Adding Future Proof Skills to Course Syllabii

Jul 6, 2014 by

There are many college-level courses that are required but not beloved by students. Math requirements, in particular, are particularly disliked by most students. I believe that we teach mathematics to help students develop logical thinking, attention to detail, and a method for attacking problems of all types. The subject of mathematics provides a common language and structure to allow the development of these skills. Unfortunately, in our zeal to explain “when we are going to use this” we wander into the dark land of contrived application problems and ridiculous problem constraints. But what if there were another way to frame the value of the skills developed in learning mathematics?

During my last year of teaching, I began to reframe the syllabus in a way that focused on the general skills that would serve students well in the future, rather than the standard answers to “when am I going to use the specific learning objectives of this course?” The six skill categories are: Focus, Explain, Flex, Interact, Analyze, and Learn. They are explained in more detail in the original post: What skills should we be teaching to future-proof an education?

Beginning with an empty template with the skills and more detailed descriptions, I walked through all the activities in each course I taught, and outlined how the course would help my students develop the skills they need to be prepared for future jobs.

You can find the empty template as a Word Doc here: Future-Proof Template for Course Syllabus. It looks something like this for each skill:

 

Some skills were not covered in the course. If that was the case, I just removed that line of the table.  However, a surprising number of the subskills were covered in every course I did this exercise with.

The syllabus section about the “future-proof” skills begins with a general description of what the students are about to see:

This is a list of the skills we believe will make you a valuable worker even as careers and technology shifts. These skills are not particular to any discipline – they are skills that overlay the content that you learn. To prepare for an uncertain economy, you should strive to practice and improve on the skills listed below. In this class, you will practice and improve on many of these valuable skills. These are outlined below.

Here is an example of the future proof skills applied to a Calculus II course:

Note: You can see the entire Calc II Future Proof Skill list here.

When framing topics like Techniques of Integration as a skill like “learning to change your bearings” it is much easier to justify the learning objective to Pharmacy students (let’s face it, they won’t ever use a technique of integration on the job, but most do have to take Calc II).  Pharmacy students will have to be able to determine when a chosen treatment plan is failing, and adjust course to suggest an alternative approach.

So now a little thought experiment. Let’s pretend we reframed the college experience as a way to gain and improve on these types of skills while also gaining subject-matter expertise. Suppose freshmen came into the system with a way to measure their current skill levels in these areas. Students could make goals to improve on specific areas in specific courses (I asked my students to commit to specific improvement goals in each course).  At the end of the semester, students could write a self-evaluation for areas they think they have improved on and ask instructors to “endorse” (or disagree) with the written evaluations. During their college experience, these students could graduate their real, measured, and endorsed abilities into a system like LinkedIn or Degreed.

It’s important for students to gain subject matter expertise in college, but equally important to gain skills that will make them valuable employees and colleagues, and surface those skills to potential employers.  As a fresh graduate entering the workforce, it would be incredibly valuable to be able to provide proof that you can “write so others understand” or examples that show you can “adapt to new situations”  even when they made you uncomfortable. It is my belief that these are the skills that are not being measured and surfaced in higher education.

There are rare examples of schools that provide this type of unique focus at the core of their educational structure (e.g. Alverno College), but a college doesn’t have to be restructured in order to provide this focus. The educational technologies we have today could be adopted to track a students’ successes and failures at improvement on the future proof skills. Each instructor could evaluate their own unique approach to courses to assess which skills might be focused on as the subject-matter is delivered.

An initiative like this would have to be championed at the leadership level by a President, a board, or a Dean of Academics and jointly supported by the faculty. But can you imagine? An entire institution devoted to helping students not only become subject-matter experts, but also to prepare for the employment world of the future? Well, I can dream. It is, after all, a thought experiment.

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What skills should we be teaching to future-proof an education?

Oct 21, 2011 by

Some time last year I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on what skills we could be focusing on in higher education to “future-proof” a degree.  What skills will stay relevant no matter what future careers look like?  There are two frameworks used and endorsed in K-12 education: Partnership for 21st Century Skills and Equipped for the Future.

I felt that the lists not quite right for adults that are returning or seeking an education.  Here is the list that I developed, and a link to the Prezi that includes many video resources that correspond with the skills.

Focus

  • Manage your information stream
  • Pay attention to details
  • Remember (when you need to)
  • Observe critically
  • Read with understanding
  • Set and meet goals

Explain

  • Media literacy (determine and create the right media for the job)
  • Present ideas digitally
  • Design for the audience
  • Depict data visually
  • Convey ideas in text
  • Speak so that others understand

Interact

  • Advocate and influence
  • Resolve conflict and negotiate
  • Collaborate (F2F or virtually)
  • Guide others
  • Lead

Analyze

  • Interpret data
  • Make decisions
  • Think critically
  • Solve problems
  • Forecast
  • Filter information

Flex

  • Think across disciplines
  • Think across cultures
  • Innovate
  • Adapt to new situations
  • See others’ perspectives
  • Be creative

Learn

  • Formulate a learning plan
  • Synthesize the Details
  • Information Literacy
  • Formulate good questions
  • Reflect and evaluate
  • Know what you know

 

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Prezi: Future-Proof Your Education

Aug 25, 2010 by

Here is my new prezi (designed for students) called Future-Proof Your Education.

