Sunday, April 27, 2008

Transitioning from the college classroom to the workplace

Jennifer Osterday

College is a time to help students increase their knowledge and become prepared for the careers they choose. Unfortunately, some colleges are failing to help prepare their students. Research on how students are transitioning into the workplace has shown that universities are failing to teach students the necessary skills for future success in their careers. There are clearly some areas that a university needs to work on to better prepare their students to succeed in their new workplace. This paper will discuss why students are unable to transition in the workplace as well as what improvements need to be made in the classroom.

Classroom learning versus workroom learning
Research found that one of the main difficulties students faced when entering the workforce was the change in expectancies on how people should learn. A university classroom situation is set up so the focus is on the individual. The workplace, however, has more of a collaborative culture as everyone is working together for a common goal (Freedman, “Write” 54). Immediately the newcomer in the workplace must discover how to adjust their previously scholastic focus of getting the personal good grade to the work world focus of helping each other out.

Abstract Concepts
In order for a student to adjust to the collaborative culture of a workplace, it is important for universities to implement the ideas of abstract concepts such as genre, discourse community, meta-cognition (Freedman, “Write” 195). Genre and discourse community are key concepts for students to understand, as a subject of Beaufort’s pointed out: “‘I remembered the stuff I read in your dissertation about discourse community and genres and I realized that’s what I needed to think about’” (Beaufort, “Bridging” 185). Understanding these concepts allows the student to begin to comprehend what type of genre fits into their discourse community at work.

Transferring knowledge
A big problem people face in a job is the difficulty of having to remembering how to “learn” all over again. Freedman explains, “Consequently, when students move from university to workplace, they do not necessarily recognize the opportunities from learning in the new setting because they are used to the way they learned in the old setting. (“Write” 51). Instead of it being so overwhelming, the individual can go into the workplace and understand how to apply what they know in the new setting (Beaufort, “Bridging the Gap”). If students are taught how to evaluate their work and improve upon it (instead of getting the graded paper and throwing it away) they will be better prepared for a job.

Failing Grading System
The grading systems implemented by schools add to the burden of students transitioning to the workplace. Students are focused entirely on getting a high letter grade instead of thinking about what they are learning (Beaufort, “Bridging”, Reither). Students are often going through the motions of getting the minimum done to pass the class; therefore, the writing is not improving throughout the four years of college. As seen in a study conducted by Freedman and Adam, when the focus is shifted from the grade to working with an actual company, the students worked more on learning how to write appropriately for the genre of the company (Freedman, “Bridging”). This type of situation allows students to get a glimpse of what it is like to write for someone other than the professor.

Changing the professor
This idea of not writing for the professor is further seen as the readings also claimed that teachers need to be less like a professor and more of a project manager in the classroom. The professors need to help students understand how to collaborate as a team. Often students struggle in the workplace because they have become so independent they do not know how to work with others. The idea of having more group work with local businesses was common among the experts. This way the writing the students perform is a reflection on the instructor and the institution, unlike typical writing courses where it is just a reflection of the student’s competence (Dias, et al. 209). The idea of “learning by doing” is important for the classroom to have (Joliffe).

Becoming Self-Motivated
Also, the way someone approaches a new workplace can help or harm their transition. It is important for students to be self-motivated when they begin their job (Pare, Joliffe). Studies showed that students expected their internships to be similar to the classroom in that they would be taught what to learn and what to do. This, however, is not the case. Interns have to learn when to take advantage of certain situations to make the most of their experience. Unfortunately, interns are too accustomed to being told when and how to learn in a classroom setting (Freedman, “Write”). Thus, when entering the workplace the new employee must be ready to take in everything and learn all they can. Being stubborn with the new discourse community can be harmful to the individual. This was obvious in a study done by Wardle which showed how not appreciating the culture and value of a workplace can cost a person their job.

The classroom will never fully be able to represent the workplace. However, it is clear that key concepts can be instilled in students while still in college to make the transition into the workplace easier. The research provided makes a strong argument for what needs to be done. Unfortunately, there seems to be no longitudinal studies on the topic. All of these experts on the topic had great ideas on what should be done, but no studies have proven that these ideas will actually work. If what they are claiming is that college students are not being fully prepared for the workplace, does this mean that a high school graduate will have difficulty adjusting into the workplace just as much as a college graduate? It would be beneficial to see the long term effects on how students progress in the workplace after learning the key ideas in this paper. If some students benefit initially, it would be interesting to see whether they also benefit more in the longer term as well.

For works cited, see annotated bib.

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