Embedding employability in tutorials

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Poor attendance at tutorials? Low retention between years 1 and 2? Tail off in lectures post February? Do these challenges sound familiar to you?

Over the last few years the Outdoor team in the Department of Science, Natural Resources & Outdoor Studies have tried a number of ways to address these issues, but it became apparent that we needed a completely different approach than the traditional ‘hunt down the offenders’ or offer a Student Progress Review. Running parallel to this was a complaint by a third year student that we provided no employability opportunities, which was probably the most bizarre comment I’ve heard from an Outdoor student in ten years of being the Principal Lecturer for Outdoor.

Of all the programmes I’ve worked on and led, and staff I’ve line managed, the Outdoor provision is first and foremost geared to employment in the Outdoor Industry beyond all others. It suggested to me, that we needed a more holistic approach to these topics, as I believe they are all interrelated, for surely at the end of the day we are here to educate students to graduate level to help them enter the professions in which they want to work? So I started from the premise of the following:

Good attendance >>>progression >>>> good retention >>>> successful graduation >>>> employment

We discussed these issues at our team Away Days in June and from this devised a system of structured stepped tutorials with an employability agenda running parallel from the moment students walk in the door to the moment they leave. We brainstormed what students regularly talked about in tutorials (those that did turn up to tutorials!), what we felt was important and we set a range of objectives to address by tutorial which covered learning, assessment and employability.

Fiona Boyle and Julie Palmer from LISS also attended and were able to ensure simultaneously we grasped everything there was on offer centrally in terms of student activities and staff support. The system also accommodated transition up through the years focusing on imminent employment in the final year (Table 1).

Table 1: Personal Tutor System
Table 1: Personal Tutor System

Within this scheme we took account of the new Personal Tutorial guidelines issued by Alyson Dickson and took advice from Jess Robinson, Caron Jackson and Esther Jubb. These proved lively meetings and we all came out with a better understanding of tutorials, staff, university and student expectations. This allowed us to devise a series of standardised proformas for each staff member to use as a student progresses which provided prompts of key topics and opportunity for qualitative comments, an example in shown in Figure 1.

The great beauty of these is that they can be adapted to suit unique aspects of different programmes. Students also receive a paper copy explaining the system, which lodges on our Outdoor Students blackboard site along with blank versions of all the proformas. Completed ones are held electronically by a Programme Admin team, this helps with reference writing later on too!

Figure 1: Example of a tutorial proforma
Figure 1: Example of a tutorial proforma

As noted above, we were also keen to fit employability into the tutorial system. So for each cohort, we have devised a series of key departmental and university activities in which students may engage (Table 2). In this respect we are very fortunate in Outdoors in that employers desire ‘National Governing Body Awards’ (NGBs) and thus this provides a clear set of CPD courses to run parallel to our degrees.

Nevertheless, these require certain technical competencies in various outdoor adventure pursuits supported by UPK derived in part from our degree programmes, some of which are students are not quite ready to be assessed. In response we have Upskill sessions on Wednesday afternoons, run by our two Grade 6 Outdoor Demonstrators who support the practical elements of our main programmes.

Table 2: Employability activities
Table 2: Employability activities

Whilst it is early days, we have only been running the system since September, already we have seen increased student engagement in them asking for tutorials rather than being dragged to them!  Of course, it’s not all been plain sailing, some students refuse to engage, but as we all know HE is a two-way street, those that do attend will hopefully enhance their degree and job prospects, those that do not …

The other issue we have is that tutorials remain blocked for entry onto the timetable.  We believe this is a major issue that needs to be addressed, for if it’s on the timetable, students feel more obliged to attend as it looks more formal. Or am I very old fashioned? I’ll let you know next year.

If you want to see the entire set of documents please get in contact with Lois at lois.mansfield@cumbria.ac.uk

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