How do you prepare for uncertain career paths where technical knowledge doubles every two years? You pay attention to the skills that surround the content: Interact, Flex, Learn, Explain, Analyze, and Focus.

ANALYZE … think critically, interpret data, predict, solve problems, make decisions, scrutinize information sources
EXPLAIN … convey ideas in writing, depict data visually, speak so that others understand, present ideas digitally
FOCUS … observe critically, read with understanding, be self-directed, listen carefully, set and meet goals
EXPLAIN … convey ideas in writing, depict data visually, speak so that others understand, present ideas digitally
LEARN…find information quickly, reflect and evaluate learning, manage information, leverage tech to learn, metacognitive
INTERACT … guide others, lead, collaborate, advocate and influence, resolve conflict and negotiate, share
FLEX … be able to adapt, be creative, innovate, think across disciplines and cultures, design/usability

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Technology Skills We Should Be Teaching in College

Sep 9, 2009 by

This is a follow-up to my recent research about Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age.  I’ve spent considerable time thinking about how to alter the classes I teach to re-center them on a core of flexible learning.  In all of my classes this semester, students will be completing a variety of learning projects that involve alternative ways to learn (e.g. blogging, making mindmaps, teaching a lesson, making a video presentation, or designing a non-digital game).

The difficult part about including these alternative learning methods is teaching the students all the necessary technology skills first.  Most of my students are the traditional freshman-level age-range  (18-25).  For the most part, they “get” technology (cell phones, facebook, video games, and gadgets), but they haven’t been taught how to do anything productive with technology – at least, not with regards to learning or career skills.

If America wants to continue to be a world-leader, we can do it with a technology advantage – but only if we actually know how to leverage that technology to continue to be more productive.

So, I began to write out a list of the tech skills that I think students should learn before they leave college.  Ideally, these are skills that would be integrated throughout K-12 and college curricula.

Basic Web Stuff
1. Basics of HTML (bold, underline, italics, special characters)
2. How to use EMBED code or make a live link
3. How to make and share a screenshot
4. How to make and share a short video explaining something or asking for help
5. Learn basic abbreviations and emoticons (e.g. ROFL, IMHO)
6. How to build a landing page for your web-based stuff (e.g. iGoogle, NetVibes)
7. How to add gadgets or plug-ins for various sites
8. How to make a simple website (e.g. Google Sites)
9. Build a clickable resume / digital portfolio
10. How (and when) to use collaborative documents or spreadsheets
11. How (and why) to create tags and labels
12. How (and why) to use URL-shortening sites (e.g. TinyURL)

Organization
13. How to set up a web-based calendar and use it to manage your time
14. How to set up and manage an RSS reader
15. How to find a common meeting time (e.g. Doodle)
16. How to set up a communication aggregator (e.g. Digsby, Trillian, TweetDeck)

Communication
17. How to manage email
18. How to write a good “first-contact” email
19. How to write a good subject line
20. How to write a good email response
21. Texting etiquette (when it’s appropriate, when it’s not)
22. How to summarize your thoughts in 140 characters or less
23. How to use Twitter (reply, retweet, direct message)
24. How to determine whether you should share it in a public forum (will it affect your future job prospects, your current employment, etc.)
25. How to manage an online meeting
26. How to give an effective webinar
27. What are the differences between various social networks and how they are used? (e.g. Facebook, Ning, LinkedIn)

Finding and Managing Information
28. How to use web-based bookmarks
29. How (and when) to use library search databases
30. How (and when) to use an image-based search engine
31. How (and when) to use alternate search engines (e.g. Clusty)
32. Who writes Wikipedia articles and when can they be trusted?
33. How to build a custom search engine
34. When can you trust the information you find?
35. How to use article citations to find better references
36. How to manage a bibliography online (e.g. Zotero)
37. How to set up web alerts to track new information (e.g. Google Alerts)

Privacy, Security, and the Law
38. Creative Commons – what is it and how to choose appropriate license?
39. How to read the legalese that tells you who owns it after it is shared online
40. What should you share and how does that change for different audiences?
41. How to manage usernames & passwords
42. How to find and tweak the privacy settings in common social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter)
43. How do data-mining sites get your information? (e.g. participating in FB quizzes)
44. What are the security concerns with GPS-based tracking systems?

