This is the final post in a brief series on work-based learning opportunities in a virtual environment. For more information, please reach out to us—we’d love to hear from you.
You’ve already established your initial strategies for a virtual WBL offering, and you’ve determined how you’ll ensure the quality of your offering. Now you need a preliminary WBL framework to structure a well-balanced continuum of WBL to provide a path of growth for participants well beyond your initial offering. Again, you can think of WBL as any educational activity comprised of meaningful workplace experiences that facilitate academic, technical, and employability skill development to support entry into or advancement along a career pathway. Individuals of all experience levels seeking to gain authentic career-aligned work experience can benefit from WBL opportunities, including K-12 students, postsecondary learners, young adults, adult jobseekers, and incumbent workers. WBL encompasses a wealth of program models that exist along a continuum that transitions across phases from foundational awareness, to early exposure, to preparatory engagement, and finally to immersive experience. As you move across the WBL spectrum, the length of participation within an activity increases, interactions with employers are more abundant, and the nature of involvement at worksites is deepened; thus time, exposure, and engagement are core differentiating factors of WBL models. The chart below depicts a WBL framework organized along a four-phased continuum, with each phase comprised of models of various types.
WBL opportunities within the Awareness Phase are foundational, serving as an introduction to a specific career domain. Though activities of this type do not take place on a worksite, information acquired during these events can spark initial career-related interests within learners and influence decisions to pursue additional opportunities for further career exploration.
WBL activities within the Exposure Phase often afford learners opportunities to become acquainted with a career through first-hand experiences in the workplace. These short-term, introductory encounters provide insights relating to an industry or business, including environmental conditions, real-world application of concepts, and professional culture. Exposure activities also provide information about job roles and responsibilities associated with an occupation, thereby aiding in the identification of knowledge and skills required to pursue that career pathway.
WBL activities within the Engagement Phase comprise extensive, structured opportunities that allow participants to authentically perform responsibilities required within the workplace. Learners benefit from increased technical knowledge and employability skills development, as well as enriched interactions with industry professionals.
WBL models within the Immersion Phase are most comprehensive, where learners participate in long-term work opportunities in an industry or occupation. These learn-while-you-earn positions embed a formal instructional component within the work experience, where learners receive customized hands-on training that often supports attainment of an industry-recognized credential.
Undoubtedly, outcomes attributed to an individual WBL model are strongest across the later phases of the continuum given the depth of the learning experiences; however, overall impacts are most extensive when cumulatively acquired to support early and sustained developmental continuity. While widely applicable across stakeholder groups, this effect is of greatest significance when advancing priorities centering broadened participation and equitable access of opportunities to populations historically underrepresented within the industry’s workforce.
The title question is not rhetorical. Neither does this post attempt to fully answer this question. Instead, it is a topic I have reflected on since attending AEA’s Eval20 Reimagine virtual conference. Specifically, I was challenged by the session, “Illuminating the future context through an equity lens: Why systems evaluators need to use foresight and futures thinking without imposing Western cultural values” led by Jewla Lynn of Policy Solve and Jen Heeg of Humanity United. When the presenters shared a picture of Janelle Monae’s Archandroid album cover, describing it as a “shining example of Afrofuturism in popular US culture,” they held my attention. To understand why I was surprised to hear the term Afrofuturism in a session about evaluation, I can simply return to last month’s HEI FYI.
In the What We’re Reading… section of October’s newsletter, I highlighted N.K. Jemisin’s The Stone Sky along with this comment: “While this book does not have an explicit relevancy to HEI’s work, it does shape my worldview and approach to my work.” Just a month after not seeing the connection between the Afrofuturist books I read and the evaluation work I do, I found myself in a session that contradicted that perspective.
As a relative newcomer to the term, I understand “Afrofuturism,” at its basic level, to refer to the ways Black people see themselves in the future—a perspective informed by the past and present but separate from racist and White supremacist stereotypes. Clearly with or without this term, there have always been Black folk who have imagined themselves in a future radically different from the one White supremacy was creating and predicting for them.
As a relative newcomer to the field of evaluation, I wonder what it means for me, as a Black evaluator, to use, reference, and be inspired by Afrofuturist ideas in my work?
