You, too, can incorporate visualizations—word clouds, concept maps, 2×2 matrices, diagrams, charts, and dashboards—into your teaching to enhance your students’ vocational exploration. I detail a few visual-based exercises below along with short instructions, examples, and possible variations to get the ideas flowing.
Do most of the vocation-focused assignments or activities that you do with students revolve around the written or spoken word? That’s exactly what I found when I was invited to team-teach the second iteration of a vocational exploration seminar for 70 first-year honors students. We had a great syllabus of readings, reflection papers, lectures, and small-group discussion questions, but, as a design professor, I was having difficulty delivering in one mode. Students were also struggling to stay engaged with little variety in our format.
I began looking for ways to include visual-based exercises. Each week, my colleague and I would look over the materials to determine one that we would shift into a visualization. We started small by adding visual components to worksheets: meters and scales for students to fill in as supplement to their written answers. To enhance small-group discussions, we invited groups to create collective Venn diagrams and affinity diagrams in response to questions.
My speculation is that we ought to acknowledge the low or shabby aspects without dismissing the high or sublime, and we ought to hold up the high or sublime aspects without disdaining the low or shabby. And the sublime that we seek or find is usually gifted to us as an outcome of a lot of work that can feel shabby.
For the title of this post, I’ve riffed on an idea of the great Polish poet Adam Zagajewski (1945-2021.) I will use his splendid essay “The Shabby and the Sublime” from A Defense of Ardor to frame my thinking about aspects of vocation. Zagajewski meant “shabby” and “sublime” in tight correlation with “low” and “high” poetic styles. I will use “shabby” and “sublime” more loosely to refer to a range of applications to vocation.
Please read his original essay if you’re interested in his thoughts about an ontological requirement of poetry not to exclude high style. Zagajewski offered a pointed critique of modern poetry and of our time’s preference for low style over high style, for a simplistic style that excludes expressions of the sublime in favor of shabby chatter. His diagnosis when comparing a thing in poor condition from hard use or lack of care and a thing that is beautiful or good beyond measure may surprise you.
The fourth season of NetVUE’s podcast Callings is underway as hosts Erin VanLaningham and John Barton talk with Norman Wirzba, Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Christian Theology at Duke Divinity School and senior fellow at The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University.
The fourth season of NetVUE’s podcast Callings is underway as hosts Erin VanLaningham and John Barton talk with Norman Wirzba, Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Christian Theology at Duke Divinity School and senior fellow at The Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. Norman also serves as general editor for the book series Culture of the Land: A Series in the New Agrarianism (University Press of Kentucky) and is co-founder and executive committee member of the Society for Continental Philosophy and Theology. In this first episode of the new season of Callings, he shares his ideas about agrarian living, freedom and fidelity, and the importance of the ecological dimension of vocation.
Perhaps it is less clear, or less clearly stated, however, that robust career preparation requires the intentional and focused cultivation of the imagination—the ability to dream, speculate, and create the world not as it is but as it might and should be.
Throughout my time as a college educator, the purpose of higher education has become more and more tied to career preparation. This is not news to anyone. The shift to career preparation has been explained, re-explained, and debated by many of us for the last decade with few surprises along the way, save for the occasional fresh takes like Dan Barrett’s recovery of what he calls “The Day the Purpose of College Changed.”
In many ways, the attention and resources being given to career services align with best practices and offer holistic care for students as learners and as people. Colleges and universities must take career preparation seriously not only to recruit and retain students and thus survive this era of uncertainty but also to support students’ intellectual, social, mental, and economic wellness. Career preparation is, in my mind, a matter of justice in higher education today. It is also, however, too often narrowly designed and practiced.