Our first teaching workshop of our review of undergraduate programmes was student-centred, and focused on what our cohort of undergraduates might be like in 2025. Our staff got together online and in-person to try and tease out some of the answers to questions like these:
- who are they?
- what skills and knowledge do they have?
- how do they learn?
- what will they do and learn on our programmes?
- where will they go once they leave us?
A wide range of opinions were gathered, and there were some interesting common themes. What follows is a summary that sets the base from which we can explore what the future of our programmes may look like.
Who are the students, what skills and knowledge do they have
A diverse set of entry qualifications is probably one of the key things that will mark out our student intake in 2025. We’re looking at students with and without A-Levels or T-Levels. Some may have Maths qualifications beyond GCSE, other’s won’t. The same is true of formal study of Computer Science, the curriculum for which differs between England and Wales substantially. The larger changes to the Welsh school curriculum will not yet have filtered through to impact incoming students in 2025, but it won’t be far off, and are something that need to be considered for the future.
While school/college leavers are likely to still be the main bulk of the cohort, there is a potential for older students at undergraduate level, particularly those who want more depth than a postgraduate conversion course may provide, or perhaps a more applied programme.
We need to remember that Cardiff as a city and a destination is a big draw to applicants, who will come from across the UK. Our international intake has also grown significantly over the last few years at undergraduate.
How will they learn?
A level of flexibility will be key here. Different students with different support needs, accessing teaching through a range of methods and modes that will enable their learning. While some may appreciate or expect the ‘traditional’ rigidly timetabled lecture, lab and tutorial experience of University, others will be looking for a more dynamic, chunked education accessed on their terms when it is convenient for them. This will most likely be delivered predominantly online, with additional flexible in-person support. Between these two extremes are a cohort of other students who may expect or want something in-between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘new’. To fully support this wide range of preferences across all teaching may be an impossible task. As we move to a more blended model of learning, we’ll need to help our students learn how to become self-paced and self-led learners - something that (as in many industries) important in CS, given the fast pace of change and the need to constantly develop and learn throughout a career. We need to help students realise that we are not the only source of information and knowledge.
Where are they going, What do they learn?
Students who graduate from our programmes in 2028/2029 will be heading to a wide range of destinations. This range will be getting wider all the time as Computer Science continues to become more pervasive throughout society, as it continues to reach across disciplinary barriers and entwine itself in more and more subject areas, and as the Software Engineering principles that underpin the applications of CS become more and more important. The vast majority of our students will come to us seeking a career in industry rather than research, though the pipeline of students from undergraduates to PhD will remain an important part of what we do as a Research-led institution.
One of the main considerations will be the skills that go alongside the subject specific knowledge that we deliver. While a grounding in the core concepts of CS and SE is essential, a lot of the technology specific content of the degrees is less important than developing students as independent reflective lifelong learners, able to adapt, change and reskill as the technologies move on and the subject evolves. An emphasis on skills alongside the technical is crucial: team working and collaboration, writing, reflection, critical thinking and analysis, decision making, entrepeneurship. Consideration must be given throughout the degree programmes to crucial factors such as sustainability, ethics, and employability.
Our excellent Deputy DLT for undergraduate Carl Jones related a lot of this in a nice way to an Agile manifesto type concept; the idea of a range of opposing ideas or views, with students sitting somewhere along each of these scales:
- Fabricators v Assemblers (or White-box v Black-box)
- Low-level v High-level
- Work with computers v work with people
- Work alone v work with others
- Research-aligned v industry-aligned
Each scale reveals something about the type of Computer Scientist or Software Engineer that a student will become, and you could see this model being refined into a tool that could guide a student through the decision points and learning in their degree as they choose modules and pathways. They’ll need to see both ends of the scales throughout their time, but will likely end up specialising towards one end or the other on some of them by the time they leave. We’ll dig into this a bit more later…