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SW prepares students for the real world.

The software skills and training required in the real world of business have become increasingly sophisticated. To meet this need, Mesa State College, a 4,500-student undergraduate campus in the State Colleges of Colorado system, developed its Advanced Business Software class, which now enrolls more than 250 business majors each year.

"We equip all of our school of business students with basic software literacy in areas such as word processing and spreadsheet manipulation. But there is a significant portion of our student body that requires advanced software education to be prepared for today's job market," says Pierre Bettelli, assistant professor of information systems, who is the author of, and instructor for, the course.

According to Bettelli, one of the most crucial skills employers are seeking today is the ability to integrate information from a wide variety of sources and present that data effectively in business reports and analyses. "The goal of the course is to provide students with appropriate computer knowledge, as well as [how to use] tools ranging from database management systems and spreadsheets to advanced word processing and graphics software, and then challenge them with 'real world' projects." N integrated Package

Normally the time required to train students on individual software packages in each of these areas would be prohibitive. In addition, most colleges cannot afford to purchase and support a wide variety of personal computer software on their systems. According to Bettelli, however, this has not been an issue at Mesa State because of the college's selection of Enable, a high-end, integrated package developed by Enable Software, Inc. in Ballston Lake, N.Y. Chosen in 1987, it is used exclusively by the class.

Enable, which includes word processing, spreadsheet, database management, graphics and telecommunications modules plus advanced programming tools, was selected after members of the school's accounting faculty attended a demonstration of the program at another Colorado state college. By using an integrated package, class time can be focused on hands-on use of the software rather than training.

"We selected an integrated package because we wanted students to develop skills in moving and manipulating data between applications, and actually programming macros and systems to automate business tasks," says Bettelli.

Originally the course utilized Enable Version 1.0, but the college has since upgraded to Enable LAN Version 2.15. The software is accessible to business students through 90 DOS-based workstations located in two computer labs. Each lab's LAN hardware includes DOS-based Zenith 159s and AT&T 6286, 6310 and 6286EL workstations supported by an AT&T 6386 file server. Students can output their work via AT&T 459 and 581 dot-matrix printers connected to each file server. An additional 20 workstations are located in professors' offices.

Students can also reserve workstation time to complete their assignments during non-class hours; the lab in the library remains open until midnight.

* Hands-on Approach

Advanced Business Software is a three-credit core requirement for accounting and information systems majors that utilizes a hands-on approach to learning by studying sample business situations modeled on actual experiences. Students advance through ten project assignments that increase in complexity. Each project requires students to select the most appropriate software features and functions for the tasks required.

While the first project is a simple word processing case, students eventually use the system to develop sales analyses and projections, budgets and accounting reports. By the end of the semester, students are expected to complete a complex business analysis that requires integrating Enable's database management, spreadsheet and word processing modules.

Bettelli's goal is to have students prepare a professional-level report analyzing sales, revenues and budget projections for a hypothetical company. In each case, Bettelli presents students with the necessary data and a description of the final output desired. The students must decide which Enable applications to utilize, enter the data, analyze it and generate report documents.

After teaching students how to use each software application, Bettelli serves as an advisor to individual students as they complete more technically sophisticated projects. In addition, many students develop programming skills ranging from creating macros to coding complex applications using Enable's procedural language and menu generator.

* Real-world Applications

The true test of any business curriculum-information systems included-is whether or not its students can apply their education in the real world. At Mesa State they most assuredly do. In fact, two of Bettelli's more enterprising class members actually developed and sold a software application now used commercially by a local irrigation company. The privately-owned company, which sells water under Colorado's water share system, has been using the student-developed system since 1989.

The project began as part of a class assignment and was further developed outside of class over a five-month period. Driven by a series of menus, the software tracks the sale and transfer of water shares. It also prepares the company's payroll and accounts payable, and generates extensive internal and customer reports on account status and billing.

"The work of these two students is an outstanding illustration of the advanced software skills we teach at Mesa State," says Bettelli. "Everything we do here is targeted to using technology to meet business needs, and their work certainly demonstrates that we're succeeding."

In the future, Bettelli aims to keep his students current on new software technologies. The school is exploring a further upgrade to Enable/OA 4.0, which will allow students to take advantage of enhanced software features such as mouse support, advanced windowing capabilities and 3D spreadsheets.
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Title Annotation:Applications; Mesa State College's Advanced Business Software class
Publication:T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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