Case study 13: I-SEE, Employability Skills, University of Aberdeen
The initiative provides an online resource to extend employability provision for PGT students. I-SEE (Individualised self-assessment to enhance employability) is a compulsory non-credit bearing course utilising the University’s virtual learning environment. Students complete a self-assessment of employability skills which aligns with the Univeristy’s Taught Postgraduate Attributes. Based on their self-assessment, students receive individualised, automated responses with tailored feedback which identifies development areas and signposts appropriate support. During their studies students are required to record and reflect on their progress using an e-portfolio and use this as a prompt list to help identify their own skills and attributes to use within future employment applications.
Employability skills, Taught Postgraduate Attributes, self-assessment, international students, Health Sciences
Describe, briefly, the activity/initiative/practice
I-SEE aimed to devise an online self-awareness employability resource with tailored, detailed feedback and signposting to supportive employability resources, utilising e-portfolios to improve CVs. A selection of students following Taught MSc programmes in the Division of Applied Health Sciences were included in the pilot study as part of the non credit-bearing induction programme (Marais & Perkins, 2012).
A self-rating skills audit was developed on MyAberdeen (University of Aberdeen’s Blackboard-based VLE) utilising the quiz tool. It was based on the HEA employability profile for Health Studies (Rees, Forbes & Kubler, 2007) and the University of Aberdeen’s Postgraduate Attributes. The attributes describe four required characteristics of a University of Aberdeen masters education: to enable taught postgraduates to become academically excellent; critical thinkers and effective communicators, open to learning and personal development, and active citizens. The only exception to self-assessment was the academic English language proficiency assessment which was driven via MyAberdeen, but without automated marking. Programme Coordinators were requested to mark assignments using a standardised rubric which also provided tailored feedback and signposting to resources. Self-rating was required for other communication skills/academic writing (essays, exams, oral and poster presentations, publications, referencing); IT skills (basic word processing, TurnitInUK, track changes, data base search); group work and self-development (identification of strengths and weaknesses). The self-development aspects included completing online psychometric tests and personality typing available to students via Careers Service.
Online and other resources available within the University of Aberdeen were identified. Automated individualised signposting was provided via the feedback on the quiz tool on MyAberdeen according to responses provided by the student. Students were requested to reflect on their progress and asked to upload evidence of development activities onto e-portfolios. They were asked to complete a checklist after 6 months to reflect on identified areas of development, progress made and planned. A template for a UK-style CV as well as supportive documentation in how to articulate these skills was provided.
What is the background/context to the activity/initiative/practice?
There is a proven relationship between learning and employability, in that the skills that facilitate learning such as being able to analyse data, solve complex problems and communicate effectively, can also enhance an individual’s employability. Enhancing students' employability is therefore increasingly being recognised as a priority for Higher Education Institutions, especially within the current economic climate. Employability is defined as ‘a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes - that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy’ (Knight & Yorke, 2006). Although most of the literature pertains to graduates, it is also important for postgraduate programmes to further enhance employability. As self-awareness underpins employability, a strategy of self-assessment through identifying individual strengths and development areas would be appropriate. This would enable students to develop an individualised plan of action to address their identified development needs. Signposting to resources to support this development is essential as well as providing support for reflection and articulation of these skills.
What made/makes it “masters” level?
Enhancing employability is especially important for taught postgraduate programmes where students may have diverse graduate/professional backgrounds and nationalities. This translates into a multiplicity of previous experience and skill levels in terms of key employability competencies, as well as their education and English language proficiency. Most HEIs have induction programmes designed to ease the transition of international students into their new learning environment, which may include a range of social and academic activities as well as information regarding physical and/or online support services. These induction programmes though are generally not individualised or reflective in nature.
Taught postgraduate study also requires a greater depth of engagement compared to undergraduate study and uses a significant range of principal skills and techniques (SCQF Level Decriptors, SCQF 2012). The I-SEE provides tailored and bespoke PGT support to help this distinct group of students to develop and achieve these important Masters level skills and techniques.
What challenges were encountered/overcome - in terms of mastersness - and what lessons were learned that would be helpful to others?
Challenges are two-fold, those related to the teaching staff and those to the students. In terms of teaching staff, it is essential that Programme coordinators are informed of the course and its potential advantages to the students. Their buy-in and engagement is very important. Additional advantages of early identification of problem areas for specific students should be highlighted. The fact that it is an automated process and therefore adds very little to the workload of the coordinator is a good marketing tool. In terms of the students, ensuring engagement is the main challenge. The VLE does though allow for announcements to be sent to students on a regular basis, which improves engagement. Providing specific deadlines which do not interfere with other submission dates seems to be important as well. Focus group discussions are still to be held with students, which may identify further improvement methods. Ultimately this is meant as a reflective and self-awareness activity.
Where to next - in terms of mastersness – if anywhere?
It is anticipated that I-SEE will be extended as a compulsory course for all PGT students in the College of Life Sciences and Medicine and the possibility of incorporating it into the PG research students’ programme will also be investigated.
- Marais, D. & Perkins, J. (2012). Enhancing employability through self-assessment. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, vol 46, pp. 4356-4362. [Online] DOI: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2012.06.254
- Rees, C., Forbes, P. & Kubler, B. (2007). Student employability profiles: A guide for higher education practitioners. Retrieved October 10, 2011, from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ourwork/teachingandlearning/employability
- Knight, P. & Yorke, M. (2006). Employability: Judging and Communicating Achievements. Learning and Employability Series. York: Higher Education Academy.
- SCQF (2012) Level Descriptors . http://www.scqf.org.uk/content/files/SCQF%20Revised%20Level%20Descriptors%20-%20Aug%202012%20-%20FINAL%20-%20web%20version.pdf, http://www.scqf.org.uk/
Author's name, contact details and institution
Dr Debbi Marais, Division of Applied Health Sciences, University of Aberdeen