Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP)
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Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP)

Hello everybody. I’m here to talk about vertically integrated projects. Vertically integrated projects is a new innovation in teaching at Strathclyde University with a little help from our friends at Georgia Tech. Let me tell you why we’re doing it. Well, in traditional project work then most of the undergraduate students carry out projects with students from the same year of the course, with the same experience or background. There’s no opportunities for peer mentoring. There’s little interaction with staff, and there’s little awareness of the research programmes. And the project restarts every year. So if you’re trying to achieve something you go back to zero and you only get as far as the year before. In VIP, vertical integrated projects, the undergraduates work in teams, and they work with students from other years of the course, they work with students from different disciplines, and they work with postgraduate staff and researchers on real problems. And the project rolls on from year to year in order that each member of the team progresses, becomes more senior at each year, and that the project then can build on the previous year and achieve something in the real world, and make the students ready for graduate employment. By taking part in a vertically integrated project then students learn and practice many different professional skills, they make substantial technical contributions to the team, they experience many different roles within the team, they interact and they receive support from senior students. In some instances they receive mentoring from PhD students and other people involved in the project. And they contribute to the completion of a large scale project that can have significant research benefits. Within VIP the students get an opportunity to lead a group, to show initiative, to plan a programme of work, to be flexible, to take ownership of their own learning, and to work with students from different years and different subjects. These are skills that we think are really important and would like all of our Strathclyde graduates to have going forward into the marketplace. It’s perfectly aligned with the university’s strategic objectives. To become a leading international technical university we need innovation in our teaching and we need to have convergence between our research programmes and our undergraduate teaching. It gives us research led teaching. The students who are working in these projects are feeding directly into the research groups. Internationalisation, that our students can go and visit Georgia tech!, some of our students work on VIP projects there and will bring these skills back. I visited Georgia Tech and the staff, Professor Ed Coyle, who’s the inventor of VIP has been to Strathclyde, he’s met with some of the groups and some of the students and brought those skills here. It gives outreach in that we can have vertically integrated projects working with the community, working with businesses, working with the NHS, and delivering real solutions to real problems. It gives interdisciplinary learning in that we have students from different areas. For example we might have students from maths and biology and from engineering working together and having to learn to speak the same language, just as they would in the workplace. It produces employable graduates and effective citizens. The VIP implementation team is led by myself, Steve Marshall, I’m the VIP champion at Strathclyde, and my role is to get more projects. This is part of Professor Val Belton’s team who’s the Associate Deputy Principal for Education. And we also have other members of the team such as Cherie Woolmer, who’s part of the Education Strategy Team and Learning Enhancement Coordinator. And also within that, an associate member of that team is Professor Ed Coyle from Georgia Tech who’s visited many times, and has helped us get the programme off the ground. Recently Val and Cherie and myself visited Georgia Tech, we sat in on the meetings, we asked the students questions, we took some videos of them, and we really tried to find out what it was about VIP that we could bring back and plant at Strathclyde. And here we are looking very professional after a hard day’s work in our business suits. But a lot of research, a lot of teaching, a lot of learning should be fun, and we should go and enjoy ourselves. So strictly this was Sunday afternoon, this wasn’t in the normal work time, that we all put our hiking boots on and went up Stone Mountain, and experienced some of the Georgia countryside. The current projects, the ones which have run in the current academic year, the first one is the one that I was involved in setting up, in polarised growth. This is a project between electrical engineering, between biologists and SIPBS, and between maths and stats. And in this we’re looking at the growth of antibiotics. The antibiotics, one week we go to a wet lab, we all put on our white coats and we grow the antibiotics on a slide, and we take a video of that. And then the next week we come to my lab in which we use computer based analysis, we use software tools to analyse those pictures and to extract the different outline of the antibiotics or the streptomyces if you’re in that area. And then the next week we go along to maths and with a pencil and paper we write down equations and we write down mathematical models that we want to fit, to understand the growth of the streptomyces. And then to close that loop and to generate new antibiotics, new streptomyces with different properties to maximise the yield. And you can see eventually this will have important commercial benefits. The next project is Text Lab. This is the first ever arts and humanities VIP, even amongst the ones that have been at Georgia Tech. Here the students from English are using computer based analysis along with computer science students, to analyse Shakespearean text. And what they’re doing there is they look at the occurrence of words and different mathematical parameters they extra from the text, and they use that to interpret things like genre, humour, tragedy, and to give new insights into Shakespeare’s work. The third one is a sustainable development project. This is looking at generating designing solar panels for The Gambia. And some of those students will actually be going to Gambia during the summer vacation, in fact they’re there right now, and installing those in the villages and bringing electric power to those villages. So now they’ll have lighting at night time, they’ll be able to run refrigerators for medicines and transform their lives. So far that group has begun with just students from