Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Teaching strategies that illustrate the employment value of the humanities

Reader Brian Domino writes, asking for examples of pedagogical strategies that :

I am a member of a “Valuing the Humanities Task Force” at Miami University. Like many  other folks, we’re working to show students the value of studying the humanities. It occurred to me that while both alumni in business and humanities faculty extol the “real world” skills that the humanities teach, our students might not realize that they are learning useful business skills in humanities classes because most of us do not identify when we are teaching particular skills. For the past year, I have been a member of a several nursing search committees. In their teaching presentations, the candidates almost always stated clearly “Now we’re going to learn to think critically. Let’s begin by defining it.” I am wondering whether doing something similar in humanities classes might not help our students more clearly see the value of the humanities, and you came to mind as the best person to ask for some help.
I would like to collect teaching strategies that could be shared with faculty members in the humanities to do this. For example, I no longer ask students to write “concise summaries” but instead couch the assignment in “real world” terms: Imagine that your boss has asked you to summarize these articles. She’s a busy executive, so she needs the summaries to be crisply written, but she’s counting on you to inform her of the important points. Failure to do so could make her look bad in a meeting, and cost you your job.” I am also experimenting with using grammar and writing web sites that focus on how writing well is important in business (e.g., “10 flagrant grammatical mistakes that make you look stupid”).
 I do think it's an excellent idea to point concretely at examples of humanities tasks that exemplify the kinds of things employers desire. One thing I sometimes emphasize is that in order to master a skill at level n, you actually have to practice it at level n+1. So employers desire people who can read and synthesize complex texts. But it's almost inconceivable that an employer would ever ask a student to read and synthesize a text as complex or forbidding as Kant. So the high level, n+1 thinking we do in the humanities classroom can be preparation for the n-level thinking required in the workplace.

But does anyone have suggestions or examples for Brian, of teaching strategies we can use to show students that humanities education is vocationally valuable??


  1. At Alverno College where I teach philosophy, the faculty's practice in all the discipines is to give students assignments and assessments that assume real world contexts as much as possible. In writing and speaking assignments, we specify an audience that is a person or group other than the teacher. For instance, in the final presentation for an ethics course in which students explain and take a position on an ethical issue of their choosing, they are asked to imagine a community or professional audience that would benefit from a better understanding of the ethical issue they are exploring. They design their presentation in a way that meets the interests and level of understanding of that audience.

    1. Thanks, Donna. I'll contact you off list. Brian


If you wish to use your name and don't have a blogger profile, please mark Name/URL in the list below. You can of course opt for Anonymous, but please keep in mind that multiple anonymous comments on a post are difficult to follow. Thanks!