COOKS AND COMPUTER COMPATIBILITY (A RECIPE FOR SUCCESS)
Food Service students come to our Hawaii Community College in West Hawaii with limited or no computer skills, yet the industry in which they seek employment is rapidly computerizing. Some students have used e-mail with family and friends and have gone so far as to send and receive family photos. Few though have used The Microsoft Office Word and Excel programs or have researched online. They are anxious to learn the traditional skills of cutting, slicing, grilling and baking; however, they are hesitant to learn the computer skills necessary to be successful in todays culinary industry.
Initial Preparation (Mise en Place)
To help students learn the computing tools of their trade, we stress that they are learning to be good cooks, and additionally, future managers, chefs, and owners. With a worthy goal in mind, the students are willing to do the web-based research assignment. They each choose a topic from the Supervisory Management text by Raphael Kavanaugh, and Jack Ninemeier, 3rd edition. Three references are submitted as hot links with the 800-word report. The report must be e-mailed to the instructor as an attachment in Microsoft Word.
This may seem to be a simple assignment to those who have moderate computer experience. Not so for the inexperienced operator. Even though a well-equipped computer lab and a user-friendly learning center are on our small campus, the students usually start their research and writing on a home computer. They are challenged by inadequate Internet service providers, old programs, improperly maintained computers, and overloaded memory due to aggressive use by other family members. In rural West Hawaii, power surges and brownouts are frequent. Home phone lines and wiring in the home are sometimes inadequate. Virus protection may be out-of-date or not properly installed leading to infected systems. Family computer-use schedules may have to be rearranged to accommodate the newest user. All this before research can begin.
Frequently, I give printouts of articles from the Web sites of NY Times Online http://www.nytimes.com/, National Restaurant News http://www.nrn.com/, National Restaurant Association http://www.restaurant.org/ and Food TV. www.foodtv.com These user-friendly sites wet the students appetites for information about their topics. The most popular topics have been sexual discrimination, labor laws, interviewing, and pay rates in the industry.
Our learning center staff have been advised of the assignment, and assist by coaching the use of search engines. The University search engines like ELSCO and Voyager determine academically credible sources while popular Google and Yahoo do not. Also, the staff help the students with setting up e-mail accounts, using Word, attaching documents, formatting their papers, and printing. Writing skills and speed-reading tutorials as well as tutors are available. An additional benefit are the up-to-date computers and programs with high-speed connectivity in the learning center that give the students an operational benchmark to evaluate their home system. The learning center is available Monday through Friday, 8am to 6:30pm. Thus, these services enable the students to quickly become comfortable with a computer-based assignment.
Peer instruction plays an important part in completing the assignment. In each class there have been one or two students who are comfortable enough with their computer knowledge to become the class "e-guru". The peers casually answer many questions that would normally be directed to the instructor. This mutual coaching helps develop the team spirit so necessary in the food service world. Our students range from teenagers just out of high school to people in their 50s who are changing careers or increasing their job skills. The lack of computer skills seems to be uniform across the ages.
Necessary business writing skills are developed by this assignment. Using the tools in Word such as the spelling, grammar, and punctuation checks, the students find that they can write a paper that conveys their ideas accurately. Online dictionaries and thesauruses immediately expand their vocabulary. Most of our students have shied away from writing due to their limited knowledge of the basic rules of English that were not learned in public schools. Students who have English as a second language also profit from the online writing aids. Modern management procedures require more writing skills at a lower level of the organization than in the past. Job descriptions, job specifications, written evaluations, accident reports, and budget planning all demand a command of the written English language.
Industry Job Skills
Due to the job skills our students learn and the very tight labor market in our area, all of our students find jobs before or after graduation. Executive chefs report that our students move up rapidly due to their attitudes toward work and their well-rounded knowledge of their craft. Part of that knowledge is the ability to work with computers in a business environment. Presently, the hospitality industry uses computers for menu planning, menu costing, ordering food supplies and equipment, tracking inventory, posting jobs, taking reservations, accounting, budgeting, repairing work orders, scheduling, and even requesting time-off. Job-skills are tested online, as well as continuing education in the job specialty and the culture of the organization. As a result, the large hospitality chains have found that online instruction builds a uniformly higher level of job skills no matter how geographically remote their units may be.
The duties of the instructor while coaching the novice computer users are challenging since each student comes with different basic knowledge, fears and expectations as well as computer systems. Class work in the computer lab would solve the variance in equipment; however, class time is limited and scheduling the lab is complicated. The instructor needs good connectivity preferably both at work and at home, up-to-date programs and plenty of computer memory. The assignment should have deadlines for each part test and print trial Web sites, submit three references with hot links, submit outline of paper, and submit final paper. Frequent reminders are made in class to reinforce these deadlines. Two months is about the right length of time for this assignment given the many new skills that the students must master.
Grading the papers is made easier with the hot links giving fast access to the references. A detailed grading guide is made available to the students and is available to the readers by e-mailing the author. For a brief example: references are 25%, content is 50%, and presentation is 25%. Allowing quotations from the references when proper acknowledgement is made discourages plagiarism. Papers are graded in the traditional fashion of writing comments on a paper copy of the report. Previously attempted by this writer was using the "track changes" feature of Word which proved to be time-consuming for the instructor and frustrating for the students. Also, using the Web based learning program, WebCT, was considered and then rejected due to the short duration of the assignment and the learning curve needed to be comfortable with WebCT.
In conclusion, cooks and computers are indeed compatible. Cooks are expected to interact smoothly with information technology in todays hospitality industry. At the same time, computers are becoming user-friendlier. Therefore, gaining a comfortable working knowledge of this electronic tool is an important part of the students preparation to succeed on the job.
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