Thursday, May 23, 2013

Digital Literacies for Employability

I am pleased to announce that Mark Goodwin and I have been funded by the UK Higher Education Academy under the Digital Literacies in the Disciplines scheme for the following project.

Digital Literacies for Employability

Digital literacy is an essential transferable skill and some have argued that it should be placed above knowledge work from an employer perspective (Littlejohn, A., Beetham, H., & McGill, L. (2012). Learning at the digital frontier: a review of digital literacies in theory and practice. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(6): 547-556). Digital literacies have a life-wide impact which is not limited to either the academic or the employment domain. Developing critical and evaluation skills results in sought-after and adaptable employees. Yet digital literacy is not simply about learning from content online this represents a deficit model of education (frequently practiced) rather than skills development. Although there is no universally accepted definition of digital literacy, the European Commission defines it as the confident and critical use of ICT for work, leisure, learning and communication and JISC defines it as those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society: for example, the skills to use digital tools to undertake academic research, writing and critical thinking; as part of personal development planning; and as a way of showcasing achievements.

Digital literacies can be thought of in the following hierarchical framework:
Digital Literacies

Competencies are easily measured. Is a student (or an academic) capable of sending an email attachment, or using statistical software, for example? Skills are more subtle and less easy to quantify - keyboard skills, for example (hugely important and almost always overlooked), or multimedia authoring such as producing high-quality digital images or video. But the true life-wide benefit comes from the highest level of digital literacy managing online portfolios of achievement and online identity, and augmenting the taught curriculum with a rich range of external sources. Higher education has done a poor job of inculcating this higher level literacy in comparison to the baseline and more measureable competencies (Littlejohn et al., 2012). Academic staff - themselves not trained in these areas - are not best placed to lead this type of personal development student-centred approaches are called for.

This project takes a student-led approach to the development of digital literacies by embedding digital literacy development in personal development. Students will focus on the development of peer engagement with reusable digital objects portraying employability scenarios based on fictional but realistic case studies - Career Plan A versus Plan B, for example. In the process, they will also develop many other latent capacities to strengthen their employability skills portfolio, such as time management, communication and collaborative skills, and digital competencies. Working in close partnership with academic staff within the School of Biological Sciences, the student team will develop case studies on the Xerte platform portraying student career planning and choices, giving first and second year students an overview of what lies ahead of them and the skills they need to gain in order to achieve their desired outcomes. Importantly, the scenarios will allow the participants to explore the development of a clear career focus alongside alternative options (a Plan B). This fits neatly within existing employability training within the School of Biological Sciences, but extends the current programme by the introduction of a peer-to-peer student-led element. This approach has been highly successful at other institutions, e.g. the digital literacies student champions project at the University of Southampton. By participating in this project, student digital literacies will be enhanced through both the production of online employability resources and through student partnerships with academic staff and other related roles (for example, learning technologists in the School of Biological Sciences and beyond through participation in the University of Leicester Learning Technology Advisory Group).

Participating students will build a portfolio of evidence through using a wide range of digital tools ranging from email and advanced search engine use through multimedia authoring and professional engagement with social media for dissemination to a wide audience across the University and beyond. All outputs from this project will be freely available online via a Creative Commons licence. Although similar work based on career case studies has been highly successful at other institutions, these resources are not publicly available (Myers, L., Gibson, F. & Dallison, K. CASEwork: Careers attributes and skills for employability through case based learning. HEA STEM Conference, 2013). The ethos of this project is that development of digital literacy and employability skills will be enhanced by the knowledge that the participants are working in the public sphere and aiming for the widest possible deployment of their outputs.

Participating students will benefit in a number of ways:
  • Development of high level digital literacy skills including communication and project management skills, directly relevant to their own employability.
  • Development of their employability skills portfolio either independently or as part of the Leicester Award for Employability

To avoid exploitation of the student workforce, participating students will also be offered limited financial compensation for their time.

Experience of applicants
The academic team leading the project has a great deal of experience in training students to use digital technologies and in guiding students through employability decision making. The core team will be supported by learning technologists from the School of Biological Sciences and beyond as necessary, and from the University of Leicester Career Development Service.

Dr Alan Cann leads numeracy and IT skills training in the School of Biological Sciences and has undertaken research in this area for many years. His recent publications include:
Wright, F., White, D., Hirst, T. & Cann, A. (2013) Visitors and Residents: mapping student attitudes to academic use of social networks. Learning, Media and Technology.
Badge, J.L., Saunders, N.F.W. & Cann, A.J. (2012) Beyond marks: new tools to visualise student engagement via social networks. Research in Learning Technology 20: 16283.
Cann, A.J. & Badge, J. (2011) Reflective Social Portfolios for Feedback and Peer Mentoring. Leicester Research Archive. 
Cann, A., K. Dimitriou, and T. Hooley. (2011) Social media: A guide for researchers. Research Information Network.

