Creating apps that give back

3 November 2021

UQ Business School academic Associate Professor Sabine Matook understands how tech can enable positive change.

Dr Sabine Matook

When she noticed an increasing industry demand for app coding skills, she wanted to ensure her work-integrated learning (WIL) course would deliver value for students, industry and the wider community. 

“A few years ago, I became aware that many business information systems students weren’t truly workplace-ready,” Dr Matook said.

“Organisations hiring graduate business analysts wanted well-rounded individuals who could build apps – even if they weren’t required to do so in the role – but students lacked these practical skills.” Dr Matook was determined to fill this gap.

In 2018, she partnered with Mendix, a division of Siemens, to pioneer a new model of work-integrated learning: one that produced work-ready graduates while benefiting broader society.

The following year, Dr Matook began delivering her BISM7255 Business Information Systems Analysis and Design course to around 500 postgraduate students each semester, with WIL at its core. Students learned how to build an app using Mendix’s low-code development platform.

Building on her work from the past three years, Dr Matook launched the new-and-improved BISM7255 in Semester 1, 2021. Once again, she challenged her students to design and implement a fully functional app – this time for a not-for-profit partner, Variety Queensland – the Children’s Charity.

Mirroring reality

Dr Angie Knaggs, former Senior Educational Designer at the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law (BEL) and a key collaborator on the 2021 BISM7255 course, said WIL courses combined academic theory with practical application in the workplace.

Dr Angie Knaggs

“The BEL Faculty offers many different types of WIL,” she said.

“Examples include internships, practicums and fieldwork, where our students go into the workplace, as well as on-campus activities such as industry projects.

“What makes BISM7255 special is the scale of the course and the close collaboration with two industry partners every semester to undertake work-integrated learning.” Dr Angie Knaggs

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Matook taught the course online for the second year running. Students tuned in from around the world, including far-flung locations such as Canada, India and Switzerland.

Dr Matook said the course was a true reflection of a real-life project. 

“My course prepared students for their future workplaces, but they were in a safe environment where they were allowed to fail, reflect on the experience and improve,” Dr Matook said.

“They learned how to satisfy customer needs, produce functioning software, manage a project, work and communicate in a team and present to industry – all while working to assist vulnerable people.”

Keeping kids connected

Variety Queensland’s mission is to support children who are facing challenges due to illness, disability or hardship.

Variety Kids Support Coordinator Kellie Turner said the app would allow their youth ambassadors to stay connected in a secure, online space.

“Ambassadors will now be able to communicate with each other at any time, breaking down the barrier that most of these children have faced living with a disability or disadvantage,” Ms Turner said.

“By using the in-app features such as the discussion board and events page, they will have a platform to discuss relevant topics freely, gain confidence and reach out to us for support.

“We see the app being an integral part of creating a community of like-minded, passionate individuals who are making much-needed change.”

Ms Turner said the app – the first of its kind within the organisation – may also be implemented for other programs such as the Variety Kids Choir.

She expressed her gratitude to Dr Matook and the BISM7255 students for working tirelessly to build the app at no cost to Variety Queensland.

“Being a not-for-profit, we simply don’t have the resources, budget or staff to create something like this,” Ms Turner said.

“This collaboration benefits us as an organisation as well as the families we look after.”

The app launched in September 2021, and Variety Queensland is now rolling it out more broadly.

A valuable learning experience

Master of Business student Lara Harbers said she was proud to have worked on a project with a tangible impact.

Lara Harbers

“We could have built an app for an assignment without ever handing it to the end user, but it’s much more rewarding to create something that will benefit others,” Ms Harbers said.

Before taking BISM7255, Ms Harbers said she never saw herself as an app developer – but the course had unlocked unexpected opportunities.  

Ms Harbers currently works for a software company in Brisbane. During a chance conversation with a developer, she discovered they wanted to start using Mendix. She mentioned her in-class experience, and the rest is history.

“My colleague was super excited because no one in the company had ever worked with Mendix,” she said.

“They ended up asking me to develop a prototype for an app that we could potentially use within our company.

“For me, that’s the best example of what work-integrated learning can do – because now I’m at work, applying the knowledge and skills I’ve learned at uni.

“Not only can I build an app using Mendix, I’ve also learned how to engage with clients like Variety. The experience has prepared me for a potential career in consulting.”

Getting students digital-ready

Students who complete BISM7255 become ‘Mendix-certified’ – an industry certification that showcases their ability to develop apps using the low-code platform, giving them an edge over their peers.

Simon Guerin, Mendix lead at Siemens Digital Industries Software, said it meant Dr Matook’s students could hit the ground running in the workplace, despite not having an IT or technical background.

Mr Guerin has provided in-class support to BISM7255 students since 2020.

“It’s amazing bringing together hundreds of excitable students and giving them the technology to work on real problems in collaboration with an end user,” he said.

“I see it as a great example of how industry can partner with institutions like UQ to create a larger pool of work-ready students.”Simon Guerin, Mendix lead at Siemens Digital Industries Software

Samantha Murray, Vice-President and CEO of Australia and New Zealand at Siemens Digital Industries Software, said UQ was at the forefront of adopting technology for the benefit of current and future students.

“The initiative driven by Dr Matook was a natural fit for us to collaborate on,” Ms Murray said.

“The premise of work-integrated learning aligns perfectly with the ambitions of the Siemens academic program in that it ensures the next generation of digital talent are ready for the workforce both through hands-on learning and experiences.”

BISM7255 will continue from 2022, in collaboration with technology partner Siemens Digital Industries Software and a new not-for-profit partner.

Find out more about work-integrated learning opportunities at the BEL Faculty

Gain work experience with an industry partner for academic credit

Work with BEL Faculty students on work-integrated learning projects

Media: Alysha Hilevuo,