22 July 2020

Authentic learning through capstone units

By Dr Ong Liap Teck

Does business education nurture good business practitioners? Although this is a simple question, it is pivotal to the relevance and legitimacy of business education. The prolific and phenomenal growth of business education on a global scale currently lies on the premise that business education is indeed essential and necessary for producing business practitioners par excellence. 

Underpinning the success of the business school is the concept of authentic learning being the hallmark of business education. Business education and authentic learning share the common objective that aims to assure that what is being learned is useful to the graduates and the industry that they served. At Swinburne, the university subscribes to the concept that embeds authentic learning; the unit of study should have the input of both the academia and industry. This leads to the introduction of the capstone unit as the final unit of study for the business degree awarded by Swinburne. 

Headed by Dr Ong Liap Teck, the capstone unit at Swinburne Sarawak’s Faculty of Business, Design and Arts is supported by a team of academically and industrially trained subject matter experts. To facilitate authentic learning, industry partners are the essential and indispensable elements of the capstone unit conducted by the Faculty. The choice and appointment of suitable industry partners determine the level of authentic learning attained by the undergraduates. This is because one of the main elements of authentic learning requires hands-on experience and exposure to real issues faced by the industry.

Therefore, industry partners are selected from a comprehensive range of industries from business conglomerates; business start-ups; government link organisations; non-governmental organisations; and professional firms in the extensive domains such as manufacturing, agriculture, hospitality, technology, bureaucratic, and social enterprises.

This extensive range of industry partners provide the necessary exposures embedded in authentic learning. Thus, the graduates would have a wide range of exposure and therefore will be equipped to thrive in the sector industry that they eventually choose to excel in. It is this versatile capability that became the hallmark of the graduates who have successfully completed the capstone unit conducted in Swinburne. 

Besides versatility, authentic learning also requires accumulation and assimilation of in-depth knowledge and skills by the graduates. In this respect, Swinburne is careful to ensure that the selected industry partners for the capstone unit are successful enterprises in their domains. More importantly, Swinburne ensures that the senior management of the industry partners is committed to the share joint collaboration and successful conduct of the capstone units.

Therefore, it is quite common for the chief executive officers of the industry partners to address and brief the cohort of capstone students on the contemporary issues that the company wants the students to address. Such interactions facilitate authentic learning as the students would appreciate from the CEOs the real pertinent issues that need to be addressed. The interactions realistically provide the situation that the students would encounter the moment they graduate and enter the industry.  

To further enhance the elements of authentic learning, the solutions and recommendations arrived by the students would be evaluated by the CEOs and senior management team at the end of the semester. This is achieved through a presentation by the capstone teams in a formal setting. Here, the students not only demonstrate their capability in coming up with solutions and recommendations but in asserting their approaches to address the issues raised by the industry partners. 

For the last decade since the introduction of the capstone unit and emphasis on authentic learning, it is the Swinburne tradition that have inadvertently impressed the industry partners. They are often immensely impressed by the pragmatic, innovative and refreshing approaches adopted and presented by the capstone students.  

Through the authentic learning embedded in the capstone units, Swinburne business graduates not only acquire the necessary attributes but importantly, showcase to the industry their very positive attitudes, capabilities, skills, and knowledge required by the industry. These achievements played a pivotal role in the nearly 100% full employment of Swinburne business graduates since 2010. 

The success of the capstone unit and the attainment of authentic learning by Swinburne business graduates is a shining manifestation of joint collaboration between Swinburne and industry. The university is grateful for the support and looks forward to continued collaboration from the industry for the benefit of the graduates. 

Dr Ong Liap Teck is a lecturer at the School of Business, Faculty of Business, Design and Arts at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. He can be reached via email at long@swinburne.edu.my.