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Integrating Industry Applications into Learning Experiences

Galen Collins, Ph.D., Professor, W.A. Franke College of Business, Northern Arizona University

Students are more likely to remember something they actually did than what they heard in a lecture. This is particularly true of Generation Z students (born between 1995 and 2010) who prefer active learning or instructional methods that engage them in the learning process. Of equal importance to them is that the curriculum include real-world activities for developing their employability skills.

In the past, the deployment of a sophisticated commercial hospitality application in a university classroom was not feasible or sustainable for most hospitality programs because of technical, financial, and/or support challenges.   However, with the migration of hospitality applications to the cloud, this is no longer true. Universities now have the opportunity to develop partnerships with industry enabling students to access state-of-the-art hospitality systems from any computer by simply typing in a web address.

The School of Hotel and Restaurant at Northern Arizona University (NAU) entered into a partnership with SkyTouch Technology, a subsidiary of Choice Hotels International, allowing both online and classroom students to gain hands-on experience using their cloud-based property management system (PMS) and accompanying training system at no cost. Because the SkyTouch handles all system upgrades and enhancements, students are always learning the latest version of the PMS (computerized lodging system) software.

SkyTouch built a live training database for a fictitious 100-room hotel exclusively for NAU. Students first complete a series of interactive multimedia web-based training modules before performing a variety of tasks (e.g., making a reservation, checking a guest in, posting charges, etc.) using the actual PMS.  The training modules allow students to learn at their own pace, greatly reducing the instructional time devoted to the PMS application. Besides learning how to execute common tasks and functions, students also gain experience on management and auditing functions and creating and interpreting reports.

NAU students have been surveyed multiple times about their experiences using the SkyTouch PMS and training system. They have consistently expressed that the skills gained from this learning experience are practical and transferable. The students have also repeatedly mentioned the convenience of having the PMS and training modules available on the web. Many of the on-campus survey respondents indicated that they had completed training and practice assignments on their personal computers.

NAU’s partnership with SkyTouch has resulted in increased instructional and staff productivity, positive student learning experiences, and easier and more flexible student access to a key hospitality application. It has also prepared recent graduates entering the hotel industry to be more quickly productive in their first jobs.  Partnerships, such as this one, are not only beneficial to instructors and students but to hoteliers as well.

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