What does tech fluency mean within higher education?
By Pluralsight Content Team | February 22, 2023
According to Cengage Group's 2022 Graduate Employability Report, only 41% of traditional degree graduates believe a college degree signals that they have or will have the skills needed by their employers. In other words, students aren’t confident a traditional college degree will give them the skills they need to enter the workforce.
So how can universities help?
Dr. Lynn Adams, Department Chair for Strategic Management and Operations at Utah Valley University, Dr. Kyle Feuz, Department Chair for Weber State University School of Computing, and Tony Holmes, Practice Lead for Public Sector Solutions Architects at Pluralsight, share their strategies for implementing a tech fluency program and equipping students for success post graduation.
Get expert insights for workforce-ready students.
What is workforce readiness?
In higher education, workforce readiness refers to whether students are prepared to enter the job market after graduation. To navigate the workplace and get up to speed quickly, they need certain knowledge and skills.
Historically, universities haven’t been known for producing workforce-ready graduates. “Many organizations talk about a graduate requiring one or two years of vocation before they can be workforce ready,” said Tony.
But more universities are beginning to recognize the importance of preparing students for the job market, and this shift is driving their curricula and degree programs. “I was in a curriculum meeting a couple of weeks ago,” said Dr. Feuz. “For every new degree that was being proposed, the first questions asked were, ‘How is this going to prepare students for industry? Do you have letters of support from industry partners? Do you have metrics to show that this is going to lead to workforce readiness?’”
For higher education, workforce readiness should be synonymous with the job description. “Knowing that what we're teaching our students is exactly what industry needs, and that we're not just teaching them a set of isolated skills that aren't going to help them when they get into the job market…is the crux of our job,” said Dr. Adams.
What is tech fluency?
Tech fluency, or technology literacy, means understanding why a technology matters to a business, how it’s applied, and how it works with other technologies. Tech fluency improves collaboration and communication, increases productivity, and accelerates timelines.
Why is tech fluency important in higher education?
Tech fluency matters because it prepares graduates to enter the job market and quickly get up to speed with whatever technologies their future employer uses. Because every organization relies on technology, every student, regardless of their field of study, needs to be tech fluent. As Tony said, “Tech fluency is a subset of workforce readiness that crosses all degree disciplines.”
Dr. Feuz added, “If you're dealing with college graduates or soon-to-be college graduates, they've been using computers through most of their education. To them, tech fluency is more about learning to talk with the rest of the business. If they're in the tech side, can they talk to the business analyst and describe what they're doing at a technical level in a way that the business analysts can understand?”
How can schools promote tech fluency?
Because tech fluency is a crucial aspect of workforce readiness, institutions like Utah Valley University and Weber State University have created tech fluency programs to help their students develop the tech skills and knowledge they need.
Here are some of their tips for creating tech fluency programs and preparing students for the workforce. Want to hear all of their strategies and insights? Watch the on-demand webinar.
Use industry knowledge to develop tech fluency programs
Identifying the essential skills and knowledge students need to be tech fluent and workforce ready can be a challenge. Dr. Adams and Dr. Feuz often turn to these sources when developing their own programs:
Feedback from industry partners
Higher education can lean on industry partners to determine the tech knowledge students need to enter the job market. “We try to meet with our industry partners on a bi-annual basis and talk about what we're doing in our programs and what they're seeing with our graduates. Then we come back and try to figure out how we can fill those gaps,” shared Dr. Feuz.
Another source of intel to leverage? Emerging tech trends. “We kind of look at what's growing and what's fading,” Dr. Adams explained. “We’re looking at artificial intelligence right now. We know that's blossoming. So we're looking at the platforms and the software and AI that look like they're going to be key in the future just by their growth.”
Get faculty buy-in
For a program to reach students, you need to get the professors on board first. “The biggest challenge is getting faculty to realize what they need to do to keep up with technology and to let go of traditional roles,” said Dr. Adams. “The technologies are developing so rapidly, faculty has to realize what they can and cannot do. And they can’t be the one that's going to develop all this content and teach it.”
There will always be those who are resistant to change, but look for the early adopters who are willing to try something new. Once you bring them on board, other faculty members will note their success, and the program will build momentum.
Lean on existing content to tailor your program
If professors struggle to keep up with emerging technology, they can rely on existing content to incorporate new tech skills and knowledge into their curricula. “In the School of Computing, we provide Pluralsight Skills licenses to all of our students,” said Dr. Feuz. “And that lets us offload some of the content creation on topics that are difficult to keep up with.”
How have your tech fluency programs impacted student retention and/or recruitment?
When some students are skeptical of higher education’s ability to prepare them for a job, tech fluency programs can be a big draw. “When students come in, they know they’re almost guaranteed a job if they complete the program,” explained Dr. Fates. “We have that kind of workforce readiness, and students come in knowing that and want to stick with it because they can see the reward at the end. Being able to advertise our high job placement rate and let students know about the tech fluency skills they're gaining definitely helps with our recruitment.”
Dr. Adams mentioned that he was worried the program wouldn’t attract students at first. “The first semester we launched the data analytics business course, we ended up with 18 sections. The next semester, we ended up with 19 sections. A year after that, we're still at 19 sections, but we've had to increase the number of students per section to 40-50 students. The demand has just stayed high. The students have reacted to this. They're acting rationally and saying, ‘I know I've got to have this data analytic skill set.’”
Starting a tech fluency program in higher education
If you’re looking to start a tech fluency program at your institution, you may not know where to start. But the key lies in taking that first step.
“Just start somewhere and become agile,” advised Dr. Adams. “It seems like it takes years before the decisions are made at higher education, and we can't do that. You've got to step in and just start doing, and that can be as simple as changing some modules.”
“You don't have to get it perfect the first time,” reassured Dr. Feuz. “Just say, ‘Okay, we're gonna do it in this one course or in this one program or in this one university’—whatever your scope is. Start there, give it a try, and then iterate and improve it as you go forward.”
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