Visualizations in Vocational Explorations

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.

Portion of a “To whom shall I listen?” worksheet featuring a volume bar for students to fill in to the appropriate level.
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Design Thinking for Vocation-Related Programming

If you want to help others catch the vision for, create a sustainable program about, or build community around vocational exploration, then seriously consider design thinking as a development framework.

Several years ago, I was tasked with co-leading a vocation initiative tied to the university’s reaccreditation. Although it was a high administrative priority, faculty and staff members saw the initiative as a top-down directive distracting from their day-to-day work. Yet my codirector and I needed to make it happen or there would be dire institutional consequences. We both believed deeply in the transformative power of vocational exploration, but our enthusiasm could only take the project so far. 

You might be in a similar position of leading a university-wide initiative with little faculty or staff buy-in. You may have been tasked with writing a NetVUE Vocation Across the Academy Grant proposal. Or maybe you want to start a grassroots movement to scale up vocational exploration beyond your classroom or small group of like-minded colleagues.

How do you create a vocational exploration program that will be meaningful and sustainable?

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Design Thinking and Vocational Exploration

Sometimes a simple approach to incorporating vocational exploration works. I learned that the amount of instruction time devoted to vocation can be minimal and still give significant returns.

Sometimes we try too hard to make vocational exploration fit into our curriculum. Or we easily assume that it does not have a natural place within our particular discipline. But I would encourage us to look again. For me, the right fit was hiding in plain sight as the solution to a challenging situation.

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