Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Academy Horizons Reading Group: Meeting 1

The Caledonian Academy Reading Group met for the first time on March the 29th. The aim of this group is to encourage blue skies thinking that will support research and scholarship in learning and teaching. We plan to hold monthly reading events discussing key articles on contemporary issues in learning and teaching.

The topic of our first meeting was Workplace Learning and Implications for Universities. We discussed a paper by Prof. Michael Eraut titled “Early career learning at work and its implications for universities”. The paper outlines and discusses findings of a study of the mid-career learning of professionals, technicians and managers in the health, engineering and business sectors funded by ESRC’s TLRP research programme on The Learning Society . This is followed by a discussion of the findings of a recently completed longitudinal study of the Early Career Learning at Work of newly qualified nurses, graduate engineers and trainee chartered accountants. The following questions are addressed: 1) What is being learned? 2) How it is being learned? 3) What factors affect the level and direction of learning efforts? Finally the paper discusses the implications of these findings and other related research for learning in higher education.

More than 20 colleagues from across the GCU and Strathclyde University joined the discussion. Here is a brief summary of what we talked about:

  • Is higher education (HE) able to replicate the workplace? How do HE and workplace fit together? Not all students end up in the specified occupational discipline. Should we develop generic skills that can be applied in professional settings?
  • What is the role of HE then? What are our students’ expectations? What are staff perceptions of their role? A pilot study is being carried out at GCU to look at solutions for our and other institutions.
  • Personal Development Plan (PDP) – will students reflect on why they are in a university rather than just focusing on the subject they are studying? Work-based learning can make this link perhaps, but time for reflection is limited, especially with regards to what they can take to the workplace. Quality of feedback is essential, e.g. exam scripts not given back or given back too late. PDP could be a bridge, but must be taken seriously – and this is not happening at the moment. Can inculcate criticality – go beyond understanding i.e. move to double loop learning and see relevance of applying theory to benefit workplace performance. How can we make analysis and reflection skills seen to be relevant by students?
  • Student involvement – consult them on the content and the relevance of this to other subjects they are taking.
  • MyCaledonian should becomes MySpace/UTube? Build in opportunities to include these in our modules and link to the content.
  • What is being taught at University – traditionally, focus is on content. Yet significant amount of content is no longer applicable or out of date by the time students leave (someone suggested the concept of “knowledge half life”). Universities should encourage learning to learn – and these are the skills that employers too want. Academic snobbery re content – need to stand back and offer opportunities for student to reflect on transferable skills. Teaching engineering at GCU is moving away from being content driven. It is challenging and requires major change. Professional bodies influence on retaining focus on content – or are they the excuse?
  • HE is now differentiated and student body more diverse yet Teaching and Learning approaches have not yet changed overly.
  • Student profiles are a factor that needs to be considered – for example, in case of first generation students, there might be low level of preparation i.e. no family networks, advice, etc to rely upon. How can our student build social capital? A GCU project is investigating this currently.
  • Employers are raising concerns over decreased quality of graduate intake especially in technical disciplines (the quality is dropping in their perception). They are using the concept of ‘time to competence’ for graduates entering employment – which in some companies is now estimated to be at 5 to 6 years! This is more than the time it takes to educate at a university. Is this due to lack of industry engagement with HEIs? Some initiatives, i.e. Leitch report in the UK propose to give industry a bigger say in education/training.
  • But does industry know what it needs? Do HEIs inform what is on offer e.g. through work placements?
  • National economy and industry sector profile don’t always require higher order learning skills, e.g. call centres.
  • Eraut’s paper is weak in relation to analysis of HE teacher and manager perspectives and related organisational dimensions.

Overall, an interesting and stimulating discussion - and we hope to see you at our future meetings!

1 comment:

Celeste said...

Good for people to know.