Practicum-Based Approach to Bridge Between Information-Systems Industry Expectations and Graduates Qualifications

Practicum-Based Approach to Bridge Between Information-Systems Industry Expectations and Graduates Qualifications

Ilana Lavy
DOI: 10.4018/IJICTE.2017070106
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In this study, a practicum-based approach to bridge the gap between industry expectations and Information Systems graduates skills is presented and discussed. Students participate in the practicum project during their last study year, and take part in various professional activities in the industry in accordance with their professional aspirations and their desired specialty. Semi-structured questionnaires and interviews with students who participated in the project in the last four years were conducted in order to reveal the students' perceived contributions of the project. The students experienced real workplace environments, acquired extended knowledge and skills, built social infrastructure to assist them with future job seeking, and above all gained real world experience that help them to build their professional image, and gain confidence in their traits and abilities. In addition, the practicum-based approach was compared with other common approaches used to bridge the gap, and its relative advantages and disadvantages were discussed.
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Undergraduate Information Systems (IS) students study various topics during their studies, which are practiced through various assignments. In most cases the practice of these topics is confined to the specified learnt subject and the students do not usually get an opportunity to gain overall implementation of a complete information system.

Most employers recruiting IS workers require previous experience as a mandatory requirement (Hunter, 1994). Employers prefer to invest minimal efforts in the training process of new workers and therefore favour experienced workers over novices. However, IS graduates do not usually possess such experience, and as a result, many of them encounter difficulties to find their first job (Begel & Simon, 2008).

Clear et al. (2011) suggested a model which describes various levels of integration of industry experience into academic studies. “pre-cooperative education” refers to the analysis of case studies taken from the industry in class, “halfway houses” refers to a project performed during studies according to real world industry requirements and timetable, and “full cooperative education” refers to assignment of students to work in mini projects in the industry itself.

To bridge employers' expectations with actual knowledge of IS graduates, IS programs include a final project (Topi et al., 2010) in which the students design and implement a complete information system. The project requires the integration of knowledge the students gained during their studies into the design and the implementation of the information system. In addition it enables them to further develop technical and non-technical (soft) skills. The final project includes an integration of variety of professional issues (e.g., user interface design, database programming, business rules programming, network issues, etc.) and is supervised by one of the teaching staff who monitors and evaluates the students' progress. The final project suits the definition of the “halfway house” integration level of Clear et al. (2011).

Despite the obvious merits of the project, it has some weaknesses as regards to the students' preparation for vocational career. The students' final project does not necessarily have real industry client and even if it does, the development process is usually done outside the client's organization. Moreover, the infrastructure the students use to develop the project is usually decided by them and as a result they prefer to use technologies they are acquainted with from their studies and do not challenge themselves by using new technologies that are common in the industry.

Developing a system which is not based on real client's requirements may cause the following: (1) instead of developing a system to address the client's needs, the students develop a system based on theoretical knowledge solely, and as a result they are not engaged in real world practice; (2) in the absence of client's requirements and its feedback, the students tend to develop a system according to their abilities and do not invest the efforts needed to elevate the system to be effective and useful; (3) the students lack the opportunity to develop communication skills with the client and the potential users of the developed system.

Developing system outside the client's organization may cause the following: (1) the students are not experiencing working under tight schedule typical to the IS field; (2) the students do not experience well defined rigorous working plan monitored by experienced manager who can provide them with professional feedback; (3) the students are not exposed to work routines and procedures accustomed in the field and hence do not gather real experience.

Developing systems using technologies decided by the students rather than the clients may cause the following: (1) the students are not motivated to learn additional technologies common in the industry since usually there are no client requirements regarding technology; (2) during their academic studies students use basic tools and learn fundamental principles, however, extensions and more advanced concepts are not always addressed. Using mainly these basic tools does not properly prepare the students for vocational career.

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