By Subhadra Ganguli
Over my years as an economics faculty, I have always sought to refine my teaching to help my students learn. In recent years, I have become particularly interested in — and passionate about — strategies that can help develop more career-ready skills.
According to the World Economic Forum, digitization is progressing at a fast rate, and that will have big implications for graduating students who will be expected to adapt to new technologies and the ever-changing workplace. As instructors, we strive to teach in a way that helps students achieve learning outcomes specific to a particular discipline or course. But how can we also make our courses more relevant to students’ career aspirations and create activities that develop students’ career-ready skills?
That’s a question I have explored as a participant in the ACUE program through Bloomsburg University. While group work has always been integral to my courses when it comes to helping my students better understand the principles of microeconomics or macroeconomics, I wanted to know to what extent these collaborative projects could help them develop so-called “soft skills” such as resilience, adaptability, empathy, and integrity.
Using Groups to Ensure Active Learning
Organizing students into small groups is the first step, and it shouldn’t be overlooked. Earlier on in my career, I assumed it would be fine to manage the process, through coerced or random selection. But I’ve learned that taking a step back and enabling students to create their own groups can promote interdependence and shared accountability.
Similar to what is recommended in ACUE’s module on Using Groups to Ensure Active Learning, I encourage students to get to know each other using online discussion boards with prompts to share about their general areas of interest around the study of a country (macroeconomics) or study of a firm (microeconomics). During the pandemic, one of the most challenging aspects of teaching in an online learning environment has been creating student-to-student engagement, but I’ve found that this early step really can build meaningful connections.
Even as face-to-face classes have resumed, I have continued the “tradition” of using virtual discussion boards because they are so effective at cultivating a sense of community in both online and F2F course settings. In addition, ACUE’s module on Providing Clear Directions and Explanations provided a good idea for how to create step-by-step tasks. For a lot of the freshmen in this class, it’s the first time they’re preparing a presentation.
Facilitating Engaging Online Discussions
Soon after formation, groups must work collaboratively to assign roles and responsibilities to each member of the group. Our course’s group presentation typically takes approximately four weeks to prepare. Encouraging students to present their ideas is recommended in the module on Facilitating Engaging Online Discussions. But it’s a great way to create community in my F2F classes as well.
One role, for example, is responsible for organizing and coordinating team activities. But before they even begin to dive into the research and preparation for their chosen topic, students must create and sign an online contract. This process indicates a willingness by all group members to honor their responsibilities. Warren Buffet has famously said that integrity is the most important trait to look for when hiring, but it’s hardly innate. It takes time and practice, and this classroom activity is an opportunity to help students flex their soft-skill muscles.
Developing Self-Directed Online Learners
After several trials and errors over the past years, I have created a peer evaluation process for students to provide critical feedback on one another’s work. This is a peer-evaluation questionnaire, which is designed to objectively explore various aspects of presentation quality, including delivery and content. This process of peer evaluation stresses the importance of stakeholder views that are now considered essential for real-world business solutions. Finally, all of this is wrapped in the framework of a fair and transparent grading process. Guided by principles that align with ACUE’s module on Developing Self-Directed Online Learners, students learn to use rubrics that help them evaluate their peers’ presentation performances.
Helping students develop career readiness skills isn’t something that should be left to a career center or offered through separate, standalone courses. Embedding this work into our existing courses doesn’t require a complete redesign but rather smaller adjustments or tweaking along the way. The advantage of this approach is that your students will be more likely to see the relevance of your course to their own learning and career aspirations. In my classes, it’s my hope that these group projects become learning experiences that leave invaluable impressions beyond the classroom.
Subhadra Ganguli is an instructor of economics at Bloomsburg University and is in the process of earning her full ACUE Certificate in Effective College Instruction.