Providing careers support in online spaces – what’s the same, what’s different to face to face?

With the very recent release of my HECSU research (Bumping online disucssion forums in a social media age) I’ve been doing some more thinking about providing careers support online and how that can impact practice in online spaces. An area that was surfaced in the four semi structured interviews I conducted with careers practitioners was the complexity and skill required to support students within online discussion forums. This links back to a question that Hooley (2012) asks of practitioners in how can we use the internet to provide people with support for their careers? With face to face careers guidance support still very much the dominant delivery model I think it worthwhile to pitch the following question.

“Providing CEIAG in online spaces – what’s the same what’s different to face to face?”

This is a useful starter question for practitioners or services seeking to expand their provision and move delivery further into online spaces. Goss & Hooley (2015) make the credible point that we need re-contextualise existing practice rather than viewing online conversations as simply another mode of delivery. In my experience this is entirely true, especially having changed roles from campus based support to delivery of guidance services as a distance utilising technology. The thematic analysis of my interviews begins to provide some insight to the challenges practitioners can face in providing guidance services online, even if though the focus was online discussion forums.

themes

I’ve tried to gather my thoughts (and aware I’ve missed out a lot) and have come up with three broad topics.

1. Online spaces creates added dynamic complexity: Social media allows us to interact with people and their user generated content (UGC) across a diverse range of platforms. This in effect creates the potential for a community or network mind whereby the group rather than a single user becomes the expert. Brown (2000) uses the ecology metaphor to describe an environment for learning and defines an ecology as having the characteristics of a system that is open, complex, adaptive, dynamic, interdependent, diverse, fragile and partially self-organising. I’ve found this metaphor also works very well in describing social media applications. For practitioners this can mean needing to think about how online spaces are created and managed beyond just rule following but to support educationally meaningful experiences. In face to face work we might consider how to create a space to share and communicate effectively but many to many spaces bring additional factors and responsibilities for the practitioner to consider such as community building (Hostetter, 2013) or remaining facilitative of views that are biased and push against our impartial aims.

Finally there are still the challenges of asynchronous online environments versus 1:1 synchronous guidance. Visual nonverbal cues and immediate answers to questions all help practitioners gain a sense of latent needs, client feelings, story, viewpoints and also share those thoughts back in real time. In counselling, immediacy is a very powerful tool as psychological closeness within communication has distinct benefits. Although synchronous tools can foster immediacy this becomes more difficult in asynchronous environments, therefore practitioners often need to work out how to manage both a lack of feedback from clients and how to generate social presence in an online world.

2. It’s a difficult and skilled balancing act to create a safe space but still manage privacy, safeguarding and negative psychological impact: There has always been a difficult balancing act in guidance work in terms of managing disclosures that could move into safeguarding territory and also operating within the confines of training and ethical boundaries. Personal issues are work issues but in guidance work practitioners are careful to contract and work with what they are trained and feel comfortable to offer support with. For example, if you’re not a trained Counsellor then signposting a client for support. Disclosures in a many to many online space requires careful consideration both because of the latent nature of communication and the public nature of social media. It is easy to be left wondering when is a message (a post) is a cry for help and when is a message a disclosure of an issue that’s been resolved?
Online discussion forums (ODFs) for example have long been recognised as an environment where individuals can discuss key emotional topics (Kendal et al, 2017), especially in a health related context. Where anonymity can be afforded through the use of pseudonyms this can help allay some of the privacy concerns posed by social networking sites.

3. Ethics are just as vital to online work: In its code of ethics the CDI makes a point that all career development activities and services are covered by this code regardless of how they are delivered, e.g. face to face, in groups, by telephone or web-based. In a many to many environment with lots of voices and viewpoints it’s more important than ever have impartiality and transparency. This can also be where practitioners feel that sense of their own professional identity in how their role is clearly demarcated from others, especially those with vested interests. In an age of information abundance the need for critical digital literacy is vital. This can apply to the information we signpost and curate into online resources. But this leads to me to two questions. If we’re teaching them who is teaching us? And are we making too many assumptions about how our training and competencies as practitioners are equally effective in online/offline contexts?

