Higher education IT departments’ indirectly support student learning, development outcomes, and student success by providing technical support to the departments. In addition, by employing students, higher education IT departments have opportunities to directly impact student success by providing them with experiential learning opportunities to learn soft and technical skills in preparation for their careers. Given thoughtful consideration, students could be provided with learning opportunities that complements/enhances the lessons they learn in the classroom. This mindset is consistent with the values of student affairs, the belief that learning happens within and outside the classroom.
To maximize these learning opportunities require re-examining technical job duties (code, troubleshoot) to include non-technical activities so they may learn how to communicate, work in teams, lead, and develop critical thinking skills. One of the consistent comments from computer science students we’ve hired in the past is how much they learn about working collaboratively and in teams from their experience working for our department. It seems they only get to work in teams in one or two of their computer science classes. As supervisors, how then do we ensure that learning happens both in the technical and soft skills areas? With career staff, we have performance evaluations based on job descriptions. We can extend this practice to students by providing them with performance evaluations and also defining learning outcomes, using assessment techniques to measure their progress towards these learning outcomes along the way. These learning outcomes could be growth in areas of technical and non-technical competencies.
By being intentional with the areas of competencies for our students to develop by defining learning outcomes, I believe they would be more effective in their positions and at the same time, we are both contributing to their learning process and preparing them for their careers ahead of them.