Alan Cann also has many years experience of developing and managing successful websites. All of the websites he currently manages run on virtual XAMPP stacks running in the cloud. These include the highly popular MicrobiologyBytes website, AoB Blog, and the innovative SciReadr project. Cloud based computing is the greenest solution to provision of online resources and is essential in order to avoid costly investment in local hardware.

Dr Mark Goodwin leads the Employability Programme in the School of Biological Sciences, which has attracted funding from a range of sources including the HEA. The University's Career Development Service has adopted the Programme as a model intervention for their interaction with academic programmes, allowing them to work with employers and teaching staff on a structured set of initiatives as an integral part of the curriculum, and aspects of the approach have already been adopted by a number of other Schools and Colleges at the University of Leicester and other HEIs. Mark Goodwin is currently working with Nathan Pike, Discipline Lead for Biosciences at the HEA, on a review of employability initiatives with supporting resources that will act as an evidence-based guide for the sector. He also has experience of developing online resources, as lead for the Virtual Genetics Education Centre, which was recognised in the Jorum teaching and Learning Awards 2011. We intend that the proposed student-led case studies project will be disseminated in the same way, as well as by traditional reports, peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations - in addition to the work that the student team will do to promote the public-facing online resources. Recent publications:
Goodwin, M, Ademe, G, Pennington, M, Bartle, C and Jackson, P (2011) Engaging students, staff and employers in enhancing graduate impact: Tourism Management at the University of Gondar , Chapter 2 in Patsy Kemp and Richard Atfield (eds) Enhancing Graduate Impact in Business and Management, Hospitality, Leisure, Sport, Tourism, Newbury, Threshold Press, pp.9 20.
Goodwin, M and Lawrence, K (2011) Identifying and developing student aspirations: the role of the personal tutor , Proceedings of the Effective Learning in the Biosciences Conference: Equipping Students for the 21st Century, Leeds, UK Centre for Bioscience, p36.

Purpose and outcomes of proposed work
To be successful in managing the transition from undergraduate programmes to employment or further study, students need to start the process of career planning including the acquisition of relevant experience and evidence early in their studies. Our prior work has developed a coherent Employability Programme for undergraduates on a range of degree programmes in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Leicester. The programme involves a series of staged interventions:

Year 1 February: Student-Intentions survey and Student-Destinations analysis
Data used to inform:
June: Year 1 Intentions after Graduation event (research and planning)
- intentions, destinations and careers
- what is necessary in a successful application
- what you can do over the next year to prepare (and the support available)
- networking with employers and admissions tutors

Year 2 Follow-up activities and support in preparation for:
June: Year 2 Careers in Biosciences event (planning and execution)
- skills matrix for degree programmes
- application strategy
- CVs, applications, interviews and assessment centres
- networking with employers and admissions tutors

Year 3 Focused sessions and support
Focused sessions to support applications (with support from personal tutors and alumni)

Delayed decision making can have disastrous consequences for career outcomes. By engaging students in career planning and the necessary skills acquisition as early as possible in their higher education career we are seeking to achieve more favourable outcomes. The project will continue this approach but extend the initiative by developing a student-led peer to peer element which does not presently exist and would not be possible to develop without the support requested.

A Student Employability Team (12 members at present) has been recruited from current Year 2 students. It is intended that this team of enthusiastic volunteers will form the nucleus of the student-led team who will undertake the proposed project. In addition, this team will roll over to become the Year 3 Student Employability Team, who will work with the new Year 2 Team to provide a view of employability preparation across the curriculum. There is some online support for our students, which this project will complement. The Careers After Biological Sciences material consists of alumni experience of various bioscience-related careers. Student-developed case studies developed as part of this project will fit neatly alongside these existing online resources. By building on to existing employability structures we will be able to achieve rapid development of this new project and, importantly, sustainability of the initiative and resources produced after the period of HEA funding has ended.

We intend to inform the Student Employability Teams of our plans for the project as part of the June 2013 Year 2 Careers in Biosciences event and to encourage them to start preparing ideas and holding discussions over the summer so that the construction of resources on the Xerte platform can begin quickly in September 2013. Dr Cann will install the Xerte Online Toolkit and prepare training resources for student participants such as any additional documentation required and screen capture how-to videos over the summer.

May 2013: Outcome of bid.
June 2013: Announcement and initial discussions with student participants at the Year 2 Careers in Biosciences event.
August 2013: Installation of Xerte Online Toolkit and prepare training resources for student participants.
September 2013 - December 2013: Production of employability case studies and
January 2014 - March 2014: Final case studies and impact analysis of project (student-led evaluation).
April 2014: Final report and papers written.
Subsequent years: Online resources will remain publicly available for a minimum of three years, available for download and dissemination via the Xerte platform.

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