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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Just a mini list of all the stuff I’ve been consuming/doing. Portfolio updates, books, and courses.
I’ve made several adjustments to my portfolio. I’ve already started another post detailing the changes, so I won’t go into much detail now. But one change was to update the website index page. Instead of the yellow and dark gray, with Courier font, I updated the page to stick with all Inter font and emphasized the portfolio link. I may change it again, but I prefer the gradient gray over the yellow.
Courses and Educational Film
The Dynamics of Desegregation
Over the past few months, I’ve been watching The Dynamics of Desegregation which is available via my local PBS station. This series originally aired in 1962 and 1963 as a 15-part “intensive study of race relations in the United States.” It is hosted by Thomas F. Pettigrew, PhD, who was then Harvard psychology professor. He is now at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
In the past few years, most of the online courses I’ve completed have been about tech, business, or design. While I find these courses valuable for work, I do sometimes wonder what I’m not learning. Serendipitously, due to the lockdowns, ClassCentral sent an email about courses and I decided to try some new topics. Here are three courses I’ve completed, or almost finished:
I suppose I selected this course on modern China because I have been hearing about the country so much in the news media and from government officials, who I assume are biased. I wanted to form my own opinions about the country. I also took it because I know the history of modern China had a communist period. Supposedly the country is still communist, but given the people I’ve met, the stories I’ve heard about the growing wealth in China, and how aggressive China is towards developing technology, I wasn’t so sure.
Anyway, it’s a fascinating course. I highly recommend it. This series is Part 2. Part 1 is about pre-history of China and the earlier dynasties.
This course is from the University of Pennsylvania. It’s focused on the design of physical artifacts. I really enjoyed the breakdown of solving design problems by breaking them down into separate issues and using charts to deciding which prototype to progress into the next stage. It’s much more professionally focused than the others.
Given the circumstances, where I’m not really going out and not able to talk with friends, I did not attempt to create an artifact. But I did appreciate the lectures and hopefully I can come back to this in the future.
3. Sheep in the Land of Fire and Ice on EdX
“This short course discusses the sustainability of sheep grazing in Iceland and explores how history, socioeconomic factors and environmental conditions have shaped the management of grazing resources.”
I tell anyone who will listen about my dreams of farming sheep and/or goats. When I saw this short course from the University of Iceland, on a topic related to sheep, I figured I should try it.
What I learned is that because Iceland’s soil is volcanic, it is prone to erosion when the native plants that keep the soil together are destroyed by overgrazing or by too many sheep that simply crush the plants. There was more information about the history of Iceland, sheep farming, and geography. Needless to say, I will never be a sheep farmer on Iceland.
Food-wise, it’s now summer which means I don’t use the oven much. Due to the lockdowns, I also haven’t been buying fresh milk too much. I’ve switched to non-fat dry milk and almond milk because they are more shelf stable, reducing my trips to the grocery. It turns out I really enjoy almond milk in my iced coffee.
Image credit: Hand schrijvend met een kroontjespen, by Isaac Weissenbruch, 1836 – 1912, paper, h 72mm × w 113mm — View original at Rijksmuseum.nl
(I believe the title is translated as ‘Hand writing with a dip pen’.)
An attempt at a plot development technique called “The Escalator” — from an online creative writing course, focused on plot.
Many years ago, I took a continuing education in creative writing at Rice University. I never took another one, until recently when I got it in my mind to try again. This time, I wanted to look for an online course.
Despite most online courses these days centering on coding or engineering, I found an online creative writing course, focusing on plot development, on Coursera from Wesleyan University. Because I’m not a paying student on Coursera, I cannot submit my writing, so I’m going to share it here.
The assignment from Week 1 is called “The Escalator”. The instructions are below, but the goal is to move the plot along by the use of certain words, like ‘tiger’ and ‘appliance’. It feels a little contrived, but actually these action words really help move things along.
