Digital literacy = employment readiness

In mid-December, just before I headed out to the Adobe World Wide Sales Conference, I was invited by my ad students and the coordinator of the Centennial College Advertising program to their portfolio review day. I accepted right away; I really wanted to see how much they had grown as digital professionals.

Back Story

Two and a half years ago this same group of students was sitting in my first year imaging class. In short, the base technical skill set was generally at the novice level. I was their first “geek” course of their 3-year program.

Some had computer experience, mostly limited to Windows-based systems, many had little or no experience with computers. Common computer skills included Microsoft Office tools and of course social networking through FaceBook. Likewise, there was a handful of the group who had worked with imaging software such as Photoshop.

Over 15 weeks, I taught this group of funny, intelligent, young adults the basics of Photoshop and Dreamweaver. We talked about social media, working in the industry as a web designer and commercial photographer (past life careers of mine). Together we created event posters, banner ads, learned about image optimization, digital photography, green screen photography, web site workflows and the importance of good quality imagery. And we had fun along the way too.

I had the pleasure of teaching – and learning from them – again in their fourth semester, where they studied and put into practice newmedia development workflows for web and mobile projects, using Fireworks and Dreamweaver. Understand that these students were heading into careers in advertising, not interactive design. But I felt it was hugely important they understand this world; interactive media, social media, mobile devices would all become a very important part of their advertising jobs.

At the time, I didn’t realize that winter semester of 2011 would be my final one as a professor at Centennial College. In May of this year, coinciding with the end of the semester, I accepted my exciting new full time position with Adobe as a Solutions Consultant. I have many fond memories of my 21 years at Centennial. This is one of them.

Back to the Future

Fast forward to the recent present, I spent a morning viewing and critiquing the creative portfolios of these very same students. And honestly, looking at the work, its quality and maturity and creativity, well, it just gave me goosebumps. Not only did I see depth and talent in the work of these young people, I saw that they were getting it. Every campaign project had a social networking component. In some cases, right down to a Facebook page mock up. One student even designed a golf caddy mobile app prototype and overall he nailed it. Any client looking at his mock up would instantly understand the functionality of the app.

In those students whose strengths leaned more towards copy writing than design, it was obvious they had a handle on how to communicate in the cyber world. Insightful, witty and brief copy designed to work well in a mobile space.

These are students who are seeing beyond the grades, towards their professional futures in advertising. They are demonstrating skills beyond the basics, showing a visual and digital acuity that is sought after in their industry, regardless of whether they will be copy writers, account reps or creatives. These skills are transferable and in this day and age, necessary for personal and professional success, in my opinion as an educator and creative professional.

What I found truly impressive though, is that the work they exhibited was not work they had done for me in class. This was all new, fresh content to me. And it demonstrated that this group was on the right path to life-long learning. They understand that skills must not only be gained, but also tested, honed and sometimes even re-invented. They are open to learning new things, to experimenting with technology.

As this group of advertising students begin their final semester placements in real world ad agencies, I see them building on those skills even more. These portfolios show employers that the technology is being embraced and used intelligently. By demonstrating their awareness of social networking, proficiency with software and the ability to tell a story, these students are making themselves very employable.

I’m so very honoured to have been part of that skill-building process.

The Story Continues

This story is not singular. It’s playing out in other colleges and universities, across Canada, the US and globally. The story rewrites itself as younger learners in the K-12 range grasp new and deeper aspects of technology that may have been part of their lives before they even started school.

It may not occur at the same level everywhere, but students need to be encouraged to learn about technology and how it can be used to tell a story in more immersive, interactive ways, in and out of the classroom. Many will learn in spite of limited educational budgets, poor bandwidth access or even personal family budgets. As teachers, parents, friends or family, we can help facilitate that learning through encouragement and engagement.

Surface-level use of technology is more a part of a young person’s life than ever before, from FaceBook to online gaming to making and sharing videos and photos from a cell phone. It’s just part of their lives.

But I think it’s important they delve deeper than the surface.

To go from being a consumer to a producer of content.

To tell their own stories.

4 Responses to Digital literacy = employment readiness

  1. Joy Thorne-Enright says:

    Great comments Jim. You were an inspiration to the students. They were fortunate to have you as a teacher.
    I think they have come a long way. Now all they need is for someone to give them an opportunity to be an intern. They have great skills and will thrive with a great mentor. During their 15 week internship they will learn a lot more and hopefully land a full-time job.

  2. Frank VB says:

    I wouldn’t of had any other prof. We’re only as good as the man who taught us. Much love and appreciation Jim !

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  4. Clinton Harris says:

    Jim this is exactly what many students need in a mentor and that is someone that is willing to believe in the true potential of the student. You inspired them because they were able to see beyond the grades and actually grasp the content of the training. Good job! It is very unfortunate that you had to leave the institution, however, you must continue on your educational journey also. Wishing you all the best.