Academics and practitioners are often accused of living in two different worlds. These worlds often resemble a Venn diagram. There are overlaps where both academics and practitioners agree on student/curricular needs, but there is a gap where academics have certain views and practitioners have differing views. With the current push towards integrated curricula, industry informed curricula, student preparedness and employment rates as measures of university success, the academic-practitioner gap must be addressed and closed. One way to do this is to embed industry courses in for-credit university courses.
While this sounds easy on the surface, industry courses differ dramatically in both quality and purpose. Some industry courses are exam preparation in nature, others are comprehensive computer-based or instructor-led training modules. Some courses lead to certificates or recognitions that are highly sought after by employers. Other courses appear like costly commercial programs designed more so for profiteering than employment and have little or no clout in industry. Determining the value proposition and long-term return on investment can be a real challenge. But, with integrated curricula, this now becomes the responsibility of the university. Using industry advisory board resources, faculty reviews, student feedback, and market analysis, the proper industry training, exams, and certifications can be integrated into a for-credit course.
There are several antecedent conditions that must exist prior to integrating an industry course with an existing or new for-credit course. Permissions must be obtained for the use of intellectual property, brand standards adhered to (e.g., logo use), the degree of course integration within the learning management system understood, an understanding of how sign-on credentials are passed between platforms, and clarity in how payments are made for the third-party content.
Certain third-party costs (e.g., lab or exam fees) may have student funding implications. All costs beyond credit hour costs must be transparent and itemized. The financial aid office should have a say in third-party integrations to determine how best to position associated costs and assist students with funding.
Once an industry course or exam is selected, great care must be taken during the integration process into the university course or courses. Industry courses often tell students what to do with a lesser focus on the ‘why’ and ‘how’. The ‘why’ and ‘how’ should be the focus as well as the application of concepts in different industry settings. The cumulative value of the integration is contingent upon how the industry material is expanded on, discussed, integrated into the LMS or classroom, and presented to students. This is why faculty teaching integrated courses should have both academic and industry credentials as well as specific experience with the industry course or exam.
An integrated course should substantially expand on the existing industry course and focus on generalizability. For example, a student taking a Microsoft Official Course (MOC) should not only learn the course content, but how that content may be applied throughout the technology space beyond the scope of the MOC. In addition, opportunities for student interaction with experienced faulty, case study evaluation, and other higher order thinking skills are the value the university environment contributes to the students’ holistic learning experience. The end result should be a student who has the knowledge and skills as well as the industry certifications and industry viewpoints to enhance career readiness.
“The end result should be a student who has the knowledge and skills
as well as the industry certifications & industry viewpoints to enhance
As Congress and other accreditation bodies focus on degree value, including career readiness, expected starting salaries, and industry relevance, the integration of industry courses, content, exams, and certifications simply makes sense. However, in order to achieve a seamless integration great care must be taken to ensure the industry content is blended into the for-credit course in a meaningful way. In addition, assessment strategies must be considered to ensure the industry content remains relevant and the course is informed by assessment data. In a perfect world, this assessment data would also include employer feedback on to graduate career readiness. An additional benefit of using industry exams is they can serve as an external assessment opportunity as well as better connect the university to industry. The overarching goal of any university is to remain relevant and rigorous while preparing students for career success.
The integration of industry content into university courses seems to achieve the best of both worlds and help bridge the gap between university and industry learning with a focus on career readiness.
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