The motivation behind the VALS project has its origin in a need, shared by all partners, to forge greatly improved links between higher education students and their teachers, and on the other hand the businesses where those students will find employment. In this the consortium is representative of a much wider challenge facing European industry in the education of tomorrow’s knowledge workers, and their integration in the workplace.
The partners also share an understanding of how this need can be addressed. Large sector of the European economy are now mediated by online communications and collaboration, both within a single company, and in the collaboration between organisations. Nevertheless, mobility of students in placements and internships in companies relies on the local connections, which higher education institutions have developed, and the location of placements is restricted by the high costs of relocation and living expenses at any significant distance from the home institution. The solution is to create virtual placements. These will make use of the technology which drives the professional environment to organise and carry out placements.
The consortium believes that the reason this potential has not been exploited is that virtual placements have not to date offered experience of an authentic business environment and business problems. We conclude that for the approach to be successful, these aspects need to be replicated in a virtual placement.
To achieve this, VALS will build knowledge partnerships between higher education (HE) and companies who will work together on resolving authentic business problems through open innovation. The innovative approach of VALS is to leverage virtual placements of students in companies in order to foster entrepreneurial skills and attitudes, and to make use of the results to establish new learning and teaching methods. This will result in the Semester of Code methodology, a sustainable set of methods and processes for creating and managing virtual placements, and for integrating these into innovative teaching and learning strategies.
Our focus is, on the one hand, real world business problems, and on the other, education that involves programming. These may be from a wide variety of areas of study, not only ICT. This is a promising area for establishing industrial/educational collaboration, because there is:
- established practice of external participation in business, in which software artefacts are developed outside a business, and then applied within it,
- a very wide range of real world business problems can be addressed.
Within this context, we make use of open source software (OSS) as an enabling technology. This has a number of significant advantages, but nevertheless, the VALS method is extensible to any innovation which is mediated by software, so long as the legal and organisational barriers created by licensing terms can be overcome. OSS provides the means whereby HE institutions, students, businesses and foundations can all collaborate to resolve authentic business problems. Firstly, OSS provides the necessary shared infrastructure: it is accessible to students, and businesses are not constrained by intellectual property or commercial interests, which prevent them engaging with educational placements. Secondly, OSS provides a context of well established collaborative practice within which authentic business tasks are shared remotely, and beyond the confines of an individual organisation.
Moreover, the foundations that manage the software are also hubs, which channel the operational challenges of their users through to the people who can solve them. This has great potential for enabling students and supervisors to collaborate in resolving the problems of businesses, but is constrained by the lack of support for managing and promoting collaboration across the two sectors.
- Provide the methods, practice, documentation and infrastructure to unlock this potential through virtual placements in businesses and other public and private bodies
- Pilots and promotes this as the “Semester of Code”
We believe that collaboration on open source development between universities, companies and foundations is a way to achieve all these goals in a “win-win” fashion, and long-term alliances. However, while individual lecturers in Computer Science and related subject have engaged with Open Source in an ad-hoc way, there has been little in the way of systematic integrated teaching using live projects. The methodology and guidelines provided by VALS will enhance the effectiveness of all partners operations, and provide a means of transforming significant sectors of educational and industrial activity
The VALS partnership is a network in which all partners have collaborated with at least one other member, and three of the consortium members are currently working together on the TRAILER project. Much of this has dealt involved the development of products and services using OSS which have bridged the academic and business contexts. In the course of this work they have become aware of the potential of collaboration in open innovation addressing authentic business challenges as a means of overcoming the separation between formal education and the domains in which it can be applied.