On every campus, there is a course or set of courses that students automatically dismiss in their minds, perhaps a math course, a writing course, or even all the general education courses. Students claim to find little value in these courses and project an attitude of suffering through them, counting down the days until the end of the term. Many students internalize Burger’s (2019) claim that “education has become an obstacle course of…hurdles and barriers we must traverse just to land that first job” (p. 2).
One way to combat this mindset is to extend the concept of job crafting, as established in Dik and Duffy’s (2012) book, Make Your Job a Calling, into the higher education realm. Job crafting entails “those things that workers do to elicit a stronger sense of purpose, meaning, engagement, resilience, and thriving from their jobs” (p. 134). While an employee may not love the job they have, they can still find value in their work each day as they pursue their calling.
While the position of college student is not a permanent career, it does consume a significant number of years. And like employees, students are expected to expend full-time hours in pursuit of learning, complete daily tasks, and interact with others. During this time, students will have to choose whether to approach each day as a learning opportunity or as one less hurdle to their first job. Job crafting (or rather, course crafting), can facilitate that process and encompasses three areas: task crafting, relational crafting, and cognitive crafting (Dik & Duffy, 2012).
What is it? Task crafting “occurs by adjusting how tasks are completed, attempting to add new tasks or remove others, and potentially allocating one’s time or energy for tasks in a different way” (p. 135). Students often rely on the strategies they used in high school, even though they are not always sufficient for continued success, because they are familiar. As such, students often do not see the value in courses because of the formerly mundane nature of memorizing material.
What can faculty do? Faculty can help students identify new ways to complete course tasks that leverage student strengths, interests, and personalities. Rather than studying alone within the confines of a residence hall room, students could be encouraged to join, or lead, a study group that meets elsewhere on campus. Rather than transcribing each lecture, students could be encouraged to use the Cornell Note-Taking System (Cornell, n.d.). Rather than focusing on passive strategies, students could be encouraged to engage in active strategies, as outlined by McGuire (2018). Rather than cramming at the last minute, students could be encouraged to distribute their practice over longer periods of time (Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2013).
What is it? Relational crafting “targets the social environment and seeks ways to expand and improve the worker’s relationships at work” (Dik & Duffy, 2012, p. 135). Many students fail to see the value in a course because they are approaching the content from a single perspective. And for others, there is a fear of conversing with their professors, whether due to embarrassment or misunderstanding the purpose of office hours.
What can faculty do? Faculty can broaden their students’ horizons by encouraging interactions between students and/or between the student and themselves. Rather than passively receiving information during class, students could be required to actively ask and answer questions for engagement points. Rather than spending hours trying to understand a single concept, students could be encouraged to visit during office hours. Rather than viewing other students solely as a social connection, students could be encouraged to form study groups to learn from the diversity of thought.
What is it? Cognitive crafting is “a simple attitude adjustment in which a worker adopts new and improved ways of thinking about the job’s nature, purpose, and impact” (Dik & Duffy, 2012, p. 140). Students often make a distinction between courses in their major and courses outside of their major. The former is viewed as important to their future careers, while the latter has no bearing and should not be required. Sanders (2018) pointed out the fallacy of that argument: “Thinking that every major, class, or assignment should connect to a specific job or professional skill distracts us from recognizing the primary purpose of education: to become a learner” (p. 5).
What can faculty do? Faculty can help students by demonstrating how a course connects to their future, both in content and transferrable skills. Rather than dismissing the topic covered in class today, students could be encouraged to recognize that the concepts taught today are important for the next class session, which are important for the rest of the term, subsequent courses, and eventually, as a professional in their field. Rather than dismissing a literature course, students could be encouraged to recognize that they are learning to think critically, as well as learning how to make and support arguments. Rather than dismissing a science course, students could be encouraged to recognize they are developing a problem-solving protocol and learning to be a creative problem solver.
Strategies in action
Harrington and Thomas (2018) identified the syllabus “as an opportunity to map out the learning path for our students” (p. 82), which makes it an ideal place to initiate these conversations. Faculty may want to include sections on better strategies for learning; encouragement to connect with their professors and their peers, perhaps even requiring group work or visiting office hours as part of their course engagement; and an outline of the transferrable skills they will develop throughout the course. Outside of the syllabus, an intentional conversation before the first exam can be useful, especially highlighting the difference between active and passive learning strategies.
For academic advisors, these topics are also relevant during advising appointments when reviewing midterm grades or discussing plans for success. Dik and Duffy (2012) encouraged employees to think about all of the tasks they need to perform, as well as their “interests, abilities, personality, and work-related values” (p. 144), and then determine how to integrate those ideas. Academic advisors are in a perfect situation to guide students through this process.
Students arrive on campus with an innocent ignorance of what it means to be a learner. Replacing the words “employees” with “students” and “jobs” with “courses” in Dik and Duffy’s (2012) notion of job crafting opens up new possibilities to help educate students on the value and meaning to be derived from each and every course. These ideas lend themselves nicely to a first-year seminar course, but would also be appropriate for all faculty and academic advisors to intentionally broach with students within their courses and student meetings.
Sarah Forbes is the director of Student Academic Success and a first-year seminar instructor at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. In these roles, Sarah helps students learn new strategies for academic success. She also oversees the academic advising program and serves on the first-year seminar curriculum team.
Burger, E. B. (2019). Making up your own mind. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Cornell University. (n.d.). The Cornell note-taking system. Retrieved from http://lsc.cornell.edu/notes.html
Dik, B. J., & Duffy, R. D. (2012). Make your job a calling. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press.
Doyle, T., & Zakrajsek, T. (2013). The new science of learning: How to learn in harmony with your brain. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
Harrington, C., & Thomas, M. (2018). Designing a motivational syllabus. Sterling, VA: Sylus Publishing, LLC.
McGuire, S. Y., & McGuire, S. (2018). Teaching yourself how to learn. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
Sanders, M. L. (2018). Becoming a learner: Realizing the opportunity of education. Plymouth, MI: Macmillan Learning Curriculum Solutions.