Assignment: The Escalator
Write a scene of 250-350 words featuring a character with one concrete want (a table, a moose, a toothbrush, anything physical is fine!) and one weakness. Use these two features to drive the action of the plot. Set up the story where every other sentence is a rising action. To help you come up with rising actions, use one word from the following list of twelve words in each sentence that has a rising action. In other words: Write your first sentence introducing your character. Make the next sentence a rising action using one of the following twelve words. Write your third sentence, which may introduce the weakness, then write your fourth sentence with a rising action that includes one of the remaining eleven words you haven’t used. And so on.
You must use at least 6 of the 12 words, but you are encouraged to challenge yourself to use as many of the words as possible while still meeting the word count.
Submission: Gold Ring
Abby had recently started a new job after a long period of unemployment. As she found herself in the jewelry department of Bloomingdale’s, she could feel a small part of her explode with pride that she had finally secured full-time work and start living again.
In the past, Abby had purchased earrings or a necklace to celebrate a new job, but since she wouldn’t get paid until the end of the month, she didn’t have the money to buy anything new. She tried to pretend eagerness in buying the set of pearl earrings the sales girl was showing her and smiled when she looked in the mirror.
As she looked around she noticed the jewelry department wasn’t that busy, but it wasn’t that crowded. She had an idea to somehow trick the sales girl and get the jewelry — by stealing.
She’d never stolen before and could hardly believe she’d formulated this idea on her own. But after those many months of unemployment and self-doubt —- pinching every dime, and eating rice and lentils every night —- she finally felt like she’d escaped her cage.
Well, she told herself, if she was going to possibly get caught stealing, she wanted to make sure it was worth it. She moved around the glass cases like a tiger stalking prey, making notes in her head of pieces she liked and didn’t.
Finally she came to a case of rings and asked to view them closer. When the rings were placed in front of her, she cocked her head like a crow, this way and that, trying to eye both the sales girl and the rings.
The ring she chose to try on was a simple ring of rose gold and opal. She admired how it looked on her finger and tried to remember the moment to form a memory in her mind.
She hadn’t figured out exactly how she was going to steal it and began to feel her confidence waning. Suddenly, what had been a loud murmur at the other end of the jewelry case exploded into a commotion. A well-dressed man and woman began to yell and scream, hurling filthy insults at each other.
All of the sales attendants immediately hurried over to the couple, including the sales girl who had been serving Abby.
Like a tiger, Abby pounced at her lucky opportunity. She put her ringed hand in her pocket, picked up her bag and began quickly walking, almost running, towards the door.
Just as she reached the door, she heard a voice call out to her, “Oh, Miss! Oh, Miss!”. But Abby didn’t stop.
Here again is another recap of my notes on a Lynda course. This course was called “Holding Yourself Accountable”. I confess that I first thought this course would be really cheesy. But it actually came in handy for me. You can read about that at the end.
As will all posts with my notes about Lynda videos, what follows is not a comprehensive recap of the video. These are just notes I took while watching. If you’re curious about the individual videos, click through to the course page and check it out.
Dorie explains the difference between accountability and responsibility: Responsibility refers to what actions it is your job to do. Accountability is being held to account for actions; ownership. Regardless of position.
Why focus on accountability? Think about what you want people to say about you when you leave a room.
What kind of person do you want to be?
What are the consequences of no accountability. What are the consequences of you being accountable? If you stepped up.
Seek positive examples
Don’t work on stuff that’s not important to the company or boss.
Think about your future.
Set Expectations — Don’t over-promise.
Use time-tracking tools and techniques to help keep track of your tasks. Use the results to see how long a task took.
Manage expectations of others.
Share obstacles in advance.
Learn to Focus
Everyone gets bored. It’s not necessarily bad to be bored.
Have to be willing to give up things we value.
Use something like “Pomodoro” to work in 25min sprints. 4 sprints, then one longer break.
Pomodoro works in 6 steps:
Decide on the task to be done.
