Have you ever congratulated a graduating senior, asked about future plans, and been surprised by the answer “I have no idea”? Several years ago, this answer was common. Fortunately, today, educators and employers have identified the career readiness gap and now intentionally equip students to be ready for the “dream job.”
While pursuing degrees, students can engage in Career Exploration courses which provide the necessary tools, resources, and experiences to promote Career Readiness. Some of these courses are offered as standalone courses, and some are paired with discipline specific courses.
Wherever institutions offer these courses, students are given the opportunity to discover careers, develop skills, and demonstrate skills to stand out in the interview process.
Get the big picture
Discovering and exploring careers through research enables students to begin learning about the job market. Burning Glass Technologies’ Labor Insight is an example of a resource students can use to find data on local labor markets.
Many people become so focused on a specific “job title” they don’t realize the vast employment opportunities available within a profession. Although it’s important to research salaries within the career, determining which employers are recruiting can also provide valuable information.
As students mature through their educational journey, matching personal preferences with specific employers can guide graduates. Discovering where a job is located, if it is a large or small employer, and the projected salary can provide insight for career choices.
Building skills for success
Developing and identifying career skills are other key factors for success. As students engage in career readiness courses, they begin learning how to create an online portfolio such as a Linkedin profile, which enables communication within the profession.
Interview techniques and resume writing build confidence for those entering the job market. Through these real-life experiences, students learn if professional certifications are required and how they may be obtained. Becoming aware of the entry level basic skills needed for a profession allows students to enter the job market prepared and with confidence.
Once the career research has been completed and students possess the basic entry level skills needed, they are ready to demonstrate their acquired skills. Being aware of employer expectations provides students an advantage when job searching.
Students who possess the online portfolio can showcase college projects and badges earned while relating them to the career they are pursing. Employers will immediately see the teamwork and collaboration skills. Demonstrating these valuable skills will enable the graduate to stand out during the interview process.
Ready for the future
Entering the job market can be an overwhelming time in anyone’s life. Knowing the jobs available and skills needed can produce confidence for the future employee. Engaging in Career Readiness courses can equip students with the necessary knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to land that dream job. Discovering careers, developing skills, and demonstrating these skills can help transition students to career ready candidates.
I recently spoke with a professor who, like many of us, was overwhelmed with taking his courses fully online while juggling multiple new initiatives simultaneously. The college was trying to reduce texts and materials costs, prepare entirely online courses, update materials for an impending accreditation visit, and, on top of it all, deliberately embed curricular activities regarding diversity and related topics across the curriculum. While some subjects are obviously conducive to this college initiative, it’s often hard for faculty to see the connections with things they already do.
Thinking through the connections
I’m teaching liberal arts this fall, so I am easily able to find such connections. I also require my students to find an article weekly about math topics in real life, so it lends itself well to this. It can, however, still be somewhat vague and not deliberate, so I’m focusing on embedding more problem solving activities that directly address these topics.
I keep thinking of the Mathematics for Democracy and its strong arguments for quantitative literacy. While the text is almost twenty years old, its arguments are timeless. Every citizen needs to have some basic numeracy and quantitative reasoning skills; they need problem solving strategies and critical thinking tools. They need to know how to apply mathematical knowledge to real life.
Outside of the book
Some of my students are ‘strong’ students, easily able to rattle off formulas and do computations. And yet, when I ask them to write about math—they do two short writing projects in a semester—they struggle. It’s hard for them to see math beyond the walls of our virtual classroom, beyond the covers of our book.
Here are ideas I share with them in addition to topics directly connected to our chapters. I often use datasets from StatCrunch, as there are over 40,000 of them available. One of my favorites for this includes data about each state and has such things as poverty rates, education rates, crime, etc. (This dataset is over ten years old now, and there are other ones to use. Any StatCrunch user can also easily upload datasets from the web, such as government census materials. StatCrunch is an amazing tool! More on that another day.)
Diversity and Social Justice topics for my students to explore
Prisons & mental health rates
Crimes & racial profiling
The death penalty and ethnicity
Poverty and minimum vs. living wage; labor laws and statistics
Housing costs and trends; real estate data by demographics
Homeland defense, defense budgets, military recruiting
The mathematics of public health, AIDS, asthma, health insurance, etc.
Educational funding and equity, high stakes testing, class size, homogeneous or heterogeneous grouping of students
Impact of tutoring & other initiatives such as mentoring and coaching on diverse populations
Environmental racism, pollution, resource availability; the mathematics of the climate
The mathematics of wild weather
Chaos and catastrophe theory & modeling
Effects on neighborhoods/sorted by demographics
And of course there are financial topics:
Paying for college
Salary discrepancies for women & minorities
High-cost loans and low-income neighborhoods
Politics & voting structure/apportionment, etc.
