Dr John Hosking – Tertiary Teaching Excellence Teaching Profile
Teaching profile from Dr John Hosking (Professor of Applied Computer Science, Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland) – a Sustained Excellence winner 2008
Professor of Applied Computer Science, Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland
John has been a university educator for 27 years. A strong belief in action based learning has led John to develop “multi-disciplinary programmes that provide a holistic integration and contextualisation of more formal curriculum-based learning in real world situations”. His aim to “turn students into colleagues” guides all his teaching approaches whether formal or informal. John has undertaken numerous professional leadership roles within the university, such as the integral part he played in the establishment and development of the University of Auckland’s “HeadsUp” programme for new and aspiring Heads of Department and his strong advocacy for the Women in Leadership Programme. His extensive involvement with business includes the development of the CSI Academy for structured student internships and the new “Extenda” programme designed to support the development of research cultures in ICT companies.
“Extenda” involves both company senior managers and in-company consultancy by Honours level students. Peers, members of the business world, former and current students speak highly of John as a great mentor, an exceptional research supervisor and someone who is always there
I have been a University educator for 27 years, something that constantly surprises me. I started as a Junior Lecturer in 1981, seeing the position as an opportunity to improve my public speaking ability and little more. I was unprepared for the intense personal satisfaction that results from assisting others to achieve their life goals, and quickly changed my career aspirations. The privilege and responsibility of being part of my students’ life process has encouraged and sustained me in
my teaching roles since then.
That I became an educator is, however, unsurprising as I come from a family of teachers. My sister Beth teaches new entrants, my brother Bruce is an adult educator. We each deal with major life transition points where formal “chalk and talk” teaching is insufficient and where education must include significant experiential learning to allow students to contextualise and operationalize more formal teachings. As a result I have become less reliant on the classroom, instead emphasising asynchronous, informal, often action-based learning approaches which are particularly relevant for digital natives. I have been led to focus on learning outside, yet adjacent to, the formal curriculum. The resulting multi-disciplinary programmes holistically integrate and contextualise more formal curriculum-based learning in real world situations. They deliberately blur the line between institutional and in-situ professional education while providing a “duty of care” safety net via efficient and effective mentoring.
My aim is to turn students into colleagues. This aim guides all of my approaches to teaching. I want the students I teach to be effective professionals, whether as academics or working in industry. I want them to become the sorts of professionals that I would want to work with. They need a thorough grounding in the processes and methodologies of their discipline but must also understand the context of their work, the need to act responsibly and ethically and be able to collaborate effectively with other professionals and the public. This implies a responsibility to teach beyond the normal curriculum to facilitate learning outcomes more professional than knowledge based in nature. This aim and my resulting approaches derive from the applied nature of the disciplines I work in, but are equally recognisable in other practice-based disciplines.
Application to formal teaching
Traditional pre-mass education involved one-on one mentoring, via apprenticeships or Oxbridge tutoring. Achieving similar efficacy in large classes is challenging. My approach is to make early and deep connections to my research and professional consultancy, making material as professionally relevant as practicable. I base my teaching on practical assignment work, using it to motivate introduction of course content, with assignment tasks derived from research my group has undertaken or industrial problems I have encountered. I regularly use anecdotes from my professional activity (research or industrial) in lectures to reinforce the “real life” relevance of material covered and the sometimes quirky nature of its practical application. My assignments typically have an open-ended component to challenge brighter students, and reinforce the lesson that real problems are hard, considered and that documented compromises must be made and multiple design alternatives considered. I team teach all of my courses and share my teaching resources with my colleagues for comment, use and refinement (as they do with theirs). This shared refinement process is an extremely important quality control and improvement mechanism. I learnt many years ago that it was important to remove the ego of “ownership” in favour of collaboratively enhancing quality across the “college” via peer mentorship.
Industry engagement programmes
I have helped develop several industry oriented programmes aimed at “colleague development”. Each incorporates an innovative mentorship approach.NZ ICT companies have had a poor record in providing internships, yet complain graduates are insufficiently work-ready. This is compounded by the many Small to Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) in the sector that lack understanding of how to run internships. To address this, my colleague John Grundy and I developed the CSI Academy, a structured summer internship programme. The Academy aims to make senior undergraduate students more work-ready and companies more receptive to graduate recruitment and internships.
The focus is experiential learning via summer internships, but with academic and industry mentor support and professional project management. This provides “real world” professional experience for the students within a supportive mentoring framework that assists students in negotiating and delivering on clear milestones and deliverables. Students’ personal development is enormous; the lessons of adaptation, compromise, teamwork, and communication prove invaluable to them and form an important step in their transformation into colleagues. Their change in confidence is often breathtaking. The change in attitude by companies to the value of internships, recruitment of graduates, and engagement with the University is equally dramatic.
