What should universities do about graduate employability?

Recently, Australian universities have become highly concerned about graduate employability, and how to ensure that our graduates have positive career outcomes. It’s not that we didn’t care about this before — but recent graduate outcome statistics show that that chances of students gaining full-time employment after graduation are declining in all disciplines, and have been for a few years now. University education represents a signficant investment for students, both in terms of time and effort and course fees, and increasingly want to know that there will be a job for them at the end.

The chief metric that the higher education sector uses to demonstrate positive outcomes is full-time employment 4 months post course completion. This metric comes from graduate surveys known as the Graduate Destintation Surveys (GDS), until recently administered by Graduate Careers Australia.

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Under the new QILT (Quality Indicators in Learning and Teaching) system, there are a range of other indicators as well — including a survey of graduate employers asking about graduate employees’ capabilities. There is also a ‘3-year out’ survey of graduate outcomes. The QILT website allows people to compare courses and universities using these indicators. However, the chief metric that is reported and used is still the short-term full-time employment metric, along with median graduate salary.

The short-term full-time employment metric can be useful as an indicator in some respects. For instance, Tom Karmel of the National Institute of Labour Studies, has recently used the GDS to show that more than 50% of the variance in declining graduate outcomes is due to a softening labour market and an oversupply of graduates, particularly in some fields. This has been exacerbated by the introduction of the ‘demand driven system’, and uncapping the number of university places that can be offered in Australia*. The sector is on track to meet its 40% university participation by 2020 target.

Another example of an interesting use of the graduate destination full-time employment metric comes from Denise Jackson from Edith Cowan University, who demonstrated the importance of social capital to initial graduate outcomes, also using statistical modelling of the GDS survey data (in her 2014 study, there was a 54% increase in the chances of full-time job attainment if social network strategies were used).

However, the full-time employment metric we use is problematic in important ways. I summarise these issues as: (i) full-time employment as an employee, (ii) employment is different from employability; and (iii) short-term, narrow outcomes.

1. Full-time employment as an employee. The metric has long been criticised by educators in the arts and creative industries, where the portfolio career (multiple job-holding, self-employment) is ubiquitous – as, of course, is underemployment. But in fields where self-employment and multiple job-holding are common, the ‘full-time employment as an employee’ metric does seem less relevant**. It also might be less relevant across the board in coming years as the traditional organisational career continues to decline, and more and more people are engaged in self-managed, portfolio careers. There is evidence that this is occurring already: while Australia’s overall unemployment rate is steady, the rate of part-time and short-term work overall, and casual jobs for young people 18-24, is increasing. Eighty-six per cent of the new jobs created in Australia last year were part-time. Across OECD nations, 20% of all jobs terminate within one year, and 33% terminate within 3 years. In the US, 40% of work is contingent.

There are also the phenomena of ‘uberisation’ of work, and the start-up economy. While self-employment is actually declining across Australia (according to ABS statistics), more and more people are engaged in informal, self-generated and distributed models of work and income earning through platforms such as Uber, Airtasker (Upwork in the US), and AirBnB. There is also much talk and policy about fostering a start-up economy, particularly in STEM fields, as a way to promote economic growth and social well-being in Australia. It seems that historically, an entrepreneurial career path has not often been chosen by recent graduates, and entrepreneurship is something that tends to be adopted with greater career experience – but it is something that is increasingly being encouraged.

My overall point is this: The national graduate outcomes data collection is the only one we have. If the survey doesn’t include measures of more complex job and career arrangements, we have no way of knowing exactly what’s going on for graduates across Australia. For disciplines where full-time employment is less relevant, and as full-time employment as an employee becomes less common across the economy, it seems less and less useful as a way of describing the outcomes of recent grads.

But of course the GDS (now the GOS in QILT) isn’t just used to describe outcomes — it’s used to benchmark universities and courses against one another. This brings me to my next reservation: employment is very different from employability.

2. Employment is different from employability.

In the last few years, graphs of our declining graduate outcomes like the one above have been used to argue that universities need to be doing more to enhance our students’ employability. However, there are actually a wide range of stronger influences on whether a graduate is employed or not, including (as Tom Karmel points out) the degree of competition for entry-level jobs, and the availability of roles. In 2005, McQuaid and Lindsay published a theoretical framework – one of many – of influences on employability and employment, which they summarise as ‘individual factors’, ‘personal factors’, and ‘external factors’. The traditional remit of universities has been just one element of these: skills and capabilities, and perhaps also some psycho-social factors that can be learned, such as confidence, proactiveness and resilience.

