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Never underestimate the power of an introduction course

Educational institutions and other educators include orientation or introduction courses to their programs. Sometimes this is done to ensure basic skills and knowledge needed in further studies. Sometimes this is done to market more advanced courses, or to sell other activities.


Heikki Hietala

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Teemu Ruohonen

lehtori, digitaaliset palvelut
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 22.09.2023

Introduction courses may be a service for students. They can also be experienced as necessary evil, and something that just has to be done in order to get forward, get credits and graduate.

Even though the focus in introduction courses usually is on deeper content, advanced and even serious knowledge, an introduction can really make a difference. Especially, when the purpose of the course is to make a difference.

Kick-start into a career as a digital professional

In IT studies at Haaga-Helia we have four orientation or study profiles: digital services, business and ICT, software engineering and ICT infrastructures. Each of them has an introduction course (5 credits each). Initially, these courses were created to help students to understand what each orientation is all about, and help further study planning. In addition, they enable the development of basic knowledge and skills on each orientation, and work as a baseline for further studies.

As part of our digital service team, we regularly teach the Introduction to Digital Services course. As it happens, digital transformation is one of the biggest trends of our age. Thus, it does not need much argumentation to justify the orientation, or the course. The main question we focus on is, what should be included in the introduction to create maximum impact.

Our solution has been split into three main parts.

  1. The course starts from the big picture, to give an overview of current digital trends and understanding some of them on a deeper level.
  2. The second part has been the introduction of digital service design, to understand the process of how services are and should be developed today, and to learn a few methods to use.
  3. The third and last one goes under the hood, opening a code editor and learning to write code.

The big picture can be confusing: the design process messy and coding scary. However, after the course students have a better understanding of the digital world and the change happening in it. They have the basic knowledge of digital service development, and most of all, the skills ready for immediate use.

Even though the introduction course is especially for IT students, the content has been designed to suit everyone who wants to increase his or her digital competence. A student does not need any prior skills or knowledge in order to participate in the course.

Shift from user to developer

Over the years it has been nice to see learning occurring in the course. The digital world, full of IT related terms and isms, becomes more tangible and finds its place in one´s mental models. A design mindset starts to evolve, and not only in words, but actions. Also, many students code and publish their first website ever.

The thing with digital services is that while we all use them every day. We add new apps and systems to our set of used services all the time, but few pause to ponder just how these services were designed, or how they could be made better. We complain about them when they don’t work. We continue without wondering what went wrong and how the users could be served better with the service, if it was developed a little further.

That is why our introductory course shows not only what is under the hood, but also gives the students a comprehensive overview of the service’s path from idea to implementation, starting with user analysis and progressing through the service design path to delivery of a well-crafted digital service.

There is always a first step in order to master something

What can you actually do after this course, and with those limited skills? A cynical mind could state, not much. However, we know that plenty can be done. After the course a student can start participating in discussions on the theme, improve user experience, and work on the coding level. With these skills one can start creating impact immediately at any work.

There is also one aspect we have found remarkable – the inspiration. Regularly students find ideas and visions related to a professional future: what to study next and perhaps what to do for a living later.

As much as the value of a single course should not be underestimated, neither should the power of an introduction course be underestimated. They help a student to take the first step. And it is the most crucial step so far, as the second or third step can only come after the first.

Join our Introduction to Digital Services course. Or some other introduction on IT studies. All bachelor students, students from Haaga-Helia open university, and even staff members are welcome!

Picture: Shutterstock