The BITE club: Preparing future-ready members of the food science and technology industry
In the age of Google and Wikipedia, when information is easily accessible to anyone connected to the Internet, educators face the challenge of keeping students interested in what schools have to offer.
To counter the challenge, Singapore Polytechnic's (SP) School of Chemical and Life Sciences which runs the Diploma in Food Science and Technology course has developed BITE, or Business design Infused with Technology Experience.
The course team headed by Ms Lau Kum Yee developed this new programme to make SP's Food Science and Technology course more relevant to today's students.
"Students nowadays no longer just sit there and listen to lectures. There's no need to memorise everything and take a test," said Ms Lau, SP's Food Science and Technology course manager.
Through interviews with current students, graduates and industry leaders, the team pinpointed the key elements students look for in their education today: academic progression, connection to people and the chance to create products.
"Keeping them engaged in their learning is why we're going into more project-based-learning education. Students find this more meaningful as they can integrate and apply the knowledge they have learned. They also want to know their academic options once they get their diploma," Ms Lau said.
Another finding for the course team identified that "a connection to people is also important because students may not always have the chance to know whether a customer or a client likes their product".
Ms Lau added that while the current Food Sciences modules already offer the opportunity to create products, students actually desire more hands-on experiences in authentic learning environments.
With the survey findings in mind, the team collaborated with the Food Innovation and Resource Centre (FIRC) and DesignWorks Singapore (DWS), tapping on their expertise in food development and business design respectively to create the BITE programme.
"We would like to leverage on the two centres of excellence we have on campus," Ms Lau said.
The BITE programme will be available to students who enter SP in 2013 upon reaching their third year of study in 2015.
With BITE, students will work on products depending on the needs of the various companies that tap on the FIRC for research and development for the whole academic year.
"This programme is for the academically-strong student. You may be book-smart but you want to know how to apply the things you've learned. One avenue is to work on company projects from conceptualization to producing the retail-ready prototype," Ms Lau said.
She added that BITE is also for students who want to eventually start their own business as the programme will take them through the whole cycle of product-development.
As part of the the BITE programme, students will be mentored by experts from DWS and learn about market needs and wants and find ways to address them, as well as the ideation and co-creation of product concepts.
When concepts are approved, students move on to the FIRC to start working on their food products in four phases: product development, process implementation, packaging design and shelf-life study.
While mentoring is a key factor in this unique learning journey, Ms Lau said students cannot always expect someone to "hold their hand" throughout the course.
After they learn basics and theories in their first two years, the third year under the BITE programme will be spent with projects where they will solve problems, engage in question-and-answer sessions and find creative solutions.
"When they go through this process, I believe they will be very independent and comfortable in the food science and technology industry because they would have already been guided by food technologists and industry experts, and are in a better position to understand how the industry works," Ms Lau said.
"They will be more resourceful and they can apply what they have learned in real-life projects."
The BITE programme is a one-year journey that includes a final-year project and a 12-week internship.
After the course, students may pursue the Polytechnic's Advance Food Technology module or, with good grades and the proper resources, move on to university to get a bachelor's degree here or abroad.
More importantly, the BITE programme's project-based learning will equip students with the right skills and experience to meet the challenges of today's workforce.