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I’d argue that there are indeed things universities can do, and can do better, to enhance their students’ employability (and also, while we’re at it, their citizenship and sustainability capabilities). But using graduate outcomes as the benchmark is leading universities to do things that are outside the traditional capability remit, in seeking to compete for one another for students — such as direct interventions around graduate recruitment, and changing the range and types of courses that they deliver to choose those with better short-term full-time employment outcomes. Universities with regional campuses in areas where there is higher unemployment are at a disadvantage in the benchmarking– and I would hate to see them move out of regions and stop offering degrees to people from diverse backgrounds because the graduate employment outcomes might be lower in these regions.

3. Short term, narrow outcomes.

In a context where our KPI is short-term, full-time employment outcomes, universities are more and more ‘teaching to the test’ — which means we are paying close attention to employer surveys where desired graduate employabiliy skills are listed out (interpersonal skills, written communication etc), and we are paying close attention to the skills that professional accrediting and registering bodies say that they need. The idea is to make graduates as ‘oven ready’ as they can be – both in terms of specific technical and disciplinary skills for their professions, and their transferable / generic skills.

One problem here is that the world of work is in massive flux. In teaching to specific outcomes, the danger is that we start encouraging narrow, inflexible career identities, and overly specific, short-term skills. When students graduate in 3 or 4 years’ time, there may not be the demand for (for instance) print journalists, primary school teachers, or graphic designers, and we need our grads to be able to reinvent themselves and their skills to find and obtain other meaningful work. We don’t teach enough for disciplinary and professional agility.

The CEDA (2015) study into the automation of Australian work suggests that over the next decade, more than 40% of existing job roles will disappear anyway (goodbye taxi drivers and telemarketers!). Other entirely new roles will be created — and while it’s difficult to predict exactly what these roles will be, we’re seeing this already in statistics coming from the US around new jobs in information security, big data analytics, and social media. Further, the roles that will remain are changing, and will require different skill sets. Work roles will require more digital capabilities, emotional intelligence, creativity and complex problem solving, and complex manual dexterity (these kinds of skills are less likely to be automatable).

I also suggest that in this age of uncertainty and unprecedented social change and complexity, where we are confronted by more and more ‘super wicked problems’ — climate change, loss of biodiversity, antibiotic resistance, refugees and asylum seekers, widening gaps between the rich and the poor… and the list goes on — surely we need KPIs around capability development beyond employability skills. I read yet another article this morning about global catastrophic risk (nice reading to go with one’s cornflakes) that predicts our chances of destroying ourselves during the 21st century at about 50%. It’s hard to give exact probabilities on these kinds of things. However, the people who are graduating from our universities will lead our world in the coming decades — they need the capabilities to engage with and manage complex social, cultural, economic, and environmental challenges, as well as to find or create work and perform well in that work.

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Photograph: Carla Lombardo Ehrlich/WWF

 

So, what should we be measuring?

Measurement and benchmarking is an inevitability in this space. It’s difficult to generate suitable, simple benchmarks for our graduate outcomes. I understand why full-time employment is used – it’s simple, and a good indicator of some things. However, we certainly need more nuanced, longer term outcome measures around employment, that embrace self-employment and the portfolio career as well as the metric of ‘short-term full-time work as an employee’.

We need to provide indicators around the actual capabilities that our graduates possess, and their behaviour (such as setting up their own enterprises, if that’s what we want). These indicators need to include capabilities beyond short-term employability skills, to encompass broader employment outcomes and the changing world of work. Finally, I think we need to include social, cultural, and environmental capability indicators, and those of critical thinking and learning, as well as employability skills.

In turn, we need the infrastructural, HR and policy supports in place so that our graduates are able to make the most of their capabilities. We need a labour market that can accommodate our skilled young people, and where they can make meaningful contributions.

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*the solution doesn’t seem to be to re-cap the number of places offered. In fact, Andrew Norton offers some interesting commentary about how limiting the number of places in courses actually results in worse labour market mismtaches than we have at present. He provides the example of the 1990s Government restrictive caps on medical student places, and points out that this resulted in widespread shortages of doctors, something that was eventualy mitigated by inviting many more overseas-qualified doctors to practice in Australia.

