Building a Purposeful Life

Part one of my post on building a purposeful life. This post discusses the course I took which helped set me on this path, concepts from the course, and a brief overview of the course activites.

I recently completed a new online course. This was very different — it was more of a self-improvement course, focused on neuroscience and public heath. It’s called Finding Purpose and Meaning In Life: Living for What Matters Most. It’s taught by Vic Strecher, of the University of Michigan’s Schools of Public Health and Medicine, on Coursera.

Course certificate, Finding Purpose and Meaning in Life: Living for What Matters Most. – https://www.coursera.org/learn/finding-purpose-and-meaning-in-life

This course has a 4.8 rating with over 1,000 reviews. Here is what the course has to say about itself.

In this course, you’ll learn how science, philosophy and practice all play a role in both finding your purpose and living a purposeful life. You will hear from historical figures and individuals about their journeys to finding and living a purposeful life, and will walk through different exercises to help you find out what matters most to you so you can live a purposeful life…. By the end of this course, you will:

  1. Understand that having a strong purpose in life is an essential element of human well-being.
  2. Know how self-transcending purpose positively affects well-being.
  3. Be able to create a purpose for your life (don’t be intimidated, this is different from creating “the purpose” for your life).
  4. Apply personal approaches and skills to self-change and become and stay connected to your purpose every day.

As demonstrated by my course completion certificate, I finished the course. Not only did I finish the course, I’ve started making changes. And that’s what this post is about.

Actually, I’ve split this post into two. This post is about the concepts of the course. The next will be about how I applied the concepts and the design artifacts I created to help me achieve them.


Socrates voor zijn huis, Reinier Vinkeles (I), after Jacobus Buys, 1792 – Find at Rijksmuseum

A Central, Self-Organizing Life Aim

The course focuses on helping students find a purpose in life. It’s important to point out it’s a purpose, not the purpose. A purpose in life is “a central, self-organizing life aim”; a predominant theme in a person’s life.

The lessons guide students by introducing topics in Buddhist and Greek philosophy, such as the “true self” known as atman (Hindu/Buddhist) or daimon (Greek), and connecting those concepts to brain function and the Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortex, VmPFC. The VmPFC is the part of the brain that is involved in processing information and our emotional response.

We return to the VmPFC often in the course, to understand our neurobiological responses to stimuli and how behavioral practices like Loving-Kindness Meditation can lead to a positive sense of self, which can help lead to positive behavioral outcomes.


Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2019 August 4
Rumors of a Dark Universe
Image Credit: High-Z Supernova Search TeamHSTNASA

“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

We also learn what it means to have a purpose and discuss concepts in existential philosophy by thinking about Soren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Jung, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus.

We even learn about what Stanley Kubrick, who was apparently a big fan of Nietzche, and (loosely) 2001: A Space Odyssey have to say about purpose:

The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference…our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

Stanley Kubrick, 1968

Obviously, I have to have the music. 🙂

Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra / Dudamel · Berliner Philharmoniker
Richard Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra / Gustavo Dudamel, conductor · Berliner Philharmoniker / Recorded at the Berlin Philharmonie, 28 April 2012.

There’s a very interesting article from the Houston Symphony on Richard Strauss’ musical interpretations of Nietzche’s book and philosophy, Thus Spake Zarathustra, which has the same name as his famous orchestra piece.

In describing the music, the Houston Symphony writes, “Kubrick was not too far off the mark in using the piece’s opening to score a sunrise from outer space; Strauss indeed intended it to depict the mountaintop sunrise that opens Nietzsche’s book. The opening motif in the trumpets has been called the ‘nature’ or ‘world riddle’ motif; it recurs throughout the piece as a symbol of nature’s indifference and mystery.”


skuawk.com

What Kind of Cook Are You?

One of the important lessons is that while it’s important to seek knowledge, it’s also important to have guidance in that pursuit. To seek knowledge with purpose.

There’s an analogy used in the course, to help compare the pursuit of knowledge with cooking. We really can’t all expect to become master chefs before we ever start cooking. But we also can’t expect to have any efficiency or safety in a kitchen with no training whatsoever. The same is true for the pursuit of knowledge. An unintentional pursuit can lead down dark and dangerous paths; meanwhile, we can’t spend all our time studying for the next exam.

The question, What Kind of Cook Are You, is an existential philosophical question about the pursuit of information that is meant to focus on the importance of intention and balance. Learn enough so that you can seek out recipes and follow them, but also learn enough that you can deviate from the recipe without ruining the food or burning down the kitchen.

