The UNE Academy of Digital Sciences was designed for young professionals feeling unchallenged in their current job; new immigrants have managed IT projects in the past, but needed to brush up on project communication skills and new digital competencies; or liberal arts college students for whom a professional certificate of completion would be the perfect complement to an academic degree.
The first step entailed connecting with a UNE Academy Advisor — via email, online, or phone — for an enrollment process designed to be quick and easy. The Advisor answered questions about the Academy and assessed interests, talents and experience to match learners with courses building upon their professional competencies and digital skills. The Advisor guided learners through registration and a seamless transition onto the UNE Academy online learning platform.
If a candidate was new to the field, they may have been to our introductory Digital Sciences Essentials course, which provided a good overview of our four main career focus areas. After completing the essentials course, they had the opportunity to dive deeper in one of the four Fundamentals courses. Those with professional technology experience were given an opportunity to “test out” of the Essentials course and enroll directly in one of the four Fundamentals courses.
Courses were offered in self-paced eight-week sessions available throughout the year — including summer — and completed on a flexible schedule in months, not years.
Each course consisted of the following key elements:
- Relevant, up-to-date online learning modules curated from leading instructors at world-class universities and delivered via the rapidly evolving Coursera platform. Modules were self-paced and could be completed to fit any schedule: days, nights, or weekends.
- Real-world projects developed with leading Maine employers and designed to help learners apply new knowledge.
- Professional mentoring through online forums and during regular “office hours” at live UNE Academy Learning Hub meetings in Portland, either in person or through remote conferencing. Learning Hub meetings were archived for convenience.
- Advising was provided from initial contact through post-course events, such as employer meet-ups and next-step course enrollment.
- A digital portfolio in which learners captured their learning process and project work, and which provided insights beyond a cover letter and resume.
The Academy was a “stepping stone” to career entry or advancement that provided learners with career preparation that matched their interests and experience.
The introductory “Digital Sciences Essentials” course was intended to help people with little prior knowledge or experience to explore their passions and gauge interest in the digital professions:
Learners discovered the career groups that matched their interests and then enrolled in a second eight-week course that offered a deeper dive into one of the four “Fundamentals” areas:
- Development and Programming
- Interaction and Interface
- Analysis and Data
- Project Management
Some learners completed all four fundamentals courses, thus gaining the broadest base of knowledge and experience on which to establish their career. Those with prior experience in the digital professions could “test out” of the introductory “Essentials” course and move right into a “Fundamentals” course to help them prepare for the next stage of their career.
Every UNE Academy course included a project-based learning experience to help learners apply new content knowledge to projects that reflected the cyclical, agile development process found in many work environments: identifying client needs, proposing solutions, prototyping demos and iterative testing. Learners captured those project-based experiences in digital portfolios that demonstrated competencies for future employers.
Professional mentors were the heart of the UNE Academy. We recruited mentors from among the most accomplished professionals in Maine’s business community, ensuring that course work and project work undertaken by learners reflected the current best-practices of the business world. At the same, time, Academy mentors were among the most generous and intuitive of their colleagues, adept at teaching and building rapport—they are the stars who wanted to “pay forward” their own success by guiding and supporting learners in all aspects of their Academy experience.
Mentors interacted with learners via an online discussion forum and participated in “office hours” at the Academy’s Learning Hub on the UNE Portland Campus, as well as other locations based on need. Learners who were able travel to the Learning Hub met with other learners and mentors at regular times. Those who were unable to attend in person could participate live via telepresence or watch archived Learning Hub events.
The ultimate goal was to connect with employers.
After completing a curated selection of individual and group learning experiences built around employer-defined competencies, learners received a certificate of course completion and were invited to meet with employers at UNE Academy Roundtables — including the same employers who defined the competencies outcomes for Academy courses.
Maine employers have reported that meeting qualified candidates in person is among the best ways to find great employees. Academy Roundtables provided opportunities for learners to present their work and for employers and professionals to share their own pathways to professional success.