** I should note here that the graduate outcomes survey does include a measure of ‘part-time employment – seeking full-time employment’ — but it isn’t detailed enough to describe employment patterns.

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Graduate Employability 2.0: Fostering university connectedness

Some of the most interesting findings from my fellowship interviews are actually about university stakeholder engagement and networks (or lack thereof), rather than student professional connectedness.

University approaches to external and internal stakeholder engagement are underdeveloped across the sector. Universities are still mostly taking short-term, ad hoc and often transactional approaches to working with our industry and community partners. While some universities  do have stakeholder engagement strategies, these are often focussed on research and knowledge transfer, and they aren’t optimised for the mass teaching partnerships we are starting to embark upon.

In my interviews I heard many stories of great attempts to partner with industry for teaching that were thwarted by university systems and processes, or that only worked because they involved ‘guerrilla teaching practice’ outside our systems (you know what I’m talking about), and that may therefore be limited in scale and sustainability.

I heard about the challenges of working productively with partners across multiple organisational areas with multiple contact points and multiple different organisational processes. I heard variously about the risk of one person having all the contacts, the risk of sharing contacts with those who may not treat them sensitively, and the risk of the ubiquitous generic ‘contact us’ email address.

Perhaps most commonly, I heard about how we need to learn to value our partners in building long-term professional relationships for learning and teaching.

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Some key questions for educators, program and university leaders in thinking about fostering our connectedness:

–       who do we want our key industry and community partners to be, and what are we offering them in the long term? What value do we add?

–       how are we valuing partner input in co-creating learning experiences for and with students?

–       how can we ‘get out of our own way’, reduce institutional barriers to connectedness and improve engagement?

–       who are our key contact points in the university for industry and community engagement? What kinds of resourcing and support do they need?

–       how do we join up our engagement strategies and points of contact to improve consistency and quality of engagement?

–       How do we manage the risk of engaging external partnerships at scale?

Some questions for educators:

I’m keen to know what your experiences have been with building your program / organisational area’s professional networks.

1. what does your university do well / not do well in supporting the development of your industry contacts and relationships for learning and teaching?

2. what motivations do industry and community partners bring to their partnerships with you, and what types of value does your program / university offer them?

3. how are your intra-university connections? How well connected are you with others within your university that are doing similar work / might have similar partners? How often do you experience the ‘left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing’ phenomenon with partners or partnership processes in your unversity? How do you navigate these challenges?

Send me an email if you like, or comment  below if you dare… also I encourage those interested to join the GE2.0 community of practice, where there’s more info and discussion about these topics.

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Graduate employability 2.0: Learning for professional connectedness

July was a busy month for me. I interviewed 43 people in different roles from a total of 26 Australian universities, to build a national picture of higher education engagement with learning and teaching for professional connectedness. The team have also profiled a number of humanities, arts and social sciences graduates and industry / community representatives across Australia to explore how professional connections and networks are important for success in 21st century work and life (more on these findings later).

Key findings of the higher education interviews

Australia wide, universities are stepping up to the challenge of fostering graduate employability through industry and community engagement. There is a national movement towards the development of university-wide employability strategies and infusion of employability skills and career development learning into all levels of the curriculum and elements of the university experience.

We are using a range of broad pedagogic approaches that support support the university-wide strategies, including: new models of WIL, alumni engagement, direct industry teaching, co-curricular facilitation and recognition, social media and professional identity building online, and connected learning.

We continue to struggle with the resource-intensiveness of effective industry engagement, and the scalability of our programs. The ad hoc approaches that used to work with a small number of students across a few programs and a few industry partners are proving less effective as we move into an era where 100% of our students will experience learning that is integrated with, related to, and/or otherwise connected with the world of work.

Some specific thoughts about students’ professional connectedness capabilities

  • learning for professional connectedness remains tacit and undervalued. Students are increasingly working with industry and community within and outside the curriculum, but often do not realise the importance of the connections they are making, or how to value, foster and extend those connections for future employability
  • we need to go beyond Linkedin profiles. Development of student professional identities online is key to employability, but employers are looking for more than simple Linkedin profiles and ePortfolios. How are students actively engaged with their online professional networks? Do they have industry authentic blogs, portfolios, social media presences? Are they interacting with the professional community in meaningful ways?
  • how are we supporting student networking? Many of our industry-engaged pedagogic strategies build a few strong professional connections. On average, students know only 1 employer when they graduate (often a WIL employer). How are we supporting our students to ‘network’ and grow their wider professional connections?
  • professionals use their social networks to learn, but universities tend not to promote this type of learning. There are substantial opportunities for students, universities and industry in ‘connected learning’, building learning communities and communities of enquiry around mutual areas of interest and practice. How can we start to build these broader communities and networks and learn from each other?

