Month: June 2017

Business and ManagementLearning and Skills DevelopmentTopicsWorld View

Benefits of studying a technical career

By Maricarmen Gonzalez and Erick Izaguirre

The Business Dictionary defines a professional as a “Person formally certified by a professional body or belonging to a particular profession by having completed a required course of studies and/or practice”. And whose competence can usually be measured against an established set of standards.”

The term professional is commonly used to refer to a person who holds a college degree. Reason why exist a marked distinction between the terms profession and occupation where the latter is associated to physical work and the former related to mental activity.

Being a professional has, for several decades, been considered a high-status position in society. However, more and more teenagers and young adults around the world, and especially in Latin America are starting to question the benefits of studying from four to five years in the university. “Should I really spend four or five years of study to become a professional? Is it worth it?” These are just some of the queries that have become increasingly common in realities like Latin America. Unemployment, Lack of job opportunities and well paid “professional” employments have led thousands of teenagers and young adults to choose technical careers instead of an undergraduate education.

Career technical education teaches a broad range of skills which apply to different jobs. Technical education entails learning solid academic skills that students can put to use in real life situations at work. According to SITEAL (2005), the percentages of students between the ages of 18 and 29 who finish their secondary education and continue to a higher education, to then drop out of college are alarming. This means that the option for vocational training open doors to employment.

Tech career

These numbers clearly show a new trend in education that meets the needs of both, the employers and employees. Among the most attractive benefits of technical careers are a larger demand for technicians, higher earnings, and the service provided to the individuals and the country.

Today vocational and technical careers are in high demand. In fact, there are more job openings for technical careers than for undergraduate professionals, especially those that are related to accounting, business and health, among others. However, it has not always been so.

Towards the end of the twentieth century, a bachelor’s degree was a must if a student wanted to succeed or secure for a higher position within a company. The best grades and performance during the career reflected preparation and success, regardless of the hands-on training or real-life practice, the college graduate may have had. Technology and globalization changed the scene quite a bit, not only changing the skills required for a job but workplaces themselves. Modern workplaces are constantly changing, and those who will succeed should possess and develop a diverse set of competencies that will allow them to perform not one or two roles in the company, but take over any position needed to face the situations that companies nowadays do.

Technical education prepares students with the skills, competencies, and practice to deal with the present and future technology. Looking back in history, after World War II, higher education represented a standard of living. It represented a safe path to security and a brilliant future. Big businesses were in high demand of professionals to manage and increase production. During the late 80s, big companies changed to small businesses where many kinds of skills were required to execute diverse tasks. Such performance claimed for a different kind of education, more dynamic and diversified. Thus, technical education fulfilled these requirements in less time and reaching healthier and better wages.

According to Forbes, technical and vocational jobs are not only better paid but considerably growing and on high demand. Undoubtedly, the tech industry is among the best-paying ones, a crucial factor to take into consideration students, who find themselves in the currently so common dilemma of professional or technician, have become much more aware.

In addition to the great demand for technicians and the so attractive wages technical careers offer nowadays, people who study a vocational career can also find their realization in their significant impact on their society and their countries. Compared to the end of last century when health and social work were not valued; nowadays, jobs known as community and health services are essential for society’s growth and development. Thus, these occupations provide countries with a better level of life, adding competitiveness and productivity to the working sector. Workers in health and human services supply assistance in their areas which are helpful and valuable, and by helping their society, they help their country. Such services careers are an important vocation.

Even though the term professional has for so long been restricted to an exclusive list of occupations, usually related to college degrees, the emergence of so many highly-valued areas of work has sparked the debate on what a professional is. In his article “Traits that convey character also define a professional,” Peter Post beautifully lists and describes some of the characteristics that any person performing an occupation should possess so as to be considered professional. Among these traits, Post mentions consideration, respect, and honesty. Taking such characteristics and the benefits of studying a technical career herein previously mentioned and described into consideration, there is no trace of doubt that our modern society and the new economy are eagerly awaiting for a giant wave of brand new professionals, professionals in technical careers committed to constant learning and service who become experts in a specialized sector of any given industry.

 

References

SITEAL (2005). La educación superior en América Latina: acceso, permanencia y equidad. Datos destacados. Buenos Aires: IIEP-OEIUNESCO

“What Is Professional? Definition and Meaning.”BusinessDictionary.com. Web. 10 May 2017.

Post, Peter Globe Correspondent 2014 August “Just what does it mean to be a professional? – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. N.p., 17 Aug. 2014. Web. 10 May 2017.

Classroom and MethodologiesEnglish Language TrainingLearning and Skills DevelopmentMust ReadTopics

Assessment: Show What You Know!

By Dr. Ken Beatty, Anaheim University

“I read through the whole textbook and found a word that was only used once. I was sure the students wouldn’t know it!” Lillian, a teacher trainer in Peru, was explaining her conversation with a teacher who had written a test for his English students.

“But,” Lillian asked, “Why would you choose to test the students on something you thought they wouldn’t know?”

The teacher did not have a right answer; it showed his lack of understanding of the principles of assessment and went against Swain’s (1984) principle of bias for best: “Do everything possible to elicit the learners’ best performance” (p. 195). The teacher thought, as too many teachers do that the purpose of assessment is to trick students or to cheat them out of marks. The teacher didn’t understand that an evaluation was meant to give students an opportunity to show what they know. Race, Brown & Smith (2005) suggest that the consequences of inadequate assessment are serious:

Nothing we do to or for our students is more important than our assessment of their work and the feedback we give. The results influence students for the rest of their lives and careers–fine if we get it right, but unthinkable if we get it wrong. (p. xi)

Every assessment needs to consider what Brown (1996) explains as construct validity, “The degree to which a test measures what it claims, or purports to be measuring” (p. 231). In the case of the teacher posing the difficult vocabulary item, the test should instead have been a chance to students to use high-frequency vocabulary that they had studied as key part of his class. Assessing that vocabulary would demonstrate that the teaching was effective and that the students were able to acquire the language in an efficient way.

