Mike Skocko

Employees Only - No Students Wanted

If we're supposed to prepare students for the real world in CTE classes, why not turn the classroom into a business and the students into employees?*

It seems painfully obvious in retrospect, and I'm sure others have successfully done this in the past, but it never dawned on me until this comment. Since then, I've begun working out the details in this post and am convinced that the concept is worth pursuing.

Your thoughts?

Constructive criticism is welcomed. :)

*Edit: The idea is more metaphoric than literal. See explanation in this comment.

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Glen Lindh

Posted on 3/3/17 6:18:22 AM Permalink

Great idea!​

uma ravi

Posted on 7/16/14 1:17:28 PM Permalink

I liked the idea and I think I would to incorporate this in my future projects

Tammy Moore

Posted on 12/14/13 3:58:42 AM Permalink

When I was in high school, we didn't do anything as a class team project, but I did several real design jobs when businesses came to the art teachers asking if there were any students to hire for their project. I worked within a florist shop working on a Bridal Show project on weekends for about a month and I also paired up with another invited student to create a Ronald McDonald Traffic Safety Coloring Book to be given to elementary students after their visit to their traffic safety park. The students got to drive little electric cars around a model town complete with traffic lights, crosswalks, and stop signs. I really appreciated the opportunities and it helped me to understand what I didn't know about the realities of illustration and how it goes from my hands through print production. High school art classes back then never touched on the technical realities of the print process and how it impacted design. It was valuable knowledge and some real world experience on my resume that helped me after I graduated to get my first staff job as an illustrator for a magazine.

Now I teach online. This year we have a three class project to produce a student-created marine biology course. We have an Adobe Captivate team, a Photoshop team, and an Illustrator team all working on the build. What they are creating will really be offered to other students in future years and they are each earning dual credit for their software of choice as well as marine biology. The students love it!

Dave Cornelius

Posted on 10/21/13 6:16:04 PM Permalink

Been there done that. The results are astounding. I am now at the university level but I have nearly 100 students who are active industry professionals from the last 6 years I taught in high school.

I applied the "metaphor" literally. In the CTE world I would consider it a requisite standard of operation.

Dale Bendsak

Posted on 10/11/13 8:27:51 PM Permalink

Hi All. In the CTE classes in my district is in addition to Real World Projects and Test Grades we assign Daily Work Grades that measure student productivity in the classroom. In this area students are evaluated in several areas including: are they on time and prepared; are they respectful of their peers, environment and teacher; do they demonstrate appropriate workplace character traits; and do they demonstrate an appropriate level of concern for learning. An "A" would be Professional.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 9/27/13 2:42:25 AM Permalink

I thought someone might appreciate our first job for a client. The kids blew away any reasonable expectation.

It's going to be a good year.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 9/23/13 11:05:23 AM Permalink

Check out the Client Survey Adobe Ed just posted. Great tool to discuss, adopt, and adapt to suit your "business" needs.*

*I'd suggest trimming it way down for your in-school or non-profit clients. (Don't want to overwhelm or create extra work for them.)

Judy Durkin

Posted on 9/2/13 2:48:10 AM Permalink

When I have students do assignments, I always tell them that I am the client, and I give them two types of feedback: whether they met the assignment requirements, and whether the "client" accepted their work. CTE (Career and tEchnical) students need to know what a tough business Graphic Design is. A lot of the projects that I give my students come from real assignments that I have tackled as a freelancer. They need to know that it is a rare day when you get to design a poster for a famous rock band. I have found an occasional project to do for a local non-profit, but doing actual commercial design work for money would infuriate the freelancers and design agencies out there. I set-up projects with teams (copywriter, photographer, etc), but no actual money changes hands. We discuss how much I would charge for such a job, etc.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 9/23/13 10:58:23 AM Permalink

How did I miss this? Great perspective, Judy!

I especially love the pragmatic students need to know what a tough business Graphic Design is.

We just finished a job for our first client. I'll post the results as a resource later today. (Unprecedented high quality contributions. It's going to be a good year!)

