A curious mismatch has come to light regarding graduates making their first steps in their chosen careers. While today’s students are exceptionally adept with technology, employers are likely to find new graduates less “workplace-ready” than they need them to be.
A study by professional staffing company Adecco group showed that a good proportion of their college student and recent graduate respondents felt that their schools had some failings in preparing them sufficiently for the professional world. Only 32% felt that their college or university was doing ‘a good job’ at preparing them for a career.
Even though student satisfaction ratings may be high, we think this mismatch merits fuller attention. The transition from campus to workplace ought not to be so jarring for so many students. But there’s an obvious way to help close this gap: a bolder and more imaginative use of education technology.
What do we mean by this? Education technology is already widely used across universities and colleges to enhance learning and improve student-faculty communication and feedback. But how involved are students in its use?
Our key questions are as follows: are students active or passive users of their institution’s education technology? Are they predominantly recipients of technological systems that have already been devised by faculty, or are they actively consulted and involved in devising technological solutions to perceived problems?
How much should students be involved?
We think this distinction is of pivotal importance. Actively involving students in technology design and implementation is key.
Consultation prior to design and implementation entails actively soliciting student perspectives and ideas. Indeed, you could go a step further. Why not cultivate a learning habitat that actively encourages students to originate and develop technological innovations on campus?
Encouraging students to engage actively with solving real-life problems alongside their formal studies doesn’t only enhance their student satisfaction. It equips them with precisely the skills future employers are looking for. That is, a readiness to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in to tackling practical problems with all the knowledge, mental agility and real problem-solving experience they’ve acquired during their education.
Students as technology leaders and change agents
When granted educational experiences like this, evidence strongly suggests that students rise to the challenge, deepening their engagement with their learning institutions in the process. There’s a range of initiatives out there that illustrate this approach to student engagement to varying degrees.
Successful schemes often tackle on-campus issues and bridge resourcing gaps. For example, a growing number of institutions hire student workers as Student Technology Consultants (STCs). These programs provide interested candidates with the technology and consulting skills to become peer educators. The trained STCs provide technology workshops, specialized software knowledge and project support to fellow students. Some programs extend this service to supporting faculty and staff.
As well as strengthening knowledge in computing, STC programs develop skills in problem solving, communication and time management. In short they represent a structured, failsafe approach to developing professional competencies while deepening engagement.
Meanwhile in the UK, where student worker programs are far less prevalent, JISC (a non-profit body for digital technology and resources in higher and further education) has been actively building a Change Agents’ Network involving students in a number of universities and colleges.
The aim is to promote and strengthen staff-student partnerships in technologically-enabled change initiatives, directly benefiting the institutions involved in the process. So far the projects have covered a multitude of tech-powered initiatives, from teaching practice observations to a range of specific change initiatives, a number of which have been both originally proposed and implemented by the students as change agents.
Universities participating in the network have also been able to stage open day events showcasing the collective achievements of all the students and staff who have participated. Sessions in these events are often led by the students themselves.
Another initiative worth exploring is the Microsoft Student Partners (MSPs) scheme which encourages students to operate as technology innovators and leaders. Participants cultivate Microsoft communities on their campuses, sharing their passion and ever-expanding knowledge for technology. One example saw six female students at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) establish themselves as “Team Tactile”. They invented a new piece of technology which converts printed text into Braille on a hand-held device, enabling people with visual impairments to read anything from books to menus.
A passion for making a difference
Institutions that have taken the step of empowering students as technology leaders and partners have invested in their abilities to make a difference and not been disappointed. According to JISC’s and Microsoft’s evidence, students bring “fresh eyes” to faculty members. The ensuing partnerships generate widely shareable results for collaborative learning.
And of course, there’s the enhanced employability factor we mentioned earlier: these experiences can be included in a student’s résumé and constitute exactly the kind of creative problem-solving aptitudes employers want to see.
Given the chance to take responsibility for technological innovation, the evidence is unambiguous: students grab it with both hands. Open these initiatives up for student involvement and watch the results unfold – you’ll be amazed by the response.
Lorensbergs has been working with higher education establishments for many years, delivering enhanced student participation through our cutting-edge equipment scheduling software, connect2. This technologically advanced equipment reservation system allows students to take full control of their resource usage by booking specialized equipment and hardware, and gaining invaluable professional competence as they do so.