Developing a Successful Information Technology Competency Strategy for StaffIdentifying the Barriers
Increasingly in the late 1990s, educational institutions as well as commercial enterprises are making significant capital investments in information technology. The main objectives for these investments include instituting effective corporate data collection and manipulation (e.g., accounts, stock control, enrolments), and creating opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to improve the quality and efficiency of their own work.
In many cases, the outcome does not justify the investment. Faculty, staff, and students struggle to come to grips with computer operating systems; network configurations and demands; and the constant changes in system software, access procedures, and applications.
The value of effective training systems to provide staff and students with the technology skills needed, is often underestimated. Although the capital value of the technology itself (hardware, software, telecommunications equipment, etc.) is well documented, audited, and depreciated, the skills of the people using this equipment are often not evaluated. Although a significant portion of the capital investment includes upgrades for already-existing hardware and software, there is often very little or no investment in providing opportunities to upgrade the users skills.
Instructional technology (IT) competency training must aim to remove barriers (real or perceived) that many faculty, staff, and students may consider to be insurmountable. The major objective of a competency program must be to instill a level of computer-operator confidence in order to develop the ability to adapt easily and confidently to a new application/environment.
Modern graphical-user interfaces go a long way to ease the transition between applications, but there must also be ready access to non-threatening support systems. [I don't understand above sentence. Please elaborate and clarify.] Despite the user-friendly nature of modern operating systems, many faculty, staff, and students struggle with the pace of technological change. The barriers to maintaining technological currency and competency fall into two categories:
Personal Barriers to Greater IT Competency
Institutional Barriers to Greater IT Competency:
Creating Training Resources
There are essentially four categories of training resources that can be made available to facutly and staff:
Considerations for Preparing Resources
2. Software Skills Manuals Available for Personal Reference
3. Networked or Web-based Computer-Based-Training (CBT) Materials Musts
An Example of Paper and Web-based Resources
At UNITEC Institute of Technology, a facilitator identified beneficial skills to staff and then presented them in a useful and non-threatening format.
The first step was to break down an application into its component "microskills," and to classify each as a basic, intermediate or advanced skill. The following are criteria for each level:
The initial draft of this document was simply a single page table, which looked like this:
[We will move the following graphics to a separate (linked) page so as not to interrupt the text.]
Competency Levels for Staff in Standard Applications
|Pegasus Email||Retrieve new mail
Send messages internally using Address books
Use appropriate eMail etiquette
|Send messages externally
Post message to noticeboard
Send mail to a distribution list
Create a signature file
|Create and move mail between folders
Send and receive attached files
Subscribe to a list
|File Management||Create Directories understand Directory Trees
Move files between directories
|Copy files between drives for back-up
Understand file name extensions
|Maintain a comprehensive backup process
File Attributes - Read Only, Hidden, etc
|Word Processing||New, Open, Save and Print documents
Moving text cut & paste, drag & drop
Use of Spelling Checker
Page Setup and setting margins
|Effective use of formatting - font and paragraph
Effective use of tabs and Indents
Changing between different file formats
Use of frames
Complex tables, borders and shading
Record and use Macros
|Spreadsheet||Understanding of spreadsheet concepts
Data entry and editing
Simple function, (e.g., SUM with cell references)
Altering column widths and row heights
Fill Right, Fill Down
Formatting worksheet, (i.e., borders etc.)
|Use of Paste Function for more complex formulae
Absolute cell references
Record and use Macros
|Presentation (e.g. Powerpoint)||Create a single slide
Create and edit text frames
Use simple drawing tools
Use the PowerPoint viewer
|Create a number of slides
Apply a slide template
Use all drawing and rotation tool
Apply transition between slides
Use the Slide Sorter
|Work with the Outline view for altering slide content
Customize Slide Masters
Apply Build effects
Customize color schemes
|Database||Understand concepts of a database
Create fields and enter data
Retrieve lists of records as required
|Sort data according to one or more key fields
Query data to select a subgroup of records
Generate a Simple Report
|Generate a report based on the results of a query
Summaries and Sub-summaries
|Internet||EMail to anywhere in the world||World Wide Web browsing, (e.g.) NetScape
Subscribe to and use a ListServ
|Use eMail to access files
FTP and Gopher access
The concept of this breakdown of applications into individual skills met with enthusiastic support, and this encouraged further development of the process. Principles behind the decision to produce the document are discussed above, and so not listed here.