References

Brown, J. S. (2000) ‘How the Web Changes Work, Education, and the Ways People Learn’, p. 6.

Career Development Institute (2019) Code of ethics. [Online]. Available at https://www.thecdi.net/write/Documents/Code_of_Ethics_update_2018-web.pdf.

Goss, S. and Hooley, T. (2015) ‘Symposium on online practice in counselling and guidance’, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 1–7 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/03069885.2015.995471.

Hooley, T. (2012) How the internet changed career: framing the relationship between career development and online technologies. Journal of the National Institute for Career Education and Counselling (NICEC) 29.

Hostetter, C. (2013) ‘Community matters: Social presence and learning outcomes’, Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, vol. 13, no. 1, p. 10.

Kendal, S., Kirk, S., Elvey, R., Catchpole, R. and Pryjmachuk, S. (2017) ‘How a moderated online discussion forum facilitates support for young people with eating disorders’, Health Expectations, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 98–111 [Online]. DOI: 10.1111/hex.12439.

The impact of career focused online forums

I’ve been involved with online discussion forums within a personal capacity for well over two decades so when I joined the OU as a Careers Consultant in 2017 the use of forums in both educational (they are used extensinely as part of the learning design of modules) and careers based contexts was of great interest to me.

It was for this reason I embarked on a year long HECSU-funded research project to discover the utility and effectiveness of online discussion forums (ODFs) in supporting the career development of OU students.  I’m really pleased with the outcome and my report can now be viewed and downloaded on the Prospects Luminate website.

There are several reasons why I thought this research was important and necessary.  Before I submitted the bid for my research and to establish the evidence base it quickly became apparent there was a paucity of research in connecting student participation in online forums for career development purposes (not the case for educational purposes such as assessment, increasing attainment, reflective practice and as spaces for peer to peer practice to name a few).

Secondly, the lack of evidence creates a theoretical vacuum.  In the case of forums I felt there were some really interesting ways to explore forums in terms of their impact on identity formation, career learning and career development.

Finally, although user generated content has been the driving force of social media (and online forums are a type of social media) social networking sites appear to dominate the thoughts of those involved in careers research.  In the report I make the following point.

Consequently, ODFs should not just be viewed as a quaint antiquity superseded by ubiquitous social networking platforms but as an established social media application that still has relevance and value. As a many-to-many platform ODFs sits alongside SNS in their ability to share user generated content, build relationships, have conversations and reveal elements of identity

It would be great to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Theorising online discussion forums for career

It’s been a lengthy hiatus since I last posted but I’m happy to report I still work within HE careers and I’m very pleased to be doing so!  So what have I been up to?

During the last year I’ve been involved in a HECSU-funded research project exploring the utility of online discussion forums for distance learners.  The report is finished (not yet published but I’ll post further when it is).  Whilst waiting I wanted to share details of a workshop I delivered at the recent AGCAS annual conference 2019 (look out for the hashtag #AGACASAC19 on Twitter).

I came up with the snazzilly titled “Bumping online discussion forums (ODFs) in a social media age – How ODFs can extend the reach and impact of careers support” which you can view and download from the AGCAS website (Workshop Session A2).  There is of course lots of other brilliant material to peruse whilst you’re there.

I’ve been involved with forums in one description or another for well over 20 years.  In the report I make the point that:

“the wider educational and social benefits of student participation in ODFs are well established however the literature review revealed there is a paucity of research in connecting student participation in ODFs for specific career learning and career development purposes”.

In the workshop I focused on three ways (so not exhaustive as the report will show) we can theorise how ODFs could be useful for our career.  Here goes.

Identity construction: Identity can emerge through discoursal construction in social contexts through the act of writing and reading. (LaPointe, 2010; Lengelle & Meijers, 2014).

