Pursuing a college education used to be a fairly straightforward process. A general interest was paired with a broad degree that resulted in a diploma with several career paths. Success was achieved by how quickly you secured a job out of college, and student loans with low interest rates and pay back incentives were freely available. The average debt per student loan borrower in 1993 was $10,000. Fast forward 20 years and the class of 2014 graduate will pay back $33,000.
The journey to higher education has now become an algorithm. Declared major + acceptance at a college regarded for high job placement = greatest chance of employability (and the financial stability to manage loan repayment). Students today are under extreme pressure to build their college resume, chalked full of classroom and off-campus internships, to yield the best possible job placement.
Russell Pangborn, professor at Seneca College, located in Toronto Canada, is in tune with his students’ needs and continuously seeks ways to improve their world-of-work readiness. Russ has taught for the School of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for 26 years, and this past year, was instrumental in adding a new professional option (elective) to the Computer Programming & Analysis major; a hopeful employment differentiator for his students. No other college or university in Canada offers Mobile App Development for IBM i.
In addition, Russ is a Toronto Users Group (TUG) board member, a professional forum for the presentation and exchange of ideas that pertain to IBM i (AS/400, iSeries, System i) users. Russ provides students with opportunities to present at TUG meetings and the group’s annual conference. These experiences allow students to practice speaking in public and communicating with IT professionals.
As you’ll discover from my interview with Russ, he is passionate about helping his students succeed in the classroom and real-life.
Tell me about your experience with the IBM i? When did you start working on the platform?
In the early 90’s I was teaching RPG on the System 36 and learned our department was getting the AS/400. The individual originally assigned to work on the system backed out so it became my responsibility. I had never seen the AS/400 before let alone worked on the system, so I basically started from scratch and had to experiment with it. I used AS/400 manuals for reference, and overtime, built up subjects to teach.
How did the decision to include a mobile development course for the IBM i come to fruition?
I heard Grant Cooper, LANSA Director of Sales, speak at a TUG meeting last year about LongRange, a mobile application development tool. I took notice of mobile development options on the IBM i and learned from Grant another college, Gateway Technical College, incorporated the tool in their curriculum. He showed me a video that a Gateway student produced for his final project showing off the mobile app he built using LongRange. I thought, “We could do that too.”
Grant provided me with a lot of information about LongRange and was very supportive. He told me about LongRange University, a series of workshops and self-paced training courses, where I could continue my learning.
During this same timeframe, one of my students, Ma’ad Shipchlander, contacted me and asked if I had any projects he could work on. I told him about LongRange and after he expressed interest in evaluating the tool, I set up a meeting with Grant. From there we installed LongRange on our system and the student made his way through the 300-level courses on LongRange University. He converted one of his RPGLE labs to run on a mobile device. I realized the tool’s potential for Seneca College students.
How were you able to add the Mobile App Development for IBM i elective to the college’s curriculum?
Seneca College began offering professional options in the late 90’s. We were one of the first colleges to offer electives and the courses were primarily made up of professors’ interests. The process for getting the Mobile App Development for IBM i approved was lengthy. In my meeting with the department, I included my student Ma’ad and his conversion of a lab to run with LongRange. He was a great spokesperson and helped support my case for adding the course. Based on his help and performance in two of my subjects I wrote up a recommendation for a Student Leadership award and was recently informed he won this $500.00 scholarship.
This is your first semester teaching the course, how’s it going?
Because professional options are optional courses, the faculty compete for students. I had five students sign up for Mobile App Development for IBM i, and I’m happy with this number since the class is new. So far we haven’t encountered any major pitfalls, and I’ve enjoyed seeing the students excited.
How will students be evaluated?
Forty percent of a students’ grade will be based on a final project, rather than a final exam. The project is still evolving but will entail building a mobile app. I would like students to take an existing app and see what features they can add to it using LongRange’s EZI capabilities. Take for example a payroll application that has multiple spool files. Using LongRange, students could add employee pictures to file owners, include maps of customers’ location, and add telephone numbers, pictures of locations and more.
What do you hope students take way from this course?
I’m hoping they develop an interest in the AS/400 and add another skillset to their employability. I want students to have an edge and hopefully this course provides that for them. No other college or university is teaching something like this.
You’re involvement with the Toronto User Group (TUG) has been mutually beneficial for your students and Seneca College.
I’ve taken students to TUG meetings and have had them present at the group’s annual conference. Interest in Seneca College grew with each presentation so I proposed moving the conference – that took place at a hotel – onto our campus. The move enabled TUG to have access to our labs and allowed conference attendees to learn about our strong AS/400 program. My hope is that Mobile App Development for IBM i students will be able to present their final project at the annual conference.
You founded the Seneca TUG Award to help promote students’ success.
Each semester a student whom demonstrates exceptional performance in the classroom and understanding of the Power Systems platform is selected for the award. Recipients typically possess a high grade point average and interest in the AS/400. The award is presented at the TUG Conference, and I write an article about each student. One recipient actually received a promotion after her employer found out she won the award!
Students who learn from Russ are well prepared for entering the workforce, and Mobile App Development for IBM i is another hopeful employment differentiator. LANSA plans to follow Russ through his journey of incorporating LongRange in his classroom, and we look forward to previewing his students’ final projects.