Popular IT class a staple for residence life staffers

Housekeeping workers take advantage of an IT offering. By Stephen Salpukas.

For almost a decade, the information technology department (IT) has offered technology training classes to the William and Mary community. The course list is wide and varied. One class in particular — "Computer Skills for Life" — is so well received by residence life employees that Housekeeping Manager Curtis Powell has made it an integral part of his staff's professional development.

The class is geared to employees that have had no previous formal computer training. The curriculum introduces computer novices to the capabilities of computer technology guiding participants through everything from the basics of MS Word and MS Excel to Mouserobics and Webmail.

Exposure to the class, Powell said, has increased the effectiveness of his department – "especially along communication lines." "[The class], "is going to be beneficial for [the employees] to further their careers. Computers are the way of the future."

The class series was one of the first offered by IT. The 10-week course provides two hours of instruction per week plus additional time with the computers for practice.

"The class is not so structured that it is intimidating, but structured enough that the class is not chaos," said instructor Gwen Rutherford. "There is a need on this campus for the person who doesn't sit at a desk everyday in front of a computer to learn the basics."

The class was originally developed at the urging of Allison Wildridge, associate director of residence life. "Residence life was getting new computers at the time," Wildridge recounted, "and I wanted the supervisors to feel comfortable with the new equipment.

"The response from the supervisors was great. They loved Gwen, their instructor, and felt they learned so much that they asked to take ‘part 2' the next year," Wildridge added. Interest continues to grow, she said.

"Many of the residence life housekeeping employees have taken additional classes with IT, the Rita Welch Center, and regular college courses for credit," Wildridge said.

"The College is an institution of higher learning, I think it's important for all of the employees to be aware and take advantage of the resources we have available here. We do our best to promote these opportunities and provide time during the day for them to participate in classes. All in all it is a win-win arrangement."

Rutherford has taught the class from the beginning. She was joined in 2006 by colleague David Hamilton as demand for the class grew.

Hamilton noted that the students' enthusiasm and desire to learn in this class was excellent. He added that attendance in the class has been good as well, remembering some second shift employees who made the extra effort to return to campus for the 10 a.m. class.

In addition to classroom time, employees have access to nine computer labs on campus. Those employees who don't have desk space also have access to their supervisor's computer.

Rutherford noted that Housekeeping Supervisor Charlean Carson liked the class so much she encourages her employees to attend and frequently joins them for a refresher. "She's still learning more, and more, and more," added Rutherford.

With the class, Hamilton says, the students are getting "a consistent body of information as opposed to the random way people will learn on their own."

Employees need access to computers and computer training because every employee, at a minimum, "needs to get into myWM, send emails and be able to communicate with their supervisors," said Hamilton.

The small class size, generally no more than 10 students, allows the instructors to provide hands on attention. Hamilton noted students often want to know how to save their files to CD's and how to process and store pictures.

"The class provides a quiet place for learning – no interruptions," Rutherford added.

While the substance is important, the instructors said it isn't their only focus.

"The class is a very rewarding part of our job. We love it," added Rutherford. "We try to make learning fun."