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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Called to Endings

We cannot know the future. But to interpret our lives or to judge the best mode of action at any given moment requires us to consider that future—to imagine possible ends, to “project ourselves [. . .] past the End” like the poets.

During my graduate coursework in the late 1990s, Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction was revelatory for me. Published in 1966, it certainly wasn’t part of any hot, new direction in Victorian studies; it couldn’t even be described as canonical at the time. But it was vital for my own scholarly trajectory in its examination of our need for endings and how narratives play with temporality and shape our experiences both of reading and of living.

I’ve been thinking about endings a lot over the past year, prompted no doubt by the death of a parent and by my choosing to give up one of my administrative appointments, but also by our new realities in the post-pandemic academy. Perhaps it seems odd to consider endings just as we approach or anticipate the start of the new academic year—new classes, new students, new colleagues. But endings are bound up in beginnings, and to recognize their importance in our interpretive work brings vocational clarity. To begin anything is, paradoxically, to begin its ending.

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The Carnegie Hour and the Vocation of Student Learning

The aim is to teach students to prioritize non-homework activities that support mental health and emotional well-being, and that are critical for building cognitive function inside and outside of the classroom.

In my previous post, I reflected on the impossibility of today’s full-time, undergraduate students’ completing the two “independent student learning” homework hours for every “instructor-led” class hour as standardized by Carnegie. Fulfilling these mandated homework hours was not possible before the pandemic because students did not have enough time in their weekly schedules. After the pandemic, students face even more obstacles. Still lacking enough time to study, students seem to be missing critical independent study skills and are experiencing limited cognitive capacity as well as increased mental health concerns. In this post, I will offer a few concrete ways to address these two concerns in our syllabi and support the vocation of student learning.

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Can the Carnegie Hour Support the Vocation of Student Learning?

If Carnegie units of academic time are fundamental to defining a baccalaureate degree, then how can we make them work for us and for our students?

The Carnegie hour is a unit of time that standardizes academic study across institutions. Established in 1906 as means to calculate retirement hours earned, Carnegie hours are now often required on syllabi. This way, students (and accreditation agencies) know how many “instructor-led” class hours to expect and how many “independent student learning” homework hours to schedule.

Educators have been critical of standardized measures of academic time since these hours were instituted. Even Carnegie has called for their revision. Others counter that they are so embedded in how higher education measures, well, everything—student learning, academic terms, job descriptions, full-time faculty employment (FTEs), TIAA retirement earnings, national accreditation assessments—that untangling higher education from this constructed 50-minute “hour” is practically impossible.

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Paul Hanstedt on What Matters

The most recent episode of NetVUE’s podcast Callings features a conversation with Paul Hanstedt, director of the Houston H. Harte Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington and Lee University.

The most recent episode of NetVUE’s podcast Callings features a conversation with Paul Hanstedt, director of the Houston H. Harte Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington and Lee University. In addition to consulting on general education and on faculty and curricular development, he is author of Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World (2018) and writes on pedagogy for Inside Higher Ed and Liberal Education.

Paul shares his excitement for working with undergraduates, especially beginning students: “they have hope,” he says, and in their first year of college, we often see their important “shift from lack of agency to agency.”

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Exploring Vocation in the Health Professions: Promoting Longitudinal Discernment

As students gain clarity about their vocational choice(s), we must create a longitudinal path that provides opportunities for students to revisit vocational discernment throughout their college experience.

A series of posts about a collaborative project at the University of Dayton to develop courses, programs, and opportunities for undergraduate vocational discernment in the health professions, including a first-year course, “Discover Health and Medicine.”

I am always amused when I’m asked if I work in the field in which I earned my undergraduate degree. The answer is no, and in fact, I go out of my way to explain to students my meandering path to my current vocation. When I reflect upon my experiences, I accept that had I made different choices as an undergraduate, my path may have been straighter and more efficient, but I would not be the same person that I am today.