Image of flowers in golden light, showing sense of calmness
pexels.com

Golden Rules

I’ve often heard about The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you — either at church or Girl Scouts. And while it’s a great concept in theory, in practice, it’s kind of self-less and you end up getting mistreated a bit.

The course brought up a new version, which I think is a bit better.

The Reverse Golden Rule: Do not do to yourself, what you would not do to others.


skuawk.com

Being Purposeful

As I mentioned above, the course often refers to the Ventro-Medial Prefrontal Cortext, VmPFC, to understand, explain, and change our how a life purpose can improve life outcomes in positive ways, from a biological, psychological, and behavioral perspectives. The course focuses on how our own thoughts and behaviors can be reinforced. However, we often we don’t achieve our goals to “do better” for 2 reasons: they haven’t been tied back to our purpose and they don’t represent what he calls “crispy” behaviors. That is specific actions to be put into practice. We often make goals that are just a little too vague.

skuawk.com

Finding Your Purpose

These goals are called Do, Be, and Action goals. And the course helps the student think about and create them by, again, focusing on existentialism. Existentialism acknowledges human mortality, which many people don’t like to think about. However, by considering that life isn’t forever, we can use this inevitable fact to not freak out but to channel our life towards having a purpose – a central, self-organizing life aim.

There’s an app the instructor has called Purposeful by Kumanu™, to help create those Do, Be, and Action goals. I didn’t use it, I created the diagrams using a drawing program. But to get there, you start asking introspective questions about yourself, such as:

  • What are causes you care about?
  • What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

Literally, there’s an earlier part of the course where you think about what you want your headstone to say!

Pencils on a yellow background

Create Do, Be, and Action Goals

Ultimately the answer to the introspective questions above help to generate your Be goals. The type of person you’d like to be. Your atman, your daimon. These will form the central, self-organizing aim for your life – each one is a life purpose.

Do Goals: Next, you take these Be goals and ask what you have to do to enact those Be goals. Those are your Do goals.

Actually, the course makes a point to mention that many people start here and stop here. Rather than tying their goals to a life purpose, it becomes about achieving this goal. Like wanting to lose weight to fit into a dress, vs wanting to lose weight to fit into a dress, because ultimately the person is lonely and doesn’t want to be.

Action Goals: Finally the question becomes what action to take to enact to achieve those Do goals. These are the Action goals. And these should be specific and achievable goals.


To clarify, creating these goals is not a one-day activity. The course has the student ask themselves these questions frequently. By the time these concepts shows up, you already have a bit of a list and you’re primed to accept the ideas. I even spent time after the course completing this work.

Also a person can have more than one facet of their life in which to create their life purpose, including work, retirement, school, family, and even military service.

I highly recommend the course. As one reviewer said, “Vic is an excellent professor who just connects so well with the students even from the computer screen.” It’s not an in-depth neuropsychology course, nor is it a philosophy course. It provides enough information to support the course content, and enough to continue researching independently if that’s a goal.


As mentioned in the intro, I’ve split this post into two. In the next post, I’ll go into 2 of my Be Goals and how I turned them into crispy behaviors focused on cleaning.

Until then, here’s a video of the sun.

Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2020 August 19
The Sun Rotating
Video Credit: SDONASA; Digital Composition: Kevin M. Gill

Featured Image: Astronomy Picture of the Day, 2020 November 17. A Glowing STEVE and the Milky Way. Image Credit: NASAKrista Trinder

Psychology, Education, Women’s History, Medieval Literature, and Wine & Beer: A Shortlist of Future EdX Courses

This year I’ve taken some fantastic courses and I’m really excited to take something else. I’m not exactly sure I know what to sign up for — but I do want to be as excited for the new course as I have been for my previous courses.

I scribbled down this little short list of courses and it’s been sitting on my desk for weeks. I’m going to share them here so I can throw away this paper.

Even though I make these lists, I still end up taking courses that aren’t listed. I see something interesting and watch one video, and then end up in the whole course! For instance, I came across multiple courses on Islam, a business “MicroMasters” series from Bangalore, India, and two courses from Harvard. One on rhetoric and another on money and ethics. So, who know what I’ll get into. Actually, I’m already taking 2 other courses right now.

Most of the courses below have a preview video, so I’m including it.


