Employability and student awards
I spent Wednesday in London at the Lifewide Learning event, an event (sort of) dominated by conversations around employability and student awards - and it's these two subjects I'd like to reflect upon.
Starting with student awards… According to the QAA, 75% of universities offer a student/employability/skills award - and 61% of these are managed out of the careers unit.
I was surprised to hear several presentations talk about these awards as being, essentially, the result of studying additional modules accredited by the university. I found this surprising because my own (unthinking) conception was one of much more freedom to demonstrate capability beyond the curriculum... and indeed the institution.
After asking a few questions and trying to make sense of projects I already know of, I have tried to characterise different approaches to student awards. I think there are 4 main types:
1. Fully Integrated
Here the skills and attributes considered worthy of endorsing independently of the degree itself are embedded in the curriculum. The learner might be required to aggregate evidence of these skills, perhaps with a reflective piece to augment the claim.
2. Extended Curriculum
In this model there is a recognition that the skills and attributes deemed important cannot be addressed just through the curriculum and so additional modules are made available to learners who sign up to undertake the award. Completion of the assessed elements of the modules leads to attainment of the award.
3. Catalogue of Opportunity
An award framework is published to learners alongside a list of events, activities and tasks known to provide participants with an opportunity to develop particular skills and experience. Successful completion of a number of these allows the user to aggregate a claim for an award.
4. Lived Learning
As with 3 above, an accreditation framework and assessment criteria are published to learners who can bring to bear any of their lived experience that meets the criteria. This is much more like an APEL/RPL model where your ability to relate the experience, and make sense of it, is key to the claim you make.
Today, there was much more evidence of 1&2 than of 3&4.
Throughout the day there were many references to employability leading some to question its dominance in the lifewide learning conversations. I myself sometimes worry that HE is increasingly tending towards a 'learners as fodder for industry' model. However, as I reflected further it occurred to me that the skills I value in our increasingly large pool of graduates (learn, unlearn, relearn, communicate, collaborate, analyse, solve, enquire, seek etc.) whilst likely to appear in many 'employability lists' are actually also essential skills for simply navigating an increasingly complex and demanding life. So, the skills seemingly sought by employers such as Pebble Learning, are the very skills that will help learners make a success of any route, destination or choice they make.
And finally. There was a very interesting question raised today about whether the accumulation of the skills discussed above need to be verified or validated by an award at all. Some argued that the (knowing or purposeful) development of the skills was reward enough. I like that idea but I also recognise the value of rehearsal and iteration. It would seem to me then, that presenting your case for having attained a particular set or level of skill(s) (and responding to feedback on possible weaknesses or limitations) provides learners with an incredibly valuable opportunity which always ought to be available to them.