Career learning: Our learning in particular moves us all from tacit knowledge, action and experiences through a process of career construction recognising our language serves as the tool of our story creation and meaning making (Savickas, 2005)

Community Support: Some of the most influential factors in career choice relate to events which occur in the context of our ‘community interaction’ between the individual and the social groups of which we are members. (Law, 2009)

Once the report is published and available for free download I’ll post more thoughts about my research.  Do let me know your thoughts!

AGCAS

References

LaPointe, K. (2010). Narrating career, positioning identity: Career identity as a narrative practice. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 77, 19.

Law, B. (2009) Community-interaction and its importance for contemporary careers-work. [Online]. Available at http://www.hihohiho.com/memory/cafcit.pdf

Lengelle, R. and Meijers, F. (2014) ‘Narrative identity: writing the self in career learning’, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 52–72 [Online]. DOI: 10.1080/03069885.2013.816837.

Savickas, M. L. (2005). The theory and practice of career construction. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counselling: Putting theory and research to work (pp. 42–70). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Daring to fail

I recently had a short article published in Phoenix (Oct 2017 edition) which is the AGCAS journal, produced three times a year.  The theme this time around was student well-being but in my article I offer the view that to enable us to support students to cope with change and develop resilience we need to first consider how we approach challenges and failures in our own roles (I’ve had a few!).

So do take a look at the range of contributions in what is, as ever,  a brilliant read and feel free to let me know your thoughts.

daringtofail_2048x2048

Feeling conflicted in your career? Maybe there’s more strength in this than you think.

We’ve all felt emotionally confused right? A common trend for my own conflicted moments is what serial TV blockbuster to watch. Particularly when I have what seems like a minuscule window of opportunity when the kids are in bed and my melatonin levels haven’t gone off the scale. The problem is choice. For this reason I am always behind the curve in viewing the latest multi-season boxset extravaganza. Lost was lost on me and I’ll probably start watching Jack Bauer 24 years after the first episode aired. I naively mistook Game of Thrones as some sort of British historical drama and I wrongly thought the Walking Dead would never take off with the lead being the bloke off Teachers with a dodgy American accent. My most recent boxset binge, Vikings (please no spoilers), has been no exception to my late arrival but a recent episode got me thinking on how much work we do in careers with people feeling conflicted. I appreciate this isn’t just isolated to my line of work but there’s no doubt there is a lot of this feeling around and it’s usually not welcomed. In fact some see and hope our job is to help provide the cure!

So let me give you some background on why a particular episode resonated with my work as a Careers Adviser. The series focuses on Ragnar Lothbrok and his clan doing, well, what Vikings did back then (but with the added panache of a big TV budget). Following a raid he meets and eventually forms a close bond and friendship with a priest called Athelstan (after a let’s say a rocky start to their friendship). Now Athelstan was obviously a religious man but his experiences with the Vikings and introduction to the Norse gods made him question the legitimacy of his own beliefs and faith. Athelstan often wrestled with this and ultimately* (*spoiler alert) this led to his untimely death. Grieving the demise of the one man he could trust Ragnar spoke out poignantly to the priest as he buried the body in a secluded but beautiful spot.

“You’re a brave man, Athelstan. I always respected you for that. You taught me so much. You saw yourself as weak and conflicted, but to me, you were fearless because you dared to question”.

As I watched this I thought “wow” as it felt so very true and yet somehow I hadn’t actually ever put that into words before . A challenge to the general orthodoxy that feeling conflicted is somehow a default position of weakness. In my work I see examples of this internal conflict with scenarios such as;

“I’ve achieved a senior position in my current role but don’t enjoy it but to give it up would feel such a waste. It just took so long to get here”

“I’d love to be working as X but it seems such a risk to do this. I’d have much to gain and much to lose”

“I’ve got so many ideas of what I could be, what if I make the wrong choice – why can’t I just be satisfied?”

