Saturday, October 15, 2011

Computer Skills for Aspiring Professionals

Many have asked why a Women's Studies program should include a course teaching computer skills and Web tools.  Aren't today's students already familiar with Microsoft Office and masters of the Web?  While students are definitely adept users of Facebook, most seem to lack experience with web tools more relevant to their future employment.  Few of my students have heard of, let alone know how to use, web tools such as:
  • Blogs - used by many nonprofits, advocacy groups, and businesses
  • Social bookmarking sites like Delicious - a handy research and networking tool
  • RSS Readers or Start Pages -  to aggregate recent articles and blog entries in specified topics, very useful for keeping up-to-date with latest developments in your field
  • Social media like Facebook and Twitter -  for professional networking and the promotion of social causes
While all students regularly use Word to compose essay assignments, few know how to use Heading Styles to provide a handy navigation aid for a long report (think of preparing quarterly sales reports or annual summaries of activities at a nonprofit agency).  All have prepared PowerPoints for class, but few have a clue about avoiding "death by PowerPoint" (avoid the same boring Microsoft templates, more single images & less bulleted text).

With so few job openings and so many candidates, students who can demonstrate some of the above skills provide added value to employers and are more likely to be successful in their job search. 

The skills described above are also useful for active citizenship, whether students only desire to be well-informed voters or intend to be participants in advocacy groups, political parties or trade unions.

It is not only WS majors who would profit from acquiring these computer and web skills; they are equally relevant for gerontology students, aspiring social workers, sociology and other liberal arts majors.  Perhaps social service programs and liberal arts departments should consider combining to offer a "Computer Skills for Aspiring Professionals" course to their students.

Resources and Examples:

Demise of Women & Computers course

I will no longer be teaching the Women and Computers course at my university; it has been dropped from the Women's Studies Major.  The WS Program wanted to strengthen its international perspectives and decided to require all majors to complete a course in Transnational Feminism.  There is a practical limit to the number of required courses, so something had to be dropped.  Certainly we would not want to drop Feminist Theory or Research Methods, so Women and Computers was eliminated.  Hard to argue with prioritizing Transnational Feminism over Women and Computers, although I believe the skills taught are a valuable addition to a student's future employment and activist tool kit.

I haven't yet decided exactly what I will do instead.  For the present, I will continue this blog, expanding the coverage somewhat to encompass computer and web skills in the classroom, web tools for activists, and gender perspectives on computing.