If you want to know more about what I’ve been finding in my interviews, head on over to the Graduate Employability 2.0 community of practice.

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Introducing ‘Graduate Employability 2.0’

Did you know that Linkedin now has 300 million users, which is about 1 in 3 professionals worldwide? And that 35% of those users log in every day?

And did you know that about 60% of jobs are estimated to be obtained through ‘who you know’ rather than direct application? Did you also know that between 80 and 90% of university graduates only apply for jobs using direct application methods?

70% of learning in the workplace happens informally, much of it problem-based and self-directed, and about 90% of that involves social interaction – either face to face, online or both.

One recent study found that 86% of professionals use online social networks for professional purposes in the workplace. What do they use them for? networking within and outside the organisation, research and learning, and sharing resources and project information with colleagues.

Graduate Employability 2.0 is about all of these things. It explores a different way of engaging with learning and teaching for life and career post-university. Graduate Employability 1.0 was about skills, knowledge, and attributes that individual students can learn in order to be able to obtain or create work and perform well in work situations. In the Graduate Employability 2.0 era, individual skills, knowledge and attributes are still important, but so are the individual’s professional relationships and networks, and what they do with them. The ‘2.0’ signifies the central importance of the social, digitally networked world in which we now all live.

My 2015-2016 Australian Office of Learning and Teaching National Senior Teaching Fellowship seeks to identify the best ways to develop students’ capabilities to build and use professional connections, both online and face-to-face, for career development, creativity and problem-solving, and professional learning, all of which are essential to employability in the digital age.

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Career development      

 

 

Professional relationships, networks and social capital are vital to career development:

  • by increasing access to career resources, information about opportunities, and career sponsorship
  • through the individual’s online presence – their personal ‘brand’, ePortfolio, use of social media as an advertising / recruitment screening tool
  • through distributed, networked options for employment generation e.g., Airtasker, Upwork, crowdsourcing resources
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Innovation, creativity and problem solving

Innovation and problem solving thrive on complex collaborative contexts:

  • by fostering new ideas through exposure to new people and new ideas (especially trans-disciplinarity)
  • by ensuring that new ideas are integrated, implemented and brought to fruition through teamwork;
  • by finding opportunities for enterprise – for example, new markets, collaborators and resources
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Professional learning

Social connections facilitate the reciprocal transmission of skills and knowledge for professional learning:

  • through communities of practice and informal social learning
  • digitally through distributed learning networks (social media, crowdsourced learning e.g., wikipedia).

What does the fellowship involve?

Right now I am seeking cases of teaching practice, particularly in humanities, arts and social sciences (HASS) disciplines, that engage with these kinds of learning, and also some examples of graduates who are making the most of their social connections for professional purposes. Chosen cases will be included in a graduate employability toolkit and promoted nationally. If you are interested in being a case study, please get in touch.

I will be surveying all of the universities in Australia to find out to what extent and how they are engaging with teaching for the development of students’ professional connections.

Later on this year I’ll be working with four universities to build graduate employability 2.0 capabilities into their undergraduate programs. We’ll be doing some experiments and seeing which are the best ways to build professional networks into the curriculum

There will be a national symposium hosted at QUT, and I will launch an online community of practice for sharing, discussion and updates very shortly. Watch this space for details!

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The university of the future part 1: just say no (most of the time) to pre-digested content

In an age where learners can download all of the content they want for free, there is limited value in continuing to feed them a pre-digested, pre-prepared curriculum. The institutions that will thrive in our age of digital hyperconnectivity will do so because of the quality and depth of the learning experiences they offer, the relationships that they foster, the networks that they broker, and their bespoke content generation (research).

I’ve been waiting to put the above two sentences into an academic article for a few months now. I haven’t finished writing the article yet (still!), so here it is in all its opinionated glory.

