“Can you design websites?” has become a common job interview question addressed to recent grads (who are presumed to be tech savvy). A surprising number of candidates would answer “no” to that question despite the fact that most could design a website in less than an hour.
Digital literacy skills were among the professional skills covered in the Spanish for the Professions course I taught this spring. In class, we talked briefly about the concepts of “native” and “immigrant” as applied to the digital realm, where misaligned expectations can often arise between older managers in the workplace (many of whom are digital “immigrants” who had to learn more explicitly about technology as it was introduced in their adulthoods) and young new hires (who are digital natives, born into a world full of user-friendly technology and therefore don’t necessarily have the explicit, meta-level tech knowledge managers might expect them to possess).
We did not spend much time on theory, though, as the students had lots of hands-on tech work to do in practice. During the first week of class, one assignment was to design a website (see samples of the final products here, here, here, and here). Each student had to turn in a URL for a two-frame, three-tab website. They could use any web authoring tools they wanted (my students happened to choose from among Wix.com, weebly, and WordPress). Initially, they did not have to add any content to the site.
In addition to forcing students to develop enough tech skills to be able to answer “yes” to that interview question (“can you design websites?”), this assignment required that students grapple with some of the important soft skills that employers most want in new hires: independence, resourcefulness, decision-making, and an ability to deal with ambiguity. The lack of instructions can make students nervous–afraid that they’ll “do it wrong” or “get a bad grade.” But this assignment not only mimics the ambiguity of the real world, it also plays out beyond the credit / no-credit grade in the class because, ultimately, students have to decide if they want to tout the website on their resumes and in job interviews, leave it up on the internet so it will appear in Google searches for them, and highlight it in professional situations where the ability to design websites is relevant. The real-world utility of each site varies with each individual student–some will delete their websites at the conclusion of the course. For my purposes as an instructor, the website can be a bland, black-and-white, text-only website; as long as the coursework that has to get posted there actually gets posted there, it does the job and the student will get full credit for that week 1 assignment to design a website.
The content of the Spanish for the Professions course that I was teaching in the spring required that students add the following to their websites:
- Regular blog posts in which they 1- summarized content they had read, viewed, or
listened to related in some way to their career aspirations, 2- reacted to the content, and 3- noted any new vocabulary acquired (this activity is based on the presentation by Marta Chamorro of the University of Tulsa at the 2011 CIBER conference in Charleston, SC).
- The components of a research project on the region where they plan to live and work, including the demographics of that region, existing resources for professionals in that region who interact with Spanish speakers, and a report on the unmet needs–and possible career niche for the student.
Most students also included an “About me” (“¿Quién soy?”) tab. Next time I teach first-year Spanish, student websites might minimally include this tab and any writing assignments students complete as well as images of classwork and some “before” and “after” highlights that show student growth from the beginning to the end of the course.
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. She is the author of the forthcoming volume from Georgetown University Press, “Integrating Career Preparation into Language Courses.” which includes a chapter on digital skills building. To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org