‘We Want to Transform the Education Business Model’

‘We Want to Transform the Education Business Model’

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Chakri Gavini
Chakri Gavini
Senior Product Manager for Infrastructure Collaboration Products, Autodesk

Debra Pothier
Debra Pothier
Senior Industry Manager for Education, Autodesk

Initiatives like online courses, common and free access to tools, open software, specialised training and workshops are set to change the face of geospatial education globally. Debra Pothier, and Chakri Gavini, talk about how Autodesk aims to prepare an industry-ready workforce that has 21st century skills

Do you interact with educational institutions to upgrade their curricula? What other assistance do you provide to such institutions — in terms of collaboration etc?
Autodesk has a long history of working with the education community (educators, schools, government, students) around the world, and we have been on a journey to transform our education business model to deliver on the needs of schools and the next generation workforce globally.

For example, in 2006 we started offering free access to individual licenses of our software to students and educators for their personal use via our Autodesk Education Community to enable them to build on what they are learning inside the classroom and explore the limitless possibilities of their creativity with the help of our 3D design software.

Today, schools can gain access to the academic licences of our software for installation in labs and classrooms via the Autodesk Academic Resource Center. This is a response to both the need and opportunity we need in education today, and it brings significant benefits to schools. Common and free access to tools opens up new possibilities for inter-departmental collaboration, and educators can truly facilitate a multi-disciplinary approach to education that reflects today’s business realities.

All of these in turn contribute to our goal of preparing an industry-ready workforce that has the 21st century skills and knowledge to take advantage of opportunities in a new global environment.

Globally, we also have an Educator Council and Educator Experts which are comprised of passionate teachers who share their expertise and opinions with us, and who play a valuable role in helping to shape the learning content that we make freely available to people around the world.

Do you provide training/workshops to students?
Yes, we have partnered with several early adopter universities from around the world for pilot projects. These pilots provide students and faculty with hands-on experience with professional 3D design tools, and see us providing faculty members and teacher assistants with in-depth training in the software as well as hands-on workshops for students which cover a wide range of topics including urban planning, GIS and Civil Engineering students. Key faculty members involved in these pilots also in turn contribute important feedback on the product and training to Autodesk, which help us to continually improve upon our offering.

In addition, we provide a wealth of free, online learning resources and project based curricula for students and educators to leverage in, and outside of, the classroom. We also work with partners, such as CADLearning, to offer specialised training materials specific to the geospatial industry. Student participants have access to video lessons that teach them how to plan and manage model-based infrastructure and access CAD and GIS data, attribute data, coordinate systems, importing and exporting GIS data, surveys, topologies, coordinate systems, queries, source drawings and much more. Thousands of university students and faculty members have accessed the training and realised significant benefits.

Do you also conduct any kind of recruitment drive for students specialising in core geospatial areas?
We have a student portal called the Education Expert Network which is a global organisation of students who are studying in design related fields and learning to use spatial and design tools. The Network provides students with opportunities to connect with and ask questions from other students in their field; access job postings by companies looking for students who are knowledgeable in Autodesk products; and earn points that give them more opportunities such as attending our events and being featured as a spotlight student.

How would a core GIS professional be trained on CAD be industry ready?
Users working on infrastructure projects usually share data during the lifecycle of a project. Autodesk provides a suite of products that bridge the gap between GIS and CAD, and these products enable users to flow data from one solution to another much easily, through their shared procedures and similar interface across products. A user’s workflow can thus flow from one tool to another depending on their previous knowledge base of CAD or GIS.

There is a general belief that geospatial graduates often consider themselves to be scientists or are reluctant when it comes to diversification of skillset. Your comments?
Autodesk’s 3D design solutions, particularly AutoCAD Map 3D and InfraWorks, are general tools for GIS professionals, planners and designers including in remote sensing. However, the existing training material is typically built around resource and infrastructure modelling. Autodesk’s suite of products therefore arm students with the knowledge they need to do advanced workflows and remove the nuances of CAD and GIS tasks. This enables them to focus on the workflows of planning, analysis and design — and hence makes them true infrastructure professionals.

There is also the feeling that GIS graduates do not get the deserved respect or value when they go to work in vertical industries. That is because they don’t have the domain knowledge of that industry — say construction or banking — and are often sidelined in a GIS division where their job is reduced to do data entry. How can this issue be addressed?
One reason why a curriculum may fail is because it approaches things in a silo. In the context of GIS, infrastructure design and development is never tackled solely from a single aspect or stage within its lifecycle. This is why by the time students come into their late junior year or early senior year, they need to be exposed to an ‘industry view’ of the topic.

By providing students, educators and schools with free access to the real world design tools that GIS professionals around the world use daily, we’re able to better prepare student with the domain knowledge that they need to excel.

In addition, it is worth highlighting that Autodesk’s3D infrastructure design solutions incorporate features important to multiple disciplines such as urban, highways, rail, air/sea ports water resources, water/storm/waste water networks, mining, energy, telecom and civil structural and much more. These workflows span the entire lifecycle from planning to design to construction to operation/management. Therefore professionals who are trained on these products have broader skillsets that are suited for the above mentioned industry segments (most of which are also common “required skills” for a high percentage of jobs in these industries).

Do you think that university courses should become multidisciplinary?
Absolutely. Courses that introduce the students to all stages of the infrastructure lifecycle from conception to asset management and retirement would equip and empower them with a broader view of the industry.