The newer Extenda programme was motivated by a lack of a research culture in local IT companies, stemming from low numbers of research qualified staff. Many SMEs in the sector are one product companies lacking an appreciation of how research can leverage them to more complete product lines. These factors form a barrier to academic-industry research engagement and mean much of the sector’s business research and development spend is “low grade”. Extenda aims to address this by establishing a transformational research-led culture in businesses. It uses a combination of workshops with company senior managers and in-company “consultancy” by Honours level student teams focusing on “business practical” areas such as technology roadmapping. This is an interesting mix of students being mentored by academic mentors and students themselves mentoring senior managers. The teams are deliberately a mix of IT and Business students encouraging crossfertilisation of ideas and experience in dealing constructively with professionals in other disciplines. The experiential learning obtained is enormously valuable; access by Honours students to senior management teams is rare, let alone an opportunity to change the culture of an entire company. In both programmes we have sought and achieved multiple wins:
- student capability, industry understanding, and industry “readiness” are enriched
- company capability and hence profitability is enhanced
- company understanding of and willingness to engage with academia is increased
- academia’s understanding of and willingness to engage with companies is increased
The complex and multi-directional nature of the learnings involved has been both fascinating to observe and very rewarding to participate in.
I clearly state to my research students that my role is to develop them into colleagues. My methods involve a series of reinforcing and interwoven contextual and action learning approaches. These derive from a high level set of goals articulated as a set of “C” words:
- context: a clear understanding of the context in which research is undertaken; the literature, professional practice, existing work within our group, and the benefits of ongoing research programmes rather than individual projects
- confidence: in the students’ research abilities; that their research “counts” and is of international significance
- collaboration: recognition that drawing on the strengths of others and contributing to their development is mutually beneficial
- collegiality: that collaboration is not only beneficial but the responsibility of an academic
- communication: as an essential component of research
- celebration: recognising and celebrating achievement
- career: looking beyond the thesis to career establishment (in academia or industry)
These goals are continuously reinforced in learning situations throughout my students’ research programmes. I co-supervise almost all of my students and group interaction is both regular and regularly encouraged to provide peer mentoring and mutual support across the group.
Education is the key to career success. Being entrusted to provide that key to my students is a privilege I cherish. It brings a responsibility to deliver to them the best educational experiences I can provide. I continually seek to improve those experiences by reflective experimentation, being increasingly drawn to approaches that integrate and extend the formal curriculum in a holistic experiential manner within a safety net of careful mentoring.
I am currently building on the successes of Extenda and Academy, working with Accelerating Auckland and Otago University to replicate aspects of these programmes on both a regional and national basis. I am also interested in exploring their boundaries, for example, replication in other disciplines, extending the Academy concept to a postgraduate level and providing an Extenda like programme focussed on product and process enhancement (complementing a research project I am involved in). I am also fascinated by the nature of the role I have found myself in, that of “technology translator” or “pracademic”, somebody comfortable in both academia and business. I plan to reflect on how this role has developed and how it can be sustainably replicated.
I was initially an accidental educator, but I have become firmly committed to this sometimes challenging, but always fascinating career. Seeing the achievements my students reach with their educational key is the ultimate in career satisfaction.
We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.
Peer and Student Comments
John has a very ‘students-oriented’ personality. He never hesitates to give students’ requests the highest priority, offering help and mentoring in a timely and friendly way. He wins trust and respect from the students as he offers the same to the students. He makes us friends, taking every opportunity to take part in our social activities to communicate and celebrate with us. I have been very impressed by John’s dedication to all his students including me. During the many years of collaboration, I have learned from him a positive way to think, a diligent way to do, an innovative way to invent, and a generous way to give. I believe these are the factors that will drive me to success in the near future.
Dr Karen Na-Liu Li, Senior Tutor, Student Learning Centre, University of Auckland and former PhD student
John is probably the most experienced postgraduate supervisor in Computer Science – nearly two dozen PhD and around 40 Masters students that he has or is supervising plus a number more that he has co-supervised. The benefit to the University of his excellence in supervision and mentoring is demonstrated by the number now working or have recently worked for us – PhDs including 1 Professor (myself); 2 Associate-Professors; 1 Senior Lecturer; 1 Senior Tutor, a Research Manager (for UniServices); and at least two Masters graduates (that I know of). His reputation and popularity as a supervisor means he and I have one of the largest groups of postgraduate students in the Department.
Professor John Grundy, HOD Electrical and Computer Engineering Dept, University of Auckland, former PhD student.