Throughout the CSSA program, I have worked to apply my knowledge of diverse audiences, whether those be specific student populations, staff and faculty, or parents and family members, to the development, communication, delivery, and assessment of programs, curricula, and services.
When developing and writing the text for the Career Trail, which is soon to emerge through a pilot program, I looked at research regarding career development activities and considered what I’d already learned about career development. There are several premises that undergird the program, and these guided the developmental process. Based on a successful program at Willamette University called Career Roadmap, Career Trail is guided by research which shows that students will be more likely to participate in career development when encouraged or required to by faculty in the classroom. So, the assignments are simple, requiring little or no extra explanation on the part of a faculty member who might assign them to a class. The assignments can also integrate easily into a syllabus or curriculum for a particular course. The goal is that a faculty member would request a career services presentation and assign one of the Career Trail assignments to students in preparation for the presentation. While I was writing the text for the program, I was quite aware of these dual audiences, faculty members and students in various disciplines. The assignments, which are directed at students, use casual language that incorporates enthusiasm and the trail metaphor, which I decided on because it suggested an activity that could be difficult but was definitely doable. The text sent to faculty members, however, used a much more formal and professional voice. The development of this program, which is still in process, has definitely considered and applied my knowledge, and the knowledge of others on the Career Services team, of diverse audiences.
In AHE 599, Disability Issues, Malissa Larson, the Director of the Office of Disability Services at Western Oregon University, assigned the task of creating a universally designed program or event. Incorporating the learning from the term regarding the accommodations that can be made for students with various disabilities, I chose to focus on the Career Fair that happens each term in the Alumni Center. The Career Fair is a difficult event to imagine as a universally designed event. However, I wanted to challenge myself to see if it could be done. The result was this presentation: Toward a Universally Designed Career Fair. While developing this event for the presentation, I was attempting to communicate in a way that considers students with disabilities. Therefore, all videos were captioned, all pictures had text associated with them, all slides were high contrast. I was also careful to be precise in my speaking volume and speed, describing the images on my slides to the audience. The concept of universal design asks the designer to make sure that, in the development of programs and services that accommodate one group of people with a specific disability, all people will benefit. This ideal was my goal in the presentation and program.
As a recitation instructor in ALS 114, Career Decision Making, I strive to consider the individual student’s needs in my delivery of the material. Some students may be quite anxious because they have not chosen a major or decided on a career. For these students, I treat the work we do together in a serious way that can help get answers and work toward a decision. Other students may not be stressed or anxious about the lack of decision making but may be feeling pressure from family members to decide. In light of this, I want to be sure to reiterate that this decision process is their own and that this time in college is a great time to explore options. Still other students may not be feeling much pressure from family or internal pressure. For these students, I try to deliver the material in a way that shows it to be fun. If nothing else, students will have fun learning about themselves and the possibilities that are out there for them. Taking these three types of students into account, I use various tones of voice, various levels of enthusiasm and excitement, various points of emphasis to communicate to the different student experiences.
In improving our online CMS, or Career Management System, which is called Beaver JobNet, I organized a focus group during winter 2012 with student volunteers in order to gather some assessment information about the system. Beaver JobNet provides many opportunities for students; it is a job database for both on-campus jobs and jobs and internships around the world; it is the tool students use to make counseling and advising appointments; it is the place students go to sign up for interviews with employers on-campus and to view a calendar of our events; and it is a database of all employers who ever posted a job or recruited at OSU, so that students can more readily contact those potential employers. However, it doesn’t always work in the most intuitive way. So, I developed a focus group procedure where student volunteers would use the system to complete various tasks and answer various questions and then sit around our conference room table to talk about their experiences. I felt this was an important step, since we had been evaluating the functionality ourselves, but didn’t have much outside student feedback about the system. We had seven participants, one graduate student and six undergraduates. They gave us valuable information about the difficulties they had finding the answers to several questions and conducting searches in the database. We made significant alterations in the functionality based on this focus group, and we forwarded their questions and concerns on to Symplicity, the software provider, when the changes were outside of our control.
Considering various audiences in developing, communicating, delivering, and assessing programs, services, and curricula is essential in moving toward universal accessibility. And accessibility must be one of our ultimate goals for all we do. However, sometimes various constituencies are in conflict. For instance, in developing the universally designed career fair presentation, I realized that making the event more accessible for some students who may be made anxious by the number of people in the room and the volume and heat of all of those people could conflict with employers wants and needs. As Career Services, we need to maintain good relationships with employers, as well as serve students, to the best of our abilities. Examining and considering the various constituencies and audiences may not always mean serving all equally, but we can do our best with the resources at our disposal.