By Narissa Lewis
‘Curriculum Transformation Drivers’ was one of three key themes at the 2017 HERDSA conference held in Sydney in June 2017. If you’re working in higher education, you’d know that employability is a key reason for curriculum transformation and the conference featured a host of workshops and seminars on this topic. Employability is complex and derives from four main areas: Career Identity, Personal Adaptability, Social Capital and Human Capital (Fugate, Kinicki and Ashforth, 2004). How then do we develop employability of our students when it is so complex? This was the focus of the ‘Pedagogies of Employability’ seminar (Susan Geertshuis, Narissa Lewis, Sean Sturm, Rob Wass, Patricia Hubbard) which emphasised re-thinking a curriculum which centres on preparing students to ‘know more’ with the ambition to transform it into one that prepares students to ‘be more’. Over 30 delegates from Australasian universities attended the seminar.
Susan began with an overview of common graduate capabilities and attributes. Oftentimes the capabilities and attributes associated with ‘knowing more’ are easy to forget, quickly become outdated and may be irrelevant once graduates enter the workforce. On the other hand, capabilities and attributes associated with ‘being more’ are difficult to forget, last a lifetime, can be applied in multiple contexts and are, therefore, more useful to students.
Susan expanded on the continuum and suggested that capabilities and attributes that focus on ‘knowing more’ are mostly easy to teach whereas those that focus on ‘being more’ are more difficult to teach. These findings come from workshops and interviews with academics who feel overwhelmed as they are faced with the responsibility of developing employability capabilities and attributes in addition to delivering discipline specific content and skills. They realise that the shift towards teaching sustainable capabilities means a shift in the way they teach. But what that shift should be or how they should bring it about is unclear.
Through focus groups and interviews, we’ve identified that the single most important challenge staff feel they face is not having a single and simple pedagogical model to guide their teaching. At this point in the seminar, Susan presented the 4Es of Employability model. The model has four teaching principles which are the need to:
- Excite students about their learning;
- Enable students to explore new ideas and acquire foundational concepts;
- Provide challenging but secure opportunities so learners extend and consolidate their knowledge;
- And to devise ways for students to exhibit their learning in authentic and contextually meaningful ways and so demonstrate an ability to transfer their learning.
With the model presented, participants were formed into four groups, assigned an ‘E’ and were tasked with providing at least one or two examples of teaching practices that relate to their ‘E’. The ‘Exhibit’ group gave a great example about a learning activity that also enabled ‘Excitement’ and ‘Exploration’. Colin Jevons from Monash University shared an example that his colleague Peter Wagstaff uses in his teaching. Marketing students at Monash University were tasked with creating a video that ‘exhibited’ their understanding of marketing and were only given one second to do this. The videos were then combined into a montage. This project prompted students to present their conceptions of marketing in real-world contexts and it also fostered excitement and exploration of the conceptual dimensions of the topic.
Professor Dawn Bennett who leads the national Developing Employability project in Australia had this to say about the workshop:
Employability is one of the most complex challenges of our times, both within higher education and the labour market. The main barriers for the lecturers charged with its development are consistently threefold: lack of time, lack of resources, and lack of expertise. Geertshuis et al condensed the entire problem into four Es through which educators and students can progress from a focus on knowing to a focus on being. There’s nothing new about these concepts, per se: excite, explore, extend and exhibit have their roots deep within developmental theory. The novelty of the team’s approach comes rather from their ability to engage and excite everyone in a strategy that is both simple and effective. Why does it work? Drawing on the team’s post, three aspects stand out.
- First, the 4Es model prompts students to reorient their thinking in real-world contexts.
- Second, the project and its team foster excitement and exploration of employability, leading to authentic and agentic engagement.
- Third, the team inspire people to unearth simple but impactful practices from within their own experience and interest. These move students from a focus on ‘knowing more’ to one on ‘being more’.
For me, though, the most impressive aspect of the entire project is the uncanny ability of each team member to bring employability to life within a simple framework that everyone can understand. This has to be the key to extending its reach across people, programmes, contexts and institutions.
The seminar gave participants an opportunity to unearth simple but impactful practices that they or others have implemented. These practices can be replicated in other contexts and are just small steps that focus on moving students from ‘knowing more’ to ‘being more’.