CEC Theses and Dissertations

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Date of Award

2013

Document Type

Dissertation - NSU Access Only

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Computing Technology in Education (DCTE)

Department

Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences

Advisor

Timothy J Ellis

Committee Member

Yair Levy

Committee Member

Alec Testa

Abstract

Employers of newly minted information technology graduates are concerned that students graduating with information technology degrees offered in online environments are lacking critical noncomputing skills (soft skills). Further, it is unclear whether online environments have the capacity to foster the "soft skills" necessary for graduates to be successful in actual work environments. On-ground universities have tried multiple solutions including integrating soft skills into lower division courses--both technical courses and general education courses. On-ground universities have also suggested incorporating performance-based capstone experiences into technical degree programs.

While much research has been done in evaluating the value of capstone experiences in face-to-face environments, research investigating the potential of such an experience to enhance and demonstrate soft skills resulting from the engagement in an online environment is lacking. The purpose of this study was to examine the value of a project-based capstone experience in promoting and assessing the enhancement of soft skills in an online undergraduate information technology degree program. The main goals of this research were to discover whether online competency based programs and the culminating project-based capstone promoted enhancement and demonstration of critical soft skills necessary to succeed in information technology work environments.

Results of the study were based on analysis of interviews, curriculum and literature reviews, and extant survey data. A standout outcome of the study includes a new Gains' in Soft Skills Scalelet based on National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) survey questions to measure gains in soft skill competence.

Several conclusions can be drawn from this study. First, critical soft skills are taught and demonstrated as a result of engagement with the online competency-based undergraduate information program. Second, it appears that some soft skills are more strongly emphasized than others thereby implying that the online learning model may be well suited to teaching and demonstrating some soft skills and not others. Finally, the culminating project-based capstone experience appears to be missing two key requirements: team participation and oral presentations.

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