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Are the Computing Skills of Today’s College Students Job-Ready?

Cengage
Cengage

Being a digital native doesn’t always lead to being a tech-savvy graduate. Listen to these college students discuss their Microsoft Office skills, including their surprise at how they performed in Cengage’s research study.

 

Stephen_J_Padilla
Mentor

These interviews are consistent with my personal observations.  I was not at all surprised.

 

Being a "digital native" is like being a native speaker of a language.  If someone grows up speaking uneducated street English, then they will not be able to communicate well in certain situations.  It gets them by on the street, but doesn't help in the workplace above a certain level.  But from an early age, we are taught our English skills:  spelling, grammar, syntax, sentence structure, vocabulary, reading, writing, orthography, and so on and so forth.  By the time we graduate high school, we have 12 or more years of formal education in our native tongue.

 

Digital native status is much the same, but few get 12 years of digital literacy.  We learn "street digital" in the form of popular social media, popular gaming platforms, and such, but nobody teaches us in the classroom--day after day, year after year--how to use office productivity software, how to properly research data, how to create and use hyperlinks, how the Internet works, why data security and personal privacy are important, and so on and so forth.  The formal education is almost completely absent and the informal education is spotty and based on family of origin and hyper-local culture.  Kids know more about the settings options on an iPhone then they do about how to use Word to manage all of their references for an essay or paper.  They know everything about Snapchat and nothing about PowerPoint.

 

If we are to take digital literacy seriously, it must begin in pre-K, just like English literacy.  Otherwise, the students will have digital literacy skills equivalent to the English skills of those who have no formal education at all.

eshepard
Contributor

I agree to part of this. Starting early is okay if you have the resources. I live in a rural area where there are not enough resources available. Also, studies have shown that you must monitor and limit the use of social media/computers. It must be interactive  when learning new skills.

 

Also, one reason social skills have deteriorated  is due to the increased use of social media/computers. 

Stephen_J_Padilla
Mentor

@eshepard, I completely agree with you about resources.  While the schools cannot keep up 100% with the business community, they should have enough available tech to have digital literacy as part of their English and Math courses. 

 

Obviously, it's not your fault that your schools don't have what they need.  It's another problem we have in the way we fund schools.  Instead of budgeting for appropriate tech in the classroom, schools are applying for technology grants that give them a one-time dump of hardware with no ongoing support in the form of computer refresh cycles and such.  We give the kids iPads as learning aids, but they are not being used for digital literacy.  They are being used with learning apps to help with the content of the course:  reading apps, math games, physics demo animations, etc.

 

Public school is focusing so much on the high-stakes standardized testing forced by No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and all of the other State and Federal requirements that it is no longer focusing on preparing students to enter the workforce straight away.  Interestingly enough, the schools with robust CTE programs (welding, cosmetology, culinary arts, etc.) are producing students who are more work ready than those that focus on core subjects.  

Kelly_Hinson
Contributor

If this is no surprise to technology instructors, then why are institutions cutting Intro to Computing courses? Can Administration not see how are students are NOT performing in the work place? My students were totally shocked by what they did not know at the beginning of the semester. They lack awareness of what is needed in the workplace versus what they got by with in K-12.

All majors need to require  some technology courses to keep skills current and relevant.

Stephen_J_Padilla
Mentor

@Kelly_Hinson, I completely agree.  When I was taking undergrad coursework, I was offended by being required to take classes that taught me how to use Word, PowerPoint, and Excel.  After all, I had been using those products longer than the instructor himself had!

 

Now, as an instructor, I completely understand why we make these mandatory.  Students are not leaving high school with the most basic skills.  In fact, my older students--in their 50s and 60s--are doing better with MS Office than my students who are in their 20s!

Cengage
Cengage

In addition to the video that @Danielle_Klahr shared, we are launching this website (link below) that includes the student video, plus one from @ProfessorCorinn talking about where the jobs are going and why these skills are so important. Also has a PDF that you can print out and share with colleagues or your administration.. Open to feedback that would make this a more useful and relevant resource for you in raising awareness about these courses being relevant as unfortunately, some programs are in jeopardy of going away due to the misperception that students are coming out of high school having these skills.

 

https://www.cengage.com/discipline-computing/path-to-employability

Stephen_J_Padilla
Mentor

@MicheleMcTighe, thank you so much for this link!  I just read it and am planning to incorporate the information into my teaching.  I also plan to use the information in advocacy efforts.

 

We start all of our students with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.  Sometimes, they don't recognize the need.  I explain how these skills are necessary for all levels of business, and that IT techs are always asked "How do I ... ?" when it comes to MS Office products, so even if they themselves don't need to produce briefings themselves, somebody else will and will be asking them for advice.  I emphasize that everybody needs to be able to write memos and reports.

Cengage
Cengage

You are welcome, @Stephen_J_Padilla. Please keep us posted on what kind of response you get from your students and how the advocacy efforts go.