Presentation
45. How to determine the audience and appropriate length for your presentation
46. Good presentation design principles
47. Principles of storytelling
48. How to share a set of slides on the Internet
49. How to build a non-linear presentation
50. How to build a flashy presentation (and when to use it)
51. How to find high-quality images that can be used in presentations (with appropriate copyrights)
52. How to find audio that can be shared in a presentation (with appropriate copyrights)
53. How to create a captioning script for a video
54. Ways to caption an internet-based video
55. How (and when) to use a virtual magnifier with your presentation

Ways to Learn
56. How to build an interactive mindmap to organize ideas
57. How to use a blog to track your learning process
58. How to find good sites, blogs, and other online publications for the topic you are learning about
59. How to cultivate a personal learning network (PLN)
60. How to participate in a live learning chat (e.g. TweetChats)

Okay, that’s sixty items and I’ve just scratched the surface (I haven’t even touched on virtual worlds, for instance).

The big problem?  How many educators do you know that have these skills?

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Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Aug 26, 2009 by

Two years ago at the beginning of the fall semester, I was given the chance to speak to the faculty on my campus about technologies for teaching and getting organized, which is how the mindmaps Web 2.0 for You and Organize Your Digital Self were born.  Now two years have gone by, and I’ve given both of these talks (updated with each presentation) all over the country in various formats.

This year, the Faculty Association invited me to give another talk about what I’ve learned about technology and teaching.  Although I got to choose the specifics,  I figured it had to be a departure from these other two talks (since at least 1/3 of the faculty have seen those).  After much thought and gnashing of teeth, I decided to focus on learning more than teaching, or rather, how the way we teach should be motivated by what we want students to learn.

This brings up the rather sticky question, What should students be learning today? To answer this, I did a lot of research and reading.  In K-12, there are several state initiatives to infuse “21st Century skills” into the classroom – many of these initiatives are part of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (which has an excellent website).  Another organization that is leading the way aims at adult education: Equipped for the Future (EFF) is housed in the Center for Literacy at the University of Tennessee.  Both organizations outline a set of “standards” or “fundamentals” with specific objectives for each.  You’ll see that I’ve largely built my presentation around the goals of these two initiatives.  The two sets of initiatives overlap in places, but you’ll see that they are framed a bit differently.  At the community college level, we are concerned about teaching students who are fresh out of high school as well as those who are adults returning to school.

The big takeaway from all of my reading is that we have to teach students skills that will help them flex into new jobs as the market constantly shifts to accommodate new technological advances, global competition, and sudden “black swan” events (can you say sudden economic collapse?).   Like it or not, the majority of programs in higher education prepare students for a specific career (journalist, nurse, engineer, teacher, etc.), but the industrial-age model of a “career-for-a-lifetime” is ending.

In Michigan, this lesson is particularly painful as we watch a large group of workers in their 30s, 40s, and 50s return to school to be “retrained.”  These folks are not just factory workers, they are managers, engineers, prison guards, retail workers, bank employees, education parapros, school administrators, nurses, journalists, printers, non-profit employees, counselors, and social workers.  Many of these folks have been through the system of higher ed once, and now they face a mandatory second run at it.  What worries me is that we may just be setting them up to experience the same thing when their second career fails.  This is our time to step up to the plate by teaching technology skills that will make our students employable and ready to face the next few decades of work, not just the next job.

The closest model for a degree allowing a large amount of career flexibility for the digital age is the hallowed “liberal arts degree.” However, the Liberal Arts degree needs a wee bit of modernizing for the digital age.  I think there is a way to carefully “hack” a better liberal arts degree into our existing system (like a patch to an older piece of software).  However, this is a blog post all unto itself (see a hint of what is to come on the last branch of the map for this presentation).

Anyways, I digress.  The presentation is called Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, and it is presented mindmap-style.

tlda1

When I talk about technology, I like demonstrate by using the technologies as an integral part of my presentation.  First, I build the presentation so that it is based on a discussion with the audience.  No speaker, no matter how good, can have much lasting impact if they simply tell their message.  However, if your audience is able to engage with what you’re saying for a long time after they see you, you stand a much greater chance of making a difference.

If you explore the map, you’ll see that I have a small slide deck on one of the branches (for a section that had to present a linear argument).  There is a live chat room to simulate the “back conversation” that you can foster via twitter in a conference presentation or the text chat in a webinar session.   Finally, there’s a PollEverywhere attached to one of the map branches that can be answered via texting or a web page.

Aside from the technologies that I will use during the presentation, I’ve tried to come up with specific examples (most involving technology) of ideas for implementing the 21st century skills in the higher ed setting.  Each branch of the presentation terminates with ideas and links to resources that will aid in implementing the ideas.

Thus, the nuts and bolts of the presentation demonstrates practical ways to use technology, but the technology use is embedded inside of a discussion/presentation about why students should be learning these skills.

More later on how to “hack” higher ed … in the meantime, if you’ve got a teaching example to demonstrate one of the skills on this map, please comment them in!

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