This is part 1 of a 3-part (I think) discussion.
In just about all of the university courses I know of, we continue to teach students using an ‘industrial model’ – that is, we pre-package content that we think is relevant, and then transmit it to learners. Often this is via lectures (or, in the modern teaching world, online recorded lectures for maximum efficiency (although its questionable whether online recorded lectures are actually very effective. But I digress). However, in an era of MOOCs, Youtube, Slideshare and Lynda.com, to mention a few, the digital world is awash in content. We teachers like to think that the lecture content we’re preparing is unique and better than anyone else’s, but in reality this nearly always isn’t the case. So the first point is that we’re spending a lot of time making and packaging learning materials, when there is a lot of existing content out there already that most of us don’t access or use (cue discussion for another day: how do teachers become effective curators of learning?)
"The lecture bored me to death" by Graham Stanley is licensed under CC 2.0
“The lecture bored me to death” by Graham Stanley is licensed under CC 2.0
What good teachers can say in our defence is that we tweak and optimise the content we make for the particular cohorts we’re teaching. We create learning experiences around the content that are designed carefully to engender deep learning in the cohorts we’re engaging with. This is pretty cool – one of the best reasons that teachers exist. However, this argument doesn’t address why we are spending too much time making redundant powerpoints in the first place. I guess some teachers might say that in the time it would take them to identify suitable open content online and tailor it for the cohort that they may as well have built the materials from scratch… in response though, I’d humbly suggest that sometimes this is because university teachers aren’t as well networked as they could be, and don’t know where or how to look.
I also wonder why we would WANT to spend a lot of time searching for and retrieving learning materials, filtering them and then making them relevant and useful to students, when information literacy and lifelong learning are key graduate capabilities. Students are going to need to do all of this themselves in an ongoing way for the rest of their lives. Why not start them off while they’re at uni? Yes, I’m talking about research and enquiry-based learning. Why don’t we as teachers spend less time focussing on content delivery, and more time and energy doing what we add the most value doing – creating learning experiences and facilitating learning? Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that ALL learning experiences at uni need to involve students doing their own research. Some types of content do lend themselves to a direct transmission approach (e.g., TED talks, which are specific genre of direct transmission teaching).
As I finish part 1 of this post, I wonder whether our collective addiction to content delivery comes from an (erroneous) belief held by both learners and teachers around what ‘quality’ and ‘effort’ is in teaching. Do we assume that because the teacher has spent hours on lecture slides and preparing readings that the learning experience is a high quality one? Would students ask whether they were getting value for money if the teacher provided less pre-digested content and instead focussed their efforts on supporting and facilitating the learners to find both questions and answers themselves? How scary might it be for a teacher to go in without the ‘safety blanket’ of their slide pack and talking points?
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How do you teach for lifelong creative employability? 3 models of WIL*

*for a definition of WIL and some initial discussions around why I think we need to reinvent it, see my blog post from last week

I have argued elsewhere that in the real value in learning that the future university will provide students is not so much in the manifest curriculum content, apart from what we can offer through bespoke knowledge creation (research). Instead, what differentiates institutions will be the quality of the learning experiences we provide, and the industry/community networks we can offer. Creative faculties therefore need to start investing strongly in building relationships with industry and community, and fostering teacher capacity to teach creative enterprise as well as the capabilities associated with disciplinary practice. All three of the WIL models I propose below are predicated upon these investments, and also upon offering far more significant WIL provision than a single capstone 14-week experience. Actually, what I think I’m suggesting here is that these models could form the central learning experiences in a course.

 (1) Offer internships with big, non-creative sector industry partners.

embedded creative workHere I borrow a little from successful Business School models of WIL, where the Faculty partners with big players (e.g., Deloitte or Ernst & Young) to offer a significant number of WIL opportunities each semester. The industry partner knows that by offering these internships that they have a direct recruitment pipeline to the best talent the university has to offer; in turn, the students get a high profile industry-based learning experience.

Where the creative internship model I propose differs from the Business School approach is that the creative students are embedded in non-cognate organisations. The Business School model involves, for instance, accountancy students heading over to Ernst and Young to work with other accountants on auditing, tax, and risk assessment. The creative faculty could, by contrast, partner with a very large firm (such as Westfield Group, Woolworths or Telstra in Australia), and send arts/graphic design, interactive and visual design, media and communications, interior design, and media production students to different areas of the firm for internships. As well as offering a pipeline for recruitment, the embedding of creative students into the organisation has the potential to increase the innovation capacity of the partner firm if it’s done right (Hearn & Bridgstock, 2014), as well as offering a relevant and enriching work integrated learning experience for creative students, who are quite likely to end up working in embedded roles in the future. The students experiencing this type of internship learn intrapreneurship, and how to work effectively with, and for, people who don’t come from their home creative discipline.