Sharon Ashlock

Posted on 8/13/13 5:47:00 PM Permalink

I have a natural holistic clinic that will work with me to have the students design a website for the office. Do we do this together as a class or do I have each student be responsible for a certain page?

Mike Skocko

Posted on 8/13/13 6:43:01 PM Permalink

That decision is up to you, Sharon, but it seems an an excellent opportunity to set up a Web team to work on the site. You'll need project leader(s), designers, photographers, coders, copywriters, you name it.

Let kids conduct the interview(s) with the client. (Bring the client to the classroom?) Project reviews, revisions, site maintenance, etc. follows.

Don't forget to research the client's target audience. Should there be a mobile version? What about interactivity? A Web 2.0 experience might be good for business. Social media connections?

Lot's of ways to make a small project into a big production! :)

Sharon Ashlock

Posted on 8/13/13 5:30:08 PM Permalink

I have the perfect setup for this but don't know how to organize it in a way that it feels like a successful business instead of a classroom with me teaching.

O Valdivia

Posted on 8/12/13 1:59:07 AM Permalink

I like to create projects from upcoming events at my school. In some occasions some of the designs created by my students end up being used for display (flyers, website, etc.). I like to create something fun and challenging; something that a real designer will do; and something that students will be interested in doing and feel proud off. The result always pays off.

marcia blanco

Posted on 7/30/13 6:06:42 PM Permalink

I have a new project that I'm planning to do this year with my second years. Our entire school goes to a job fair in March who's target audience are kids getting ready to graduate high school and move on into the trades or secondary ed. There are not a lot of exhibitors that can relate to design and visual communications so last year, I just had them evaluate the graphics that each exhibitor had to attract kids to their booths. This year, I plan to get a list of presenters and assign my students the task of developing marketing material for them to present to the exhibitors at the job fair. (Or perhaps I'll have them present before the job fair if it's any good and see if the exhibitors will use their graphics to market at the fair. I haven't worked out the details.) Anyway, it will involve real world research, brief writing, creative process, presentation, and all that open-ended, project-based stuff that is so very effective when you're trying to teach real world skills.

What do you guys think? Any pitfalls I'm missing or ideas I can incorporate?

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/30/13 6:48:52 PM Permalink

Potentially a great learning opportunity for the kids, Marcia.

Question: Are you considering having the kids contact any exhibitors prior to the event?

marcia blanco

Posted on 7/30/13 8:17:37 PM Permalink

Yeah. I think they need to do that to do a proper jobon the research and preparation. I'll also need to get a hold of the exhibitors to make sure this is OK.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/31/13 12:26:25 PM Permalink

I think you've got a winning idea, Marcia.

It would be valuable to share the journey with the rest of us in a resource -- a project idea that the rest might build on for our own students.

marcia blanco

Posted on 7/31/13 7:25:04 PM Permalink

Good idea. I'll do that.

Leandro Amano

Posted on 7/30/13 5:41:50 PM Permalink

I think a very good idea, once taught a training for an interactive agency (2 weeks) using Flash, Dreamweaver and MySQL, recreated a job (1 section) by Fantasy Interactive agency. The students loved. Each had its responsibility in the project and was much more efficient than a class where normally only explained the software, but in this case, the students already had some knowledge.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/30/13 5:49:57 PM Permalink

If you once did it, are you considering doing it again, Leandro?

Leandro Amano

Posted on 7/30/13 7:04:08 PM Permalink

Consider doing it yes, but unfortunately only got success with this class who already had some knowledge.
I do not know how it would be feasible to move beginners students, incidentally, this is one of the reasons I have enrolled myself in this summer course.

Leandro Amano

Posted on 7/30/13 7:04:10 PM Permalink

Consider doing it yes, but unfortunately only got success with this class who already had some knowledge.
I do not know how it would be feasible to move beginners students, incidentally, this is one of the reasons I have enrolled myself in this summer course.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/30/13 8:18:11 PM Permalink

You'll never know if you don't try. It's amazing what some kids can do when you dare to set the bar high. :)

Hope you get a lot of new ideas and inspiration in the course!