I also might incorporate media like Hidden Figures. The linked website here shares a bunch of resources with commentary and ideas. I find my students seem to really enjoy using media and current event topics as a way to see ‘value’ in our course content.
And there are many more.
Discover the details in the data
Certainly it’s easy to explore by subject area, too. As I noted, if I’m teaching probability and statistics, there are literally thousands of datasets at my fingertips, easily searchable. They’re useful in helping my students see what’s really going on–and we can explore just how easily we can be misled by someone manipulating graphics and interpreting data incorrectly.
We can use probability to look at staffing of juries. We can use data to explore fairness of wages not just in the US but overseas. We can look at traffic stop data and use statistics to determine whether there is / is not racial profiling at play.
We might explore some graph theory and use some geometry to explore things like how UPS, FedEx, and USPS are functioning during the pandemic; has there been a greater disruption in service to lower socioeconomic areas? What about the math behind LEED designed buildings or sustainable communities? Are these available in lower-income communities? How can we locate them to make them more accessible to all?
We’ve all heard about equity in STEM education for all students. Let’s take it a step further. Social justice teaching in mathematics focuses on promoting equity within the mathematics classroom, and also on empowering students to understand and confront inequities outside the classroom.
Some additional resources
The Mathematicians Project by Annie Perkins
At Twitter Math Camp’16, Annie described how she gathered information on name, birth, death, ethnicity, biography, accomplishments (including awards), and math specialty on various mathematicians. Annie’s constantly updated “List of Not White Men Mathematicians With Links” and a description of the project are here.
Teaching Tolerance Math Resources
Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, has a wealth of teaching material, including math- and technology-related teaching resources. This organization also has a lot of tools for thinking more about the hidden curriculum of our classrooms.
Creating Balance in an Unjust World Resources
The Creating Balance in an Unjust World Conference on Math Education and Social Justice is a bi-annual event next occurring in 2018 (probably in California). They provide resources for educators interested in integrating issues of social and economic justice into their math classes and curriculum.
And last but by no means least, here is a wiki site with a ton of resources.
As instructors we’ve got a lot on our plate. We need to lecture, prepare digital materials and organize our online courses, provide individual feedback and check-ins, submit forms to our institution throughout the semester, and answer constant emails. On the flipside, our students also have full their plates with family obligations, work and employment to balance, and of course the global pandemic. Getting students to class and having work completed is half the battle, and the other half is justifying grades. Because of the increased educator workload and the mounting pressures on students, what can we do?
What is ungrading?
Many instructors are now exploring the “ungrading” model as a potential solution. Because we still need grades at the end of each semester, there’s still a need to view and evaluate student work. It’s how we evaluate the work that will be different in this model.
In the different models of ungrading, instructors don’t grade every piece of work and award points. They decide whether the piece of work meets their standard or not. If not, the work is sent back to the student for revisions.
This requires some rethinking of the traditional grading workflow. For example, in a chemistry class a student completes a problem set. If it’s missing work, I would give that feedback and return it to the student for revision. Are all of the answers incorrect? Same thing. I refuse to accept the problem set until the work is done to satisfactory standards.
How can you implement ungrading in your classroom? There are a few different models to choose from as a starting point.
One type of ungrading is called Spec (for specifications) Grading. Instructors create curricular “bundles” which, when completed, get translated into a grade. These bundles include media, notes, homework assignments and simulations, and ultimately some sort of summative assessment. Each piece of work in the bundle is graded pass/fail only and must minimally meet the teacher’s standards.
Students need a clear understanding of what constitutes passing work prior to engaging in this model. Having exemplars or rubrics which clearly outline the required components of successful work is critical at the beginning of the semester. These don’t need to be super specific. For example, in math this could include
Show all work done to arrive at your answer
Simplify all answers
If asked to “explain your answer,” use full sentences
Include units, where needed
At the beginning of the semester you will be spending a lot of time giving feedback to student work that isn’t meeting requirements. Flexibility around work that is deemed “failing” is important, as is the ability for students to revise their work and resubmit. Once your students have a clearer understanding of the expectations, the time devoted to giving feedback will lessen.
In contract grading, the instructor has clearly defined and outlined requirements for each letter grade (A, B, C, etc.). More or deeper work will be required for an A, standard work for a B, and less for each subsequent letter grade down. Students each write a contract which includes which assignments they will do, their due dates, penalties for late work, and a statement of the letter grade they want at the end of the term.
The instructor will keep a log of completed work that is, again, done to the level of work defined by the instructor. If the student fails to meet the requirements of the contract, the instructor has the ability to adjust their grade based on the submitted work.