In my initial blog post in January, I shared my colleagues’ and my plan to develop a Discover Health & Medicine track for students who express interest in a career in the health professions but had not been initially accepted into a traditional pre-health major. Our two-semester, first-year class will incorporate an intentionally extended vocational exploration and discernment process. For those students who are interested in exploring a vocation in the health professions, this class will teach the skills of discernment and provide tools and resources to use in setting goals.

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From Career Paths to Communications Circuits: Vocation and Book History

Book history, in ways that I believe can be deeply meaningful for our students, explores the happy if constrained juxtaposition of creative pleasure and material necessity.

As an English teacher, I’m always attuned to language and its implications. The language of vocation tends to be a language of opportunity: to grow and flourish, to move forward, to make life-defining choices. Correspondingly, the imagery is of doors opening, of young people silhouetted against a sun-drenched landscape, their backs to us as they move forward into the radiant future. Both this language and imagery signal individualism, which is also present in my college’s exhortation to students to pursue their own “unique career path.” All this is certainly sensible: we want students to have a path to follow when they leave us, and to thrive and find fulfilment in the wider world. But in my interactions with students about the broad issue of vocational discernment, I find myself emphasizing the language not of opportunity but of constraint. Counterintuitive as it may seem, being explicit about how life choices are constrained by responsibilities to others and by factors out of our control can offer students a more robust framework for thinking about how to move forward.

Since the Lutheran mission of my college is vestigial, and since my students rarely have much formation in the concept of vocation, I don’t usually raise questions about discernment directly in the classroom. I do, however, teach a course on book history—the material lives of texts—that I have found a useful place to engage students in reflection about how they want their education and their lives to matter.

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Second Chances and Good Time(s): Transformations and Transactions in Prison

What if we thought of education as a gift that is not contingent on the worthiness of its recipient yet that still inspires recipients to pay the gift forward with lives that serve the common good?

Three weeks ago, I submitted final grades for the January (J-Term) course that I taught at East Moline Correctional Center (EMCC) through the Augustana Prison Education Program (APEP).  I created the course, “Redemption, Reconciliation, and Restorative Justice,” on the “inside-out” model of prison education. The plan was to shuttle traditional students each day to the local prison to learn beside their incarcerated classmates. Sadly, EMCC nixed that plan earlier in the fall, citing a shortage of security personnel. When Sharon Varallo, the executive director of APEP, asked me to choose whether to teach the course to free students or incarcerated students, I quickly chose the latter. I knew from some prior experiences that deep transformation of individuals and communities is more likely—or at least easier to notice—when teaching behind bars.

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Embracing Uncertainty: Parallels Between the Scientific Method and Vocational Discernment

We are exploring how to frame conversations with students about vocation in terms that they will recognize from their scientific training. By connecting the language of scientific process with vocational discernment, we hope to foster deeper conversations with students about their callings and how their knowledge, strengths, and interests might align in unique ways with the needs of their communities.

(Austin) I recently hosted a career panel for our science majors at my college. During this panel, students had the opportunity to hear from fantastic individuals who were doing exciting and fulfilling work in careers like healthcare diagnostics, pharmaceutical management, and biotech research and development. The students heard compelling stories about the winding and fortuitous journeys that led the panelists to their current vocations. Since the panelists were alumni of the college and had been in the same position as my students a decade ago, I was excited about how current students might gain confidence in pursuit of their own unique and creative paths.

After the panel, I held a feedback session for my students. I anticipated their excitement about potential careers and where they might be called. However, they seemed more nervously overwhelmed than awestruck. The sentiment in the room was summarized by a student who said,

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Vocational Narratives: Finding Meaning in Challenging Times

NetVUE’s Spring 2023 webinar on February 7 focused on vocational narratives as a creative and effective way to find meaning in challenging times.

As students continue to navigate ever-changing, demanding times in higher education and the world, feeling a sense of purpose and control over one’s life is important. NetVUE’s Spring 2023 webinar on February 7 focused on vocational narratives as a creative and effective way to find meaning in challenging times. The webinar featured three speakers who discussed their experiences and strategies for integrating vocational narratives in our work with students.

Antonios Finitsis (top left); Esteban Loustaunau (top right);
Julie Yonker (bottom left); Rachel Pickett (bottom right)
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