(2) Micro business and enterprise development.

We know that creative people are more likely than not to be self-employed to some extent. Most often, it’s alsScreen Shot 2015-06-29 at 7.34.27 PMo in these small ‘micro enterprise’ / start up situations where really innovative work goes on, rather than big (risk averse) firms. Micro-enterprise is becoming a much more common business model generally, through the growth of the sharing economy and ‘uberisation’ of professional services.  However, many creative students do not regard themselves as entrepreneurial, and the majority of creative schools don’t teach for micro-enterprise development at all.

There is significant precedent for micro-creative enterprise learning in higher education, though (see, for instance, Rae 2012, or for diverse disciplines Culkin 2013), most often via coaching and mentoring, ideation, incubation and accelareration services, networking and resourcing support. In my own university, and co-located with the Faculty, we have a well-established creative incubator/accelerator, the only of its kind in the country, Creative Enterprise Australia. They offer a full range of startup support services, but there is actually very little overlap between their commercial activities and the faculty’s teaching.

Not all creative students will start their own businesses after graduation, but these learning opportunities are possibly the most effective way of developing true enterprise and entrepreneurship capabilities, disciplinary agility and students’ professional networks.

(3) Adopt a ‘teaching hospital’ model.

Screen Shot 2015-06-29 at 7.34.33 PMNeither of the previous two models represents a radical departure from what various universities have attempted previously, although they aren’t part of mainsteam teaching practice. Unfortunately, WIL tends to be highly time and resource intensive, and this means that creative faculties have trouble sustaining these kinds of experiments beyond special funded projects. This is where the third model comes in.

The third model involves embedding a creative enterprise into the heart of the creative faculty. This enterprise would provide commercial bundled creative products and services across art and design, digital, marketing, media/communications, performative and professional writing fields. In line with the key areas of growth in the creative economy, these products and services would target the Business-to-Business (B2B) market, but also would be able to support student micro-business development (model 2) and placements directly into non-creative firms (model 1) within it. The creative ‘teaching hospital’ should also encompass a non-profit arm, to support community engagement and social enterprise endeavours. It could support interdiscipinary collaborations with students and staff from other faculties.

In model 3 students learn through increasingly complex enterprise practice, supported and facilitated by academic and industry staff, and through legitimate peripheral participation models. This model has some resemblence to Vocational Education and Training models where, for instance, hospitality students learn through working at the institution’s cafe/restaurant. However, the key difference is in the capability types and complexity, the degree of criticality, theory and other contexualisation, and the emphasis on reflective professional practice. Students also end the program able to cite high level practice, real project outcomes and real clients. I’ve talked more about how learning in this model would work in my paper Educating for digital futures (Bridgstock, 2014).

Model 3 is the most risky of the three, but also has the most potential to yield big results. It requires redesigning the creative faculty around creative enterprise, including hiring industry practitioners and resourcing industry-ready practice. It also involves a radical change in curriculum and pedagogic practice for academic staff. There are also numerous ways that the teaching hospital model doesn’t fit within existing university structures (physical, procedural and policy). Some of these challenges may be surmounted by placing the enterprise to one side of the faculty rather than within it, with the university accrediting and providing qualifications on the basis of the learning experiences offered by the enterprise.

Yes, this is all a bit ‘out there’. I think it’s also the best way to build enriching, relevant learning experiences for creative students who are seeking employment outcomes (and to make a contribution to society and the economy). These models are also very different from mainstream practice in universities, and they have the potential to be highly marketable. In the case of models 2 and 3, there are revenue generation possibilities for the faculty in these models as well.

References

Bridgstock, R. (2014). Educating for digital futures: what the learning strategies of digital media professionals can teach higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, (ahead-of-print), 1-10.

Culkin, N. (2013). Beyond being a student: An exploration of student and graduate start-ups (SGSUs) operating from university incubators. Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, 20(3), 634-649.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Rae, D. (2012). Action learning in new creative ventures. International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, 18(5), 603-623.