Psychology of Activism: Women Changing the World

Smith College – SmithX

Learn what motivates prominent women such as Gloria Steinem, Loretta Ross, and others to become involved in activism in this political psychology course.

https://www.edx.org/course/psychology-of-political-activism-women-changing-th

For obvious reasons this year, I thought this might be a good course to consider.


Intercultural Competency in Education

University of Iceland – UIcelandX

Do you want to learn practical skills to become interculturally competent and aware as an educator? Take this course and learn to develop strategies to deal with identities in a fairer and more coherent way.

https://www.edx.org/course/intercultural-competency-in-education

After I took that Gender and Intersectionality course, I thought this might be another course to become more informed about intercultural issues. It’s actually more of a course for educators, but you never know when you’ll have the opportunity to teach something new.

I’m not surprised the University of Iceland has a course like this. The more I learn about Iceland, the more impressed I become!


Women Have Always Worked, XSeries Program

Columbia University – COLUMBIAX

Explore the history of women in America.

https://www.edx.org/xseries/columbiax-women-have-always-worked

This is a 4-course series. These XSeries of courses are meant to provide a deep exploration of a topic. They’re really a semester or a full year’s worth of education. Each individual course is broken up into like 8-10 weeks sections, so it’s pretty substantial. EdX estimated 10 months to complete all four courses, but if it’s your only course and you’re not doing anything else, you could get through it much faster.


The Medieval Iceland Sagas

University of Iceland – UIcelandX

Learn about the Icelandic Sagas, the characteristic literary genre of Medieval Iceland comprising roughly 40 texts.

The Medieval Icelandic Sagas

https://www.edx.org/course/the-medieval-icelandic-sagas-2

I’ve put this one on a short list because Icelandic sagas came up during the Gender and Intersectionality course I took. And, I’ve decided to take as many courses from the University of Iceland as possible. (There are only 6.)


World History of Wine

Trinity College – TrinityX

Explore wine through the eyes of a historian, as you learn about the “old” and “new” worlds of wine, including how its taste and quality has changed over time.

https://www.edx.org/course/the-world-history-of-modern-wine

I read a book earlier this year about world history through 6 drinks: wine, coffee, tea, spirits, beer, and cola. This seems like kind of the same thing, but specifically using wine.


World of Wine: From Grape to Glass

University of adelaide – adelaidex

Learn about the principles and practices of how grapes are grown and wine is made. Whether you’re a wine novice or a seasoned oenophile, you’ll learn to confidently describe wine appearance, aroma, flavour and taste.

https://www.edx.org/course/world-of-wine-from-grape-to-glass

A few years ago, I started learning more about wine. I thought this might be a great course to learn more.


Science of Beer

Wageningen University and Research – WageningenX

Are you interested in more than just the taste of beer? Discover what’s in your beer, how it’s made and marketed and the effect it has on your body and health.

https://www.edx.org/course/the-science-of-beer

Beer is so common, yet hardly discussed seriously. This course seemed like a good opportunity for that.

2019 Audit of UX Portfolios

In 2019, I began a project to audit over 85 portfolio websites. The result is the 122-page presentation below. The surprising results helped me in the design of my own portfolio.

Last year, I wrote a few blog posts about my portfolio updates and research process. Yet I’ve never shared my full findings. I hoped I’d be able to present my findings at UX Camp 2020, after giving a talk in 2019. But it’s 2020 and everything is cancelled.

In lieu of that, I’ve decided to share snippets of my research here on my blog. I’ve also included links to my previous, portfolio-related posts.

Enjoy and please share feedback in the comments.

Update: I’ve made changes to this post. A few weeks ago, I had included the whole presentation, but I’d prefer to keep that to myself for now.


I. Portfolio Resources

Contents

  • Part 1 – Overview: Introduction, methodology, and general caveats. Or, why I conducted this research, how I analyzed my findings, and what to keep in mind when reviewing the findings.
  • Part 2 – Review: Analysis and quantitative findings. Includes examples of tools, labels, images, layouts, and more.
  • Part 3 – Summary & Final Thoughts: Summary of findings in Part 2 and final thoughts for designers and hiring managers.

II. Previous Portfolio Blog Posts

A few of my previous posts about my process and portfolio updates.

