On Friday we had our first face to face day for our L3 Datacom Computer Science and Programming students. We were able to gather together ¾ of them in Christchurch, no mean feat considering some came from Otago, Motueka and Dannevirke. Held at Datacom South Island’s Central Offices and wonderfully hosted by their Head of Software Development, Ian Harding, the day was memorable for many reasons, not the least of which was seeing the students mixing and mingling with Datacom software developers at lunchtime. If nothing else was achieved then this would still have done it for me. The opportunity to listen to, meet and chat with people living and breathing the industry is just not something that is that common in schools, and this is unfortunate. Many in the industry are more than keen to develop enthusiasm among our learners, it just takes the will from our schools to make this happen.

This is one of the major takeaways for me – industry partnerships need to be a key component in where our education system is going. One of the biggest problems in secondary schooling is how far removed from the real world it really is. Living as little isolated silos at the edge of communities, often keeping parents, community and business at arms length. It makes little sense.

Anyway, I digress – getting back to the day, what was fascinating were the messages students received about the nature of working in the industry, and subsequently what is needed from students. Ian used the following slideshow (this is the full video version) and had the relevant staff speak to each role. I was quite surprised with how well each staff member spoke about their role, background and experience. It really brought each to life and gave an interesting insight into the sheer variety of expertise that is required in the industry.

What was reinforced over and over again, was the importance of communication and interpersonal skills, of being able to work in a team, being self-driven, independent and able to manage yourself. Datacom do not micro manage their staff – they are given projects to do and they are expected to get on with it. The proof being in what they produce by deadline. Sound familiar? These are the sorts of things our own curriculum document highlight as important, yet here they are really brought to life. They become relevant to students – which again is why industry partnerships are important. In fact going beyond that – partnerships are important – it doesn’t just have to be industry or business related.

In the afternoon students were able to spend time with their teacher solving problems and prepping the year – invaluable in a fully online course.

Datacom sponsor this course for the next year or so, for which we are extremely grateful, but that is not the real value in this partnership. The real value is bringing the real world into the schooling sector and providing authentic and relevant contexts for learning.