Here are some of my initial thoughts:
Be explicit about Black futures. One thing Afrofuturism highlights is the dearth of racial diversity in science fiction and fantasy productions in U.S. popular culture. In other words, the disregard and neglect for Black life in the present is mirrored by the absence of Black people in the future imaginations of popular, White U.S. culture.
Here’s the connection: Almost every evaluation project I have worked on has some forward-looking component, whether it’s organizational strategic planning or recommendations for future actions. I’ve noticed that the lack of explicit language regarding marginalized groups in this future planning (e.g., “Black people in higher education”) usually aligns with perpetual, inadequate strategies to address the needs of those communities. This correlation speaks to the failure of generic language related to “diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Black people have good ideas about more than just “Black” issues. Although I have worked in areas of education ranging from residential life to international education to college access and am pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education, White people and non-Black People of Color engage my ideas around the aforementioned topics in one way while engaging my ideas about the topic of race/ethnicity in another way. Whereas I am never outright dismissed, I cannot help but notice the listener’s curiosity that comes from trusting the speaker’s point of view when I’m talking about issues related to Black people or race that it absent when discussing other topics.
To be clear, I am not talking about being in conversation with White and non-Black People of Color who don’t “get it”; I am talking about the ones that do. We all need to consciously acknowledge that Black people, including black authors, have much to say on all kinds of topics. Reading The Stone Sky and the other books in Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy (where a full and diverse Black future is normalized) has made me think more about issues such as my relationship to the environment, grief and mourning, concept of time, community, and leadership than it has about race and ethnicity.
So even when evaluating organizations where Black people’s experience can be improved, I should look to them for insight on issues beyond the employment experience of their demographic group. For example, what thoughts do they have about the organization’s governance or leadership or strategic priorities? These questions represent an opportunity to learn from those Patricia Hills Collins refers to as the “outsider within.”
Getting to new futures requires new tools. As I learn more about the field of evaluation, I realize that many “standard” tools and practices of evaluation are limited in their ability to allow for a genuine engagement with Black futures. For example, the AEA presenters discussed the ways Western values can be standard in systems thinking. I am reminded of Audre Lorde’s popular quote: “the master’s tools will not destroy the master’s house.”
The presenters provided a link to specific tools and resources that evaluators can use, which not only reference Afrofuturism, but also Indigenous Futurism: Decolonizing Our Future.
Many organizations want to have a learning posture towards their work and mission, yet many don’t take the time to build their own capacity to become dynamic learning organizations.
Does your organization or program have formal structures in place to consistently ask questions about your effectiveness?
Do you gather the right data to measure the impact of your work and initiatives?
Do you have systematic processes or periods for analyzing and discussing data and its meaning?
Is there cyclical decision-making around resources, staffing, partnerships, and investments based on a formal learning cycle?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then most likely your organization could use some internal capacity building around becoming a robust learning organization.
True learning organizations cannot rely only on outside evaluators but must have learning woven into the fabric of the organization so that reflection and growth are institutionalized (Coffman & Beer, 2011). Also, to assess effectiveness, there are questions that an organization must consider beyond the specific outcomes of individual programs (Preskill & Mack, 2013). As Moss, Coffman, and Beer (2020) emphasize, learning and decision-making are often organizationally siloed, with responsibility for evaluation and strategic decision-making assigned to different teams. Our goal at HEI is to support our clients in building the internal structure and capacity to reflect on their goals and make decisions organization wide based on data.
At HEI, our team has developed the Insight Learning Framework, an approach for helping entities build the structure needed to become learning organizations. The Insight Learning Framework goes beyond evaluation to support organizations as they strategically increase their own capacity for using data for crucial decision-making. After all, without a learning culture where curiosity, flexibility, and a willingness to discuss failure are valued, even well-planned evaluations won’t have any long-term impact on organizational decision-making (Taylor & Liadsky, 2018).
The Insight Learning Framework includes five stages: (1) Develop Your Learning Agenda, (2) Create a System for Learning, (3) Implement Your Learning System, (4) Reflect on Lessons Learned, and (5) Take Action and Plan for the Future. At each stage in this framework, different tools might be appropriate depending on the organization. You can find more information on the Framework here.