Sept 17 2019: Portfolio Resources. A collection of sites, tools, and people I learned about during my research. Organized into the following lists:

  • Sites – Guides, essays, and portfolio collections
  • Tools – What people use to create their portfolio
  • People – A small handful of portfolios

Nov 4, 2019: Portfolio: Pólya Principles Applied. This post is about how I used ideas by the mathematician, George Pólya, to break down my portfolio issues into manageable subtasks. I’d written about Póyla‘s method, a few weeks earlier.


Nov 11, 2019: My Tachyons Portfolio. A review into the [then] state of my portfolio and thoughts for the future. This post occurred after my research, so I go into design questions. It also gets into some of the questions I hoped to uncover with my research.

  • How many portfolios are from students and do they seem different?
  • What types of profile images to designers use of themselves?
  • What is the most common greeting on portfolios?
  • How many designers use their own domain?
  • What do most people use to create their portfolio?

Thoughts? Questions? Feedback?

I found the results really surprising! How about you? I’m very interested in your feedback. Did you find this information helpful? Was it surprising? Do you have questions? Comments are open below.

If you’d prefer to leave an email, please visit alliwalk.com for my email address.

How to Erase Your Drive and Reinstall macOS on Catalina

I’ve been driving myself insane over the past few weeks months shopping for a new computer. So many options, so many new features. (Such high prices!)

During this search, I decided to take advantage of Apple’s 14-day trial period and test out a few of Apple’s newest MacBook Pros. Both of them were seriously impressive machines, and if it was my first Apple computer I’d probably go ahead and buy them. But, they weren’t. These computers were running Catalina and due to changes in the operating system, a number of fonts, files, and several programs I use a few times a year were not recognized and couldn’t be opened. This was too much for me to deal with in those 14-days, so I decided to return the computers and keep exploring my options.

Before returning them to Apple, I needed to wipe the drive clean. Apple has 3 articles outlined on their site on how to do this.

What to do before you sell, give away, or trade in your Mac
How to erase a disk for Mac
About macOS Recovery

Maybe because the instructions are split across 3 different web pages, I got confused and missed a step, wasted time, and finally ended up calling into their help desk.

So for my own reference, let me talk you through my experience. If you need to do this for a computer running Catalina, maybe my experience will help fill in some blanks.


Quick Add: I’ve tested out 2 other computers running Mojave and Sierra, since originally writing these steps. I followed these steps each time. I made a few updates where relevant based on those experiences, including a computer with a 3rd-party SSD.


Primary Steps to Wiping a Macintosh Hard Drive Running Catalina

These are the main steps to wiping your data from the computer. First you’ll be removing your Apple ID, then wiping security settings like your fingerprint ID. Then you’ll erase the drive.

For more information, check out: What to do before you sell, give away, or trade in your Mac for Apple's instructions.

1. Create a backup. In my case, since I had transferred files from a backup, I didn’t need this. But if this is your first computer, you should.

2. Sign out of iCloud. This worked exactly as Apple describes it for Catalina. iCloud is available in System Preferences. I think it did require my Apple ID or my computer’s administrator password. (Actually for one of these computers, I didn’t fully log out. Thankfully, you can log into iCloud via another computer and log out that way.)

Update: In 2 cases, I had devices that remained connect to my AppleID despite signing out of iCloud out on the computer. Neither of these devices were running Catalina. I recommend that after you sign out of your computer, visit your Apple ID and check that the device has been removed from your account. You may also need to check your other devices, too (iPhone, iPad, etc). Disappointing this isn’t part of Apple’s instructions.

3. Sign out of iMessage. I didn’t use iMessage, so I couldn’t sign out. (Or maybe that’s why I was still logged in!) In fact, this step was the first time I’d even opened iMessage, which I don’t use. I did see messages from years ago that got transferred over from my original backup file.

4. Reset NVRAM. This is supposed to delete security settings, like perhaps the fingerprint authorization if you’re using a laptop with the TouchBar.

  • In order to reset NVRAM, you shut down your computer. When you restart, immediately press and hold Option+Command+P+R for about 20 seconds. There’s no real indication anything is happening. I ended up trying this about 3 times before deciding I was done.
  • What should happen is you shut down, press Power, the Apple logo appears. Press and hold the keys, the Apple logo goes away. When you let go after 20-30 seconds, it comes back.
  • Note: I tried this on a 2019 iMac running Mojave. The Apple logo went away, then came back on its own after a few seconds. On a MacBook Pro running Sierra, I heard the restart repeating about 3 times until I let go.

5 (As needed). Unpair Bluetooth devices, if paired. No pairs for me.

