Monday, February 28, 2011

Are Your IT Students “Well-Trained and Ready to Go”?

Network World reports that there is a disconnect in IT education at many colleges and universities. Somehow, students are graduating with high-tech degrees but without the practical skills employers need them to have. In fact, only 8% of hiring managers rate their new IT hires as “well-trained and ready to go.”

A newly released report, “Closing the Skills Gap: 2011 SHARE Survey for Guiding University and College IT Agendas,” shares responses from 376 companies who hire IT graduates. According to the survey, almost “4 out of 10 respondents report that their IT hires are not sufficiently prepared to perform jobs within their companies, and another 44% say, at a minimum, that there are noticeable gaps in their skills.”

A report with numbers like these screams out for hands-on training in IT classes at the university and college level. Post-secondary IT programs need curriculum materials like LabSim to give students both training and practice. Each video, lesson, lab, and exam in LabSim courses can be repeated as many times as a student needs or wants to master the information and skill. By training with LabSim, students are prepared to pass certification exams that improve their marketability or to directly enter an IT career, “well-trained and ready to go.”

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A High School Created a Tech Culture and Improved Graduation Rate

There is frequent discussion in the industry of incorporating technology in classroom instruction, including providing laptops to students, as a way to engage students in learning. Converge Magazine recently featured a high school in North Carolina that has not only incorporated technology in the classroom, but has built a technology culture in the entire school. Since they’ve made changes, South Granville High School’s graduation rate has risen dramatically from 58% to 90%.

What changes did the school implement that led to such a dramatic improvement in its graduation rate?

According to Converge, one teacher described the South Granville campus now as “less like a school” and “more like a community.” The school offers students a more relaxed atmosphere than they had known before. Cell phones are no longer banned from hallways, students take their laptops with them to the cafeteria, and the lobby was re-designed with cafĂ©-style furniture. Inside classrooms, desks are frequently arranged in a circle instead of in rows.

But instructional changes have had the biggest impact on student engagement, including the introduction of laptops for each student and teacher. Seven months before students were given laptops, teachers received laptops, along with training and resources for implementing technology in their instruction. Teachers were also given access to online curriculum materials and analytics tools to track students’ progress. So that teachers stay up to date on technology tools, the district provides tech training every week.

Implementing a cultural change in a high school is not an easy task, and administrators say that it required a vision from the beginning and a commitment to the vision every day. Converge reported:
Teachers have to be facilitators in order to effectively manage a classroom of students with computers, said Vanessa Wrenn, director of instructional technology in the district. When the redesign started, she taught teachers a different way to manage their classes.

‘The best classroom management tool is a good pair of shoes,’ she said. ‘It’s proximity. You cannot implement this and be behind the desk.’

Granville County Schools has a goal of reaching a 100% graduation rate and expanding the tech culture to other schools.

Has your school undergone a culture overhaul to fully implement technology in the classroom? We’d love to hear about it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Have 3 Minutes? Help Improve LabSim Instructor Tools

Don Whitnah, TestOut VP of
Product Development and Marketing
For years here at TestOut, much of our focus in product development has been in content design. This past year, one of our goals was to not only improve the content within our courses, but to also improve the delivery and utility of the product itself.

As I’ve talked to instructors, reviewed your comments, and thought seriously about the issues you face every day using our products in, and out of, the classroom, two themes have emerged:
  • You need an easier way to view student progress, build reports, and manage grades.
  • You need additional solutions for assessing student knowledge and performance.

LabSim Instructor Reports and
Assessment Solutions Survey
To make sure that we give you the right solution that best meets your needs, I'm asking for your help. I invite you to take a brief (5 minutes or less) online survey on these two topics. Your participation will help us to focus our limited resources on changes that will have the biggest impact on learning outcomes and how you use the product.

The survey deadline has been extended until February 28, 2011. Please click here to participate.

Thank you for your help and continued support. I look forward to sharing the survey results with you, along with letting you know about some of our plans for further product enhancements.

Don Whitnah
Vice President of Product Development and Marketing

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Advocate for Career and Technical Education on February 17

Instructors and students in Career and Technical Education (CTE), February is CTE month! The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) has planned special events all month long. You may have been involved already in events such as job shadowing, SkillsUSA activities, or using CTE Month products.