Coffman, J. & Beer, T. (2001). Evaluation to support strategic learning: Principles and practices. Center for Evaluation Innovation.
Moss, I.D., Coffman, J., & Beer, T. (2002). Smart decision-making. Stanford Social Innovation Review.
Organizational Research Services (ORS). (2013). Getting more from measurement: Five insights for social innovators. Seattle, WA.
Preskill, K., & Mack, K.(2013). Building a strategic learning and evaluation system for your organization. FSG. Taylor, A. & Liadsky, B. (2018). Achieving greater impact by starting with learning: How grantmakers can enable learning relationships at the grant application stage. Taylor Newberry Consulting and Ontario Nonprofit Network.
Congratulations to the American Council on Education (ACE) on the release of their superb report entitled, Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: 2020 Supplement by Morgan Taylor, Jonathan M. Turk, Hollie M. Chessman, and Lorelle L. Espinosa. HEI contributed to one of the chapters in this report, “Career and Technical Education in the Learning Economy: Toward a Promise of Racial Equity.” These reports provide crucial data to inform efforts in closing equity gaps in higher education.
HEI is proud to provide evaluation support to the Woodward-Hines Education Foundation (WHEF), whose mission is to help more Mississippians obtain postsecondary credentials, college certificates, and degrees that lead to meaningful employment.
WHEF’s flagship program, Get2College, was recently featured in the Washington Post for its innovative efforts to help Mississipians fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), such as online tutorials, phone consults, and an upcoming drive-through advising event. Through services like these and others, Get2College provides counseling on college admission and financial aid, and supports grants to increase college access and success, to 45,000 Mississippi students each year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided additional barriers to many students trying to access Get2College services. From the Washington Post:
“People are very concerned about so many other things right now, especially those from underserved communities,” said Shannon Grimsley, outreach program director at Get2College….“We want them to know we’re here to get them over the finish line.”
While technology is essential for college advising this year, it can also be a formidable barrier. Poor broadband access in some of the rural parts of Mississippi has made virtual FAFSA workshops tricky as students get kicked off or screens freeze up, Grimsley said.
Read the full article here, and learn more about Get2College here.
HEI invites you to get to know our fantastic staff members. Each month, we will highlight a different colleague. This month, learn about Dr. Tashera Gale’s background and what drives her professionally.
Tashera Gale is a passionate social scientist who employs asset-based approaches and culturally responsive practices, appreciating and leveraging the richness that exists within diverse populations. Dr. Gale contributes her experience as a past Syracuse University STEM Fellow primarily focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) educational and career pathways for under-represented populations. As a critical scholar, Dr. Gale identifies permeating systemic disparities hindering equitable outcomes for marginalized groups, and highlights techniques to counter their impacts. She advocates for equity and inclusion, both of which are central to her engagements in scholarship and service. Dr. Gale holds a PhD in Instructional Design, Development and Evaluation from Syracuse University. She earned her master’s degree in the same field, as well as a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and sociology from Syracuse University.
What first drew you to work in higher education?
Honestly, I wasn’t initially drawn to higher education. I was interested in broadening access to and participation along Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) academic and career pathways for Black and Brown youth living in inner-city communities, where trajectories extended from K-12 learning environments, through postsecondary contexts, and into the workforce. My motivation was helping children reimagine who they could be and what they could do. It was about instilling this truth that if given a chance, they—we—too could succeed. My life was changed in manners unimaginable because someone courageously invested in me in this same way. That’s where my advocacy for higher education began: an appreciation of and commitment to my lived experience.
How would you describe your current work/the work you’re most passionate about?
I love everything STEM! I get most excited when working on projects aimed at advancing equitable access to STEM opportunity. My current portfolio includes efforts like evaluations of STEM innovations at the K-12 and postsecondary levels, including within formal and informal learning environments; strategically scaling high-quality, equitable work-based learning in digital technology region-wide; understanding the landscape of diversity, equity, and inclusion-focused STEM education investments; comprehensive local needs assessments of Career and Technical Education; and examinations of gender equity among STEM faculty using an intersectional lens. I also support clients by designing research and evaluation studies of their STEM interventions during grant proposal submissions. As you can see, much of my work is STEM-oriented, but also quite varied in terms of content and context. I enjoy it all a great deal.
