Industry-Integrated Learning Experience Introduced by Computer Science

From U of T's Faculty of Arts & Science news page

Midway through its first term, the Department of Computer Science’s Technology Leadership Initiative (TLI) has already brought undergraduate students closer to industry.

Recognizing that the majority of undergraduate students with degrees in computer science find themselves working for businesses, the department launched the TLI to augment undergraduate academic programs with industry-integrated learning.

Based on the vision of Michael McCarthy, the department’s executive in residence and faculty members Paul Gries and Karen Reid, the initiative helps build thought leadership in applied computing.

This past fall, the department launched the TLI as a pilot program with 24 second-year computer science students. The students went through an intensive interview process that focused on the values of creativity, agility and resilience.

“Rigour in selecting great students was important to us – we were looking for students who demonstrated big-picture thinking, excelled across different domains and wanted to change the world,” said associate professor, teaching stream Karen Reid, who has been integral to the design and implementation of the program.

The program has three elements: industry-integrated courses, leadership workshops and summer internships. The format provides industry exposure to students, equips them with the skills to solve problems independently and provides the opportunity to experience the real world for themselves.

This is best illustrated by the industry-integrated curriculum for the Introduction to Software Engineering course (CSC 207).

Partnering with Norweld – a Canadian construction services company – students in the course were organized into two competitive development teams.

“Students applied their learning directly to working with a business,” said Paul Gries, associate professor, teaching stream who taught the course.

“The students employed lean agile methodologies, developed personas, mapped business processes and elicited requirements through story mapping.”

“By standing up a solution for a client, students faced several challenges,” said Marc Lefebre, an industry partner associated with TLI. “I was amazed at how well they overcame obstacles and learned in real time.”

The course’s final product –  a working software prototype – will be brought to market in 2019 and has several students working on the project on a part-time basis.

TLI students also benefit from professional skills and leadership workshops as well as visits to industry partner sites where they experience how computer science manifests itself in the workplace.

It is also an opportunity for them to build their networks and resumes while still in school. “We have already had more than 20 industry professionals in the classroom,” said a student in the program. “The support to find a summer internship is immense.”