27 March 2019

Authentic learning experiences

by Wendy Chang

Authentic is the word I would use to describe my first trip to Myanmar. When I exited the arrival hall at Yangon International Airport, I was immersed in a language I could not understand. The women wore bright colourful costumes and the men looked unique in their sarongs.

Over the next twelve days, I was introduced by my Myanmarese friend to equally colourful and unique dishes that excited my taste buds. Her sharing of the Burmese language, culture, history, places of interest and ingredients as well as her experiences in her home country opened all my senses to appreciate her country and her people.

As I travelled over 3,000 kilometres by road with her, I discovered contrasts that intrigued the learner in me. I experienced temperature differences of 16⁰C in a single day in the Shan State. I was awed by the breath-taking view at 605 meters above sea level on Mount Popa and the experience of standing among hundreds of ancient pagodas watching the crimson red sun set in Bagan.

I visited modern cities of glass skyscrapers and places of worship made of stone or wood, built as early as the 11th Century. I saw the most magnificent golden pagodas and amazing stained glass in the walls of churches of almost two hundred years.

Well-maintained mosques and colourful Indian temples are in close proximity. I sensed peace and harmony among people as they go about their daily lives. I felt their unity in their use of a common language and dress-style.

Our driver skilfully negotiated winding roads up and down mountain ranges. Further south, we sped by hundreds of kilometres of flat agricultural land irrigated by canals, slowing down only to give way to herds of farm animals. We passed dry brownish harvested land that contrasted with luscious fields of green rice seedlings and bright yellow sunflowers.

The rubber plantations were so well organised. They looked like someone had used a measuring tape to ensure equal spacing between each tree. Yet, the city traffic was in such chaos (at least to a less courageous driver like me)!

I am thankful our driver, who honked all the way, delivered us safely and timely to all the destinations on our itinerary. The combined knowledge and experience of my friend and our driver led me on fast, and more importantly, an authentic learning journey of Myanmar.

In similar ways, academic staff, like my friend and our driver, aim to give university students an authentic learning experience of a discipline area within a specific period of time to prepare them for further studies or a career in the industry.

The academic staff, with subject knowledge and teaching experience, direct and facilitate students’ learning of key concepts and principles in each academic program. They provide students a variety of activities to enhance their soft skills. Alike my itinerary with destinations, each program is delivered according to an accredited curriculum with designated levels of knowledge and skills to be achieved.

To produce career-ready graduates, university education must strive to provide an authentic learning experience. The best way to do that is through an industry-relevant curriculum. Swinburne actively engages with the industry to keep its academic programs industry-relevant.

Once a curriculum is designed and developed by academic staff, a panel of experienced industry practitioners is invited to review the curriculum to enhance its relevance to the industry. Swinburne’s curricula are reviewed by industry panels from both Australia and Sarawak to ensure international relevance and enhance mobility of its graduates.

Curriculum endorsement by the industry is also essential for Swinburne to meet accreditation requirements of the Australian Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the Malaysian Qualifications Agency (MQA).

TEQSA accredited universities are listed on Australia National Register and recognised globally. In Malaysia, qualifications with full accreditation will appear on the MQA’s Malaysian Qualifications Register. Graduates of fully-accredited qualifications are recognised for employment in the public and private sector as well as further studies in Malaysia and overseas.

Internships and/or capstone projects that require students to engage with the industry are incorporated in the final year of study of Swinburne’s undergraduate programs. In capstone projects, students are challenged to work in multidisciplinary groups to investigate real world problems and propose innovative solutions for review by industry partners of the University.

This authentic learning is to ensure that students consolidate and apply the knowledge and skills acquired in the earlier semesters before they qualify for graduation. The scaffolding of learning is intended to transform students into career-ready graduates and to boost their confidence as they embark on their journey into the industry.

To ensure effective authentic learning experiences through industry-relevant curriculum, Swinburne regularly monitors its graduate employment rate and uses feedback from engagement with its graduates and their employers for continual curriculum improvements.

Wendy Chang is a senior lecturer from the Faculty of Business, Design and Arts at Swinburne University of Technology, Sarawak Campus. She can be reached via email at Wchang@swinburne.edu.my.