When the Employme! training program at NJIT officially ended in January, the job search for its graduates began in full swing. Though included in parts of the soft-skills curriculum segments each week during their training, the number of the program's yet-to-be-employed graduates called for a shift into more intense post-skillset instruction in how to find (and actually achieve) full gainful employment.
The employment backgrounds of the students were diverse. Some students were trying to reenter the workforce after catastrophic injuries ended their former occupations. Some students were disabled from birth and had never held down a real paying job. When paid internship opportunities were offered to the remaining unemployed students, a curious pattern began to emerge: students who had been employed were eager to interview for (and get) an internship; students who had never been employed, while at first excited by the prospect of the opportunity, began to express concerns about why they couldn't take one of the intern positions.
One student began to have misgivings about the commute from home to work (he was a student who showed up for classes so often that he was likely to be inhabiting one of our labs on days when class wasn't scheduled). Another student, one who graduated 2 complete programs in the Employme! curriculum, declined an interview --even after he was assured he'd have full access to the adaptive technologies he used in the classroom-- because he thought vision difficulties might make him too slow to do any actual work.
There was more than self-confidence (or its lack) in play, here. When questioned about their general interest in an internship, students disabled from birth listed reasons why the internship wasn't a proper fit; students recovering from disabling injuries listed the reasons why they would be an asset to their potential boss. To those students who had been separated from their jobs due to injury, employment opportunity offered then a chance to climb back in the saddle, again. Those students who had grown up never expecting the possibility of employment, had never even seen the horse. Not participating in the work environment, despite their skills training at NJIT, was something that their life experiences outside the classroom reinforced every day.
The available internships at NJIT are to provide assistance to the instructional designers to support NJIT's course catalog transition from WebCT/Blackboard to Moodle. Interns will be expected to provide support directly to the instructional designers and faculty as course materials are migrated to the new environment. The intern's tasks will include editing course summaries, reformatting existing content and assisting faculty solve incompatibilities between the retiring LMS and Moodle. In order to reconcile the disconnect between students who have general concerns about their abilities to perform the duties of real employment and the needs of the instructional designers to have productive interns complete assigned work, the decision was made to use Moodle to teach Moodle.
I created an instance of Moodle that will solely be used to have students practice support tasks with Moodle. Each student, regardless of their expressed interest in an internship, has been provided an empty practice course in which to learn the basic tasks of course creation and modification. They will be given tasks to perform involving course material editing within their own course to practice the types of tasks a Moodle support person might be required to perform. They will be trained in course resource creation and editing and other tyical tasks that fall within the job description of the internship. The students who are eager to return to the workplace will have a chance to learn marketable skills, the students who are hesitant to pursue the internship opportunity will be directly exposed to the tasks they would be required to perform as if they were already working as an intern.
The challenge the students will face is not so much how to configure Moodle and edit course materials, but it will be to demonstrate to themselves that they can perform in a workplace enviromment as well as anyone and through their accomplishments realize that they can be gainfully employed. Once they recognize the horse, the hope is that they will try and climb into the saddle for the very first time.