Early Exposure to Technology Training Makes Engineering "Cool"
A physicist turned teacher and then civil servant, Christian Dorninger, who is the Department Head of School Development and IT Affairs for the secondary school system in Austria, spends one day a week teaching at a vocational school. He says, "I have to know what the students are thinking and about the youth culture."
From his research about and exposure to students, Mr. Dorninger has discovered that science, math, and technology are not "in" and are not particularly exciting to students. As the person in charge of technical vocational engineering schools in Austria, that realization presents quite a challenge: How to get students interested in engineering and in pursuing it as a career.
Hands-On Labs Make Technology More Engaging
In 1999, one of Mr. Dorninger's teaching colleagues told him about a potential way to elevate engineering's "cool" factor: Cisco Networking Academy. Coincidentally, Austria's Minister of Education had been recently approached by Cisco about the Networking Academy. The ministry decided initially to institute Networking Academy programs in secondary schools. "Our thinking is that it is easier to get students interested in Networking Academy workshops and laboratories at that age, rather than when they are 18- or 19-year-olds and entering universities," says Mr. Dorninger. It has been his impression that university-bound students who are interested in engineering are more inclined towards theory and research, rather than the practical aspects and implementation of technology.
The Austrian Ministry of Education offers Networking Academy courses for students who are between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. The courses have been well received. Mr. Dorninger says, "We have about 7000 students every year who are interested in attending Networking Academy connected with technical schools, but also students in the business schools, trade schools, and tourism schools." This number is impressive given the country's population (8.4 million), and it's a reflection of the Ministry of Education and Mr. Dorninger's support of Cisco Networking Academy.
Eager Students Become Schools' Networking Technicians
Some former Networking Academy students are now technicians working to ensure well-functioning networks in Austrian schools. The school system decided to hire system engineers rather than have the teachers manage the schools' networks Mr. Dorninger explains: "The teachers' time is too expensive and they should be working with students, not routers. [Now] teachers can focus on teaching rather than on whether the network is up and running."
Networking Academy Connects Technical Theory and Practice
Mr. Dorninger stresses the importance of students experiencing the Networking Academy labs: "The equipment used in the courses is invaluable because it brings theory and practical knowledge together in the labs for the students and instructors."
Another aspect of Networking Academy that sets the program apart for students is the e-learning presentations. Mr. Dorninger notes, "The e-learning lectures are very good and the students don't get bored. This is something the other technology programs do not have."
Yet another difference between Networking Academy and other network training programs is the company's good name and reputation. "Cisco's engagement worldwide is really quite important," adds Mr. Dorninger.
Graduates Effective from Their First Day on the Job
Austria's head of technical vocational engineering schools has received positive reports from the country's businesses that have hired Networking Academy graduates: "We have small and medium enterprises in Austria who have told us they are very satisfied with their employees who have taken Networking Academy courses before they started their jobs." Coming to their new job knowledgeable and well prepared, these employees start working effectively from the first day of their employment and without a lot of additional training.
Advice to His Colleagues: Keep Up-to-Date and Explore Gaming
When asked what advice he would give education and training leaders in his country and other countries, Mr. Dorninger is quick to point out a value-added benefit of the program. "Networking Academy provides recent knowledge in the Information and Communications Technology [ICT] field."
In addition, Mr. Dorninger is convinced gaming will have a great impact on teaching and learning in the near future: "It's very important now to look at what's going on in the field of serious game-placed learning; for younger children to do something connected with gaming; and also writing code and programs in this field. I think the entrepreneurship Aspire game component of the Networking Academy Passport 21 tract is a very good approach."