What is best practice in careers education? An outline of the evidence.

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I recently published this article on LinkedIn. It’s an excerpt of some of the literature review work that I’ve been doing for my doctorate and formed the basis of my presentation at this year’s Career Development Association of Australia conference. 

An important pillar of the evidence base of careers education practice is formed by a series of meta-analyses of career intervention studies, published over the last 30 years. These studies have measured the impact of career interventions and explored the influence of different intervention methods and approaches (Baker & Taylor, 1998; Brown & Roche, 2016; Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000; Brown et al., 2003; Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston, Brecheisen, & Stephens, 2003; Whiston et al., 2017; Whiston, Sexton, & Lasoff, 1998).

In these studies, what makes a “career intervention” is defined broadly, as any effort made to improve clients’ career development, which is most often measured as career maturity, career decision-making, vocational identity, or perceptions of environmental factors. Career interventions can be individual or group counselling, workshops, career development classes, the provision of career information and self-help resources, or computer-based or -assisted activities.

These meta-analyses have consistently found that career interventions do indeed help people, to a moderate but statistically significant degree. In the most recent study, Whiston et al. (2017) reported that on average, participants in a career intervention had a 60% chance of attaining a higher outcome measure than members of the control group who didn’t participate in the intervention, a finding consistent with those of previous studies. These studies have also found that repeated interventions are more effective than one-off interventions, group interventions are as effective as individual interventions, and interventions that are facilitated by an expert career development practitioner are more effective than those that are not.

Critical ingredients of career interventions

In a particularly influential study, Brown and Ryan Krane (2000) identified five critical ingredients that had a significant impact on the effectiveness of career interventions:

  • written exercises
  • individualised interpretations and feedback
  •  information on the world of work
  • modelling by more competent others
  •  support from social networks

They found that critical ingredients are most effective when combined, so that interventions that included three or more ingredients were much more effective than those that included only one or two.

Whiston et al. (2017) partially replicated Brown and Ryan Krane’s (2000) findings, supporting the importance of written workbooks, personalised feedback, and world of work information but adding three new critical ingredients that were found to have a greater impact than the original five:

  • counsellor support
  • values clarification
  • psychoeducation (exploring the process of making and working toward decisions).

It is impossible to compare the critical ingredients of Brown and Ryan Krane (2000) with those of Whiston et al. (2017) directly, because they focused on different outcome measures (career maturity and career decision-making self-efficacy, respectively) and Brown and Ryan Krane’s (2000) study did not report the effect sizes or statistical significance of each critical ingredient. This limited replication does not show that critical ingredients are not valid as signposts toward career intervention best practice. Rather, it enriches the value of critical ingredients as key approaches to career interventions, while also highlighting that practitioners and researchers need to treat them critical caution.

Career education best practices

These studies aggregate decades of research and hundreds of career intervention program evaluations. Taken together, they can be used to inform a model of evidence-based best practice in the provision of career education:

●    Repeated interventions are more effective than one-off interventions (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000; Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston et al., 2017).

●    Interventions facilitated by a career development expert are more effective than self-directed or computer-mediated interventions (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000 ; Whiston et al., 2003; Whiston & James, 2013; Whiston et al., 2017).

●    Group interventions are at least as effective as individual interventions (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000 ; Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston et al., 2003; Whiston et al., 2017).

●    Structured group interventions, such as workshops, are more effective than unstructured group interventions, such as group counselling (Whiston et al., 2003).

●    Interventions that include critical ingredients (written exercises, individualised interpretations and feedback, labour market information, modelling from experts, and support from social networks (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000); counsellor support, values clarification, and psychoeducation (Whiston et al., 2017)) are more effective, particularly in combination with each other, than those that do not.

●    Interventions should be targeted to the needs of specific client groups and incorporate relevant career development theories in full (Hughes, Mann, Barnes, Baldauf, & McKeown, 2016; Miller & Brown, 2004; Whiston & James, 2013).

Putting it to work

Obviously, this evidence base should be used by reflexive career education practitioners as they design, implement, and evaluate their own projects. It can contribute to a “curricular vision” (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005, p. 35) of career education which guides decisions about what kinds of transformative career learning outcomes we want for our students and how we can best facilitate them.