6. Erase your hard drive and reinstall macOS. This is the hard part. Apple actually explains this in more detail on another page, which might be why it’s a little confusing.

This section was tricky for me because I mistakenly assumed the options for erasing a drive on Catalina were the same as my other computer running El Capitan. No! Well, I ended up consulting a few sources because none were absolutely clear.

Here are the 13 steps for fully erasing the hard drive.


13 Steps to Erase the Hard Drive (or Step 7 continued):

7.1 Shut down the computer.

7.2 Restart while pressing and holding Command + R. Don’t let go until you see the MacOS Utilities menu. (Actually, you can let go once you see the Apple logo. A language menu will show first.) This boots the computer in Disk Recovery. There will be a few options in Disk Recovery:

  • Restore from a Time Machine backup
  • Disk Utility [This is what you want]
  • Reinstall MacOS
  • Get help online (opens in a Safari, only)
Annotated image of macOS utilities menu, found in Disk Recovery.
For steps 7.2-7.3. Annotations added. Image can be found at https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208496.

7.3 Select Disk Utility. Once you get in here, you’ll see the same Disk Utility as if you’d searched in System Preferences.

7.4 Select View All. This is a critical step!! The drives you need for Catalina (as well as Mojave) are hidden by default. Make sure you do this step to view all hidden drives.

7.5 Select your drive. Once you’re viewing the full list of drives, after selecting View All, you should select the very first one at the top of the list. You may have given it a new name, but this is your main drive.

Annotated image of Disk Utility.
For steps 7.5-7.6. To erase your hard drive, select ‘View All’. Then select the first drive in the list. If you don’t have a name for your drive, you can leave it as ‘Untitled’ which is what I did on a call with Apple’s tech support. This image comes from Apple’s support pages (https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT208496). I added the annotations.

7.6 Select Erase to view erase options. After selecting your drive, the options at the top of the window should include Erase, which should not be inactive at this point. Select Erase to open the menu options for your drive (see image).

  • Regarding drive naming options: When I managed to complete this correctly, I was on the phone with an Apple support technician. She told me I did NOT need to name the drive — e.g., ‘Untitled’ was fine. So although the image above clearly shows someone naming the drive Apple SSD, I did not. Howeverattempting this on that iMac with a 3rd-party SSD installed, it didn’t like ‘Untitled’ so I used the name of the 3rd-party drive.
  • The drive format: Apple’s instructions essentially say that whatever pops up as the default option is fine to stick with.

7.7 Erase the drive. Once all options have been made, click Erase. Deleting only takes a few moments. You’ll get a confirmation that the erase was successful.

7.8 Quit Disk Utility. After the drive is erased, you’re done. Close out of Disk Utility. You’ll return to the previous screen, Disk Recovery.

7.9 Back in Disk Recovery, select Reinstall MacOS.

7.10 Select ‘Untitled’ during the reinstallation process. After 7.9, the installation process will ask where to install MacOS. Choose the drive that was erased. It will be named ‘Untitled’ or whatever name you gave it.

7.11 Wait while your computer installs MacOS. You’ll need to be connected to the internet. If not, you’ll get prompted to select a network and password if you don’t have a wired connection. This step will take about 45 minutes to one hour, even though it starts out saying something like 8 minutes.

Notes:

  • If you did not erase the drive correctly, you’ll get to almost the end, and then it will tell you Mac OS cannot be installed. This is because the OS is still installed and it can’t be overwritten in this way.
  • I’ll also note that you cannot install an operating system your computer didn’t come with at this point. You cannot try to rollback to Mojave, for instance on Catalina, using this method.
  • These notes are written for Catalina (and other computers that have not had their operating systems upgraded) so I do not know what happens to computers that have been upgraded. It’s possible reinstalling MacOS installs the original OS, or it could be the last OS installed.

7.12 Computer restarts in welcome, setup mode. Once the operating system has been properly installed, the computer will automatically re/start in the welcoming start-up screens that you encounter on a brand new computer. Continue as necessary.

7.13 If you do not want to continue, press Command + Q to quit the start-up and the computer will shut down. If you have a laptop, it will power up automatically when the lid is opened.

Now you’re completely done! Hope that was helpful.


Extra resources:

  • To gain more courage in this process, I watched this video from AppleInsider. It is NOT tailored for Catalina. But it was helpful from an overall process perspective. I’ve queued it to start at Disk Recovery.

