Vignette A: Student studying an OU Technology Course – CISCO Networking
Vignette B: Student studying a Social Work course – Foundations for Social Practice
In both cases the students are part time and are studying towards a qualification linked directly to their careers.
In Vignette A the student is working in IT so the content of the course is core to his working practice and the way in which the course is delivered requires the student to undertake activities which will specifically develop skills which he will need to carry out his job in the workplace. It is therefore understandable that the student values both the content and the method of delivery.
In Vignette B the student is a social worker. The IT skills she is studying are not the core part of the course – they are generic skills which are considered necessary for her to undertake her role more effectively, and indeed to use in her studies. It is understandable that, even if she recognises the importance of these skills, she will attach a lower value to them than to the core content of the course. She has obviously joined a social work course to develop her career in social work, not to become proficient in IT. Nevertheless, it is clear from the vignette that she does recognise the importance of the skills she has learned, and has appreciated the benefits of doing the course.
In my view there is no longer a debate about whether or not students on courses in higher education should develop IT skills. There is an expectation that all graduates will have highly developed higher education and career management skills, including things like teamworking, communication, presentation, problem-solving and information technology skills. Universities are required to develop skills strategies and each course will be expected to demonstrate how the skills policy is implemented.
I think the overwhelming majority of students would expect their IT skills to be developed as a result of studying at HE level, and would be highly disappointed if they weren't. On the courses I'm involved with about two thirds of the students are part time (day release) students who are all working in the construction industry and its associated professions. Although IT is not their core function they clearly could not function in the workplace without IT skills. Depending on their specific roles these skills will include basic word processing, internet and email, spreadsheets, CAD, project management software, as well as highly specialised packages for cost planning, facilities management, building information modelling and so on. Obviously therefore, our courses have to embed quite significant levels of IT and this will impact on both the design and the delivery of the courses.