The unique part of contract grading versus traditional grading is that the focus is on the work, not the “kind of student” in your class. All work is considered to be of equal weight, and meetings with students generally focus on improvement to work quality or opportunities for a deeper dive into the curriculum.
Allowing the student to determine their grade can be a serious leap of faith, but that’s what consultative grading is. This does not mean that all students receive an “A”. Student have regular check-in meetings with the instructor throughout the semester. At the end of the semester, the student writes a comprehensive reflection and puts together a compilation of their best work.
The student must have data that demonstrates that they deserve the grade they propose. An example of an end-of-the-semester reflection can be found here, as written by Dr. Susan Blum from the University of Notre Dame (Supiano, Becky).
Thought needs to be given to how handle extenuating circumstances on the part of the student. I tend to not make concrete rules on this, as I find that each student’s circumstances are unique.
While I have been thinking about making the switch to ungrading for the last few years, I haven’t made the leap just yet. Besides choosing which model to go with, I still need to identify the following:
What are you willing to negotiate on with students?
How will you handle absences?
How will you be transparent with students throughout the semester, so they know they are on or off target?
I’m looking forward to encouraging my students to improve their work, making grading more transparent, and creating a classroom that is focused on the learning process and not on numerical grades.
Butler, Ruth. “Task-Involving and Ego-Involving Properties of Evaluation: Effects of Different Feedback Conditions on Motivational Perceptions, Interest, and Performance.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, 1987, psycnet.apa.org/record/1988-21628-001.
Have you tried using videos to resolve problems or provide innovative solutions in your online classrooms? Effective video usage can foster both individual student learning and increase a sense of community in an online world.
Teaching via video can be synchronous like a live Webinar or Zoom conference, but there are many other methods, including asynchronous video, to enhance your students’ online learning environment. In these COVID times, with so many instructors new to online teaching and attempting to provide or mimic the face- to-face learning environments, many have turned to the use of synchronous meeting tools.
There is often the feeling students are being deprived by being forced out of the classroom and online. This phenomenal upswing in synchronous online learning has been nicknamed the Zoom Boom. However, research is indicating this synchronous surge is simply not sustainable in the long run. There are issues with different time zones, mobile connectivity, as well as teacher and student screen time burnout.
A deeper dive into asynchronous videos
For these reasons, I’m focusing on asynchronous methods of using video to enhance the online classroom and engage your students more fully. There are four areas or goals where using effective videos can help instructors solve some unique challenges in the online learning platform.
Videos can increase student engagement in ways that enhance their understanding of the material.
Videos can help you assess the formative stages of their learning. Are they making the progress needed to succeed?
Videos can offer you methods of presenting difficult or demanding concepts, requiring students to demonstrate their mastery.
Videos can provide feedback to your students on their submissions in timely, meaningful and personal ways.
I have eight suggestions for video activities that enhance the digital learning environment, hitting all four of the goals stated above.
Expand on the written content.
Personalize the digital experience.
Flip your classrooms so they become learning centered rather than teacher centered.
Give clear and memorable feedback to students.
Demonstrate processes or concepts difficult to convey through written content.
Encourage your students’ creativity, demonstrating their mastery of the content.
Be informed about students’ formative learning with populated analytics.
Using the same type of analytics you can evaluate your students’ engagement.
Introducing micro lectures and more
Here are three suggestions for expanding on the written content through instructor-created, short videos. These activities focus on your specific course, adding to the content for added clarity and depth.
Chapter or concept overviews
Micro lectures are not long, nor do they attempt to cover the entire chapter. Above all, they are not boring. They should be short and interactive. And they need to chunk content in short management increments. You should capture your students’ attention as well as meet accessibility standards, such as closed captioning.
As a communication professor, I can offer you some production tips for making your movies of these micro lectures.
Think about covering the difficult single concepts you know students have struggled with in the past. Keep them short (3-5 minutes max).
Make good eye contact with the camera.
Be enthusiastic! You want to be a Tigger on film, not an Eeyore.
Be sure to use good light coming from the front rather than the side or behind.
Use a headset with microphone for optimal sound quality.
Make the videos interactive by asking questions, providing questions before and after.
Provide a transcript.
Keep your lectures focused with no more than four main points.
Be sure to use some type of attention getter in the first 15-30 seconds. It might be a question, a brief story, a startling statistic, a striking picture, a piece of music, or any other method that draws the students into the presentation.
Use far more images than bullet points when using a PowerPoint with your micro lecture.
New visual material every 10-15 seconds. It keeps listeners’/viewers’ attention.
Edit or re-record if needed.
And, be sure to use closed caption so your videos are accessible.