This is a reminder that this Thursday, February 17, is Social Media Advocacy Day in the CTE community. ACTE is asking you—and all administrators, teachers, and students in CTE; business leaders; and other CTE advocates—to use your social media network to advocate for CTE. That means, on your Facebook page, update your status with a personal note or story about CTE. On Twitter, tweet your support of CTE. On LinkedIn, post links to articles about the success of CTE. And on your blog, write about the importance of CTE for student success.

As suggested by ACTE:
“You might share the benefits you've derived from CTE classes and accreditation, the gains you've seen students reap because of CTE courses and CTSO activities, the benefits your business has derived from hiring CTE students, and how Perkins funding has enabled CTE education and improved student outcomes.”

Using whatever medium you choose, please remember to show your support for CTE this Thursday, February 17.

TestOut will be right there with you; we hear stories every day of students achieving certifications and succeeding in IT because of their training with LabSim in CTE classes. We’ll keep supporting CTE with the best possible resources for IT training and education, and this Thursday, we’ll be advocating CTE on Social Media Advocacy Day.

Friday, February 11, 2011

When Should Technical Education Begin?

Do schools provide students sufficient opportunity to pursue technical or career education at an early enough age?

Robert Schwartz, dean of the graduate school of education at Harvard University, is an advocate for technical education for young students. In a recently published report featured last week by eSchool News, Schwartz argued the need for schools to offer more career-driven alternatives to four-year college education.

According to Schwartz, school systems in the United States utilize a “one-size-fits-all” approach to education and push all students down a path toward a four-year college degree when, honestly, some students would be more interested and successful in a technical or career education. Schwartz argues that if better opportunities existed in school systems for students to begin career or technical training earlier, many students could find a path to career success. Instead, many students fall by the wayside, graduate from high school without career-ready skills, or drop out of college because it wasn’t the right thing for them.

Critics of Schwartz’s recommendations say that students who focus on technical education in high school limit their future options for education.

Many of the schools that utilize LabSim training are vocational high schools that offer IT certification training to students as early as the freshman year. Using LabSim, students frequently begin with A+ training and learn the fundamentals of computer maintenance and networking; as they continue IT training through high school, they go on to Network+ and sometimes Security+ or Microsoft training. In fact, many of these students graduate high school with several industry certifications in hand—not to mention a wealth of IT skills developed through hands-on experience. Some students go on to community colleges for further IT education, while others begin an IT career straight out of high school.

Do the students in your school have sufficient opportunities to pursue the education that best fits their career goals? Where is improvement still needed?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Keep Certifications Current with CompTIA Continuing Education Units

You may remember learning that CompTIA adopted a renewal policy effective in 2011 for the A+, Network+, and Security+ certifications. Under the new policy, certifications received after January 1, 2011, remain valid for 3 years from the date of certifying.

Along with the renewal policy, CompTIA also introduced a program that IT professionals can use for continuing education instead of retaking the certification exam every 3 years. The CompTIA Continuing Education Program is now officially underway and offers certified professionals a broad range of activities for keeping skills up to date. For example, the following types of activities can earn units in the program:
  • Teaching or presenting content relevant to the certification
  • Taking a course or training session relevant to the certification
  • Attending an industry seminar, webinar, podcast, or event relevant to the certification
  • Participating in a CompTIA exam development workshop
  • Publishing an article, paper, book, or blog relevant to the certification
  • Obtaining other industry certifications
  • Participating on an IT-related board
  • Work experience relevant to the certification

For complete details about the activities that earn units in the program, read more on the CompTIA web site.

Because TestOut’s LabSim is a CompTIA Approved Quality Curriculum, completion of a LabSim course relevant to the certification is an eligible activity in the CompTIA Continuing Education Program. As you keep your skills up to date and stay involved in relevant industry events, you’ll find that earning continuing education units comes naturally as an active member of the IT industry.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

CompTIA Get IT Video Contest: "Why Certify?"

If you or your students hold at least one CompTIA IT certification (A+, Network+, Security+, or others), don’t miss CompTIA’s Get IT video contest going on now!

In a 60-second video, answer the question “Why certify?” Submit your video to the CompTIA contest website where others can view it and vote for it. And don’t forget to tell all your friends and family to go online and vote for it too.

CompTIA is giving away $5000 in prizes, with $2500 going to the grand prize winner.
You can go the website now to see the videos that others have posted—and to see how much better you or your students could do!

When you submit your video to CompTIA, don’t forget to tell us at TestOut so that we can vote for you too.

So, what is your answer to the question “Why certify?” We look forward to seeing it.