My passion is reinvigorated every time I am afforded the chance to observe students—especially young learners of color from underserved communities—positively engage with STEM and cultivate strong STEM identities. I become filled with such pride and joy as I witness firsthand the development of our next generation of STEM-ers!
What gives you hope in the work you do?
Every so often, I cross paths with educators, program directors, and other stakeholders that exude abundant enthusiasm about and genuine care for the learners they serve. Their commitment is demonstrated not only by the words that they speak but also their actions in practice. Relationships are established with families, they become familiar with and sometimes even a part of communities, they recognize and appreciate youth cultures, and understand the imperativeness of supporting the whole person. They authentically live the work. That type of passion and dedication is contagious, and gives me hope that there are people out there sincerely valuing and advocating for groups too often left at the margins.
And of course, the researcher in me would never allow me to talk about this idea of hope without mentioning impact. Identifying that an initiative or intervention successfully transformed lives, communities, and systems fosters a sense of intrinsic optimism that this world is filled with such great promise. While we can all appreciate the significance of impact as evidenced by numbers, for me, it all truly comes alive when hearing personal accounts. The power of reflection, of someone sharing their truth about how an experience was influential, is unmatched. It’s after leaving those conversations or reading stories and (counter) narratives that I am most inspired.
What is your favorite part of working at HEI and with HEI’s clients?
The people are definitely the best part about working at HEI—we have a tremendous team! Each of my colleagues contribute a wealth of knowledge and expertise, which supports our collective growth and development. One of our greatest assets, in fact, is the diversity of our experiences and backgrounds since we are able to leverage the broad perspectives they afford in all facets of our work. As a primarily virtual team (even pre-pandemic), we find creative ways of making connections and building community; icebreakers always leave me quite intrigued and often give me a good laugh. We each have unique interests and passions that attract us to this work but are unified in our shared value of advancing equitable, accessible educational opportunity for underserved populations. We also have an appreciation for one another as people, a profound respect that extends beyond our research or other professional identities. I truly couldn’t ask for a better team of colleagues.
My favorite part about working with HEI clients is collaborating to make a difference, however large or small. I also enjoy embarking on the journey of learning together from early exploration to deepened understanding. Most of all, I love when clients see and treat me as a partner in the work. Establishing that level of trust positions us to overcome the greatest challenges and realize the most substantial feats together, as a client-partner team.
Any final thoughts? I find myself fortunate being able to do work that excites me. I enjoy meeting new people, learning about different contexts, addressing interesting questions, and exploring at the intersection of research and education. There’s a level of comfort—assurance even—experienced when you recognize that the work you do has purpose and provides personal meaning.
HEI has found that WBL experiences are most robust when designed and/or implemented via partnerships among educators, employers, and community partners. Moreover, there is no one-size-fits-all approach, even within a WBL model; program structures need to be designed to adequately accommodate the local context. Further, assessment of capacity and readiness to deliver WBL should be engaged by WBL providers to assure well-planned, high-quality implementation. WBL models should be informed by indicators of program quality detailed below, where implications relating to relevant policy and program design are mutually considered.
Industry-aligned: All components of WBL should be industry-aligned to support participant development of technical and professional competencies required for successful performance in a career sector.
Equitable: Equity must be considered across all phases of WBL implementation, which encompass design, development, delivery, and measures of impact. It is imperative that equity is integrated within WBL structures as evidenced by inclusion of intentionally embedded mechanisms that foster inclusivity and accessibility—including those involving offerings, recruitment and selection, participant support, compensation, and expectations. Equity cannot be thought of as a component external to or separate from the WBL program. Utilization of an equity lens also entails identification of opportunities facilitating and barriers hindering equitable access to WBL, and consequently, advancing areas of promise and mitigating challenges. Quality WBL is inherently equitable.
Transferrable: Participants’ learning should be adaptable to other contexts within the industry or sector. Further, training should be designed so that learner outcomes are congruent with expectations and values recognized across the profession.
