Recently, I attended a presentation by Terry Rhodes of AAC&U (Association of American Colleges and Universities). Many things he said struck chords with me, so much so that I decided to rewrite my blog post completely to address one of the compelling ideas presented by Terry.
Firstly, Terry argues that the nature of the degree is changing and so it should. The majority of students study for a degree in the hope that they will be able to obtain a job that will pay them a good salary and has prospects for the future. Historically, maybe a transcript or a degree certificate from a well-respected university was enough to secure that dream job. But that is no longer the case and in today’s competitive market further driven by evidence and accountability employers are asking: “what is the value of these pieces of paper containing grades if students aren’t able to articulate what skills they have and how they are transferable into the world of work?”
If we go back in time to my first degree, my overarching memory is of being lectured to – constantly, for three years – and spending the last few months cramming until the early hours of the morning in an attempt to actually learn enough about what had been said in order to pass my finals. Did this process prepare me for leaving my small rural town, to move to the big city (London, of course) for my graduate job? In a word, no. However, I didn’t fail, I succeeded, as something had prepared me, but I just wasn’t aware of it at the time. Now I’m certain that it was actually what had happened on the periphery – before and during studying: the extra-curricular activities that I was involved in and having mentors who helped me make sense of it all. Terry refers to this activity: sense-making of the curricular and the co-curricular as an essential element of the changing nature of the degree and essential in preparing students for a complex and constantly changing world. Though I didn’t see it at the time, these experiences gave me confidence and a skill set - transferable to the workplace.
Generally speaking, the graduates I have recruited have been great, but I have always been so surprised at the lack of knowledge of what is expected of them in the workplace and the lack of correct preparation for what I expected them to do. In interviews, I became frustrated with the ‘rabbit in the head-lights’ look on so many of their faces when asked a series of competence-based questions. Saddened, I was sure they had the all answers I was looking for, I knew they had many examples to give me – they just hadn’t been prompted to think about them and how to articulate what they knew before.
Although this blog isn’t directly about portfolios, working with our customers Portland State University, I am constantly impressed with their aim to support and encourage ‘portfolio-thinking’. To them portfolio-thinking is focused on giving their students the tool, the framework and the necessary scaffolding so that they can make connections between the curricular and the co-curricular. It is the time and space where they reflect upon and make sense of their learning. To me, including portfolio-thinking in degrees is exactly what will prepare students for their increasingly complex, diverse and competitive future - where studies show they may have up to 14 different jobs before the age of 38, some that don’t even exist today.