Extra Tips:

  • Keep the computer plugged in to power.
  • Try not to let your computer go to sleep during Reinstall MacOS.
  • Use another computer to read instructions, vs an phone, if you don’t follow these. It’s easier to search and switch between windows.
  • Back up your data ahead of time, if you intend to keep the files.

Using My Own Instructions to Wipe an iMac Running Mojave

As mentioned, I’ve been on the hunt for a new computer for a few months. I’ve tried 3 different Macs — 2 laptops and an iMac, as the title states. The 2 laptops I bought from Apple’s refurbished store. The iMac was purchased from Other World Computing.

OWC conveyed that wiping the computer was not necessary, but I chose to do it anyway. I referenced my own list above. I only have a few tips to add.

  • Definitely check that iMessage to sign out. I hadn’t opened it before, and assumed that I hadn’t been logged in. But I still needed to sign out.
  • Confirm sign outs via iCloud. Use iCloud to confirm your account has been fully signed out from all computers where you don’t want an account.
  • Check that if any licenses or subscriptions need to be deactivated. For instance, I had purchased a second copy of CleanMy Mac when I had the laptops running Catalina. Not only could Catalina not run the Adobe software, it also couldn’t run the uninstallers. In order to use the license on another computer, it had to be deactivated. It doesn’t matter that the drive was wiped.
  • Stick with the default drive format. I was also not exactly sure about the drive format. So I checked the Apple website again, and just stuck with the default choice: “Format: Choose APFS or Mac OS Extended (Journaled). Disk Utility shows a compatible format by default.”

Fun Online Courses from edX.org

I’ve been really impressed with the quality of education available on edX. Most of the courses I’v taken have been very informative. I usually look for courses that are professionally advantageous or just interesting. I’ve seen a few that look especially fun and interesting.

All of these courses can be audited for free, and most of them have a modest or moderate fee for a verified certificate. A SeriesX course, described below, is a bit more expensive, because it consists of a few classes.

Here’s my list of fun courses on edX.


XSeries Programs

XSeries Programs consist of a “series of courses to develop deep knowledge in interesting and popular subjects”. For instance, I recently completed a 5-part course on Chinese history from HarvardX.


Star Trek: Inspiring Culture and Technology

What you will learn

  • Learn why we should study Star Trek as a lens for media scholars to analyze the history of television, the impact of science fiction on technology, and the phenomenon of fandom
  • Explore how Star Trek depicted a future where humans were explorers of the universe – serving as an inspiration to individuals and government agencies deeply involved in the race to get human beings into space for the first time
  • Understand how Star Trek’s diverse crew prompted audiences to reconsider their own perceptions of different races and genders
  • Reflect on how Star Trek depicted various characters working to understand themselves and their place in the universe
  • Recognize how Star Trek inspires reflection on our own humanity and our place in the universe

Remotely Humorous: Build Joyful and Resilient Virtual Teams with Humor

Venn diagram from HumorX, with humor, leadership, and impact overlapping

What you will learn

  • The neuroscience of laughter, and how it proves humor is a superpower for building more connected, creative, and resilient virtual teams.
  • How to unlock your unique sense of humor on the job and cultivate more levity and joy with colleagues and team members in your virtual workplace.
  • Comedy techniques from the pros for becoming more confident and skilled in using humor at work and in life.
  • The strengths and growth areas of your organization’s culture, along with virtual team building exercises to foster a more effective and joyful workplace.
  • The definitive punchline to “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

Single Courses

And now here are a few individual courses from different universities and institutions around the world. Maybe you can pick up a theme? 🙂


WageningenX: The Science of Beer

Are you interested in more than just the taste of beer? Discover what’s in your beer, how it’s made and marketed and the effect it has on your body and health.

What you’ll learn

  • Identify the steps involved in the supply chain of beer
  • Explain the effect of each step in beer production
  • Design a production process for different beer styles
  • Describe the characteristics and cultivation of the main raw materials
  • Name the main historical events related to beer
  • Explain how marketers try to influence consumer behaviour.
  • Describe the pathway of beer through the human body
  • Look at the health effects related to beer consumption

TrinityX: The World History of Modern Wine

What you’ll learn

  • Major trends and changes in global wine production, trade and consumption over the past three hundred years
  • The concepts, methods and resources that historians use to think about the history of wine
  • How wine taste and quality have changed over time
  • When and how the wine industry has responded to crisis and change
  • How to start your own research into the history of your favorite wines

SmithsonianX: The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact On Pop Culture

