I was discussing with a friend recently about how success as an undergrad is required to get into a decent grad school or job, but the skills necessary to be successful as an undergrad are very different than the skills necessary to be successful as a grad student or in industry. This cause and effect becomes even more distorted when moving from the role of graduate student to faculty member. It would appear that many of the skills necessary to be successful in a career are acquired outside of the classroom, but students are ranked according to performance within the classroom. We have moved from a cause and effect scenario to shooting darts in the dark.
Now some might argue that the status quo has worked for years, so why bother changing it? And this is definitely a valid point, but I am proposing that we could improve upon the situation. I’m not suggesting a radical change, but rather something that could be implemented slowly, so that we can test how well it works, and revise it as necessary. This is similar to Subway deciding to sell pizzas; they don’t switch overnight, rather they test it in more and more restaurants until it has been proven, and only then is it implemented fully.
I am suggesting that we incorporate more projects into the curriculum, an incorporation that can be introduced as slowly as needed. But a key necessity of these projects is that that they must give the students something to show when the interview for jobs. Computer programmers have created an excellent forum for this through open-source software. Prospective employers can readily see the abilities of a computer science major through an authentic application. Other disciplines can certainly follow suit. The important thing here is that the projects be authentic, and that they highlight an individual’s skills.
Now I do not claim to have invented this idea, but I can see that this concept has not yet been put into practice. Even in fields like engineering, fields that are inherently applied, this has not been implemented in a large way. So, if it is not yet being done, another proponent pushing it into conversation is another step towards implementation.