By Dr Maxine Swingler & Dr Dickon Copsey
The Graduate Attributes Roadmap compiles case studies of the successful integration of graduate attributes and employability into the curriculum. These case studies offer practical advice to teachers in any discipline who are interested in incorporating similar activities into their teaching. In this blog and infographics, we present two case studies from the roadmap on the themes of raising general awareness, reflection and the development of employability skills, with links to teaching materials and examples of students’ work. We also invite the TILE Network to contribute a case study on embedding employability skills in their teaching. Case studies will be published as a University of Glasgow LEADS good practice resource.
The University of Glasgow’s most recent Learning and Teaching Strategy places “professional development and skills development” at its core and aspires to achieve this through the embedding of “work-related, professionally recognised learning opportunities for students” (University of Glasgow, 2021). This emphasis on skills, employability and an applied curriculum aligns broadly with HE sector’s increasing focus on embedding employability into all learning and teaching policies and practices to equip graduates to successfully transition on graduation and throughout their lives (HEA, 2015; Tibby and Norton, 2020). The motivation for this curriculum change stems in part from a learning and teaching pedagogy which recognises the value of applied, experiential and active learning (Lewis & Williams, 1994; Moon, 2004), and in part from a broader labour market shift, which has seen the skills needs of employers rapidly evolving (Schwab, 2017).
The vehicle employed to affect this curriculum change at the University of Glasgow is our Graduate Attributes Framework (University of Glasgow, 2010), which encompasses all of the core attributes developed through our academic education and broader university experience. This framework is a lens through which students, academics and employers can assess the value of our academic and extra-curricular student experience. In spite of this aim, evidence from employers suggests that further support from universities is needed for students to effectively market and evidence their skills (Artess et al., 2017; Green et al., 2009). It also suggests that engaging students in employability activities can be challenging (Bradley et al, 2019). Having achieved a widespread adoption of the graduate attributes (GAs) within our course and programme intended learning outcomes, our focus now is on bringing these attributes to life for students within the curriculum. The Graduate Attributes Roadmap is our first attempt to identify those best practice examples, that have achieved this goal.
The Graduate Attributes Roadmap focuses on the practicalities of integrating employability into our teaching through raising general awareness through reflection, development of transferable skills and subject specific work-related learning. One size does not fit all, and the case studies described here are intended to be flexible and adaptable for your teaching context and subject discipline.
Case Study 1: Graduate Attributes Reflection
In a rapidly changing graduate workplace, skills sought by employers need to be transferable across different careers (Barrie & Pizzica, 2019; Morrison-Coulthard, 2016). With this in mind, we aimed to provide students with opportunities to research their career options, reflect on their graduate skills and develop relevant goals in the form of short reflective activities that can be adapted for lectures, practical classes, tutorials or delivered online (see infographic 1, PDF version of infographic with active links).
In this example students reflected on the University of Glasgow Graduate Attributes, but the skills used in the reflection can be adapted to any subject discipline or institutional framework. Students completed an initial reflection and SMART goal setting activity, then had the opportunity to discuss their reflective practice in class and receive formative feedback. The assessment criteria required deeper reflection, linking goals to career aspirations, reflecting on progress, and analysing what they had learned in the process. In these examples of the reflective assessments a sense of ownership in applying their learning to personal and professional development is evident, along with meta-cognition on the process of learning, both important aspects of employability (Moon, 2004, Yorke, 2004).
Case Study 2: Volunteering Reflection
Advantages of a work placements are well known, but it can be challenging to establish placements with employers and offer flexibility to accommodate students’ career aspirations (Jackson et al., 2016; Moores & Reddy 2012). In this case study we scaffolded reflection on experience gained in part-time and voluntary work in the context of students’ career goals. Students focus on critical incidents or crucial events (e.g., a difficult situation, conflict) and explain its’ relevance, what they have learned from it, and how they will change their future practice (see infographic 2, PDF version of infographic with active links). The activities can be used flexibly and online, as a discussion task, a formative or summative assessment.
Students completed an initial reflection on a critical incident experienced at work or while volunteering. In class we encourage students to articulate their reflections, ask questions, voice concerns and uncertainties and they receive formative feedback on their initial reflection. Using a reflective writing framework (Gibbs, 1988; Johns & Graham, 1996) students developed their initial reflection into a reflective assessment which contextualised their experience within career ambitions and professional development planning. Examples of the reflective assessment demonstrate students’ personal development as critically reflective learners across a diverse work experiences (Barton, Bates & O’Donovan, 2019; Fowler, 2008).
Evaluation & Conclusion
These case studies form part of a professional skills course for honours and PGT psychology students and the reflective activities have been disseminated in psychology and other subject disciplines (Barr & Rolinska, 2018; Swingler, 2020). Evaluation of the GAs reflection reported a small increase in students’ self-efficacy in and awareness of GAs after engaging in the reflective activity in the short term (Swinger & Hendry, in press). Students’ overall satisfaction in the quality of the course increased by 30% in 2020-21 and this was partly attributed to the introduction of formative feedback on the reflective activities. Students commented: “I enjoyed learning about the importance of reflection and about the skills needed to carry me forward in my career.” “I thought the formative exercises were really useful and good feedback opportunities.”
Flexibility is key in the reflective assessments, in that students have the freedom to reflect on the skills and experience that align with their interests and that teachers can adapt the activities to their context. It can be challenging for students in the sciences to adopt a reflective writing style (Marsh, 2004), and providing a framework, exemplars and opportunities for feedback can foster experiential learning (Coulson & Harvey, 2013).
