Deakin University drives student success with integrated AI certification

With her diverse industry background, Dr Bahareh Nakisa, lecturer in Applied AI at Deakin University understands what drives career success.

While a tertiary qualification is important, demonstrated experience with industry-grade tools is highly prized and can help to burnish a student’s CV when they go job hunting.

Dr Nakisa is the course director of Deakin’s Masters of Applied AI. When she joined the University she created a new course unit – Engineering AI Solutions – that combines academic rigour with industry savvy. It’s a fundamental unit for the Masters of AI course, and offered as an elective for other Masters courses within the school of IT.

Students learn, for example, how to develop an intelligent algorithm from scratch and to deploy it. They also explore AI applications in fields such as computer vision and natural language processing to get an understanding of the sorts of algorithms that stand behind these capabilities.

Dr Nakisa’s industry experience with Microsoft Azure and a range of Azure cognitive tools proved to her that these were widely used systems and highly sought-after skills, so Deakin students are provided hands on experience with Azure, learn how to build AI applications and have the opportunity to gain Microsoft Certification as part of the course. (She hopes to make Microsoft certification available as an option for Bachelor of AI students in the future).

When creating the new course from scratch, Dr Nakisa engaged with the Microsoft Learn for Educators program that provided access to content and learning materials now integrated into the Deakin course unit, and also helps prepare students for the Certification exam. Microsoft also supported Dr Nakisa with access to guest lecturers who provided additional guidance about the certification process and what learning and skills were required.

“After that session we got around 15-20 students to achieve the certificate in a week which was amazing,” she says.

As a course director you have to follow the students. What jobs they are chasing? What are the requirements?

“It’s important to understand that to provide learning that will help students get access to better jobs and good salaries,” she says.

Besides delivering a good grounding in AI theory, the Engineering AI Solutions unit covers the curriculum needed to achieve Microsoft Certification, with Prodigy Learning managing the certification process for Deakin students. To achieve a high grade in the Masters course, students need to achieve the Certification.

“In industry they need techniques and employees who are skilled in cloud technologies, in advanced AI techniques and skilled in putting tools and AI techniques together to build their own application,” says Dr Nakisa.

“A Microsoft certification is a kind of proof to industry that the student is quite knowledgeable in Microsoft and skilled in this area. Having both (degree and certification) I think would enhance a student’s CV and strengthen their ability to find better job opportunities – which is the aim of the University – to help students find their dream job.”

The first certification available through the Masters course is Azure AI Fundamentals, but Dr Nakisa says that she is hoping to add more advanced levels of certification in the future.

AI skills will be critical for any student’s future success.

“It is crucial because the future belongs to artificial intelligence and if you become the leader in AI you have a better future,” she says – whether that is working with existing businesses to improve decision making, grow revenues, enhance customer experiences – or using newfound knowledge to actually start and build a business.

Appetite to enhance AI capability is growing across Deakin, and Microsoft has also been able to support the AI for Business course with access to guest lecturers seasoned in the ethics of AI.

Besides Dr Nakisa, a further nine Deakin academics have joined Microsoft Learn for Educators and are exploring how it might be possible to integrate Microsoft certification in their courses. It’s trickier than creating a new unit from scratch she says as; “Their units are already developed and they need to understand how to integrate certification into their units. It’s extra effort for them – they don’t have Microsoft experience, never worked with Microsoft services before and they have to upskill themselves and then integrate into their unit.”

They are nevertheless willing to undertake this for the benefit of students, and the Microsoft Learn for Educators program is helping them through this process. It’s just part of the academic life says Dr Nakisa. “AI and IT every day get new tools and you have to upskill yourself from day to day – it’s part of your job.”

That’s why she is striving to add curriculum content that will allow students to secure more advanced certifications through the course.  “I’m talking with Microsoft now and Prodigy to see how I can integrate one other certificate into my unit to have a higher advanced level certificate. That’s based on my understanding of industry demand – if you have the higher and advanced level certificate you have a better chance of getting the job of your dreams.”

Find out more about the Microsoft Learn for Educators program.