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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 38: Learning for Life and Work in a Complex World

July, 2015, 528 pages
Published by
T. Thomas, E. Levin, P. Dawson, K. Fraser & R. Hadgraft

More than ever before, Australian tertiary graduates will rely upon innovative use of knowledge, work-readiness skills, and advanced multi-disciplinary understandings to solve future domestic and workplace problems. This is critically evident in STEM disciplines, where global trends increasingly focus upon the need for multi-disciplinary, industry-related approaches that maximise opportunities for future employment and lifelong learning. However STEM learning and teaching remains, for the most past, discipline-content entrenched. The evidence starkly indicates that Australia is falling short in educating future STEM graduates: something different has to be done! The STEM Ecosystem project: Water Innovation Challenge (WIC) at RMIT University created opportunities for staff and students from different disciplines to work alongside industry mentors in a multi-skilled team to design, build and present innovative water sanitation solutions for a local indigenous community and a Bangladesh community. The real-world problem necessitated a paradigm shift away from discipline-based knowledge transference towards skills for the future. The project utilised approaches such as negotiated curriculum and assessment; self-directed, flexible participation in learning; use of social media as a learning tool and multi-disciplinary teamwork.

Results from student surveys and interviews indicate that this project directly enhanced students’ work-readiness skills and recognition of the importance of problem solving using multi-disciplinary understandings. Students reported greater self-confidence for tackling future workplace challenges. The project and its outcomes have implications for how learning and teaching occurs in Australian universities; it challenges traditional understandings of learning and teaching and has the potential to create significant impact on the calibre of future STEM graduates.

Keywords: multi-disciplinary; STEM disciplines; work-readiness