Many online students enroll in their academic programs with career goals in mind. But this doesn’t mean they are actively working with a Career Counselor or the school’s Career Center to fine tune their plans, conduct a job search, or connect with professional development opportunities.
A panel session during the recent Online Learning Consortium conference reiterated this connection between online education and career preparation. In response to a broad question about the future of innovation in our field, one speaker noted that students “are making investments in their careers” with online education. Career development is a growing expectation of higher education’s mission, but not one that all institutions and faculty members share.
Career exploration, decision-making, and professional networking – these tasks are usually addressed in the college Career Center,and many offer a low- or no-credit course about career planning. These classes are rarely mandatory and many students choose not to take them. The extra time and money required to add them to the schedule can be prohibitive. How can we enhance our academic courses with these helpful career components?
The following career development activities could be adapted for use in a range of disciplines. I’ve implemented all of them in one course or another over the years in an effort to spark discussion of career topics with future instructional designers.
1. Encourage career portfolio development.
Learning portfolios provide a method of in-class and program assessment, while career portfolios feature finished projects as examples of one’s knowledge and skills in a job search context. These used to take the form of three-ring binders, but now a web-based option is preferred. Free tools abound – some are specifically designed to showcase work samples (e.g., Seelio, Pathbrite) and others (e.g., WordPress, Tackk) can be easily configured to serve multiple purposes including work portfolios.
If requiring your students to set up portfolio accounts is a bridge too far, and perhaps not realistic within the timeframe of an accelerated term, add a few prompts in your feedback to students. A well placed “don’t forget to add this project to your career portfolio!” can get the ball rolling. It’s also helpful to share examples of professional portfolios, which could include yours or those created by others working in your field. Last semester one of my students included a link to his self-initiated portfolio with his course introduction. It was a hit and several students commented with an intent to start their own.
DePaul University and the University of Central Florida provide some basic guidelines about what should be included in a portfolio, along with a few samples. Forbes.com provides the employer’s perspective with a list of items job seekers should consider posting online.
2. Ask students to conduct an interview.
This is not a new type of assignment. We’ve probably all encountered it in a course at some point in our academic experience. The instructions start something like, “Contact someone who is involved in ______ and ask permission to interview him/her about ______.” It’s not always well received by the students or their interviewees, but with your guidance this could turn into a networking opportunity for all involved. Look for ways to add value to both parties.
- Students may benefit from contacting the alumni office for assistance. Coordinators may have tips for identifying and contacting people to interview.
- Provide a list of possible questions that includes an item or two related to the interviewee’s career decisions, job progression, or suggestions for new graduates.
- Recommend students follow up with their subjects by sending a thank you note or email. This is good practice for job interviews and can lead to further connection.
I actually have an assignment like this in one of my courses. Students often grow frustrated with the scheduling aspect, and the logistics of recording the conversation don’t always work as planned. But it’s often mentioned as a “favorite” assignment at the end of the course, and one that leads to additional ideas and questions for further exploration.
If you aren’t able to tweak an existing interview requirement or add a new assignment to your course, consider extra credit options. Study Guides and Strategies provides a list of helpful tips for students conducting interviews for class projects.
3. Share industry news and events.
Do you attend conferences? Are you a member of a professional organization related to the topics you are teaching? Do you subscribe to newsletters or other publications featuring employment information in your field? These are all helpful, and continual, sources of career-related materials.
Look for the following items in your next round of emails from the organizations you follow, and think about how you might share them with your students:
- Free Webinars: Is an upcoming session open to the public? Share a brief description and link to more information, including any pre-registration steps that may be required.
- Breaking News: Provide a summary of the latest research report, industry innovation, or legislative decision that affects professionals working in your field.
- Resource Profiles: Highlight the websites, reports, and authors you rely on to stay up-to-date in your work. These resources could range from a book you’ve just read to a blog that you regularly follow.
Consider adding a weekly announcement to your course that is specifically dedicated to career topics, or add a quick “career tip” to your existing weekly updates and reminders. Mind Tools provides additional suggestions for keeping up-to-date on your industry, which may inspire additional ways to interact with your students around career topics.
4. Introduce students to someone in your professional network.
Many of us teach as adjunct professors, bringing our own current and previous experience as working professionals, and our connections through associations and networks, to our classrooms. In many disciplines, one of the benefits of taking a course with an adjunct professor is the potential to learn from their work outside of academia. We can foster interest in and knowledge of career development through:
- Guest Speaker Sessions: Whether you hold a live meeting via Skype, Google Hangout, or other web-conferencing tool, or record an interview with a leader in your field, take a few minutes to share how you met the speaker and the value of continued networking efforts during the session. Your guest may also be prompted to share how he/she entered the field and made decisions about education and advancement.
- Your Social Media Profiles: Social networking tools allow us to make helpful and meaningful connections at a distance. Model good practices in maintaining a social presence by sharing your LinkedIn and other profiles with your students. Give them the opportunity to learn from the information you share about yourself, your industry, and your network.
- Social Media Interaction: Encourage students to create their own social accounts and use them in professional ways. Add an optional social media activity to your course, perhaps in a discussion forum or wiki, which allows students to exchange their information (e.g., Twitter usernames). You and your students can also share your favorite accounts to follow for updates about jobs and careers.
Your institution may provide additional guidelines and suggestions for using social media with your students. Review any existing documents to find out more about what is expected, and take a look at some of the latest research reports about how faculty members are using social media networks with a focus on teaching and career goals.
5. Connect with the Career Center.
Career counselors, coaches, and advisors are available through your institution and they have expertise in not only the job search process, but also career decision-making. The Career Center staff is happy to share resources with faculty, and often already has suggestions posted online. Take a look at the University of Texas at Tyler and Penn State World Campus Career Centers as examples of the assistance you might find at your school.
Each center differs in terms of the number of staff members available and how they are assigned. Many advisors are assigned to work with specific majors or programs, while others serve as generalists across disciplines. No matter the approach, these professional career practitioners can advise you on additional ways to initiate career conversations with your students.
It’s not realistic to expect that we can mentor students individually, but we can encourage what you could call “career thinking” while they are with us in our courses. I’ve tried to add small pieces to my instructional design classes that encourage students to think about future jobs while they are working on assignments. In general, they are well received by students and can enhance a standard assignment format. It may help to take a quick poll of survey of your class early in the term to see where their interests lie in terms of career information.
Do you add career exploration, development, or networking activities to your online course content? Share your favorite techniques with us here.
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog