Can You Help Your Students Develop Much-Needed Hard Skills?

How can you bring a variety of technological applications into your humanities courses?

How can you bring a variety of technological applications into your humanities courses?

The following is a re-post from my May Faculty Newsletter. The June Career Coaching newsletter will be out next week. To subscribe to either (or both), click the “Sign Up Now” button to the right.

In most of my work with faculty and students, the focus is on soft skills such as written and verbal communication, networking, and transcultural competence–and how to make those things explicit in the job search and workplace. But sofk skills don’t have to be the only ones students develop in their humanities courses. We can weave hard skills into our curricula as well.

Here are a few suggestions for how to do that–and why they’re important for the college to career transition.
1- Have students choose projects related to their career goals.

I have always urged students and faculty to think of ways to make course projects interdisciplinary.  Students from engineering and computer science should be urged to use those skills in their language courses. Maybe this means designing mock-ups of engineering realities (bridges, buildings, urban planning models, transportation thoroughfares) from the literary period/text under study or using a coding language to analyze a text or design a study guide.

For students in these STEM fields, job placement after graduation is not as much of a concern as it is for humanities students. Here the benefits of language studies to their careers include: a bigger network, a faster path to promotion, and more opportunities earlier in their careers.

But many students and faculty in STEM fields don’t make these connections. We have to make the connections explicit for students–for example:

-The managers and owners in the banking industry who are Spanish (a lot of US banks are owned by Spanish banks) can become part of your professional network and because you can communicate with them, you will know about opportunities before your monolingual counterparts, which will put you on a faster path to promotion.  

-The engineering grad who also speaks German similarly encounters open doors to many, many companies, managers and owners that operate out of Germany with a presence throughout the world (see Valparaiso University alum Nathaniel Leonard speak on this).

-The bilingual medical student who attends a summit on communicable diseases at the border co-hosted by the CDC and its Mexican equivalent is one of the only people who understands everything, can take official notes at all the meetings and network with all the health official in attendance–from both sides of the border!

2- Require all students to use “hard skills” in their course projects.

The technology is literally in the classrooms, students have the foundational knowledge & access--we just have to push them toward new applications & platforms.

The technology is literally in the classrooms, students have the foundational knowledge & access–we just have to push them toward new applications & platforms.

This can be achieved by having students present their final projects as websites, blogs, screencasts, or any other technological component you can think of.

Websites Employers are hungry for recent grads who can create websites. Every recent grad should be ready to answer “yes!” when asked in a job interview if they have experience developing websites. Shockingly few can. Students should have their own websites where they present their professional selves, but any experience designing websites meets the minimum criterion–and you can help.

Whatever your course, whatever the content, whatever the project, you can have students complete final projects in website form.  They (or you) can select from a wide variety of hosting platforms: WordPress, Blogger, GoDaddy, Weebly, SiteBuilder–this millennial suggests Medium for website design.  If you or your students prefer more structure, you can set parameters such as: each website must have a visual header, a title, a minimum of three tabs and two frames with a hyperlinked index in the left frame.  Or you can keep the same criteria you have for your course projects normally and simply add the requirement that students present it in the form of a website–other than that, anything goes. Either way, your students get the much-needed experience with website design that most recent grads lack.

Blogs are a great way to share professional information and, again, students should be establishing an online professional presence on their own. But you can give students a nudge (and the ability to claim experience with this hard skill) if you have them complete any and all writing assignments that they normally would via a blog.  These days, the platform choices for blogging are the same as for website design (see above), but in this case you would only require that students post blog entries online. Blogs are intended to be interactive (in a similar vein to social media) and this is a component that can differentiate this hard skill from website design: make sure students comment on each other’s blog posts, co-author posts, and guest blog on different angles of each other’s writing.

Screencasts.  A screencast can record anything that’s on your computer screen. It’s a great resource for providing online, visual manuals, instructions, how-to’s or short presentations (Jing has a 5-minute limit). Here’s a link to a simple screencast I made on the subject of this post. 

Students can screencast the same presentations they would give live in class to gain that hard skills experience. Or they can use screencasts to provide background information, data or how-to information for their peers, such as how to access online library materials, how to access a textbook publisher’s online components, how to set up a wiki, how to save a file as a pdf, how to edit in Adobe.  

A meta assignment might be for some students to screencast how to start a website using different platforms–anything related to the course for which visual support and instructions would be useful.

Other media you might consider to provide your students with hard skills training that they can use in their job search and careers include: voice threads, Google drive, and anything from this list of high demand hard skills provided in Didi Zheleva’s post in Brazen Careerist, “Learn These In-Demand Technical Skills to Land a Better Job.”

One important caveat: You don’t have to troubleshoot any of this technology; be up front about the fact that you are not a technological expert, but experts are readily available to provide the tech support students need: every application has a “help” tab, many provide tutorial videos, Googling your problem as a question usually leads to a useful discussion thread with a solution, and calling the help desk is always a last resort that is best done directly by the user (and not by a faculty intermediary).

And you can build time to learn the technology into the curriculum.  For example, a preliminary homework assignment might be to set up a 3-tab generic website with no actual content in it or download & learn how to create a “test, test, 1-2-3” video screencast using Jing–you can even have students turn in a link to the sample website or screencast for a homework grade. Remind students that if they report tech problems to you, your only recourse will be to seek 3rd party assistance and then you’re stuck in the role of “middleman”—just take the intermediary out of the equation!

2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy:
This entry was posted in Career Advice, Careers for Humanities Majors, darcy lear, Professors Best Kept Secrets. Bookmark the permalink.

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