Hard Work in Happy Valley is founded on the premise that dynamic, twenty-first century humanities education needs to:
- provide students with transferrable life and professional skills, and;
- put students’ classroom learning in conversation with the world around them.
Hard Work seeks to achieve both of these goals by asking students to develop documentaries and podcasts that create a dialogue between the working lives of their friends and neighbors and the insights they acquired in the classroom about American labor history.
LIFE AND PROFESSIONAL SKILLS
In addition to reading, writing, and critical thinking skills, which have long been mainstays of the humanities classroom, Hard Work seeks to inculcate three broad and overlapping sets of transferrable life and professional skills. These include:
- Technical Skills / Audio and Visual Storytelling Skills. Hard Work not only requires students to familiarize themselves with the use video and audio equipment; it also requires them to learn basic film-making and podcasting techniques, and to become proficient in video and audio-editing programs like iMovie, Final Cut Pro, and Garage Band. In a world where employers are placing a growing emphasis on employees’ ability to communicate effectively across a variety of media, these skills are becoming increasingly important.
- Project Management Skills. Documentaries and podcasts pose project management challenges that traditional written assignments do not. They require collaboration – not only between those students who chose to work in groups, but between students and the people they will be interviewing. In addition, they require more advanced planning than papers, which many students have learned to write quickly and close to their final deadline. Documentaries and podcasts, by contrast, require students to make plans with their interviewees days or even weeks ahead of time; to work according to their collaborators’ schedules; and to think about the content and structure of their projects long before they have even turned on a video camera or microphone. All of these skills are readily transferrable to a variety of workplace settings.
- Interpersonal Skills. Hard Work requires students to reach out to people they may not know; to ask them difficult questions about their lives; and to tell their story accurately and respectfully. It requires them to set up meetings and deadlines; to communicate goals; and interact with people often older and more established than themselves as equals. These, too, are challenges that many students will have to tackle after graduation; Hard Work gives them concrete experience will all of them before they graduate.
Hard Work also requires students to put the lessons they learned about American labor history in conversation with the world around them. As such, it provides a concrete example of how lessons and perspectives gleaned from the past have real world applications in the present.
Throughout the Spring 2015 semester, for instance, class conversations in History of the American Worker often returned to questions of power and abuse in the workplace. Frequently, students operated under the assumption that many of the most egregious workplace abuses had been abolished by modern labor laws and regulations. In interviewing working people from the Penn State community, however, some students were forced to reevaluate whether the present is so different from the past after all.