Leandro Amano

Posted on 7/30/13 9:42:16 PM Permalink

Thanks for that, I believe we will still tell us a lot during the course.
Good luck!

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/30/13 12:57:53 AM Permalink

FYI: Our new gamed curriculum delivery system debuts tomorrow. If you're interested, see this resource for details (and access to a temporary domain to test it yourself).

marcia blanco

Posted on 7/26/13 1:55:28 PM Permalink

It sounds as if you guys (Jules and Mike) have the right perspective and walk a careful line between educating your students in a "real world" environment and keeping them (and you) from being exploited and local companies from being screwed. I think that is a really strong point that needs to be made for those who envision their classroom as a quasi-working business. I had an educator from one of our sending schools try to convince me to let a couple of my students video and photograph their wedding. They would pay them $100. Of course, my students thought this was awesome but they had no idea what the job entails. I created a firestorm when I refused to let any of our equipment be a part of this and now I have a very unhappy set of people.

Some students are ready for the big time and can render product that is high quality. (These two weren't. A nasty voice in me counseled that I should let them do it and give the woman what she paid for.) Clients who use them expect lower prices because of the student's lack of experience and overhead costs at tax payers expense. (They bring up the fact that they are tax payers all. the. time.) The thing is, these students can undercut local professionals because they have no overhead what-so-ever. Though in my school there is a big push to work a classroom like a real-live business for the public, there is this conundrum of providing a service that competes with local. hardworking and in debt freelancers.

I know of a couple of career and tech centers where the program is expected to fund most of their costs through the work that their students do. I simply can't imagine teaching in a nightmare scenario like that.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/26/13 4:57:16 PM Permalink

Thanks for the thought-provoking story, Marcia. It takes guts to share relevant personal dilemmas like that!

Alysia Echevarria

Posted on 7/23/13 2:50:12 PM Permalink

Wow how cool! I am actually a college student as well and will be training both my peers and adults a few years older than myself. How has your experience in the digital collective been? Do you all share ideas, create flyers for clubs, or some combination? I am really interested in these types of activities and I hope that you achieve your goals in this course!

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/26/13 4:43:33 PM Permalink

Thanks for the good vibe, Alysia. Jules laid out the details of our "business" model more clearly than I did.

As for the digital collective, I'm trying to understand if you're referring to the Exchange or the classroom. Either way, it's share and share alike.

Sorry to be dense, but are there other specifics you're looking for?

Best of luck with your upcoming adventures in training.

Jules Peck

Posted on 7/23/13 10:38:38 AM Permalink

'Real world' projects, in my opinion, are an absolute must when engaging students in design tasks and this is the fundamental basis for almost every project I create for my Visual Art-Design (K10-12) classes - using Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

The yearbook cover is an annual project, and others (with our principal teacher being the main 'client') include posters for every major school event, school publicity material that is seen in the community such as banners that hang outside our gates, postcards for open days, flyers and tickets for performances, letterheads, newsletters, website banners .. the list goes on and on as there is always a constant demand for new and innovative design in order to keep our school community image 'fresh'. Our most recent outstanding success was the complete redesign of our school logo, which can now be seen everywhere in and around the school!

Indeed, this approach has become the norm in our classes, so-much-so that our students 'expect' they will be creating something that will be produced and then put to use. The demand is often so great that we have to turn jobs down, or at least put them on a list of 'things to do', but - for our client - the use of students to produce marketing material, while engaging them in their lessons, makes perfect sense as the alternative (outsourcing) would be prohibitively expensive. It does help, however, to have a principal who is very keen to constantly promote the school and is willing to budget appropriately for that.

While this is, in a sense, a 'business' model, there is no issue with the legalities etc. associated with a 'real' business - students earn kudos rather than dollars, and can also, for example, demonstrate to future employers that they have produced designs that have been adopted in the 'real world'. It is here where the students understand where the value in what they are doing lies, and there is certainly no 'sweatshop' mentality as the amount of work is always within our control.