You can apply these same principles when creating walk-through demonstrations for your students of the course overview or a module/chapter overview.
Make a personal connection
Next, let’s look at how videos might personalize both the digital presence of you and your students. These are methods that put “skin” on the computer, that let your students know more than a cyborg is monitoring their progress.
Provide a video introduction from you to your students on the first day of class.
Provide course navigation videos from you to the students that are specific to their course, walking them through how to use the online tools.
Have students create a self-introductory video. You might suggest they share some type of story, like the best thing they’ve ever eaten, or the vacation of their dreams. Do not let them get away with, “My name is Betty Boring. I was born in Borington, and I went to Boring High School.” Really true stories keep us interested, and they’re memorable. It’s why we all understand the phrase, “Tell me another story.”
These introductory videos are powerful ways to create community within the course. We know that emotional connections are one of the most powerful components for student persistence. Any method that increases the connection between instructor and student, and between students increases that emotive piece of the puzzle for decreasing student attrition.
Making class learning centered
Using video assignments can provide information you need to flip your classroom, teaching to the most challenging concepts to that specific group of students. You might use:
Student discussion forums
These types of activities vary the way students interact with the content before classes or before the next week. Having students view a micro lecture before class, completing a short online quiz on difficult concepts offers information to you about student engagement and student progress.
Video quizzes can gauge engagement through data such as time on task, as well as information on questions most missed. You can then fill in the gaps with your own teaching strategies. And don’t forget your Learning Management Systems such as Canvas, Blackboard, Brightspace by D2L or Moodle provide data, informing instructors about student progress.
Videos can also provide us with the ability to give asynchronous talking feedback in an online environment by:
offering students recorded individual or group feedback from you.
recapping the week’s progress using a video message.
briefly discussing the week’s challenging material and common errors.
I began providing a video on Sunday night when COVID created massive changes in schools in March. My students, already in online classes with me, expressed such appreciation for my new weekly summaries with them about class progress with the material. And, it gave me a chance to speak with them about the challenges they were facing in their personal worlds as well, offering to help students find the support they might need.
Give them the microphone
Videos are the perfect environment for the demonstration of processes, skills, and course navigation. Let students demonstrate their mastery of the skill or concept by tapping into their creativity, engaging them with tools they are already familiar with such as:
Harness their inner director and ask them to create videos that demonstrate their proficiency with assignments such as:
Individual presentations such as speeches
Group projects presentations
Demonstrations of a skill or principle
Using the right tools
Once you’re comfortable with some of the tools at your disposal, you can take it to the next level with the many tools offered for video production and presentation. I’m just going to highlight some of the more recognizable tools and what they can do.
Pre-created videos are a great way to start. They are often accessibility compliant and professionally made depending on the site you choose.
YouTube has the broadest range, but may not be academically sound.
Publishers often provide clips which adhere to academic standards and are accessibility compliant like Pearson’s Clips, or premade video quizzes.
TEDx often provides videos that are both compliant and academically sound.
There are tools to help with video mixing, or combining several videos to demonstrate a concept. These can encourage student creativity and a deep understanding of the content of the course. Two of these are:
And, MediaBreaker (Students can create a mix of videos they locate, encouraging them to find current materials that demonstrate critical thinking about course content in a current real-world application).
Backchanneling is another way to engage your students. This is what we do when we are messaging friends during a less than engaging meeting. Phone messaging and Twitter were the original backchannels. And, while we might view these as distractions from the main event, backchanneling is engaging, community building and maximizes time if directed and focused on the lesson. Tools for this include:
Twitter. Students are very familiar with Twitter, but this does not provide protected space, nor is it academically designed.
Backchannel Chat can provide live time streaming commentary on videos students are viewing. Students can also make comments or ask questions.
Hotseat was designed by Purdue University based on a Twitter model and provides a free backchannel tool in an academic setting.
If you want to create your own movies designed just for your course and your students, there are tools offering you a range of possibilities.
EdPuzzle allows you to create your own video quizzes with embedded questions rather than a beginning essential question.
Loom allows you to screen share and create short easy walkthroughs for a class or just one student.
Camtastia is a robust video tool with many creative possibilities, but it is not free. Snagit allows you to screen share and save computer space as your videos are housed in their cloud.
TEDEd is a well-used video creation tool allowing you to stand on the shoulders of educators around the world as well as to share your repository of educational video creations with others.
Easy as pie
So, if you’re just beginning to use video in the online environment, or if you are well into your video use, keep it simple and easy as PIE.
Plan what you want the video assignment to solve for you or your students. Implement the tool that does this for you in the easiest and most effective way. And then Evaluate not only the students’ performance and engagement, but how well the tool worked for you.