A strong foundation prepares technical students for years to come
Technology is evolving at a bewildering rate. Preparing students for such a technology-heavy future, however, needn’t focus on emerging computer applications or every whiz-bang gadget in development. My approach as an online instructor for database and programming courses in the University of Phoenix School of Information Systems & Technology is much more practical. When students take my courses, they get the necessary foundation to immediately put their technical skills to use. But they also need critical-thinking skills to apply business to technology and vice versa. When you send students out the door with those two things, they can adapt to any technology they might encounter in the future.
To be in a technical environment where the bar for entry is constantly being raised, you have to have both of those skills to survive. It’s one of the advantages the University offers its students over certification programs such as A+ which prepare learners to become computer technicians. You leave with very specific skills to that certification. What we want to do in the College of Information Systems and Technnology at University of Phoenix is to provide enough of a broad base of technological knowledge so when they go out into the real tech world they can do the same work as an A+ certified technician but also have a realm of technical and non-technical skills opening up possibilities for other kinds of jobs. That is really the goal, to give students what they need to be successful in any type of technical situation.
Students’ tech skills vary
Not every student who enters our degree programs has a background in computers. Some have a lot of technical skills they’ve gained through certification programs or on-the-job training. A fairly substantial group of our students are new to technology. Overall, however, our students come in with a much higher skill base than when I was in school 20 years ago because the bar has been raised so much. Students have to know more about technology today just to get along in the world.
Teaching students with differing skill levels is challenging. You have to reach people along the entire skill spectrum. You want to keep the more technically advanced students challenged while engaging the ones who don’t have the same depth of experience.
Communication is key
Reaching students at every level requires a variety of communication methods. For some, a visual demonstration is required before they’re able to apply what they’ve read in course materials. When a student has been struggling with a particular concept in a programming course, for example, he or she might not be able to get what they need from a textbook. They can get stuck because they don’t know the right questions to ask or where to look.
That’s why I have integrated multimedia into many of my courses. It’s one of the ways I work hard to bridge the gap between education delivered in physical classrooms on our campuses and the ones hosted on our Online Learning System (OLS). Through communication tools like Cisco® WebEx Connect™, instant messaging and mini video lectures, my students are able to connect with me, and with each other, in real time or whenever it’s convenient. These communication tools help students understand complex concepts such as how to write or compile a program in C++. It can be especially helpful in beginner computer programming courses.
Prerecorded mini video lectures and live interactive sessions also can help advanced students. They sometimes need help adjusting to the syntax used in Java™ although it builds on the basics they’ve learned in previous courses. By watching a tutorial video, they are able to hear and see what is being described in the book as I perform the task. In some cases, they’re able to resolve their questions without further assistance. If they need more help, I’m always a chat session or phone call away.
WebEx™, which allows computers to connect for real-time meetings, is especially helpful. One of my former students, a young stay-at-home mom who really wanted to become tech-savvy, was struggling. Through a WebEx session, we pulled up the script she had been having difficulty completing so we could see it on both of our screens. From there, I was able to guide her through the process of finding her coding error and getting it to compile correctly. This student came into the WebEx session frustrated. Afterward, she was able to finish the project on her own.
Technology is not just for techies
Becoming proficient in technology is no longer for those bound for technical professions or degrees. There’s hardly a job out there that does not involve some form of technology. Whether you are an accountant or a system programmer, you are going to use technology. Business, education, nursing and technology graduates should know how to use networking software such as Microsoft Outlook® and basic office productivity tools found in Microsoft Office®, including PowerPoint® and Word™. At University of Phoenix, regardless of your major, you will leave with a basic understanding of these technologies.
Layered on top of these basics are the technologies related to one’s major. For database students, the opportunity to use Microsoft Visio® includes learning how to create entity relationship diagrams. We don’t just teach the software as a tool. We provide hands-on experience in how to use Visio to design a database designed to generate various types of reports depending on the needs of the client. I think it’s the combination of those things that makes the difference in being able to immediately apply skills in the workplace. The same concept applies when they learn to build a database in Microsoft Access® based on the relationships they’ve already mapped using Visio. That’s true across the board with every technology or business concept we teach. It’s more than hands-on. It’s always tied into practical application so they have the tools they’ll need to adapt in the ever-changing world of technology.
This article originally appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, UOPX Campus Viewpoints section. To review our current faculty articles, visit: https://chronicle.com/campusViewpoint/University-of-Phoenix/29/.
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