What you’ll learn

  • The history and origins of the first superheroes and comic books, and how they changed over time
  • The evolution of American society from the Depression to today, as viewed through the lens of the comic book genre
  • How the current globalization and diversity of the next generation of superheroes impacts our storytelling across all mediums
  • How to apply historical examples to create superheroes for the present day

AdelaideX: World of Wine: From Grape to Glass

What you’ll learn

  • Evaluate and communicate the various sensory attributes of wine using formal descriptive language
  • Explain the structure, growth and development of grapevines and objectives of different vineyard management practices
  • Contrast the different winemaking techniques employed in the production of different styles of wine

That’s it! I have other interesting courses on my list, but these courses look extra fun and interesting.

Unlocking Your Employability: An Edx Course from the University of Queensland

I was having a conversation the other day about job hunting strategies. I mentioned how I’d recently taken a new online course and had learned some new and unique approaches to share my past experiences with employers. I’d also learned that there are certain qualities all employers look for, though not every employer priorities these qualities equally.

The course, Unlocking Your Employability, is available from EdX and taught by two career coaches from the University of Queensland in Australia. The course frequently uses interviews from students, graduates, and employers to help explain many of the concepts. There’s also a mock interview.

In all honesty, the course is geared towards college students and recent graduates but I think the lessons could be helpful for experienced people as well. I’ve been working for more years than the intended audience, but I still learned quite a bit.

Overwhelmingly, the course focuses on teaching students how to reflect on past experiences, and to use that reflection during job hunting to demonstrate how the individuality of each job seeker is valuable to employers.

So here are some concepts I learned. This is will be a reference for me, too.


What is Employability

The first part of the course is focused on introducing and defining the term “employability”. I have to admit that I had not heard this word before and it took me a while before I really understood the concept.

Sharing Skills vs Employability

In my experience, when it comes to job hunting, much of what I’ve come across on job hunting strategies focuses on sharing skills and describing “what you did” on a project. One of the employers in the course distinguishes between employability vs employment outcomes, which is a closer concept to what I’ve come across. Employment outcomes is focused on just getting hired, not maintaining a job or emphasizing employee effectiveness.

Employability is about: finding a job, maintaining work, and being effective in the workplace. The course follows the path of reflecting on experiences to convey employability, and using those experiences to be an effective employee.

As the course is focused on employability, there’s more emphasis on the longer term goal of maintaining employment. The course does not emphasize skills growth. The course assumes the student, or job seeker, already has the skills. Instead the focus is on reflecting on your own individual responses in relation to your work and life experiences, and connecting them back to work.

The course focuses on identifying defining moments which can be used to build an employability narrative, which is conveyed to employers using the SEAL method, as discussed next.


STAR vs SEAL, and Behavioral Interviews

One strategy I’ve come across numerous times focuses on use of the STAR method when it comes to sharing your employment experiences. I typically see this advice given to help job seekers prepare to answer behavioral interview questions or even how to describe a project in their portfolio. If you haven’t come across this before, STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. The idea is that when an interviewer asks a behavioral question, the interviewee gives an answer in the STAR format.

The trouble I’ve had with this advice is that there’s never any instruction provided on how to translate a past experiences into the STAR format, in a way that’s actually meaningful to me. Or an employer. It’s always seemed that it’s just focused on telling the story of what happened, not providing an answer that’s meaningful to employers.

SEAL is the reflective method taught in the course. SEAL stands for Situation, Effect, Action, Learning. SEAL focuses on helping job seekers take a past experience, from work or life, and reflect on it in a way that can be used to convey employability to employers.


Prep for STAR-based behavioral interviews using the SEAL method

The best way to prepare for behavioral interviews is to prep ahead of time using SEAL. The course identified four questions employers are likely to ask in behavioral interviews:

  • Tell about overcoming a challenge
  • Dealing with conflict in a team
  • Managing competing priorities
  • Showing initiative

The idea is to think of specific situations that can be used to provide SEAL-based responses to the above questions. Once you’ve got those responses, it’s much less of a challenge to convert those responses into a STAR format. I’ve already started to use the SEAL method to shift my explanations of past projects towards a more reflective approach.

The key to choosing a situation to use in SEAL is to focus on an experience where you learned something. I really liked this approach because it means I’m able to take a situation and turn it into a learning experience that shows off some of my personal capabilities. The SEAL method can transform even a negative experience into something positive.