This got me curious into what causes this internal conflict so I got down to some reading and found this article. In it psychologists suggest the mind consists of multiple states that may to a varying degree be in conflict with one another e.g. memory and emotion.  So the brain operates a democratic process due to this “modularity” as no processing centre holds the keys to decision making.  Perhaps this goes some way to explain why we often feel conflicted. What’s interesting to me is that the timing of events and decisions plays a part as well as the article then goes on to explain;

“The divided decision model indicates that the ultimate determinant of a person’s choice is not her simple preference. Rather, people may have a variety of contradictory preferences that become dominant at different points because of their timing”.

This also leads me to another psychological concept called cognitive dissonance explained in detail here. The term is used to describe the feelings of discomfort we feel that result from holding two conflicting beliefs. For example, taking action when internally we know this to be wrong. Where this relates to careers work is that our lives necessitate the need to make decisions and these decisions are fertile ground for creating cognitive dissonance. This is why;

“making a decision cuts off the possibility that you can enjoy the advantages of the unchosen alternative, yet it assures you that you must accept the disadvantages of the chosen alternative”.

I’d imagine this is a statement many of us can relate to which makes it seem like there is an element of the inevitability of the human condition rather than a question of indifference or strength of mind.  Yet there’s even more of this self-talk trickery we can also identify with, the phenomenon of imposter syndrome.  That internal voice that you’re not good enough and somewhere along the line you’ll be found out (I get this feeling when I write but if you’ve made it this far perhaps I shouldn’t worry so much).

So where am I going with all of this? Listening to and exploring those inner voices and not explaining them away shows you are questioning the programming we often operate as a defence mechanism. Becoming more self-aware should be seen as a great strength as being conscious opens the door to personal growth and professional development.

As Ragnor would say “you were fearless because you dared to question”. We need to take the time to do more of this.  What do you think?

nature-sky-sunset-man

Time for internal debate should be seen as a strength even though we often seek clarity

Developing digital literacy through change – is transliteracy the answer?

Digital literacy I hear you say it’s everywhere! It is certainly a topic I hear much more frequently now than I ever used in my current role as a Career Consultant in higher education. As a term it feels ubiquitous but strangely also feels  like we’re all talking about it but sometimes with differing meanings and purposes – (do you ever get that feeling about “employability” as well?).   For example, for some of the students I work with they initially take the term to mean just using social media platforms or in some cases very specific software.  To help us understand some of the problems with becoming digitally literate it’s useful to think of our environment and starting points.

Some of you may have heard of Prensky who coined the terms digital ‘natives’ or ‘immigrants (settlers)’ as a way of distinguishing between those born into the digital age club and those amongst us (myself included) who get in via their analogue ticket (R.O.A.R).

cosplay-955153_640

If you’re not digitally native you’re not coming in!

Ironically, there’s a certain paradox here in the settlers very often being tasked to aid the natives in their digital development!  Maybe there’s more going on here than meets the eye and we need to extend our view of what it means to operate in 2017 and indeed prepare for the future – I’ll come back to this later on. But coming back to Prensky the terms suggest two ends diametrically opposed and the assumption  – to use the same analogy – that both clubs have strict entrance policies and play different music – Daft Punk versus Blondie perhaps!

But at what point given the widely accepted pace that technological developments occur do those lines become blurred and the demands placed on  natives and settlers to keep pace remain equal for all concerned even if our start points are different? Now, within education (and I know I’m generalising a lot here) is it also feels like the issue dealt with in a couple of ways:

  • Staff should do more to embed digital literacy and promote its use but may not feel equipped – this could be both in capability and time.
  • Throwing an increasing supply of sophisticated technology at the problem to somehow generate capability. e.g Sign up for LinkedIn and you’ll network your way to a job.

So what is the way forward?  Without pretending to have the precise answers I believe a solid starting point is dealing with our own understanding of what is “digital literacy”. I loved reading this article 20 ways of thinking about digital literacy in higher education. Without trying to show favoursitism these are the four ideals that stood out for me.

  1. Literacy is not static.
  2. HEIs need to help legitimise digital practices without trying to own them.
  3. Engage students in this debate and ensure that they too have ownership of this agenda.

However, one statement connected with me more than the others that I think helps bridge the divide between Presky’s ‘native’ and ‘settler’ debate and allow us all entry into a club that values our diversity and capabilities.

