DEGREE students at Edge Hill College of Higher Education are joining forces with colleagues in Singapore for what is thought to be a unique international information technology (IT) project.

Undergraduates in Edge Hill’s Information Systems department will work with students at Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore to solve problems based on internet security issues, using an innovative method known as Problem-Based Learning (PBL).

Lecturer Chris Beaumont is leading the Edge Hill end of the project. He said: “The ability to work in globally distributed teams, especially in the IT industry, is becoming important in the 21st century. We believe this is the first project of its kind in higher education.”

Problem-Based Learning was originally developed in medical schools but more recently has been applied to other academic disciplines. Edge Hill is one of the first UK institutions to use PBL in Information Systems.

Chris said: “PBL is different from traditional teaching, since it organises learning around real-world problems, which are typically messy.

“There are few lectures and students are guided to research for solutions to the problems. This approach prepares students for professional practice after graduation, developing their ability to work in teams to develop the skills and knowledge needed to solve problems using their own initiative.

“It’s a far cry from listening to hours of lectures and then tackling textbook questions.”

For the project with Temasek Polytechnic, due to start in September, the students will act as computer security consultants, charged with the task of establishing a secure computer network with internet access. The project will focus on how the students interact to solve the problem.

The teams will share information with their overseas colleagues using a specially-developed web-based virtual learning environment that has been developed by Temasek Polytechnic. Video-conferencing, email and webcam communication will also be used.

Chris said: “There are a number of challenges to overcome. The problem chosen is a practical one and will require students to build identical networks at each side of the world.

“The time difference of seven hours makes meetings difficult to schedule and there are likely to be some cultural differences.

“Term dates are also different, so the Edge Hill students involved will start term two weeks early. Despite that, our students have been keen to take part.”

The British Council is sponsoring the project, together with support from Edge Hill and Temasek Polytechnic.

This is the second PBL research project the Information Systems department is participating in this year. In January Chris Beaumont was awarded a research grant to investigate best practice in the use of PBL for the teaching of computing, and Edge Hill ran a successful one-day conference on the subject in May.