Embedding employability skills into academic curricula is a key concern for universities and tertiary education institutions today.
This topic was the focus of a University of Auckland Business School (UABS) workshop on the 12th June entitled ‘University and beyond: embedding employability and life into the curriculum’ run by Professor Susan Geertshuis, Narissa Lewis, and Patricia Hubbard. I was fortunate enough to participate in this workshop along with 23 other colleagues from the university.
The workshop brought together two pieces of work being conducted within the Business School. The first was the University’s Graduate Profile and the second was the Ako Aotearoa funded project on embedding employability skills within the university curriculum.
The session began with a recap/refresher identifying the capabilities needed by graduating students to satisfy a range of stakeholders. Participants compared capabilities identified within the Graduate Profile workshops with those found in the scholarly literature in this field. The themes which emerged were discussed and the whole group contributed to a ‘Letter to the Dean of UABS’ which highlighted the challenges this development would create for the Faculty. These included:
- The need for a framework to guide teaching and learning which can develop critical thinking alongside soft skills
- A map to plan the integration of the Graduate Profile with programme learning outcomes, assessments, and capabilities
- The need for academic staff development along with time and resources to implement the changes
- The need for diverse skills (teaching, research, and skills) in the staff who will implement the graduate profile
Following this exercise, the group went on to consider their own sphere of influence. Participants considered the changes to teaching that the extended curriculum would necessitate. On an axis of ‘easy to teach’ to ‘hard to teach’ it was identified that current teaching of knowledge was well understood by the group and something which occurred throughout the year. However, the capabilities identified within the Graduate Profile, for example, ethical behaviour and independent thinking, were seen to be harder to teach. Indeed, it was seen that the emphasis needed to change from ‘knowing more’ to being able to ‘do more’ and ultimately to ‘being more’. This final step, ‘being more’, appeared to be an expression of holistic development of the individual, knowing and doing so that they could operate successfully within the world; identified as the basis of ‘transformational learning’.
Participants were then invited to discuss examples of others’ teaching in a transformational way. Susan presented the 4Es of Employability framework to structure this conversation, asking each group to think of examples they had seen where lecturers:
- Excite interest, i.e. rather than just describe the intended learning outcomes
- Explore a topic with students, i.e. rather than just deliver a lecture
- Extend learning, i.e. rather than just do additional reading or exercises and finally
- Exhibit learning, i.e. rather than just assessing student knowledge asking students to demonstrate their learning in other ways
The first group identified a practice to excite interest in a subject. The example was an exercise developed by Karen Fernandez (Marketing, UABS) to help students understand ‘risk’. She provided students with eggs at the start of the lecture which the students were to throw to each other. Initially, the students believed the eggs to be hard-boiled and then (incorrectly) they were made to believe they were raw. The lecturer asked students to volunteer whether to be the catcher or the thrower of the egg. Students then threw the eggs. The eggs were, in fact, hard-boiled, but the exercise had the advantage of sharpening the attention of the student volunteers as well as those watching in the lecture theatreto the potentially messy outcome! In the debrief which followed Karen asked students why they had chosen to be a thrower or a catcher. As they articulated their reasons their personality, perception of risk and tolerance of risk became apparent. This was a great lesson opener as all students’ engagement was heightened. The exercise was fun and the students clearly enjoyed it. In this introduction, the students quickly became aware of the topic of the lecture and could relate it to their own direct experiences, thus preparing them to understand the content of the lecture which followed.
The second group identified an example in which they saw a lecturer explore a subject with their students. Ruth Dimes provided an example from the Graduate School of Management where students worked in small groups within real businesses on real business problems. The students were asked to develop solutions and strategies to overcome a specific problem. The students went on to present their solutions to the CEOs of the participating organisations.
The third group identified an example of extend. In this example, Alan Toy described a practice developed by Gehan Gunasekara in Commercial Law. In order to promote their ability to accurately and persuasively argue, students needed to research a specific issue and then debate in a ‘moot’. The moot was conducted in front of their lecturer and a judge. This exposure to real life practice and the thinking needed to be effective within it was hugely enjoyable for the students and refined their understanding of the importance of argument.
Julia Crawford in the final group offered an example of exhibit. In the Foundation Mathematics class, Rachel Passmore assesses her students through a task where they create a screencast or video clip to explain a mathematical concept to other students. This assessment is unusual for mathematicians and it proved to be motivational for students and helped them develop new skills. The assessment remains highly relevant in assessing content knowledge as,, without genuine mastery of a subject, students would not be able to teach it effectively. The task has the additional benefit that the outputs can be used as a resource by lower level students to help them understand difficult concepts more readily.
These examples of transformational teaching were great to hear and helped to demonstrate the types of teaching which could help to embed employability skills into the curriculum.
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