If the students were not able to identify and use the target vocabulary, then it would not be a question of whether or not they had worked hard enough. The teacher should also reflect whether his teaching strategies were weak. These include motivation for students to want to learn, understand, and use new vocabulary items and strategies that make vocabulary more memorable.

Imagine students had instead been directed to study 100 new and useful vocabulary items as part of the course. What would be a sensible way to assess their comprehension? Teachers often choose multiple-choice tests for the simple reason that they are easy to mark. However,  multiple-choice questions are not authentic language experiences. After all, how often does someone stop another on the street to ask a question, giving the correct answer and three or four choices clever distractors?

A more authentic approach would be to ask students to use each word in a sentence. However, this may also be unsatisfactory as the sentences may do little to show the students’ comprehension. For example, by knowing that a word is a noun (e.g., car, cat, cup), a student may write, “I bought a ________ at the store.” In such cases, a teacher cannot be sure whether the student understood the word other than knowing it is some physical object.

A better approach is to mirror how people use language in the real world. People often forget a key word and find synonyms or circumlocutions (round-about ways of explaining things) to get their meaning across. If someone is going to work on a farm, he might want to ask for a shovel but, forgetting the word a moment, substitute the synonym spade. Alternatively, as a circumlocution, he might say, “I need something to dig with.”

Hopefully, the 100 vocabulary words the teacher is assessing are not random, but rather part of a semantic field (see Moore, Donelson, Eggleston & Bohnemeyer, 2015; Evans, 2011). A semantic field ties together groups of words because they have something in common. For example, they might focus on a particular part of speech, like adverbs or prepositions, or be used in particular contexts, such as a courtroom, or deal with a particular subject, such as farming.

If the vocabulary is bound together in a semantic set, using the principle of showing what you know should give students the opportunity to use the vocabulary in context. For example, “You and your partner are planning to start an organic coffee farm. Discuss the what you will need to start and write a list of the ten most important things, defining and explaining each one.”

This approach likely sounds complicated, and it is! A multiple-choice test would be far easier, but this type of assessment task accomplishes much more:

  1. It is a learning task, not just an assessment task. Having students work together creates opportunities for peer teaching. Students have the chance to learn or re-learn the target vocabulary and grammatical structures.
  2. Students negotiate meaning (clarify what they and others are saying) and scaffold their learning, (build on each other’s ideas). In these ways, they likely expand their vocabulary beyond that which is part of the task.
  3. The task allows students to use all their language resources, just as they would in the real world. For example, beyond using synonyms and circumlocutions, they can also use body language, facial expressions, and even draw to make their point. Communication is the goal, not memorization.
  4. There is an increase in motivation because students see that there is a real-world application to the type of task. They can imagine themselves in such a scenario or a similar scenario, e.g., starting a business.

A related concern is how–or whether–such an assessment should be marked.

All assessments require some kind of feedback, but that feedback can be either formative or summative. The purpose of formative assessment is to give students feedback to help them improve. Typically, this involves giving a student a test and then the answers–but not collecting marks. Instead, the students are made aware of what they do and do not know and are hopefully motivated to improve.

This shifts responsibility to the students to make them understand where they need help and further study. Alternatively, summative assessment is about making decisions about whether students are able to proceed to the next level. That might mean the next course, or graduation, or professional certification.

Summative assessments are essential, but if we only give them without formative opportunities for students to improve, then classrooms quickly become places where students see themselves as “good” or “bad” at learning English, rather than as a place where they can hope to make progress toward their language learning goals.

Returning to the question of how more unstructured assessments should be marked, there are several options. The first and simplest is to ask students to reflect on their performance on such a task. Having them ask themselves questions such as “Did I demonstrate that I understood the key vocabulary?” and “Where do I need to improve?” is another strategy to make them more responsible for their own learning.

For students who need more direction and support, another option is to provide rubrics in the form of a grid that shows the teacher’s expectations in a range of areas. Besides vocabulary, these might include the use of grammar, sentence complexity, pronunciation, and other factors. With such rubrics, it is important for students to be aware of them before they begin the task, so they know where to focus their attention. To engage students to a greater degree, ask their help in writing the rubric: “Class, for this task, what language concerns do you think are important for you to show what you know?” List the areas on the board and create a grid of what might be considered exceptional, good, and in need of more study. Creating such a rubric becomes a useful language-learning opportunity for the class.

At first, these approaches may seem to be more work for teachers. They may also seem to take up already-valuable classroom time. But being efficient is not the same as being effective. Simply “finishing” a chapter is not necessary if some–or even all–of the students in a class have not understood or acquired the knowledge in ways in which they can use it in the real world. Instead, in every assessment, teachers need to ask themselves the question, “How can this test help students show what they know?” It is the starting point both of helping students improve and improving one’s teaching practice.

References

Brown, J. D. (1996). Testing in language programs. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall

Evans, N. (2011). Semantic typology. In J. J. Song (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Topology, pp. 504–533. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Moore, R., Donelson, K. Eggleston, A. & Bohnemeyer, J. (2015). Semantic typology: New approaches to crosslinguistic variation in language and cognition. Linguistics Vanguard. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5cb3/1d3385930fba90647c4267e356a24478e099.pdf

Race, P., Brown, S. & Smith, B. (2005) 500 Tips on assessment. London: Routledge

Swain, M. (1984). Teaching and testing communicatively. TESL Talk 15, 1 and 2. 7-18.