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Source: University of Canterbury

25 June 2021

An innovative training tool being developed at the University of Canterbury will help computer engineers brush up on their communication, teamwork and social skills.

  • University of Canterbury (UC’s) Prof Tanja Mitrovic, Associate Professor Sanna Malinen, and Associate Professor Matthias Galster are collaborating on new ways to transform New Zealand’s ICT workforce using digital personalized interactive training.

Associate Professor Matthias Galster, UC Director of Software Engineering, says young professionals who want a career as successful software developers need to have good interpersonal and people skills.

“The training emphasis for software professionals is usually on technical issues, with little provision made for training on how to communicate effectively with clients, managers or colleagues. But poor communication during software development can mean that project objectives are misunderstood, leading to unsatisfactory results,” Associate Professor Galster says.

Teaching people how to develop their ‘soft’ interpersonal skills is difficult and often people working in information and communications technology (ICT) end up learning them through experience or expensive ad hoc training.

“Our goal is to make such training much more cost and time efficient by providing a new interactive platform to meet this need, delivering personalised, interactive AI-based learning of soft skills. We want to make this platform as accessible as possible so anyone can use it,” Associate Professor Galster says.

Geared towards professional development in the ICT sector, rather than classroom education, the new interactive training platform is being developed in partnership with local software companies.

The platform will utilise “active video watching” and will be designed to address particular skills – such as team and cultural skills, communication, negotiation, empathy, strategic thinking and leadership – with opportunities for learners to respond to content and receive personalised feedback.

Joining Associate Professor Galster on the project is Professor Tanja Mitrovic, who has been working on video-based learning solutions to teach transferrable skills to UC engineering students since 2016. She has observed that students learn better if they receive interactive AI support while watching a video.

“When Matthias saw the results I was getting with students from this interactive, personalised approach, he realised it had a lot of potential benefit for people working as professional software engineers too,” she says.

Also on the research team is Associate Professor Sanna Malinen, whose research focus is organisational behaviour and psychology. “My involvement is to make sure the platform is efficient and fit for purpose from a personal development perspective and to evaluate the platform’s effectiveness.”

 The first objective of the planned three-year research project is to work alongside software companies to explore various ICT roles and assess their various soft skill needs.

Ultimately, the longer-term goal is to create an interactive training solution that will help reduce demand on developers, mitigate miscommunication issues and pave the way to better quality software and fewer project failures.

MIL OSI