Preparing Students for the Future

Author: 
Marla Freitag
March
2020
Volume: 
23
Number: 
3
Learning Abstracts

When preparing college students for the current working world, faculty also need to prepare them for the workplace of the future. Rapid advancements in technology mean that students will encounter software, systems, and responsibilities at work that may differ substantially from what is studied in today’s classrooms.

In an effort to provide students with course activities that would help prepare them for the working world of today as well as tomorrow—such as adaptability and work ethic—I began looking at the skills demonstrated by positive role models. After observing, interviewing, analyzing, and learning from these role models, including entrepreneurs and businesspeople, I developed competitive projects that met the following BEST curriculum goals.

  • Build students’ confidence so they believe in themselves and have a positive vision of their own future.
  • Engage students so they believe in the value of hard work.
  • Support students so they can be successful.
  • Teach students to see obstacles and problems not as failures, but as opportunities to adapt, revise, and improve.

The following projects—Critical Thinking Tournament, Innovate Tournament, and On-Campus Client Projects—are examples of ways I incorporate these goals into my communication courses.

Critical Thinking Tournament

Students in my interpersonal relations class compete in a Critical Thinking Tournament to build their critical thinking skills, develop skills in taking initiative, and learn to work as a team and use positive interpersonal skills. Student teams create a presentation showcasing how they use critical thinking skills to complete a challenge related to helping people in the community. The students initiate a wide variety of projects, such as volunteering at local charities and helping other students learn new skills.

  • Build students’ confidence so they believe in themselves and have a positive vision of their own future. To complete the Critical Thinking Tournament, students are asked to think through a problem from start to finish and coached on how to complete the challenge. Since the students use a systematic critical thinking approach, they anticipate and avoid problems as they tackle the challenge. Successfully completing the challenge builds the students’ confidence so when they encounter future problems, they have a positive view of their skills and abilities. One year, a local TV station featured a team’s Critical Thinking Tournament project on the evening news.
  • Engage students so they believe in the value of hard work. Certificates and prize money are awarded to the winning team. In an effort to win the competition, students are willing to put in more time than they would for a traditional project. As a result, they are also developing a strong work ethic. Not only do students see that hard work pays off, they also say it feels good to volunteer and help people in the community.
  • Support students so they can be successful. Critical thinking is a skill that we expect our students to use on a regular basis, but often we must teach them how to be critical thinkers. In this tournament, students are provided with applications for critical thinking and evaluated on their critical thinking skills. This experience helps students become better equipped for dealing with and resolving future challenges.
  • Teach students to see obstacles and problems not as failures, but as opportunities to adapt, revise, and improve. As part of the tournament, students critically reflect on what they learned by completing the challenge. Critical reflection is a valuable part of the project, as students are able to learn from their experiences.

Innovate Tournament

Oral communication students compete in an Innovate Tournament in which teams create innovations and present them to an audience of invited community members, other student teams, instructors, and judges. Innovate Tournaments help students to become innovative, creative risk-takers who embrace change and are able to adapt to using new software and hardware.

  • Build students’ confidence so they believe in themselves and have a positive vision of their own future. Teams of three to four students use unfamiliar software to create innovations and develop presentations for a competition against students in another instructor’s class. For this task, they must think outside the box. As part of the tournament, students use their entrepreneurial skills and sell the innovations they create. For one Innovate Tournament, students raised over $2,500 by selling their innovations and donated the money to local charities.
  • Engage students so they believe in the value of hard work. Students appear to appreciate the value and rewards of hard work and are proud to show their innovations to members of the community. Students receive recognition at the tournament, in the college campus newsletter, and in the community newspaper. A local bank sponsors the tournament and awards cash prizes to the winning teams.
  • Support students so they can be successful. To make sure students are successful, faculty ensure that the software they need is available in all of the college’s labs. My colleague and I also learn how to use the software so we can guide students as needed.
  • Teach students to see problems and obstacles not as failures, but as opportunities to adapt, revise, and improve. Students reflect on the Innovate Tournament and provide feedback on the process, learning and growing from the experience. One of my favorite quotes is, “At first I wondered why we were doing the Innovate Tournament, but at that time I did not realize it would change my life.”

On-Campus Client Projects

Communication class students complete projects for on-campus clients, such as the college’s Student Services and Business departments. Many times, this involves the students using unfamiliar technology, which helps them develop new skills, take risks, and be creative.

  • Build students’ confidence so they believe in themselves and have a positive vision of their own future. By completing real projects for on-campus clients using unfamiliar technology, students gain confidence, a vision, and a belief in themselves. For example, students were asked by Student Services to create tutorial videos for the new online system for booking appointments with academic advisors. The resulting videos were so sophisticated and professionally executed that the college posted them on its website.
  • Engage students so they believe in the value of hard work. Students work in project teams and the client choses the winning project. The winning team receives bonus marks and certificates. Students are engaged as they work to create projects that will impress their clients, and there is often cheering in class as winners are announced.
  • Support students so they can be successful. Instructors who want students to be confident risk-takers need to be supportive of their risk-taking. We must help students become comfortable using new technology by giving them opportunities to practice using it. In the case of the client project assignment, I find that students do not want to ask for help unless it is a classwide problem, so they figure out how to use the unfamiliar technology on their own.
  • Teach students to see problems and obstacles not as failures, but as opportunities to adapt, revise, and improve. This is probably the most important step, and one that is often ignored in teaching. Once the client choses the winning project, all the students have an opportunity to raise their mark by revising their projects and making the changes the client has requested. This helps students understand that even if their project is not chosen as the winner, with small adjustments and revisions they still have an outstanding project to include in their professional portfolios.

BEST Goals in Curricula Prepares Students for the Working World

As a result of incorporating BEST goals into course curricula, the students and I have received positive feedback from on-campus clients, college work experience practicum employers, and external employers about how flexible and adaptable students are at using technology and how good they are at solving problems. Course projects that include activities to meet these goals build students’ confidence, which contributes to a belief in their own value and skills and a positive vision of their future. Faculty who utilize these or similar projects help students become adaptable using new software and technology; encourage them to take risks and embrace change; and motivate them to take initiative, be innovative and creative, and use critical thinking skills. Students learn to work hard and, through that hard work, develop a strong work ethic. In addition, faculty support students by teaching them to see problems and obstacles as opportunities to learn, adapt, and improve. Incorporating projects that address BEST goals into the curriculum helps students to be successful in an ever-changing world, which is, ultimately, the primary goal of educators across the board.

Marla Freitag, Ph.D., is Program Coordinator of Administrative Office Professional and Administrative Office Management Programs at Medicine Hat College in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.

Opinions expressed in Learning Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.