Week Five of the 2020 Life Design Summer Institute focused on giving students tools to help them talk to people. This post provides a quick overview of our approach to helping students talk to people and my 3 teaching takeaways.
This Week’s Lesson: Talk to People
In life design, the prototype phase entails talking to people. One of the main projects of the 2020 Life Design Summer Institute is for students to talk to alumni (or any other individual) who could inform the lives they are imagining.
Setting up an interview with a stranger can be daunting. I was excited to create a lesson that equipped students with the tools and confidence to navigate these interviews.
This week’s lesson was divided into three parts:
- Who to ask
- How to ask
- What to ask
Who to Ask
This part focused on stakeholder mapping. In our lesson, stakeholders constituted anyone (e.g., individuals, affinity groups, organizations, etc.) who could speak to one or more aspects a given How Might I statement. I adapted stakeholder maps to help students identify the many possible people who could inform the multiple lives they were imagining.
How to Ask
This portion of the lesson focused on two topics:
- Informed Consent
- Introductory Emails
Our instructors gave an overview of the informed consent and its role in studies involving human subjects. For the purposes of our class, we emphasized to students that they needed to let potential interviewees know that the information they were providing would be shared with the rest of our class. We discussed options to offer interviewees, which included anonymizing their comments, not reporting the results to the class, and declining the interview.
Students then had the opportunity to break out into smaller groups and draft potential introductory emails to stakeholders/alumni. The email drafts were all posted to our section’s discussion board to provide a reference for students and forum in which to receive feedback.
What to Ask
This portion of the lesson focused on helping students come up with initial questions to ask their interviewees. We discussed this week’s diverse readings, which offered various perspectives on interviews. They included:
- Technique Isn’t Everything, But It Is a Lot from Interviewing as Qualitative Research – Irving Seidman
- Networking For Dummies – Mary Morris Heiberger and Julie Miller Vick
- Excerpts from Becoming – Michelle Obama
- Chapter 13 from Hillbilly Elegy – JD Vance
I also provided quick tips on taking notes during their interview, which are summarized in this blog post: 5 Quick Tips for Taking Notes During Virtual Informational Interviews
Finally, students when into breakout rooms to ideate potential questions together.
3 Teaching Takeaways
Here are my three teaching takeaways from this week:
1. Asking for help and feedback when stuck
For Week Four‘s lesson, I had a clear vision of how I wanted the lesson to. However, this week’s lesson was not as straightforward to me. What helped me get unstuck was reaching out to my co-instructors.
The first area I was stuck on was the readings. The initial readings I had selected prior to the course no longer fit the direction we were headed in. Fortunately, my co-instructors helped me out and suggested some fantastic readings.
The second area I was stuck on was structuring the lesson. During our weekly Thursday evening instructor virtual meeting, I got excellent feedback from my co-instructors. Their feedback helped me fill in key conceptual gaps, such as defining who are stakeholders in the context of life design. As nerve-wracking as it can be to receive critical feedback, I truly appreciated it as it improved my lesson greatly.
2. Curating diverse readings takes a lot of energy
When crafting a syllabus and curating readings, we make choices. Recently, there have been wider spread discussions about decolonizing syllabi and anti-racism readings. These topics are important to me.
This week, we included a reading from an author that holds political views that are quite different from most of the people involved in the Institute. That is not inherently a bad thing; however, I did worry about how the reading might land and if my student’s time and energy would be better spent on something else.
Ultimately, I decided to keep the reading in question, while also include readings from another memoir. The goal of providing two different perspectives was to
- contextualize the diverse nature of experiences, and
- highlight moments of divergence and convergence
Nonetheless, this whole process took a lot of time and energy. I will definitely allot more time to curating readings in the future.
3. Stakeholder mapping helped students discover a range of informants
A key hallmark of our course is preparing students to talk to others to better inform their imagined lives. The stakeholder mapping exercise aimed to help students think broadly about who they could talk to about certain parts of one of their imagined lives.
In our lesson, stakeholders constituted anyone (e.g., individuals, affinity groups, organizations, etc.) who could speak to one or more aspects a given How Might I statement.
Dedicating an exercise to this helped students discover a range of potential informants. This was especially helpful if they had a hard time securing interviews with individuals. If they didn’t hear back from someone, they could refer to their stakeholder maps and figure out other people they could talk to.
Most of the students have never done an informational interview before but they left the session with a trove of possible interview subjects, a range of sample emails to use in requesting an interview, and dozens of potential questions.— Justin Lorts (@JustinLorts) July 16, 2020
This week marked the final lesson that I created for the 2020 Life Design Summer Institute. In addition to creating (and sharing) stakeholder map templates, I was really pleased with how the lesson came together based on the contributions and feedback of my fellow co-instructors. We hope students are equipped with the tools to go out and talk to people about their imagined lives.