Set the pomodoro timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
Work on the task.
End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go to step 2.
After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
Find out more: https://francescocirillo.com/pages/pomodoro-technique
Excuses vs Obstacles
Write it down.
Look for patterns. Might be imposing a world view.
Look for solutions. Convince colleagues to work on a project.
Systems for Success
End meetings with a recap to help clarify next steps and who is accountable for what outcomes.
Use “I always…” or “I never…” to set boundaries. For instance, “I always exercise in the morning.” If you go on a business trip, book a hotel with a gym and bring your gym clothes, etc.
Look for equipment solutions, if needed.
These tools could be free or paid.
Get Help to Hold Yourself Accountable
Create a mastermind group. A group of peers, friends, mentors….
Get an accountability partner.
Review who you spend time with: Who are the 5 people you spend time with? These people have a lot of influence on your life/behavior.
Pickup After Failure
Get back on track by:
Understanding why the failure occurred.
Bounce back soon after it occurred – with a tangible, concrete action.
Don’t let a small misstep become an excuse for a bigger one. Ex: Don’t “mouth off” to colleagues because you’re in a bad mood.
Overcome failure with grace.
But be strategic.
Don’t celebrate everyday, but enough to avoid burnout.
See Tony Schwartz for more on burnout.
Embrace the Identity of Accountability
Let positive actions and positive self-conception become a feedback loop. You’re an accountable person because you’re accountable
Be someone others can rely on.
Be more than just responsible; accountable.
Conclusion: How has this course helped me?
On a recent client project, I had trouble getting the client to commit to dates. And the client was often slow to respond to emails. It would have been easy to let my frustrations overtake my emotions and allow myself to let the project lapse and the timeline go on and on.
But I told myself that I wanted the project to succeed. I was going to make sure it happened. Using this course and the lessons from another course, I focused on the outcome I wanted. I composed emails that made my short and long term goals clear. The client responded and the project eventually concluded successfully. I am now looking forward to my next opportunity to display accountability in personal and professional projects.
First a short-term goal (or want), then the longer term goal.
Short-term goal is something you want someone to do right away. Action items; “Call me at…”
Long-term goal is what you want them to do for a bigger purpose. “I’m looking for help on….”
Researching your topic: For instance, if replying to a job description use the language in the job post in your correspondence.
Researching your correspondent: Maybe you can find someone specific to send your correspondence to by searching for people on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. When reaching out, “My research shows you’re the best person to contact. If not…”.
The presenter suggested using a website like bab.la for phrases, especially in other languages.
Getting to the Point
Put the goal up front
Remove confusing details
Rearrange and check punctuation
Cut out unnecessary words
Phrasal Verbs vs Direct Verbs; Idioms
Be direct. The second phrases below are indirect and passive:
“I analyzed…” vs “I looked over…”
“I hope to…” vs “I had been hoping…”
Idioms: Just write it out. Idioms can be misunderstood or misinterpreted.
Follow-Up: TAP – Timeline, Alternatives, Peskiness
Timeline: Do you need to follow up because you need an answer?
Alternatives: Can you get this info from another source?
Peskiness: What will be the downside of following up?
Remember: Don’t assume malice or argue.
Here’s an example: I’m afraid I didn’t get a response to our letter on June 15 about booth space. A prompt reply would be appreciated as we are trying to finalize our travel arrangements. Thank you.
Rule of Thumb for Following Up
Don’t follow through using multiple venues. Don’t follow up through email, phone, LinkedIn, etc.
If you send an email and get no reply, it’s OK to ask via one other outlet if someone got your email. But don’t bombard them on LinkedIn and Twitter and phone, etc.
This was a tip for me, because I had been thinking the more the better!
Continuing the Conversation
Keep note of other email addresses, and other people in a CC.
People can be generous, if they’re asked. Just be polite.
There’s a person on the other end
If you ever find yourself stuck with what to say, try recording yourself speaking then transcribing your message.