The Virtual Career Center: Creating a Career Center in a Virtual Classroom

Susan D. Bates, Tidewater Tech Online

A career center is something we commonly expect to find at most major brick-and-mortar universities. Such a career center can provide a wealth of centrally located resources for students at any point in their career-seeking journeys.

How can a small, online college provide a resource similar to this for its students?

At Tidewater Tech Online (TTO), the Career Services Department has turned a virtual classroom into a virtual Career Center, which is scheduled to be unveiled at the end of January 2008.

What and how?

Online classes at Tidewater Tech Online are housed within the Comcourse Learning Management System (LMS). The Career Services Department simply used an LMS virtual classroom to create its virtual career center and designate career-related topics (such as Interview Preparation) as titles of buttons that would otherwise be listed as a particular week of the course. Once students click on the topic of interest to them, they will find various resources relevant to that topic, including Web-based seminars, links to related websites, relevant news articles, a discussion board, and adviser-created documents.

Although TTO's Career Center uses the Comcourse Learning Management System, any virtual classroom could provide the necessary format to house a virtual advising center. Woods (2004) reports using Blackboard to house the virtual advising center for the Department of Leadership, Foundations, and Human Resources Education at the University of Louisville.

Information about the Comcourse Learning Management System can be found at http://www.comcourse.com/services.html.

Why?

Tidewater Tech Online decided to create a virtual career center to provide (1) resources that reinforce the advice given to students, (2) a convenient time and location for students to search for information, and (3) a way to help a small number of advisers reach a large number of advisees.

Reinforcement
The virtual career center provides students with a place to find resources on a variety of topics, such as career exploration, résumé writing, interview preparation, and job-search strategies. While advisers assist students in these areas through one-on-one phone calls and via e-mail, students can see the information again online and, thus, this advice is reinforced. Students will also be able to get more in-depth information on a topic of interest in the Career Center. Advisers will be able to refer students to websites, related news articles, and adviser-created documents.

Time and location
The Career Services Department wanted to offer career-related resources at a time and location convenient to the students and alumni. Because Tidewater Tech Online offers degree programs that are completely online, students have the option of completing their course work at any time during the day. This flexibility attracts students who have daytime responsibilities, such as full-time employment. In addition, because TTO has students all over the country, advisers are often in different time zones from their students.

For advisers who work during the day, the flexibility of a virtual classroom presents unique challenges in reaching and providing career information to students. Having a virtual career center that is accessible to students twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, makes perfect sense.

Reaching more students
Another challenge faced by the Career Services Department of Tidewater Tech Online is the number of advisees assigned to each adviser. As in many colleges, the Career Services advisers at TTO have more advisees assigned to them than they can easily manage. Providing a resource to answer commonly asked questions is a great way to compensate for the inability to work one-on-one with every student in multiple, lengthy advising sessions. Students can get answers to common questions by reading the “Frequently Asked Questions” section, watching Web-based seminars on specific topics, reading news articles related to a specific topic, going to websites linked from the Career Center, or reading information posted by other students.

What is offered?

Topics
The Career Center is divided into topics of interest for students. Under each topic, students can find information such as links to relevant websites, related news articles, Web-based seminars, adviser-created documents, and discussion boards for students to ask questions and communicate with each other.

The Career Center is continually growing and finding new ways to serve students and alumni. Topics currently in development include career goal clarification, job search strategies, interview preparation, résumé writing, cover letter writing, reference page writing, work-at-home information, and general career information. In addition, there are topic buttons leading to information specific to each degree program at TTO. For example, there is a topic for students in the medical assisting program. It includes information such as sample medical assisting résumés and cover letters, information about professional certification in this field, job search strategies and sites for students in the allied health field, and information about related professional organizations. There is also a discussion board for students in the medical assisting program to communicate with each other about employment in this field.

Whenever possible, information is accessible to students under all relevant topics. For example, the same work-at-home information for medical assisting students can be found under the work-at-home button and the medical assisting button. This is intended to make it easier for students and alumni to find information.

Virtual Workshops
Each Monday and Wednesday, the Career Services Department hosts chat sessions on various career-related topics important to TTO students. These chats are essentially virtual workshops. Students who are interested in a particular topic can log into the chat and communicate live with a career services adviser. Topics vary every week; some recent topics include starting a small business, preparing for interviews, learning job-search strategies, and writing résumés.

Implications

Many different services of both online and traditional colleges could be provided to students using a virtual classroom environment. Currently Tidewater Tech Online also uses a virtual classroom to house its Student Success Center (SSC). The SSC provides students with convenient access to a variety of services including tutoring, peer mentoring, student advising, student clubs, and technical support. The concept for the virtual career center grew out of TTO's Student Success Center.

The North Carolina Community College System (2002) emphasizes the importance of delivering “anytime, anywhere” services to both distance-learning students and on-campus students. Even students who meet one-on-one with advisers in office settings need reinforcement of advice, a location to find more in-depth information, and answers to general questions. A virtual advising center could be an aid for any adviser and an asset for all students.

References

North Carolina Community College System (2002). Counseling services resource guide: An Internet resource guide for the North Carolina Community College Counselor to assist virtual learning students (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED477773). Raleigh, NC: Author.

Woods, R. G. (2004, April 28). Creating a virtual advising center: Student services in an online environment. The Mentor: An Academic Advising Journal, 6(2). Retrieved October 15, 2007, from http://www.psu.edu/dus/mentor/

About the Author

Susan D. Bates is medical career adviser at Tidewater Tech Online in Virginia Beach, VA. She can be reached at career5tto@tidewatertech.edu or 757-233-6566.

Published in The Mentor on November 16, 2007, by Penn State's Division of Undergraduate Studies
Available online at dus.psu.edu/mentor
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