But just as importantly, this evidence-base should also be used by career educators to advocate for our profession and support efforts to assert our expertise in our collaborative and consultative roles. It can be used to justify the space we need to take in the curriculum, to have repeated exposure to students, and the time we need to develop relationships with students, promote social learning, and give effective feedback.

Careers and employability educators owe it to their students and themselves to base their work on, and evaluate it against, evidence such as this, and to let their institutional colleagues and communities know all about it.

References

Bransford, J., Darling-Hammond, L., & LePage, P. (2012). Introduction. In L. Darling-Hammond & J. Bransford (Eds.), Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do (pp. 1–39). Somerset, England: Wiley.

Brown, S. D., & Roche, M. (2016). The Outcomes of Vocational Interventions: Thirty (Some) Years Later. Journal of Career Assessment24(1), 26–41. doi:10.1177/106907271557966

Brown, S. D., & Ryan Krane, N. E. (2000). Four (or five) sessions and a cloud of dust: Old assumptions and new observations about career counseling. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Handbook of counseling psychology (pp. 740–766). New York, NY: Wiley.

Brown, S. D., Ryan Krane, N. E., Brecheisen, J., Castelino, P., Budisin, I., Miller, M., & Edens, L. (2003). Critical ingredients of career choice interventions: More analyses and new hypotheses. Journal of Vocational Behavior62(3), 411–428. doi:10.1016/S0001-8791(02)00052-0

Hughes, D., Mann, A., Barnes, S.-A., Baldauf, B., & McKeown, R. (2016). Careers education: International literature review. Warwick, England: Warwick Institute for Employment Research. Retrieved from http://wrap.warwick.ac.uk/80474/

Miller, M. J., & Brown, S. D. (2004). Counseling for career choice: Implications for improving interventions and working with diverse populations. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (1st ed., pp. 441–465). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Oliver, L. W., & Spokane, A. R. (1988). Career-intervention outcome: What contributes to client gain? Journal of Counseling Psychology35(4), 447. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/cou/35/4/447/

Whiston, S. C., & James, B. N. (2013). Promotion of career choices. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (2nd ed., pp. 565–594). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Whiston, S. C., Brecheisen, B. K., & Stephens, J. (2003). Does treatment modality affect career counseling effectiveness? Journal of Vocational Behavior62(3), 390–410. doi:10.1016/S0001-8791(02)00050-7

Whiston, S. C., Li, Y., Goodrich Mitts, N., & Wright, L. (2017). Effectiveness of career choice interventions: A meta-analytic replication and extension. Journal of Vocational Behavior100, 175–184. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2017.03.010

Whiston, S. C., Sexton, T. L., & Lasoff, D. L. (1998). Career-intervention outcome: A replication and extension of Oliver and Spokane (1988). Journal of Counseling Psychology45(2), 150–165. doi:10.1037/0022-0167.45.2.150

The tools of my PhD trade: referencing, reading, writing, and productivity

Photo:Todd Quackenbush

Recently , I’ve invested a bit of my time in organising my reading, research, and writing work-flows and digital tools. I am acutely aware that I need to get these habits and practices bedded down soon to avoid breakdowns, flare-ups, and run-arounds later on in the doctoral journey.

Here’s a quick run-down of the main elements of my toolbox.

Zotero for reference management

I’ve used Endnote and tested several others (Endnote, Mendeley, Paperpile, Citavi, Docear), but I’ve settled on Zotero for a couple of reasons.

  1. It’s free, open-source, and developed by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, an organisation that has education, access to information, and democracy at the core of its mission. As opposed to, let’s say, Elsevier, who owns Mendeley and is known for its rapaciousness.
  2. I have set it up, with an add-on called Zotfile to download citations, along with the full-article .pdf, from academic databases, store the files in Dropbox, and rename the file and the Dropbox folder according to my set style, all in one click of the mouse.
  3. I have also set it up so that I can open the .pdf, annotate and highlight it, save it, and then extract those notes and highlighted sections as plain-text files to be stored in the Dropbox folder as the .pdf and attached to the citation record in Zotero (see image below).
  4. It just does citation management, .pdf wrangling, and light .pdf annotations. Other tools include deeper .pdf annotation and note taking, social sharing, mind-mapping, writing, and all sorts. But I kind of prefer to take a one-tool for one-job approach.
  5. Zotero works well with the plain text approach that I’ll speak more about. I can export my library as Bibtex and any annotations are plain text. This means that I am not beholden to any one system: plain text can be read by pretty much anything.
  6. I dislike the things I dislike about Zotero less than I dislike the things I dislike about the other reference managers that I use.

