Technological tools, including mobile apps, computer software and social media, are becoming increasingly integral to workplace success across many fields.
One class is better preparing students for this reality by allowing them to learn firsthand how to use this technology innovatively in professional scenarios.
"Innovating with Technology in the Workplace," taught through the College of Education and funded with a Summer 2012 Innovative Instruction Faculty Grant, is designed for students of all majors. The course takes the concept of individualized learning contracts, often used within COE, and applies it toward professional-style class projects related to each student's field.
The course, which is being introduced this semester by learning, design and technology instructor Gretchen Thomas with the help of graduate assistant Lucas Jensen, essentially is a career development class where students learn how to pitch a project and then teach themselves how to use technological tools effectively to complete it.
Learning contracts, which are central to this class, are documents created by students and reviewed by teachers that lay out goals for what they want to learn and how they plan to learn it.
"You say what you want to learn, how you want to learn it and how you want to be assessed on learning it," Thomas said.
In this case, the students' contracts are individual projects that they create and work on for about 2 1/2 months. The only parameter, Thomas said, is that each project needs to be related to a student's major and desired career.
Students wrote and pitched their projects in February. They range from creating a smartphone app for buying concessions at big events to a four-week crash course to get students ready for college. Most students' projects, however, relate to creating a blog or social media initiative revolving around their interests in fashion, finance, education or getting a job after college.
"They are taking something that they are passionate about, that also relates to their major, and they build something with it," she said.
The course is a spin-off of an instructional technology class Thomas has taught for education students, which shows how to use technological tools in K-12 classrooms. She said a number of noneducation majors would take the class as an elective because they were interested in learning how to use those tools in their own fields. After a former student reported the class gave him the practical technological experience that helped land him a job at a law firm after he graduated, Thomas redesigned the technology class to apply to a student in any field.
That idea became a reality when Thomas was awarded a Summer 2012 Innovative Instruction Faculty Grant, which provided $5,000 each to 22 faculty projects aimed at improving teaching and learning.
Thomas said the purpose of the class is not necessarily to teach students technology skills, but instead it teaches them how to use technology in a workplace setting.
Additionally, Thomas is inviting guest speakers to host seminars on topics related to technological tools and the students' learning contracts, including those talking about blogs, human resources and building a business plan.
"My hope is that by the end of the semester, not only will they have learned technology and some skill sets that they'll need in the job market," she said, "but they have more confidence in their ability to be self-motivated."