutions developing critical thinking and not only as teaching institutions that transfer knowledge” (Walter Leal Filho et al. 2018). IIP has been carefully designed to enable this critical thinking and reflection by bringing together diverse knowledges and unpacking the social norms, values and worldviews that determine the societal choices we make and the assumptions that underpin those choices.

    How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula? Include how it incorporates the preparation, implementation, and reflection/debriefing phases of WIL.

    Prior to undertaking IIP, students have completed a core degree (in business, design, science etc) and built their transdisciplinary capabilities over three years. IIP evolves around the project journey, with workshops covering the deep dive, reframing, experimentation, proof of concept and reporting. Reflexivity is incorporated throughout, with students asked to reframe their partner’s challenge partway through and to write a letter to their future selves at the end. Students are supported by a tutor and the industry partnerships team. The pandemic pivot to online learning also enabled more flexible approaches to be incorporated once we returned to campus (Baumber et al., 2021).

    Describe how the case study is informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship. Include relevant references.

    The BCII teaching team won the 2021 UTS Medal for Research-Teaching Integration for our research-informed teaching practice. IIP has featured in the following articles on co-design, pandemic pivots and third spaces (co-authored with students):

    References
    Baumber, A., Kligyte, G., van der Bijl-Brouwer, M., & Pratt, S. (2020). Learning together: a transdisciplinary approach to student–staff partnerships in higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 39(3), 395-410. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2019.1684454

    Baumber, A., Allen, L., Key, T., Kligyte, G., Melvolv, J. & Pratt, S. (2021), ‘Teaching Resilience: enabling factors for effective responses to COVID-19’,

    Student Success 12(3): 14-25 https://doi.org/10.5204/ssj.1773

    Kligyte, G., Baumber, A., van der Bijl-Brouwer, M., Dowd, C., Hazell, N., Le Hunte, B., Newton, M., Roebuck, D., & Pratt, S. (2019). “Stepping in and stepping out”: Enabling creative third spaces through transdisciplinary partnerships. International Journal for Students As Partners, 3(1), 5-21. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v3i1.3735

    What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

    IIP has grown from 80 students in 2017 to over 170 in 2022 and is likely to exceed 200 in 2023. The growing reputation of the program means that we typically attract 10-15 more partners each year than we can accommodate, so partners compete to submit the most engaging challenge briefs. We are enhancing the way we mix online and face-to-face engagement, which is allowing us to increase the number of partners based outside of Sydney. The industry partnership team continues to improve the way partners are recruited and supported to maximise the already-high level of returning partners each year.

    References

    Baumber, A., Kligyte, G., van der Bijl-Brouwer, M., & Pratt, S. (2020). Learning together: a transdisciplinary approach to student–staff partnerships in higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 39(3), 395-410. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2019.1684454 

    Baumber, A., Allen, L., Key, T., Kligyte, G., Melvolv, J. & Pratt, S. (2021), ‘Teaching Resilience: enabling factors for effective responses to COVID-19’,

    Student Success 12(3): 14-25 https://doi.org/10.5204/ssj.1773

    Kligyte, G., Baumber, A., van der Bijl-Brouwer, M., Dowd, C., Hazell, N., Le Hunte, B., Newton, M., Roebuck, D., & Pratt, S. (2019). “Stepping in and stepping out”: Enabling creative third spaces through transdisciplinary partnerships. International Journal for Students As Partners, 3(1), 5-21. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.15173/ijsap.v3i1.3735

    Leal Filho, W., Raath, S., Lazzarini, B., Vargas, V.R., de Souza, L., Anholon, R., Quelhas, O.L.G., Haddad, R., Klavins, M. & Orlovic, V. L. (2018). The role of transformation in learning and education for sustainability. Journal of Cleaner Production, 199, 286-295. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.07.017

    Case Study Leader

    Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

    Dr Alex Baumber