Comparing Web-Based and Traditional Career Interventions With Elementary Students: An Experimental Study.

Author:Cerrito, Julie A.

Although research acknowledges the importance of the formative years of childhood in career development, there is a disconnection between theory and practice in elementary school counseling settings. This study compared a web-based career guidance intervention with a traditional career guidance intervention by measuring the effects each one has on the career development progression of 4th- and 5thgrade students. Using a pretest-posttest comparison group experimental design, the authors randomly assigned students to either the experimental group (web-based) or the comparison group (traditional). Results showed significant interactions between group and time for 2 of the 4 subscales examined in the study. Research implications and best practices for infusing career development interventions into the elementary school counseling curriculum are discussed.

Keywords-, career development, elementary school students, school counseling, career guidance interventions, pretest-posttest comparison


Career awareness in childhood provides a foundation for effective life-career planning (Magnuson & Starr, 2000), and career development starts as early as the preschool years (Gottfredson, 1999; Super, Savickas, & Super, 1996). Indeed, the process of career development is regarded as a lifelong journey, with its earliest beginnings rooted in childhood (Drier, 2000; Gibson, 2005; Harkins, 2001; Hartung, Porfeli, & Vondracek, 2008).

Although the influence of experiences in childhood on later career decision-making is recognized, there is limited evidence suggesting how to best apply this knowledge to practice (Blackhurst, Auger, & Wahl, 2003; McMahon & Watson, 2008). The career development field has been criticized for its relative neglect of this developmental age group (Hartung, Porfeli, & Vondracek, 2005). Schultheiss (2008) asserted that literature on childhood career development is sparse and fragmented in comparison with research on adolescents and adults.

Childhood career development largely occurs during the elementary school years (Harkins, 2001; Magnuson & Starr, 2000; Schultheiss, 2005). Therefore, collaboration among school stakeholders, especially school counselors, is recommended so that students can discover the connection from school to work to life (Solberg, Howard, Blustein, & Close, 2002). However, school counselors have been found to spend less time on career development with students than on other areas of development, such as academic and personal/ social development (Anctil, Smith, Schenck, & Dahir, 2012).

Despite these challenges, efforts have been made to address the importance of career development within the counseling profession and school settings. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA; 2012) identified three major domains (academic, personal/social, and career development) that school counselors should address to effectively meet the diverse needs of students in the 21st century. Additionally, in 2014, the ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success: K-12 College and Career-Readiness Standards for Every Student (ASCA, 2014) were published to increase awareness surrounding the significance of college and career preparation. The National Career Development Association (NCDA; 2004) also established a framework of guidelines including domains, goals, and indicators for career development competency. The NCDA identified three domains: personal social development, educational achievement and lifelong learning, and career management.

Alongside the assertions of professional associations such as ASCA and NCDA emphasizing the value of career development with school-age students, political efforts followed. In 2014, former First Lady Michelle Obama created the Reach Higher initiative aimed at exposing students to college and career opportunities and supporting school counselors who assist in that process (Obama, 2014). Additionally, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 was signed into law by former President Barack Obama, requiring that all students be taught to high academic standards, which would prepare them for success in college and in their careers.

Even with these advancements, limitations remain regarding the importance of career development specific to child populations (Schultheiss, Palma, & Manzi, 2005). At the elementary school level, career development priorities are largely overshadowed by academic priorities, and the fundamental connection between academic and career development is often overlooked (Drier, 2000; Schultheiss et al., 2005; Solberg et al., 2002).

To bridge the gap between academic and career development, school counselors are tasked with developing ways to provide interventions that reach a large number of students resourcefully. Research regarding career interventions that provide the linkage of school-based learning to a future career is lacking (Lenhardt & Young, 2001). Schenck, Anctil, Smith, and Dahir (2012) indicated that school counseling is at a crossroads for providing effective interventions to promote students' career development while still facing the need to respond to other professional demands. Schultheiss (2005) noted that career interventions aimed at improving academic achievement and career success provide a valuable venue for prevention efforts in elementary schools.

Decisions made by young adults have their roots in early childhood, and work-readiness activities allow children to build concepts for future decision-making (Harkins, 2001). By fifth grade, it is suggested that children have some understanding of vocational preparation requirements, but they may be unable to apply that knowledge to specific occupations (Blackhurst et al., 2003). The challenge for educators is to demonstrate the relevance of career information to students in a practical application-oriented approach (Helwig, 2004). Students not receiving career interventions in elementary school may potentially be at a disadvantage, with missed opportunities to build career development skills that may have an impact on their vocational lives through adolescence and into adulthood.

Career Guidance Interventions

Career development interventions at the elementary school level frequently take place in the form of classroom career guidance (Harkins, 2001), which is a vehicle to promote equal opportunity and educational equity for students (Jalongo, 1989). Career guidance interventions at the elementary school level can be offered in a variety of forms, including both traditional classroom-based instruction and web-based instruction. With the surge in popularity of online instruction, more children are engaged in virtual learning experiences than ever before (Madden, Ford, Miller, & Levy, 2006). Additionally, technology-based career development programs appear to be used more often by counselors than other types of counseling tools (Morgan, Greenwaldt, & Gosselin, 2014). However, it is important to recognize that although some literature exists regarding the value of integrating technology into career counseling (Harris-Bowlsbey, 2013; Harris-Bowlsbey & Sampson, 2001), much of it focuses on young and middle-aged adults and excludes children.

Purpose of the Study

In the present study, we examined the effects of a four-session, web-based, career guidance intervention in comparison with a four-session, traditionally career guidance intervention on elementary-age students' career development. The following null hypothesis was posed: Among fourth- and fifth-grade students, there would be no significant interactions between treatment (web-based vs. traditional) and time (pretest vs. posttest) on mean scores obtained from a measure of four career development dimensions that mirrored the four career guidance lessons included in the interventions: information, curiosity/exploration, interests, and locus of control.



Participants were fourth- and fifth-grade students (N= 134) from seven classrooms contained within one school, who were recruited from an elementary school in a rural district of a mid-Atlantic state. There were two students who withdrew from the school district during the intervention period, eight students who attended fewer than three guidance lessons, and two students who omitted an entire page of the pretest measure! Therefore, the study included a total of 122 students (71 boys, 51 girls) who completed the entire study protocol, including pretest, posttest, and a minimum of three of the four guidance lessons. Fifty-four percent were enrolled in fourth grade (n = 66), and 46% were enrolled in fifth grade (n = 56). The ages of participants ranged from 9 to 12 years (M = 10, SD = 0.07). Regarding racial/ethnic identity, 89% were White (N = 109), 8% were Hispanic (n = 10), 0.8% were African American/Black (n = 1), 0.8% were Asian (n = 1), and 0.8% were multiracial (n = 1).

Approximately 54% of the students who participated in this study qualified for free or a reduced-price lunch. Eighty percent of the participants (n = 98) who completed the study attended all four guidance lessons; 20% (n = 24) attended three lessons. Fifty percent of the students (n = 61) participated in the web-based classroom guidance experimental group, and 50% of the students (n = 61) participated in the traditional classroom guidance comparison group.


The Childhood Career Development Scale (CCDS; Schultheiss & Stead, 2004) assesses children's...

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