Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Quality Counts in Online Education

If you’ve wondered whether an online education will be viewed with the same level of respect as a traditional education once you get into the job market, you may be interested in the perspectives shared in a recent article in Globe Investor. Corporate executives and industry analysts seem to agree that if the education received is high quality, then it doesn’t matter if it came from a traditional brick-and-mortar institution or an online program. Richard Garrett, senior research analyst for Eduventures, said, “If you ask employers about their sense of the quality of online education—is it of equal quality to traditional?—the response you typically get is a growing adherence to it being of equal quality.”

In fact, some characteristics of online learners are particularly desirable to employers. According to George Lorenzo, publisher of Educational Pathways, hiring managers "have come to realize that the vast majority of online higher education graduates are adult lifelong learners who are self-disciplined, reliable and have a knack for applying practical, experience-based knowledge in the workplace." Likewise, Jack Welch—former CEO of General Electric—said, “To count out a candidate based on an online degree may be shortsighted. People working all day and studying online all night have the kind of grrrr most companies could use."

Naturally, the next question is whether a specific online education in question is “high quality,” and you will largely be the judge of that. Patrick Partridge, vice president of Western Governors University, said, “Students should be even more concerned about quality than employers. They need to realize that the skills and knowledge they learn are more important than the diploma itself if they are going to excel in their careers.”

  • When researching on online technology education program, consider the following questions:
  • What is the school’s accreditation?
  • How many technology courses are offered?
  • What is the curriculum used in technology courses, and does it offer hands-on learning?
  • Is training offered for industry certifications, and are students expected to certify?
  • How rigorous are the expectations both in coursework and in schedule?

If you’ve already received an online technology education, I’d like to hear your feedback about these questions. Also, were you satisfied with the quality of your online technology training? Leave a comment or email experience@testout.com.

Friday, May 21, 2010

TestOut's Offices Are Getting a Fresh Look

TestOut is in the middle of a major renovation of our offices, and we're keeping track of the progress every day. Walls have come down, windows have come out, and all of us have moved to a temporary office location. For just a while, Marketing gets to work in the same area as the IT group (they've never dealt with so much chatter!), and Sales is working just outside the doors of our Product Developers. Good thing we all like each other!

We're excited to have a new look and fresh workspaces in our TestOut headquarters. We thought you might enjoying seeing our work in progress too.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Hands-on Learning in Technology Education

Students need hands-on training and hands-on experience to become prepared for competition in the marketplace. With technology education common in high schools, opportunities exist to give students hands-on experience in combination with traditional classroom instruction.

“Many schools agree that hands-on learning helps students better understand lessons in the classroom,” reported Converge Magazine last week. Realistic, practical experience may be the best way to reinforce and bring to life what instructors teach in class lectures.

At Sprague High School in Salem, Oregon, technology instructor Doug Adkins incorporates hands-on learning in a major way in his Web Design class. "Our kids get to experience the full range of building a Web site, from the interviewing of a client to building the site and hosting the site ourselves,” he said. Students have helped build business for local companies through the Web sites they’ve developed.

Students in computer science classes also gain hands-on experience at Sprague High School. Practicing tech support skills, two on-call students each class period respond to help tickets filed by teachers. The students may help fix software or printers, or they may help set up Web cameras for recording teachers’ lessons. Senior student Ian Kennedy said, “It gives you opportunities to branch out and see different fields but doesn’t force you in any one direction.”

Does the technology department at your school offer students opportunities for hands-on learning? Leave a comment or email us at experience@testout.com.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Free TestOut Webinar: "How to Train Your IT Dragon"

Free TestOut Webinar: "How to Train Your IT Dragon"

Join us for a free TestOut Webinar where you can learn how effective Experience-Based Training can be in your IT career.

Certifications and practical experience can easily become a catch-22 situation. Earning an IT certification can give your career a boost, but we all know that without experience, that boost can be little more than a bump. Experience is vital in training your IT dragon (certification), and also in being able to do your job well.

For more information or to register, go to http://www.TestOut.com/webinar

Date: Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Time: 2:00 pm EST
Duration: 45 min

Friday, May 14, 2010

“Get a Skill, Get a Job” Is Getting Adults Back on Their Feet

Community College Week recently printed an article by reporter Tim Martin that highlights a Michigan school’s idea for retraining unemployed workers. Lansing Community College, the third-largest community college in Michigan, has implemented a career training program called “Get a Skill, Get a Job” to prepare unemployed workers for a new start in the workforce. The key, they say, is gaining the right skills to be marketable in “hot jobs.”

Michigan’s unemployment rate has risen to over 14%, leaving many adults discouraged about their future. But Lansing Community College is confident that there are jobs out there for adults who are currently unemployed, as long as they attain the skills needed for those jobs. The college is even offering a guarantee: if participants don’t find a relevant job within a year of completing the program, the college will refund their tuition.

