It is not just about content!

On the 16 October 2018 I took part in the Advance HE Virtual Reading Group. I use group in the loosest sense of the word as initially I was the only participant along with Sally Bradley, who was chairing, and the facilitators from Advance HE. With no functioning microphone and being unprepared in my open plan office I had to type rapidly to keep up my side of the conversation with Sally. Others did join our select group as we discussed the 2011 paper ‘Creative Professionals for a World of Complexity, Change and Competition.’

One of the ideas that we all agreed on was that despite being 7 years old, this paper was as relevant now in our complex, volatile and uncertain world as it was in 2011!

One area of focus for the paper was around the IBM model of leadership for a complex and uncertain world. As might be expected this led to a conversation about the role of universities in developing these skills rather than just teaching content.

List of skills under the headings: Embody Creative Leadership; Build Operational Dexterity and Re-invent Customer Relationships
Model of Leadership based on IBM Capitalizing on Complexity

There are still many lecturers who think their sole role is to present content that students will magically absorb. Instead we discussed how we could improve graduate outcomes by encouraging the development of this range of skills. One of the questions raised was ‘can we actually teach these skills?’ Or even more challenging can we teach the ‘wicked competencies’, which the CBI suggest are underpinned by ‘a positive attitude: a ‘can-do’ approach, a readiness to take part and contribute, openness to new ideas and a drive to make things happen.’

Supporting students developing employability skills

The consensus appears to be that to teach these skills we need to move away from traditional forms of lecture and test and more towards authentic learning and assessment. Are these skills best developed in the workplace? Is this a good rationale for sandwich courses and apprenticeships? Do we need to move away from learning and being assessed in discreet blocks (the module)? The idea of integrated programme assessment where students need to bring information from a range of topics in a more team based approach is much more likely to develop problem solving, analytical thinking and organisational skills.

Final reflections on the paper

Overall, I think this paper solidified my ideas around the importance of transferable skills, such as problem solving, collaboration and adaptability to future graduate employment. As an activity I am slightly concerned that the reading group just reinforced what I already thought and it makes me wonder if I was open minded enough for this to be a transformative experience. I would like to think I was as it did also still leave me with a lot of questions not least of all about the best way to teach these skills but also how do we encourage all lecturers to engage in doing it!

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