Drawboard for  Reading and annotating .pdfs

When I bought a Microsoft Surface recently, a demo copy of Drawboard came pre-installed. I usually consider this bloatware and will uninstall it immediately, but I bought the surface specifically for reading .pdfs, so thought I’d give it a spin. I agree with the good reviews it gets: it’s an easy to use, simple, and effective .pdf reader. It’s designed especially for use in tablet mode, with a stylus.

 

 

Writemonkey for note-taking and early drafts

For a while there I was trying to use Scrivener, the preferred tool of many academic writers, for my writing, but I just couldn’t get past the overwhelming interface and array of options. I’m a minimalist in many areas of my life, and I’ve decided to go with a plain text editor, Writemonkey.

Plain text has many benefits over many more complex writing software tools. Most importantly, it is open and ubiquitous: it works on all operating systems and can be opened in any number of apps. The simplicity of plain text, free of all but the most basic formatting, makes it perfect for note-taking, generative writing and early drafts. Plain-text editors are microscopic in comparison to more developed (one might say bloated) software. This makes them lightning fast and portable.

Writemonkey works for me for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s fully portable: the whole program lives in Dropbox or on a USB stick. This means I can run it on any windows computer without needing to install it or otherwise impact that computer.
  2. It is as simple or complex as you want it to be. If you choose to, you can get into Markdown , use Regex for navigation and filtering, or even use the Writemonkey API to  develop plug-ins.
  3. Some writing software that I have used is extremely obtuse about where your work lives on your computer. As with everything else, I like my stuff to be in Dropbox, and Writemonkey doesn’t fight me on that.
  4. Built in Pomodoro timer to encourage and track productivity, white noise generator to help focus, and clicky-clacky typewriter sound effects, which I thought were a gimmick but are actually kind of motivating to hear, indicating lots of precious words being written.
  5. Writemonkey is owned and developed by one person. It’s nice to use something that isn’t the product of some vast corporation, but rather the fruits of one person’s vision and labour. I know I’m straying toward hipster artisan territory with that.

Microsoft word for final drafts

There’s no getting around it. At some point you’ll have to send a .docx file to someone. In my case, I can use plain text up until the point I need to send a draft to my supervisor, share anything with my colleagues, submit an article to a journal or an abstract to a conference, apply for a scholarship, or… any number of other things. Luckily, plain text makes this as simple as select all, CTRL+C, and CTRL+P.

Todo lists and light project management

Plain text again. I’ve lost count of how many productivity apps I’ve tried and abandoned. Some proved very tricky indeed in extracting my data from in any usable form. I’ve also found that the more feature-rich the app, the more likely I am to spend my time fiddling with it (I prefer to say “optimising it”) than actually doing the stuff I’m listing in it.

So my todo list is just one text file living in Dropbox. If I open it in a plain old text editor, it looks like this:

Which is a perfectly functional, if tricky to read and use, todo list. But if I open it in an app that recognises the todo.txt formatting rules, such as the tiny, portable, and lightning-fast Todo.text.net, it looks like this:

The trick is that by appending + for projects, @ for contexts, or (A) through (Z) for priority, I can filter or sort in a million useful ways.

Keeping it simple

A clear theme of these tool choices is my desire to keep things simple. I prefer one tool for one task. Plain text and Dropbox go a long way to keeping the integration of these parts simple. In the past I’ve searched for the one comprehensive tool to rule them all, but all tools that claim to do that either suck badly or require their own PhD to learn how to use them.

I’m sure this set-up will evolve somewhat, but I hope by not too much. I no longer have the time to mess around tinkering with my system, I’ve got a PhD to write.