Ryerson is using digital skills courses to make those who hold academic degrees more employable.
With the university’s humanity degrees achieving a high level of popularity, students can now gain more technological skills in the competitive job market thanks to a digital specialization master’s degree to be offered next September.
According to president Sheldon Levy, Ryerson’s humanity degrees have never been more popular.
“We will likely hit overall at the university over 70,000 applications for 6,000 first-year places at the university this year,” he said. “And that ratio is the highest in the province by far.”
This school year was the first for Ryerson’s undergraduate history degree. Last year, the bachelor of arts in English had its initiation to the university’s growing list of degrees.
Problem is, more and more research finds that holders of undergraduate arts degrees aren’t as employable as they used to be.
But according to Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, professor and undergraduate program co-ordinator for the English program, these new arts degrees include content that’s in line with Ryerson’s career-based objective.
“We’ve got to ask ourselves ‘What should a BA at Ryerson look like?’” she said. “We wanted to make sure the students could apply literary skills to a career- based situation.”
In the second year of the English program, students take a project course in order to gain hands-on experience. Students can choose from a creative writing course, a class on writing instruction and professional writing in the arts.
But it’s the digital archiving course that Janzen Kooistra says gains the most interest from the students after completing the course.
“It ensures that they have digital literacy skills,” she said. “It’s learning critical thinking through making.”
For new media student Oscar Hazelaar, an interest in social media and digital literacy led to enrolling in Ryerson’s new digital specialization course.
“I learned a lot about the different tools that are available through social media,” he said. “And no matter what program you’re in, you’ll learn a lot from it.”
Program director of the digital specialization program, Michael Carter, said a one-year master’s course in digital media is in the works for September.
“A digital specialization course is particularly helpful to students in the social sciences and humanities that would be a very, very strong program from them to take their strong skills and match them up with digital literacy,” said Levy. “They would become very, very attractive in the marketplace.”
But digital specialization has already been at Ryerson for a full year. There are two courses undergrad students from any university can take. Hazelaar took the EID 100 course, which was first introduced September 2012.
“That’s essentially a digital foundation course, an introduction so students understand the theoretical as well as the applied processes of working in a digital environment,” said Carter. “We all know how to tweet and text, but what are the ramifications of it?”
The second course, EID 500, is designed to allow students to create their own digital media company or service. This course runs for 12 weeks in the spring semester.
By completing both courses, Ryerson students are given an optional specialization in digital entrepreneurship and innovation designation after graduating.
Both Carter and Levy, believe these courses provide students with training that employers are looking for in many different fields.
“Digital entrepreneurship comes in many forms and many files,” said Carter. “The industry is made up of individuals from every discipline … It’s a good way to get those skill sets to get that additional job in a digital industry.”
Janzen Kooistra, who won this year’s provost’s experimental teaching award, believes in the power of the digital world for the careers of humanity students. Some students who have completed the second-year project course are now in internships — something the professor said is unique to Ryerson’s program.
Students from the digital humanities project course have worked on projects such as coding 1890s periodicals and building a children’s literature searchable database.
“There will be a variety of internships and ways of students applying their literary knowledge and transferable skills in exciting ways,” she said.
For Hazelaar, the digital specialization course is possibly a bridge to future employers.
“Social media is an incredible importance in our lives,” he said. “Companies are looking for people who have experienced knowledge in that field and it definitely makes you an asset.”
Levy said every program is regularly reviewed to make sure the courses are current, providing students with the best skills for the current job market.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on April 3, 2013.