electrical engineering and some associated areas like electrical mechanical and computer and electronic systems. But really we need to get some social science students involved there to see what difference does this make to the lives of the people. There must be a good thesis in that. Also students from business and from entrepreneurship, how can we make this sustainable? How can we afford it? And how we can cost it? And is there a business model for things like people in the Gambia going along and charging up their mobile phones and paying a fee for that. The last project is Entrepreneurial Eco System. This is run by the Hunter Centre and others. And this is looking at the Strathclyde entrepreneurship network and assessing the different applications for grants. Going forward in the future I would like to see entrepreneurship being threaded through all the VIPs. So that could be a student from entrepreneurship being allocated as a member of the team and there every week, or it could be a team of entrepreneurial students meeting with the VIP, trying to assess what value is coming out of the project, and how that can be extracted. For instance, could software be licensed? Could it be a product? There must be some value. If there’s no value they shouldn’t be doing it. If there is some value how can we extract that? How can we benefit from that? And the students should be thinking about that from day one, not waiting until they’ve developed something. Here’s some examples of the students in action in VIP, some photographs. I don’t know why people in white coats who don’t normally wear white coats look funny, but here’s the students from maths and from engineering, as well as the biology students all enjoying themselves in the lab. This is a maths lecturer wearing a white coat, not people in white coats coming to take them away! And this is what the students said about it. This was unprompted, here’s some of the examples, how much they enjoyed it. “So exciting it should carry a health warning” That the students enjoyed coming together and working with people from other disciplines, they found that very stimulating. They also found their interaction with postgraduate students, this has got them thinking about would they like to do a PhD themselves, would they like to get involved in research? So there could be a great benefit for the academics running VIP projects that they will have a ready supply of highly already trained up PhD students. So down to the practicalities, how does this work? It’s nice having this idea, the devil is in the detail. How have we really made it function? We made a decision that VIP should always be credit bound. Any undergraduate students doing this should be able to get credits for it, and that should be recorded on their curriculum. It shouldn’t be extracurricular, it shouldn’t be something they do in their extra time. And there are three ways it can fit into the curriculum. The first part is part of an existing class. There must be many classes that have laboratory programmes within them, and where the students do different activities. It’s perfectly reasonable that we could substitute VIP for all or part of that class. So the students would receive a credit for that class, but instead of doing what the other students are doing they would be spending their time doing VIP. It could be a VIP elective. The module descriptors have gone through, there are class codes, and where the students may have a list of options within a course one of those options, they could take a VIP elective. Even if that isn’t listed there’s always within the course regulations, there’s always a decision that the course director… other classes as approved by the course director. Lastly, and I would prefer this to be the exception, to be an extra class. There are some subjects where everything is compulsory and to get a degree in that subject you have to do all of those classes. In that case sadly VIP is an extra class. Some students have done it this way, they realise it’s extra work. But they felt that the benefit of it was such that they were happy to do that and happy to spend the extra time. All the students will receive a certificate of participation in VIP. So even if they’ve done it as part of an existing class they will get a certificate. The potential projects that we’re looking forward to in the coming academic year, there’s projects in the different groups that I’m speaking to. One of them is in artificial retina. Dr Keith Mathieson who came from Stanford is in the Institute of Photonics, and he’s looking at artificial retinas. So mimicking what goes on in the human eye, in the retina, and producing an electric version of that. And that sounds a really exciting cutting edge project. It’s really important that VIP builds on the best research we have in the university. Cancer therapies, I just met the other day with a group, this is [inaudible] and Marie Boyd and Michele Zagnoni from biology and electrical engineering respectively. They are looking at microfluidics. So this is electronic devices which can analyse fluids to look at cancer cells, and then to look at the different types of chemical treatments, the different types of drugs that can address that in order to supress cancer cells. Really, really important and a big turn on, an exciting project that students could work on. Maklab, looking at things like fabrication, looking at designing of products by CAD packages, and then forming them in laboratories. Driverless cars, this is from psychology looking at different types of behaviour for assisting motorists. And also some medium enterprise, a business health check. Umit Bititci in DMEM has a line of research which looks at ways of analysing small businesses, and giving them a health check, saying this is what you should be doing more of, this is working well, this is not working well. And this is something we felt could really lead to the outreach, engaging with TIC, the Technology and Innovation Centre, and bringing that connection via the undergraduates to local businesses. This is someone else getting in on the act, I saw this is Montrose Street the other day. So here’s an early VIP which is VIP drycleaners on the back of a van in Montrose Street. So that’s all I have to say. If you’ve any questions I’ll be happy to answer it. There’s some vertically integrated project webpage, which has the existing projects and the new ones appearing. You can email me about this at [email protected] And also if you have a look at that webpage there’s a video which shows some of the students carrying out their projects. And other aspects around VIP which should tell you more about it and hopefully get you interested, and hopefully getting you setting up a project. Thank you.

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