30 April 2014

Creating interest in IT among students

By Choo Ai Ling

It is now pretty obvious that information technology is the “hot stuff” of the interconnected world. We can hardly imagine life without IT – computers, telephones, radios, TVs, and all the other amazing electronic devices and gadgets that have been invented. As far as communication and the sharing of information are concerned, distance and time is no longer an issue. Computing technology has shrunk the world, making it possible to communicate with people at the far-flung corners of the world at the time of our choosing.

The ability of computers to store and process data has, in many ways, surpassed the power of the human brain a thousand, even a million, fold. At the rate the technology is developing, we cannot even visualize where IT will be off-limits. Its seemingly continuous onslaught into our lives allows no one to be totally free of its grasp.

In this day and age, as well as in the foreseeable future, IT is undoubtedly an important part of our lives. And, as far as career paths go, IT offers many such opportunities for the computing graduate. But in spite of the fact that it has impacted our lives in more ways than one, many still do not see or even consider pursuing a career in the IT industry. This is unfortunately true especially among school leavers. Perhaps it may be due to a lack of awareness or simply, poor advice. There is a Malay proverb that goes, “Tak kenal, maka tak cinta”. Literally translated, it means that you will not love what you don’t know.

To help them “see the light” at the end of the IT tunnel, the computing faculty at Swinburne Sarawak has designed a program for secondary school students with the hope that once they learn about information technology they will also come to love it.

The program, in fact, serves as a springboard into the world of IT. Conducted by a team of seven facilitators over three workshop sessions in as many days, it engages participants and helps them to grasp the various concepts and applications. The most comprehensively covered topic is Web Development, which also comprises Web Access and Mobile Access. Other topics covered in the workshops are Mobile Access Development, and Software Games Creation using the popular Android and iOS applications.

It must be noted that today’s young minds, being inquisitive and having a short interest span, will find passive learning extremely dull. So, to arouse their interest and to provoke and stimulate learning, the students are required to be as proactive as possible. They undergo an active learning process instead and are challenged to be adventurous and exploratory. This is done by, among other things, allowing them to try out their hands at creating a workable website.

Schools have been supportive of the program and see its benefit for their students, in particular, the early exposure to a typical computing course as the workshop gives students a feel of what and how they would study the subjects at university.

In fact, those taking up a computing course at Swinburne Sarawak will find themselves involved in actual industry projects and dealing with real entrepreneurs. The projects are the result of collaboration between the university and its industry partner which are intended to help students hone their skills and expose them to some of the work they could expect to take up in their career. Learning at Swinburne Sarawak, therefore, does not confine students to lectures but instead takes them beyond the walls of the lecture halls where they will have ample opportunities to put into practice what they have learnt.

With the continuous developments being made in IT and its widening application across industries, the opportunities for a career in computing could only expand further. It is then up to the individual to carve out his or her own niche in the industry. The IT program for secondary schools put together by Swinburne Sarawak could be the first step of a journey that has many possibilities.

Choo Ai Ling is a lecturer with the Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Science at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. She is contactable at swang@swinburne.edu.my