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Teaching philosophy

A couple of weeks ago I was tasked with writing a one-page philosophy statement as part of my Higher Education Academy Senior Fellowship* application. Oddly, given that I’ve been researching and teaching in HE for quite a while now, I’ve never had to create one of these before, and I didnt actually know what it should contain. I used my Google-fu and found some instructions (e.g., this), some templates, lists of things to avoid, and some exemplars (this one was a lovely visual representation, I thought). Me being me, I even looked at the academic literature for instructions. I found some variation in requirements by country and discipline, and of course there was also a huge degree of variation by individual (compare the visual one up above to these ones).

In the end I just started writing, hoping to work it all out as I was going. After a couple of drafts I now have a one-page learning and teaching philosophy that I am reasonably happy with (I say ‘reasonably’, because it doesn’t quite get there for me around my core beliefs relating to learning for self actualisation and the humanistic side of things – human potential and so forth). Through the writing process, I realised that I do know exactly what my teaching philosphy is, and it’s actually reflected very consistently in my work.

Phew.

Anyhow, here it is: my learning and teaching philosophy.

I believe that in the 21st century knowledge society, higher education is vitally important to both social and economic well-being and growth. Universities are responsible for teaching high level capabilities that are needed for leadership, innovation and problem solving, all of which are integral to navigating a successful global future. Given this mandate, contemporary university programs must be orientated towards ‘real world’ relevance and application – that is, they must be of use – as well as continuing to support learners to develop disciplinary depth and high level critical capabilities grounded in history, theory and context. Education for relevance and application includes the development of ‘21st century’ skills, including disciplinary agility, enterprise and entrepreneneurship, digital literacies, social network capability, and career/learning self-management, all of which are often sorely lacking in university graduate capability lists and curricula (Bridgstock, 2009; 2014).

It is also incumbent upon us as educators to engage in pedagogic practices that (i) make the most of what we know about ways to maximise student learning; and (ii) to employ the best tools possible (digital or otherwise) to support this learning process. It is not sufficient to excuse poorly thought out transmissive ‘sage on the stage’ (King, 1993) teaching approaches by saying that this is the way we were taught at university, or to cite time and resourcing constraints. Many studies have shown that the best educators are committed to their own ongoing professional learning, and they manage to work within institutional constraints to produce creative and highly effective learning experiences (e.g., Philip, 2015). As a teacher, I aim to embody these characteristics and also to facilitate their development in other teachers.

I believe that the most fundamental task of any teacher in any classroom is to foster the ability and propensity in learners to keep learning for themselves. As such, I am a vocal skeptic of lectures, textbooks and exams, and a staunch advocate for authentic and situated learning, peer learning, problem-based learning, mentoring, enquiry-based learning, and informal learning. These are the ways that people prefer to learn at work and in other places out in the world beyond the university. These strategies enhance productivity, stimulate curiosity and increase depth of engagement (Bridgstock, 2014; Billett, 2009). Employing these strategies in a considered way at university not only fuels joy in learning – it hones students’ abilities to use and keep using these preferred strategies.

Finally, I believe in personalisation of the learning experience, which encompasses recognition of the existing knowledge and capabilities of learners (including knowledge and capabilities acquired through informal learning); accommodating their preferences and needs relating to curriculum, pedagogy and delivery; respecting the diversity in their backgrounds; and providing individualised learning support where needed. Further, education should never be something that is ‘done to’ a learner. Higher education should be an empowering experience for students; they can and should expect to be co-architects and co-constructors of their learning journeys.

Billett, S. (2009). Realising the educational worth of integrating work experiences in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 34(7), 827-843.

Bridgstock, R. (2009). The graduate attributes we’ve overlooked: Enhancing graduate employability through career management skills. Higher Education Research and Development, 28(1), 27-39.

Bridgstock, R. (2014, in press). Educating for digital futures: What the learning strategies of digital media professionals can teach higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International.

King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35.

Philip, R. L. (2015). Caught in the headlights: Designing for creative learning and teaching in higher education. PhD Thesis, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

*the HEA fellowships scheme is a professional development and recognition scheme for higher ed teachers in the UK, but is starting to be used in Australian HE as well. It’s quite a lot of work to put an application together, but I think it’s really worth it, both for recognition of teaching capability and as a developmental process. If you’re interested in the scheme, more information can be found on their website.

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