Last year a record 50 per cent of school-leavers nominated a Curtin course as their first preference, consolidating Curtin’s position as WA’s university of choice. So what’s the secret behind Curtin’s success?
“It goes back to the distinctiveness of the Curtin experience,” says Professor Jill Downie. “We’re known as a university that prepares students for the workplace and the career they want.”
Curtin’s alignment with industry was established from the outset, borne from its roots as the Western Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT). Over the years the University has forged numerous connections with business and industry, and delivered practical courses that support employers’ needs. Today, Curtin has partnerships with more than 160 organisations and institutions around the world.
As Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic, Downie supports learning and teaching across the University’s four faculties and Centre for Aboriginal Studies, plus a plethora of student experience areas.
She ensures Curtin’s curriculum provides graduates with the knowledge that industry needs, through consultation with employers and inviting them to join course advisory boards; and increasing the number of work-integrated learning opportunities for students, such as work placements with Curtin’s industry partners.
In the past year alone, business students have created marketing strategies for the Fremantle Dockers AFL Women’s team, health sciences students have treated players from the Kookaburras and Hockeyroos, and humanities students have written a joint anthology of fiction with students from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
“Work-integrated learning is an important part of the student experience,” says Downie.
“In 2012, when I started in my current role, we had about 12,000 students involved in work-integrated learning placements; last year that had increased to 22,000 placements.
“Our goal is for every student to have a work-integrated learning experience in an industry setting.”
A significant challenge to learning is adapting Curtin’s teaching to the ‘Digital Age’, and technology is now a key consideration in the development of Curtin’s facilities. New technology-rich environments and learning spaces that recreate real workplaces have given Curtin an impressive advantage over its competition.
For example, Curtin’s simulated hospital ward recreates the environment of Perth’s Fiona Stanley Hospital in amazing detail, and is capable of supporting augmented reality and virtual reality simulations. Mining students can take a tour through Australian mine sites from the comfort of the classroom through virtual reality headsets, and business students can get serious about digital marketing at The Agency, an on-campus social media command centre.
In 2012, Curtin’s teaching model changed. Students no longer learn through the traditional ‘sage on the stage’ model, where a tutor informs them about course-relevant topics from the front of the classroom. Instead, they are encouraged to listen to iLectures or engage with material before class, and use class time to apply that knowledge.
In this new ‘flipped classroom’ model, tutors may use a computer in the centre of the room, which is mirrored to screens near to where students are sitting. At the same time, tutors can distribute a video feed of the class to Curtin’s growing number of online students, creating a more collaborative environment both in and out of the classroom.
“Change is really the only constant. If Curtin continues to respond to the challenges of our time, we will continue to be a leader, rather than finding ourselves as a follower.”
“With the advent of the internet, you no longer need a lecturer to disseminate information to you, but it’s still incredibly important for that lecturer or tutor to help you understand the material, think critically and problem-solve,” Downie says.
The new five-storey Curtin Medical School was one of the first new buildings to incorporate these initiatives, to support students in Curtin’s flagship five-year, direct-entry Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery degree. As the former Pro- Vice Chancellor Health Sciences, Downie was involved heavily in the building’s design.
“When we designed the building, there wasn’t the technology to distribute a video feed of a class with more than 100 students outside Curtin, but by the time it was finished the technology had caught up with us, so we’re definitely on the forefront of such collaborative spaces.”
Curtin continues to explore new avenues to grow its online capabilities, such as through edX, a consortium of elite higher education institutions established by Harvard and MIT, which offers short MicroMasters programs that count towards a Curtin master degree; and through massive open online courses, or MOOCs, which can be taken ad hoc and for free.
Already, more than 100,000 students have studied various education, human rights, mining, marketing and sustainability courses offered by Curtin through these platforms. While online capabilities are positioning Curtin globally, Downie stresses it isn’t the end of campus-based education.
These initiatives enable students to study online, so they can dial-in to class during their lunch break, for example, if their employer allows it. But, there will always be students who want to come on to campus and have a really rich experience.
“The future is very bright for teaching and learning.”