The School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln is investing in ensuring students are equipped for excellent career opportunities in high-growth areas such as Cloud Computing and AI. An enabler of this is offering students certification courses such as AZ-900 Microsoft Azure Fundamentals and AI-900 Microsoft Azure AI Fundamentals as part of their degree programmes. Students at Lincoln have taken over 1500 Microsoft certification exams over the last 3 years with the current focus on the new cloud-based Microsoft Fundamentals courses.
Embedding certification in an academic programme is an optimal approach for sustaining a graduate pipeline that meets the needs of industry. This can be taken further by offering academic credit for certification, something Lincoln is working on now for its new MSc Cloud Computing programme. Programmes that include certification can be positioned as ‘industry ready’, an attractive attribute for prospective applicants. Students benefit greatly from the industry-transferable skills they learn during a certification course and provide worthy additions to their graduate CV.
Student engagement is key for achieving certification. There are a number of approaches to support positive engagement when rolling out certification as part of a degree programme. These are outlined below:
Integrate inside a course– This includes integrating the learning materials of a Microsoft Fundamentals course within the academic course and mapping them to the academic learning objectives. This is the most involved approach and requires careful planning.
Integrate alongside a course – This approach is based on running a Fundamentals course alongside a separate academic course, with opportunities for sharing similar knowledge and understanding areas between both courses. This is a relatively low-barrier approach and offers a degree of flexibility.
Integrate as a standalone course – This is the most flexible approach and presents the lowest barriers for integration. A Fundamentals course is typically run as a standalone extra-curricular learning opportunity for your students, or as a short Continuing Professional Development (CPD) course for staff. It is not dependent upon any other academic course and can be run during, or outside a semester.
At Lincoln we find that regardless of the approach to rolling out certification, students much preferred certification courses to be run as academic-led, as opposed to student-led where all learning is undertaken independently. We also suggest that if your school is new to certification then start a pilot trial of your preferred Microsoft Fundamentals course and run it as a standalone, extra-curricular course. This will give you the experience and knowledge needed to think about next steps for your school and tighter integration if your programmes.
Students are keen to engage with activities during their programme that will enhance their career opportunities and can also support their studies in their academic modules. For example the Microsoft Azure Data Fundamentals course is suitable for aligning with Database and Data Science courses, while the Microsoft Azure AI Fundamentals course is great to align with academic AI courses.
Below are some quotes from our students at Lincoln on certification:
Giving students the opportunity to take certification courses and exams as part of their degree programme keen is a fantastic approach to support students with getting ready for industry. The Microsoft Learn for Educators programme support educators with the tools and knowledge necessary to run certification courses. The School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln is part of this programme and finds the learning materials and community around it an invaluable resource.
If you would like to find out more about incorporating Microsoft Fundamentals certification courses as part of a degree programme then please view the associated webinar here, which was part of the Microsoft Education Skills Webinar series.