Encouraging Engagement by Adding Job-Like Elements to a Course

Making college coursework interesting and relevant is a challenge. Recently, I considered using some sort of gaming strategy to motivate my students, but as I thought about what I really wanted them to gain from my class, it became clear that I needed to do the exact opposite. After all, what students learn in my class is not a game. I teach Corporate and Instructional Media in a Cinema-Television Arts Department. I want students to walk away with real-world skills that they can use in their first job interviews and in their lives and careers. So if fun and games weren't the answer, what could I do?

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Making college coursework interesting and relevant is a challenge. Recently, I considered using some sort of gaming strategy to motivate my students, but as I thought about what I really wanted them to gain from my class, it became clear that I needed to do the exact opposite. After all, what students learn in my class is not a game. I teach Corporate and Instructional Media in a Cinema-Television Arts Department. I want students to walk away with real-world skills that they can use in their first job interviews and in their lives and careers. So if fun and games weren't the answer, what could I do? As, I realized that I wanted my students to take the class seriously, to treat it as a job, and to think of me as their boss. Could I create an environment to accomplish that result? I know other instructors who have used similar approaches, so I decided I would try. I started by using use job-related language in the course. I renamed the syllabus the “employee handbook” and opted to call the whole endeavor jobification. Here is how jobification works in my class. On the first day I ask my students to do a five-minute free write responding to the prompt “Tell me your story.” As I collect them, we shake hands and introduce ourselves. I explain that this class will be different because instead of being students, they have just joined a company and today is their new employee orientation. I hold up their papers, thank them for their job applications, and congratulate them on being hired as junior producers at 362 Productions. (My course is CTVA 362.) I show our company logo on a slide and start explaining what they'll be doing in this job. Over the next 15 weeks, they will be designing a preproduction plan for a client that they bring to the company (course). They will attend trainings (lectures) to learn the skills needed to analyze the client's problem and develop a plan that solves it through media (project). The associated tasks (activities and papers) will need to be completed by the deadlines (due dates), and they will receive feedback and notes for revisions (grades). We will conduct status meetings (class discussions), and they will provide updates (presentations) on their projects. In addition, there will be periodic performance reviews (exams). As their executive producer (instructor), I will provide guidance and feedback on their projects as well as the training and resources they will need. I review the employee handbook (syllabus), going over those activities that will occur during training sessions at the company headquarters (classroom) and those they will complete on their own time. We go over the job aids (textbook and readings) and discuss the compensation (points) they can earn for their tasks and job performance, including their participation, attendance, and ability to meet deadlines. I pass out nametags, and we start the “new employee orientation” with an engaging meet-and-greet activity. The job metaphor enables me to stress some of the less tangible skills of business communication and professionalism that are important for students to acquire. I further developed my approach in a faculty learning community for learner-centered course redesign (FLC). During the FLC, we were tasked to consider our dream for our students and look at our objectives and activities to make sure they line up with that dream. Like many of my colleagues, I discovered I didn't have objectives connecting to the human dimension, caring, and learning-how-to-learn areas that Fink recommends in his course design materials So I created some new objectives along the lines of “Evaluate the quality of their work, interactions, and business style writing as a professional in the context of corporate and instructional media.” I used an ePortfolio entry as the activity and assessment for this objective. And for the first time, students reflected about what I really wanted them to learn long-term. Comments included: “I have learned so many useful and necessary skills that will help me in my career to come;” “I'm glad I chose to take this class, for I have truly learned new skills that I will use in the future;” and “It was a lot of work, but they were experiences that I can use for my career.” Others mentioned how their personal development was positively affected: “I appreciated my growth in business professionalism in this class.” Even though I covered the same material in the course, it wasn't until I started using the “skin” of jobification that was I able to help students realize that this course was about more than just content. I so appreciate hearing, “My other classes are based on critical thinking, but this class is critical doing. I learned so much. I can truly say that I have skills that I didn't have entering this class, that I do have now, and it's awesome!” And it is as rewarding for me as it is for them. Hillary Kaplowitz (hillary.kaplowitz@csun.edu), is lead, instructional design at California State University, Northridge.