You can find more case studies in the graduate attributes roadmap and we are expanding the roadmap as comprehensive resource for all institutions. If you are currently embedding employability in your teaching, and you would like your practice to feature in the roadmap get in touch.
- Artess, J., Hooley, T., & Mellors-Bourne, R. (2017). Employability: A Review of the Literature 2012-2016. Advance HE. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledgehub/employability-review-literature-2012-2016
- Barr & Rolinska (2018). Reflective class exercises. Graduate Attributes Roadmap. https://www.gla.ac.uk/myglasgow/leads/goodpractice/graduateattributes/cs_mb/
- Barrie, S. C., & Pizzica, J. (2019). Reimagining university curriculum for a disrupted future of work: partnership pedagogy. In J. Higgs, W. Letts, & G. Crisp (Eds.), Education for Employability (Volume 2): Learning for Future Possibilities (pp. 143-152). https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004418707_012
- Barton, E., Bates, E. & O’Donovan, R. (2019). ‘That extra sparkle’: students’ experiences of volunteering and the impact on satisfaction and employability in higher education. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 43(4), 453-466. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2017.1365827
- Bradley, A., Quigley, M., & Bailey, K. (2021) How well are students engaging with the careers services at university? Studies in Higher Education, 46:4, 663-676, https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2019.1647416
- Coulson, D. & Harvey, M. (2013) Scaffolding student reflection for experience-based learning: a framework, Teaching in Higher Education, 18:4, 401-413 https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2012.752726
- Fowler, J. (2008). Experiential learning and its’ facilitation. Nurse Education Today, 28, pp 427-433 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2007.07.007
- Gibbs, G. (1988). Learning by doing: a guide to teaching and learning methods. Birmingham: SCED.
- Green, W., Hammer, S. & Star, C. (2009) Facing up to the challenge: why is it so hard to develop graduate attributes?, Higher Education Research & Development, 28:1, 17-29, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360802444339
- Higher Education Academy (2015). Framework for embedding employability in higher education. Advance HE. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/framework-embedding-employability-higher-education
- Jackson, D. & Bridgstock, R. (2020). What actually works to enhance graduate employability? The relative value of curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular learning and paid work. Higher Education, 81, 723-739. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00570-x
- Johns, C. and Graham, J. (1996) Using a Reflective Model of Nursing and Guided Reflection. Nursing Standard 11 (2) 34-38.
- Lewis, L. H., & Williams, C. J. (1994). Experiential learning: Past and present. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 62, 5-16.
- Moon, J. (2004). Reflection and employability. AdvanceHE. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/reflection-and-employability
- Moores, E. & Reddy, P. (2012). No regrets? Measuring the career benefits of a psychology placement year. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(5), 535-554. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2011.553668
- Morrison Coulthard, L. (2016). BPS Careers Destinations (Phase 3) Survey 2016. British Psychological Society. https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/bps.org.uk/files/News/News%20%20Files/Careers%20destination%20survey.pdf.
- Schwab, K. (2017). The fourth industrial revolution. Portfolio Penguin. https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/304/304971/the-fourth-industrial-revolution/9780241300756.html
- Swingler, M.V. (2020). Embedding employability in the psychology undergraduate curriculum. [Continuing Professional Development Webinar]. British Psychological Society. https://www.bps.org.uk/events/embedding-employability-psychology-undergraduate-curriculum
- Swingler, M.V. & Hendry, G. (in press). Embedding reflection on graduate attributes in the psychology curriculum: The impact on self-efficacy and the perceived value of graduate attributes. Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education https://www.pestlhe.org/index.php/pestlhe Pre-print: https://psyarxiv.com/m3c69/
- Tibby, M. & Norton, S. (2020) Essential frameworks for enhancing student success: embedding employability A guide to the Advance HE Framework. Advance HE. https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/essential-frameworks-enhancing-student-success-embedding-employability
- University of Glasgow (2021). Learning and Teaching Strategy 2021-25. University of Glasgow Senate Office. https://www.gla.ac.uk/media/Media_775156_smxx.pdf
Dr Maxine Swingler is a Lecturer in the School of Psychology, University of Glasgow and has been teaching since 2003, currently leading the MSc (conversion) programme in psychology and teach qualitative research methods and professional skills. Her pedagogical research interests focus on embedding graduate attributes within the curriculum, and she has completed research for the QAA Scotland on graduate skills, led workshops on embedding employability in the curriculum and developed good practice resources in employability and group work. She also works with the British Psychological Society (BPS) Division of Academics Researchers and Teachers (DART-P) and BPS Scottish Branch in organising conferences and CPD events for teachers and researchers in psychology.
Dr Dickon Copsey, the College of Social Science Employability Officer for the University of Glasgow, has been leading the CoSS employability team since 2009 and has established innovative curricular and co-curricular employability initiatives which support students to reflect on and develop their broader transferable skills. Since 2010, his flagship Graduate Skills Programme has been supporting approximately 300 students per year across the College of Social Sciences to reflect on and articulate the key skills and graduate attributes that will facilitate their entry into rewarding careers. In 2012, he founded the ILM certificated Professional Skills Programme, which works with approximately 400 students per year to develop their professional skills and workplace readiness. The founding principle of the Employability Office has been to put students at the centre of both development and delivery of their skills initiatives.