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Parallel Session 8: Recognising Civic Engagement and the Development of Transversal Skills Outside the Formal Curriculum

04 October 2017

Where does the whole student journey begin? Where does it end? What does it encompass? How do you recognise the accomplishments of students that transcend their academic performance?

What are the skills and competencies higher education institutions should seek to develop? And should these be limited to the curriculum?

And what kinds of transversal skills are employers looking for in graduates?

These were some of the big questions provoking debate during a parallel session at the First European Learning and Teaching Forum in Paris today.

A thematic session hosted by William Kelly, Dean of Teaching and Learning, Dublin City University, Ireland, challenged delegates – academics from all over Europe – to re-think the concept of civic engagement. And to determine the extent to which universities can and should recognise the skills and experiences that students build outside of the curriculum.

Traditionally, universities appraise students’ performance in the primary terms of their academic performance.

Kelly invited delegates to think about the role that universities could – or should – have in encouraging, developing and assessing transversal skills that might transcend their formal academic work. Skills, he said, that might help them bridge the gap between graduation and employment.

“Students today have a more ‘transactional’ relationship with universities – a relationship built on investment in their intellectual development, but also professional development and preparation for professional life beyond university.”

And this is a challenge for higher education.

Acknowledging that civic or transversal skill development is difficult to define, quantify and capture, Kelly shared a framework with delegates to drive discussion and debate.

Participants were asked to consider:

  • Who should we recognise?
  • Why should we recognise?
  • What should we recognise?
  • How might we recognise?

Digital badging

A number of strategies were presented including digital portfolios, ECTS credits, supplemented awards and diploma supplement.

Digital badging was brought up as a new tool being deployed by an increasing number of institutions and systems around the world to spur, assess and reward student engagement, activities and accomplishments that transcend formal education.

“As a means of motivating, scaffolding and capturing the development of transversal skills, badging draws on the principles of gamification: you start to engage in the “game” and you want to get to the next level. It’s a way of motivating learning and signalling achievement. The questions raised of course are what to want to badge, and how you go about badging.”

He shared examples from Deakin University in Australia and York University’s York Award.

“The Deakin Hallmark, the York Award – these initiatives incentivise students to build experience, broaden mind-set and acquire a new set of skills. But they also say so much about the institutions that promote them.”

A group of US-based institutions had identified a range of generic skills to reward, said Kelly, giving currency to the kinds of competencies that might mean something not only to students, but also to employers.

“These include entrepreneurship, creativity, resilience, empathy, collaboration and innovation. Skill acquisition that could be reflected through digital badges and the badges, in turn, shared on CVs and on LinkedIn.”

Delegates voiced feedback and concerns about the role of universities in driving skill uptake beyond formal learning outcomes.

Principal among reservations were whether teachers have the wherewithal or even the time to verify civic engagement as well as curriculum-based learning outcomes. How institutions can define and encourage civic engagement. And whether they could or should take a systematic approach to encouraging civic or transversal skills.

Kelly argued that personal development was “just as significant” as students’ academic development.

He urged delegates to think about how this personal journey could be captured in the context of their own institutions; and what measures could be taken to incentivise, reward and showcase personal development in terms of peer and extracurricular experiences.

Many delegates argued that workplace engagement or experience, built into formal curricula, could be an effective and innovative way of developing a broader range of skills and mind-sets.

Key to this, many argued, was defining a set of learning outcomes that could be measured and assessed.

At the end of the day, the choice of how, why and whether or not to implement recognition schemes and rewards was, of course, down to the choice of individual institutions, Kelly stressed, adding that whatever strategy seemed appropriate, it would be “key to tie it back to the mission of your university.”

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