In the introduction to the manual, the author provided a chart on which users could plot their priority for training needs. The given applications appeared in list form, in the order of priority for usage, followed by an assessment of current competency per application. Plotting these values on a chart makes it possible to determine which applications do or do not require training.
1. Consider the following list of applications, and list them according to your priority
2. Rate your level of skill and competence with each of the applications listed:
|no skill||little skill||average skill||very skilled||expert|
Enter your assessment of your skill level in this table
|word processing||student management|
3. Now use the chart above to plot each application onto the chart below
The skills and help notes for each individual corresponded to a pair of facing pages. Although scrolling back and forth was considered undesirable, and meant that some notes were superficial, they were only a starting point.
In an example shown below, the two facing pages represented a single module. Applications such as word processing (Word 6 in this case) had three modules - beginner, intermediate and advanced.
Use and Handle floppy disk
Be familiar with the conditions or influences that can cause a disk to become corrupted (e.g., extremes of temperature, magnetic field, dust and smoke particles). Be aware of the need to regularly check disks for viruses - contact ITSC (8484) about virus checking, cleaning and protection
Format and name a floppy disk
Understand the concept of formatting or initializing a floppy disk (which will also wipe all previous information on the disk). Be aware that most Macs will recognize PC format disks, but PCs will not read Mac disks
Competency Manual Online
The logical extension of the Competency Manual was an online version. The first question had to be why? There had to be some degree of extra functionality or convenience over the paper version.
A number of advantages were obvious from the start
There were also elements of concern
Currently, the online version assures that the database reliably stores and dates the competencies checked by the individual. A manager and individuals can be assigned to a specific department. A manager has access to the same files as the individual, but cannot change anything. A "super-user" or administrator access allows the configuration of managers and departments.
The online version of the competency manual can be used to complete the training-needs chart defined in the paper-based manual. It:
At this stage, one of the undeveloped major elements of the manual is an assessment tool. Currently, all skills are self-assessed, relying totally on the user-integrity. While there is no material incentive attached to the competency profile, this is not seen as a problem. If the campus decided to reward competency progress in some material way, some form of assessment tasks would clearly become necessary.
The present version of the online competency manual can be viewed at http://hobbes.unitecnology.ac.nz/competency/
[We need a summary and conclusion.]
The possibility to monitor your developments in IT learning in the way presented in the article and related Web site http://hobbes.unitecnology.ac.nz/competency/ is a good idea.
There were some new viewpoints and tips for me in this article. It may be especially good for representatives of big schools and companies.
Overall, I liked this article. Maybe there were too many details in the descriptions, but this didn't disturb me much.
This is a well written article with excellent suggestions. I have some additional ideas for this piece. At my institution, we convinced our human resources department to negotiate a coupon purchase agreement with one of the local commercial computer applications training firms. They sold us a number of course coupons, good for any of their classes, at a reduced rate. These coupons were then made available to the departments to assist them in promoting staff development.
We also developed a professional partners mentoring program. Faculty members with technology expertise serve as facilitators to groups of faculty and staff interested in learning more about particular technologies. For example, I, along with our Academic Education Coordinator, facilitate the advanced web publishing mentoring group. We meet twice a month with interested faculty and staff and discuss new web technologies, demonstrate new HTML design strategies, and encourage other members of the group to bring design challenges for all of us to tackle or web page design efforts for the group review. In our group, we encourage the participants to share their own experiences and often lead discussions rather than conduct the meeting like a typical lecture class. There are also mentoring groups on database design, introductory HTML, desktop publishing, spreadsheets, and datawarehouse information analysis.
The article also touched on the subject of assessment. Self assessment is usually not a helpful indicator to use to design a training strategy. Too often I have had to deal with staff that indicated on their hiring documents that they were "competent" in particular software packages only to discover they didn't even know what I was talking about when I instructed them to
double click on Network Neighborhood! An alternate suggestion would be to obtain competency assessment software from such companies as Quiz in Atlanta, GA. Quiz offers assessment software for most major office applications. I have urged our human resources department to obtain copies of the software that can be "checked out" by departments for screening purposes.
I also asked our President and Provost to issue institutional guidelines that would specify that any course at the University involving computer usage, communications, mathematics, graphic design, accounting, economics, etc. should be treated by unit managers as "work related" even if the course was not directly related to the employee's present assignment. This would qualify these courses for work release and tuition subsidy providing opportunities for professional development and advancement. You can imagine my amazement when they announced the new policy this year.