The Centre of Excellence in Computing and IT proposal is a collaboration between NTNU and Nord University. The aim of this Centre is to enhance tertiary IT education in Norway, to include outreach activities addressing diversity issues in computing, especially gender. It will do so by increasing students’ learning through project-based education, earlier involvement of students in research and development activity.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Faculty has a history of excellence in terms of inputs, process factors and outputs, with committed student engagement and a focus on individual growth. The academic standards are high, with a differing focus to the delivery of student learning outcomes across the campuses that will be involved e.g. the main Trondheim campus, which has a tradition of excellence in research-led teaching, and Nord and Gjøvik (NTNU), which has a tradition of excellence in practical application. The school is in the process of developing a strong staff and student community of practice crossing the two campuses, which was in evidence in the meetings with students and with staff.
NTNU is very supportive of the proposal for the Centre as outlined in the bid, particularly as a bid from this Faculty was submitted in the last round. The expert panel had expressed some concerns with the written bid regarding the effectiveness of collaboration amongst the recently merged institutions that are now all part of NTNU. The site visit showed that there has been effective collaboration taking place for some time, pre-dating the official merger.
At the site visit, the panel was pleased to receive a very thorough and competent presentation, which also covered areas where the panel had requested further input and information. For example, the issue of ‘additionality’ was addressed (i.e. would the project still go ahead, but at a much slower pace, if not funded). In subsequent student meetings, it became very apparent that students had been very involved in the development of the proposal, and there was a real sense of ownership amongst students who were hugely engaged in the vision and plans for ExcITEd, and keen to influence their own education, and therefore wanting to assist the shaping of the centre. They saw themselves as change agents, and the project enabled them to fulfil this role even more, particularly work package 1, getting more young people, particularly females, to think about higher education in IT. Students at the Trondheim campus did, however, see themselves as still receiving too traditional a curriculum, with assessment being a key area of concern. They hoped that the Centre would address this issue, and assist the Faculty to learn from approaches at Nord, which focused much more on practical assessments. The expert panel was concerned to learn that at NTNU innovation in learning and teaching, particularly with assessment, was being hindered by administrative processes and university regulations. Another area of concern to students was their lack of understanding of how they might progress to post-graduate study.
The stakeholders were very committed and enthusiastic but suggested that their interactions were normally bilateral discussions, exploring possibilities for research opportunities and placements rather than curriculum development or activities that could really make an impact. They were particularly keen to assist with work package 1 alongside changing the understanding amongst pre-university learners about IT and its spectrum of applications – offering a range of ideas that would certainly benefit the project. They viewed the proposed SFU most favourably, stating that it afforded the opportunity to provide a holistic framework for the wide range of activities in IT, which they suggested currently, is very fragmented (regionally and nationally).
The meeting with teachers and staff demonstrated a strong collective philosophy and ethos, combined with huge enthusiasm for the project. The Centre leader outlined a well thought through management and governance structure. There was great commitment and ability shown by most of the proposed team.
The expert panel felt that the work package leaders showed varying levels of understanding of and commitment to the requirements of the work for which they would be responsible. In particular, questions relating to evaluation and impact were sometimes answered quite generically. However, since the submission of the proposal, the management structure has developed through the creation of the position of Centre Scientific Leader and the expert panel saw this as a very positive development particularly the intention to create and maintain a dynamic project dashboard for key performance indicators should effectively support the operational planning.
The teachers have already created a community of practice, which appears to be having success in sharing good practice across the campuses, as well as engaging internationally with key domain experts. The proposed dissemination plan requires considerable further development and the expert panel felt that this community of practice could have an important role, were it to be widened to include colleagues from other institutions.
Overall, the panel thought that the site visit confirmed their views of the proposed centre further to the original documentation – i.e. a proposal that had the potential to make a real impact on the recruitment of students into Computing and IT, particularly females, and providing a more grounded and practice-based curriculum. The expert panel felt that the proposal had a strong likelihood of success, particularly given the strong commitment offered by not just the Vice-Rector and Faculty Dean, but also the staff at the local level.