“Get a Skill, Get a Job” is different than a college education. Participants aren’t working toward a degree. Rather, the purpose and end goal of the six-week program is to train adults, teach them very specific, job-related skills, and get them back into a job as soon as possible.

For now, “Get a Skill, Get a Job” offers just four programs: Pharmacy Technician, Customer Service Specialist, Quality Inspector, and CNC Machinist, and will train only 15-16 participants in each program.

If it is successful, I hope “Get a Skill, Get a Job” will be expanded to offer more training options to more people. With technology skills in high demand, LabSim certification training would be an ideal addition to the program. LabSim training appeals to many different learning styles and trains learners both who have a strong background or practically no background in technology. It also gives complete preparation for key IT certifications. Unemployed workers who certified in A+, Network+, Microsoft, Cisco, or other certifications would qualify themselves for many jobs with promising futures.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Understanding the Gainful Employment Proposal

You may have heard that the U.S. Department of Education is considering strengthening its rule on “gainful employment,” a requirement that has been in place for some time. According to Insider Higher Ed, the requirement states, in part, that vocational or career programs must "prepare students for gainful employment in a recognized occupation" to be eligible for federal grants and loans. Arne Duncan, Secretary of the Department of Education, wrote that the current gainful employment rule has come under scrutiny as more students are attending more colleges, universities, and career schools with more federal student aid dollars—$115 billion in federal student aid last year. The purpose of changing the requirements for gainful employment, according to Duncan, would be “to ensure that taxpayer funds are used appropriately, and that consumers receive a quality education and training worthy of this unprecedented federal investment.”

The changes in the definition and rule of gainful employment would:
  • Affect non-degree programs less than 2 years in length
  • Cause institutions to meet additional requirements to remain eligible for Title IV federal student aid
  • Use the ratio of student loan debt to income as an indicator of gainful employment

According to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), the question in consideration is, “Are graduates with typical student debt able to repay their loans in ten years without taking more than 8 percent of the expected earnings in the occupation?”

The idea of setting stricter requirements for the gainful employment rule is supported by students who feel they were “enticed into programs that did not deliver,” coming out of school with large debts and insufficient training to enter the intended career. However, there are many students who feel that their vocational or career program gave them excellent training and preparation for their career; “they were well served by the institutions they attended and the federal aid they received. The programs delivered what they expected—and the training helped them to prepare for a better job.”

Duncan has opened the door to discussion from the public to gather ideas for the gainful employment proposal. Faculty, students, and public who want to make suggestions are encouraged to take part in the rule-making.

Emily Howard, TestOut

Friday, May 7, 2010

Data Show Certified IT Staff Is Worth the Investment

There is frequently a debate over whether IT certifications provide value to the individuals who get certified and to the companies who employ those individuals. The important distinction here is that we’re talking about the value of certifications to individuals who receive them—not an intrinsic value of certifications themselves. The value of getting certified is quantifiable in terms of salary, bonuses, hiring rates, and promotions. So, whether or not you feel like certifications prove knowledge or expertise in a technology or a technical role, the data show that getting certified matters.

Evan Lesser, director of Dice Learning, said, “When you combine in-demand skill sets and proven salary impact, specific certifications become valuable to individual technology professionals.”

So, which specific certifications deliver higher pay? NetworkWorld’s Denise Dubie lists 10 certifications, based on data gathered by Dice Learning:


Holding these certifications usually means higher pay or greater overall compensation, or for job applicants, they can mean getting hired. According to Dubie, Dice.com posts 1,000 jobs that list MCSE as a requirement.

Demonstrating your technical expertise in your area of IT should be a high priority as you consider your goals for career advancement.

Emily Howard

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Phasing Out Computer Labs on College Campuses

The landscape of computer labs on college campuses is changing as more and more students bring their own laptops to school every day. Colleges can save money and resources if they require students to use their own computers on campus instead of providing free access to computers in public computer labs.

Ben Terris of the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote that “the vast majority of students at four-year-colleges—83 percent—own laptops, according to Student Monitor, a market-research company.” If most students already own laptops and frequently carry them around campus every day to use in class for note taking, group work, and other assignments, it makes sense that colleges wouldn’t need to provide public computer labs.

“More than 11 percent of colleges and universities are either phasing out public computer labs or planning to do so, according to this year's survey of college technology leaders by the Campus Computing Project, released last month,” wrote Terris.

While computer labs as we know them may be eventually phased out, spaces for students to use their computers will stay in high demand, and colleges will probably begin to design them like lounges—with comfortable seating and plenty of electrical outlets—more than the labs we’ve known. Campuses may still provide expensive software to students through the campus network.

Do you agree with colleges dissolving public computer labs, or do you feel like students still need them? Has your college campus already begun the transition away from public computer labs? If so, how are students responding to the change?

Emily Howard, TestOut