Career counselling goes techie: New program draws interest and criticism

Career counselling goes techie: New program draws interest and criticism

New York City : NY : USA | Aug 10, 2012 at 1:25 PM PDT
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For today’s college students, finding the right career path can be pretty stressful. How do you take your passion and turn it into a sustainable, successful career? Especially during a ‘sink or swim’ economic climate. There ought to be an app for that.

Meet the Woofound Career Module -- an application that researchers say can analyse and assess students individual strengths, weaknesses and personality types, and use this data to guide them to the right career choice. Sounds good, right? But there is a part of the WCM that has raised more than a few academic eyebrows. The data used to profile each student is derived from his or her responses to 84 selected images. Or as one naysayer calls it -- an inkblot test.

Officially known as the Rorschach test, in the 1920s a psychologist developed a test to gauge personality types using inkblots. Patients were shown a sequence of inkblot images and asked to give their reactions, and from this information, a psychiatrist would get a profile of the patient’s personality type. And in some ways, the WCM is a high-tech version of the Rorschach.

In taking the WCM evaluation test, students are shown a series of images -- a tent with the word ‘camping,’ a picture of an artist at work with the word ‘creative’ -- and are asked to respond by clicking either “me” or “not me.” Sorting through each student’s responses to the 84 images, the application compiles a list of seven possible personality types. For example, ‘action-takers’ are ‘hand-on-doers’ and ‘inventors’ are ‘creative’ and are comfortable going ‘outside the box’ to solve problems. Based on those choices, a list of possible careers is generated by way of a special algorithm. And the brainiacs who created WCM aren’t stopping there. Ultimately, they want to tailor the WCM application to meet the specifications of each university. That means not only will students get career direction, but they will also be plugged into possible majors, course offerings and even extracurricular activities specific to the college they are attending.

So far, the Woofound team has not put a price on their product, however two University of Maryland campuses have signed on to test-drive the WCM application starting with the Fall 2012 semester. The V.P of information technology at one of the schools is enthusiastic about the trial and feels it will be a quantum leap from the 100-question test the UM schools have traditionally used to assess students’ career interests. However, he isn’t putting all his eggs in the WCM basket -- in addition to the test, he encourages students to follow-up with the career-counseling services on campus. He sees the WCM as a good way to initially engage students.

“What we saw in this was that it was easy enough and fun to use that we could get more students using this,” he says. “The earlier we can get them engaged, the more likely we are to get them internships and building online résumés.”

But some members of the academic community are ringing the warning bells that programs like WCM have the potential to do real harm.

“There are good grounds to be profoundly skeptical,” says a faculty member from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor’s School of Public Health. “An enormous body of good literature shows that tests like this do a dreadful job of predicting actual behavior.

And some are even questioning the ethics of using technology in place of real, human contact and interchange. However, supporters of program like WMC point to the poor student retention rates on many college campuses, and the growing number of students taking 5 years or more to earn a bachelor’s degree. They maintain harnessing technology to track students into appropriate career paths will greatly improve student retention and graduation rates, which translates into lower college costs.

“This is a tool for students,” say one of WMC’s creators. “It broadens their options and opens that door to new things.”

ksssann is based in New York, New York, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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