Digital literacy as an important part of transliteracy.  It is the literacy of convergence, unifying literacies past and present across different platforms, media and cultures.

This suggests we all have a contribution to make in being able to support our own and each others digital literacy development but also acceptance of where we have all come from and who we want to be both now and in the future.  What is comforting about transliteracy is that it includes and values other measures of what it means to navigate the 21st century life. It isn’t tied to a particular concept or piece of technology and it has space for the relationship we have with technology that at times feels just like a inevitable dystopian future of job losses.

There’s a great short video about developing transliteracy from Jeremy Brueck that gets you to consider what a lifestyle in a transliterate world means.

 

But as digital literacy remains so visible amongst us I’ve also produced a short presentation that explores some of the prevailing concepts and capabilities that helps us understand its relationship to employability.

 

 

 

The Graduate Market 2016 -creating App(eal) with students

 

Rather belatedly this year I’ve got round to reading The Graduate Market 2016 produced by High Fliers.  If you want to compare this years report to previous years, I wrote similar pieces in 2015 and 2014.  If you have an interest in graduate recruitment it’s well worth a read with the research focus being the Times top 100 graduate employers.  I’m not going to summarise the report as the executive summary does a fine job of that already but rather  focus on an area that holds interest for me and my role working with higher education students; that of graduate vacancies.

gradmarket

Unfilled vacancies  – so what lies beneath? The report notes:

A noticeable rise in the number of graduates turning down or reneging on job offers that they had previously accepted meant that over 1,000 graduate positions were left unfilled last year, reducing the graduate intake at almost a third of the UK’s leading employers.

Reasons given for this included graduates becoming pickier, having increased choice due to  a more buoyant job market, last minute changes in targets and harder to fill specialist vacancies.

Missing for me within the rationale is still recruiters over reliance and focus on Russell Group universities.  I can understand and appreciate the argument of a limited resource and recruitment and marketing budget but the average number of universities targeted by employers is twenty with six of those probably appearing in most recruiters cross hairs.

It seems strange to me how given the immense talent that exists in all universities some employers – and by no means do I mean all in the top 100 – may do well to rethink their current  strategy and engage with a wider field of talent.  Now there is open interpretation by what “engage” may actually mean for employers.  For some this might be brand ambassadors in target universities and for others it may mean working more closely in curriculum.  In fairness employers aren’t ruling out applications from elsewhere subject to entry requirements but we know in a labour market that is congested with competing choices and large numbers of potential applicants diversity won’t just appear by accident.

 This led me to read with interest an article in the Telegraph  on a new app called Debut which promotes itself as “the world’s first mobile student and graduate careers platform”.  The basic premise is that undergraduates download the app and can then play employer sponsored games to get fast tracked to interview.

Now this reminds me of an up to date version of the MI6 recruitment strategy of posing almost unsolvable puzzles in newspaper ads to get an interview with them.  I do find this an intriguing approach as part of the marketing blurb on the website talks about trying to “disrupt”the graduate jobs market.  With the app being free and easily accessible to download on your device it could certainly have mass market reach.  It claims to flip graduate recruitment with the employer approaching the employee – although I’m pretty sure LinkedIn had that function nailed a long time ago.  This is all based on the profile the student completes and performance in the employer endorsed games I mentioned earlier.  There were 41 employers on board at launch so I’d be interested to see what the take up is like a year down the line – both for employers and students.  One side effect of the disruption they talk about may be students playing these games in lectures.  We shall see….

debut_app

At least in my mind part of this strategy seems just like a new tactic in the employers arsenal of trying to attract and select the best applicants.  I say arsenal as that appears to be in line with graduate recruiters vocabulary of weaponised lexicon. Let me explain! I’ve heard  the term “tag & bag” used to describe an employers attempts to get applicants selected and onboarded to their graduate scheme and “weapons of mass rejection” used to describe applicant tracking systems.  It just goes to show that with employability there is no silver bullet – no pun intended.