This has become such a norm in my school that I would struggle to find an equally engaging approach should the students' skills be no longer be wanted for the benefit of our community.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/23/13 11:27:57 AM Permalink

Love it, Jules! It sounds like you've built a remarkable program.

We've done something similar for years now but it always seemed to be a small group of students doing the bulk of the work. The quixotic goal this time is for every student to connect with the model in some way. I suspect many students won't take it further than creating posters, infographics, or the like for some of their other teachers but in a very real way, that will still be a win in that we'll be building a much broader cross-curricular foundation on which to build upon in years to come.

Like you say, real-world projects are an absolute must.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/22/13 9:53:11 PM Permalink

And just to be clear about actual business conducted in the classroom.

I was a self-employed graphic designer and fine artist for about 20 years before I became a teacher. There are almost always a few kids with actual businesses in the room and I love that. Vincent is one of my two primary coders for our gamification system and he does real work for real clients.

I'd never discourage any student from starting his or her own business but I have no interest in diving into, what would be for me, the murky ethical and legal waters of turning the classroom into fully functioning business.


Note: Mac Lab Alumni have used students as unpaid interns on projects. Here's one example. Hard to beat working for a pro and learning all they know! (The alum lead workshops to train and repay the interns. Nice feedback loop.)

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/22/13 9:23:05 PM Permalink

Ah, once again Skocko sews confusion by failing to provide enough relevant details. Live and learn... eventually. :)

The "business" -- Mac Lab Media (MLM) -- is not intended to be a cash generator but rather a framework for the class. I don't intend to "bill" any clients and my "employees" will be paid in virtual currency (which they can spend in our store).

The intent is to mimic a business with students learning to serve our clients in a professional manner. It's just a metaphor for the classroom and something to push the classroom culture in a specific direction.

Does that make sense?

Joan Hoffman

Posted on 7/22/13 8:38:39 PM Permalink

I go back and forth on this issue in the past decade. I feel like a lot of my current decisions are based on my CTE Director/Principal support and funding. There has to be a balance between real work and a sweatshop. I also print 90% of what we design, from screen printing, yearbooks, packaging - which I think is important. The actual production of the design helps students get jobs here locally -and- helps them assess their strengths and weaknesses as things move from idea to planning to print, but errors can sometimes cost my program $$$ after a project goes South. I have managed to survive with a positive cash flow for now, but as budgets get tighter the complexity of the jobs seems to diminish as the emphasis on test preparation and procedural mastery increases. I try to take more digital only work but a lot of time is spent bug testing.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/22/13 10:05:13 PM Permalink


Bravo for going the extra mile for your students, Joan! I can't imagine the extra hours you must put in to make it all work.

marcia blanco

Posted on 7/22/13 4:25:03 PM Permalink

As usual, Mike, your stuff is simply amazing. I've been working towards having my classroom work as a design studio since my Design & visual communications program began five years ago. There is a pretty good set of resources for high school entrepreneurship through REAL. Though I'm not from North Carolina, I found this link that describes what it is that might be helpful.

They have tons of resources and it might just save you time reinventing the wheel a bit.

My problem is that my school is tiny and the community it's in is tiny. A lot of my students are not ready for the big time (aka charging for services rendered beyond simple copying and layout assignments.). We also simply don't have a customer base so we don't get a lot of practice dealing with clients as they come through the door. This year, we're going to be more proactive, developing material that we can sell in local stores. That may be a more promising endeavor.

Please keep blogging. You are such and amazing resource. One of these days, I plan to try out your gaming model, but I just don't have the self-confidence to jump into it just yet.

Mike Skocko

Posted on 7/22/13 9:28:44 PM Permalink

Thanks for the kind words, Marcia, and the PDF too. There are concepts in REAL we can bend to use in our metaphoric business (see the explanation up there ^).