Identifying Defining Moments to Build an Employability Narrative

An employability narrative is the sum of each person’s individual experiences. It’s not just recapping a story of a series of experiences. When you’re hired by an employer, they’re getting the sum of your experiences not just your skills.

The experiences can come from anywhere, not just jobs. These can include:

  • Defining moments (that maybe had a big impact on your job outlook)
  • Key development opportunities (such as a volunteer or teaching experience)
  • Capabilities and strengths
  • Passions, values, beliefs

I think it really helps to spend time reflecting on this in order to build the narrative ahead of time. This part has been harder than I expected; it can be difficult to view yourself objectively.


Employer Expectations and Professionalism

Employer Expectations (aka Core Competencies)

Early in the course, the instructors provide a list of 10 expectations employers have for graduates (or employees). As they described, the list doesn’t change much.

This list probably looks pretty familiar. It’s in nearly every job ad, in one form or another. NACE calls these career competencies, if that helps to clarify. The list of employer expectations can be used by job seekers, using the SEAL method to share examples, and to convey capabilities and strengths.

Professionalism

These core competencies are not the same as professionalism, which focuses on workplace behaviors. The 4 aspects of professionalism identified by the course include:

  • Punctuality; Arrive on time
  • Dress appropriately
  • Work well with others; Team work
  • Communication; speaking appropriately

In addition, one of the employers (a nurse) interviewed in this section identified or explained a few other traits, which still fall under the above categories: positive attitude, introducing yourself, not arguing; think of how you address people. These fit under communication and team work. Obviously, some of these will be more important for some jobs vs others.

When I thought about this list, I have to admit that these are not what I would have identified as professionalism. Probably because I assumed professionalism was mostly focused on technical skills. And the course asked students to reflect on unprofessional behaviors we’ve witnessed as well as our own behaviors that we’d now classify as unprofessional.


Career Transitions and Wrap-Up

The last sections of the course focused on putting it all together, even including a mock interview. That was interesting because we were asked if we’d hire the interviewee and then discuss why or why not on the course forum.

There was also a section on discussing opportunities for continuing education. I guess this post is pretty biased towards the sections I found most interesting. Clearly I don’t have a problem with continuing education.


Reflections

The end of the course includes a course evaluation. Some of my thoughts about the course:

I learned more about the qualities that make someone employable, not just professionally but also personally. I also learned about qualities that define professionalism, which no one has ever explained to me before.

I’ve always considered myself to be professional, but I’ve developed a bad habit of being late to many different types of appointments. Most articles about lateness talk about the idea that being late as a sign of disrespect. But if you’re late to everything, including events that have no one there but yourself, that doesn’t make sense.

However, putting it into context that being late is an unprofessional behavior, well that’s not something I’d heard before. I’m sure that this habit has hurt me educationally as well as professionally. Now that I know, I will work harder at not being late because I don’t want people to think of me as unprofessional.


Initially, I did not appreciate the course that much, probably due to not understanding employability. But by the end, I enjoyed it so much that I decided to purchase a verified certificate of completions. It wasn’t too expensive ($59) and I don’t want to lose access to the course materials.


Bonus!

The section on professionalism reminds me of this 1950s video I saw on YouTube called ‘Office Etiquette’. The video is about a young woman who starts a new job after taking some type of typing training course. She spends the rest of the video reflecting on the lessons the typing instructor shared. Many of the lessons focused on employability, competency, and professionalism, though that’s not what they were called.

The instructor gives a little speech that her students seem to remember by heart: First of all know your work. Enjoy it, but also the people you’re working with. Be considerate of them and be considerate of your employer.

I guess this kind of speech meant a lot in the 1950s. To me it sounds a bit vague and kind of corny. I prefer the much longer and clearer lessons of the Edx course. But the overall points about professionalism and core competencies are still the same, even if the communication isn’t so clear.

The video is 13:15.

Old Time TV: Do’s and don’ts film portraying ways in which office etiquette contributes to success in office relationships. Follows a young woman who is seeking her first secretarial job and shows examples of good (and hilariously bad) on-the-job behavior. (13:15)

Resources:

Unlocking Your Employability: https://www.edx.org/course/unlocking-your-employability

The Wikipedia definition of employability is available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employability

Career Competencies on NACE (National Association for Colleges and Employers): https://www.naceweb.org/career-readiness/competencies/career-readiness-defined/

The University of Queensland, Australia: https://www.uq.edu.au/