Accountable: Central to understanding the impacts of a WBL opportunity—including for educators, learners, community providers, and employers—is clearly defining program objectives and expected outcomes. This not only serves as a guideline for design and implementation efforts, but also provides the foundation for which metrics can be established to monitor progress and identify observed effects. Further, this level of transparency encourages accountability across stakeholder groups.
Overall, WBL programs comprising these key principles have been found to be effective:
Support entry and advancement in a career track by providing opportunities for participants to develop technical and professional competencies.
Provide meaningful job tasks that build career skills and knowledge in the form of appropriately complex and relevant tasks with structured mentorship and supervision.
Offer compensation, which demonstrates that participants’ contributions are valued and makes opportunities accessible to individuals who might not otherwise be afforded the ability to take part in these experiences without financial support.
Identify target skills and how gains will be validated, to the mutual benefit of participants and employers.
Reward skill development through opportunities for more advanced responsibilities as well as wage and/or benefit increases, all of which positively reinforce learning and continued development.
Support college entry, persistence, and completion by assuring alignment among educational and industry objectives; WBL can be designed to excel postsecondary degree or industry-specific credential attainment through articulation agreements or embedded credit structures.
Provide comprehensive student support via career counseling or advisement, equipping students with the information required to make informed career decisions.
Whether you are a first-time grant award recipient or celebrating the next big win, the importance of finding a good, qualified evaluator or research partner cannot be overstated. A competitive procurement process requires requests for proposals (RFPs), and many organizations have to reconcile soliciting bids to satisfy awardee, organizational, or state procurement rules while vetting each candidate’s experience and ability. Often, many default to their organization’s procurement specialists or use a standard RFP template, which may or may not cover all the bases.
As consultants to grantees and proposal writers, we at HEI wish to humbly provide some guidance on what should be included in your RFP to ensure that your solicitation contains all the information you intend to provide to—and solicit from—your bidders. Our template below should get you started. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us!
Executive Summary: Lay out for responders all critical information about your effort in one page. At a minimum this should include the key contact, a brief statement of the work, minimum qualifications to apply, and any important dates.
Introduction: Provide concise RFP Information.
Describe your organization in a brief introduction along with a summary of the core need you’re seeking to fulfill.
Describe who is the sponsor of the work and who will ultimately be the internal consumer of the services and work-products.
Provide submission format guidelines, e.g., page limits, required layout, online or physical mailing, and required interviews.
Description: Provide a description of the program, innovation, intervention, or research that is the focus for your proposed work. Include well-honed research questions (presuming this RFP is for research or evaluation), i.e., what are you trying to learn/know?
Scope of Work and Applicant Capabilities: Define the desired or ideal scope of work for the vendor. Include:
Anticipated timeline from start to finish.
Stakeholder groups involved and/or subjects of the study.
Specific work items required, preferred, and optional. (Note: Don’t over define the work, as you’re hiring for outside expertise; provide room for the RFP process to generate creative ideas for you.) Work items can include:
Data collection activities, such as focus groups, onsite observations, surveys, etc.
Desired testing or measurement such as pre- and post-tests, group comparisons, change over time, and comparison against a benchmark.
Needed deliverables such as a formal word document, PowerPoint, in-person presentations, infographics, interactive dashboard, and form or submission within upload systems.
Proposal Submission Guidelines: Spell out essential guidance to help streamline the RFP process for both your organization and the applicant. Include the following:
Budget: Consider offering a budget range, if you have one, and note the variables that can impact that range such as the number of interviews, virtual or in-person site visits, a final presentation vs. printed final reports, etc.
Component Checklist: List all items the applicant must submit.
Submission Timeline: Clearly state how, where, and when the proposal must be submitted.
Award Timeline: Clearly note how, when, and where the proposal will be awarded. (Note: Set a timeline you can stick to.)
References: Define the kinds of references that exemplify the experience and qualifications required and denote information needed, e.g., client name, contact info, description of work delivered, etc.
Evaluation of Submissions: Provide the proposal evaluation criteria, rubric, or terms used to select the vendor.
Do you make special considerations for MWBE, HUB, or Veterans policies?
Will certain experience and qualifications be weighted higher?
Appendix: Provide any required procurement forms to the end of the RFP.
HEI is always here to help. If we can assist in your RFP process, please contact us.