2012 How do you grow yourself? A study of students’ learning behaviours and matters relating to personal development in a module on career management

Richard McCarter and Emma Heron

This session examines student and staff experience of personal development through an employability and career management skills module. The module covers 2 semesters and the first semester deals with theoretical aspects of work and the workplace combined with reflection on learners’ work related experiences. The second semester (from which this paper is largely derived) focuses on career management strategies and is designed to be practically-based, raising students’ levels of self awareness in relation to their own career management needs and necessitating reflection and action on personal attributes.  The student is thus challenged on many different levels: pedagogically through less conventional delivery of teaching and assessment tasks and a heavy emphasis on reflection; personally through the need to embrace the idea of a curriculum that is not an easy fit with their own definition of academic study;  professionally, through the need to accept the reality of an increasingly unpredictable and competitive employment future.  For the teacher of career management, these challenges translate into a polarity of student response; a core of ‘converted’ (where engagement with the module, including the assessment task, is regarded as positive and worthwhile) versus a group of largely unconvinced sceptics, where attitude, attendance and reflection are influenced, and where engagement is at best reluctant, at worst non-existent.

An evaluation was conducted to gain a broad view of student experience, with a questionnaire delivered in a mid-semester lecture, followed by one to one structured interviews with ‘converts’ and ‘sceptics’ alike (the latter through snowballing techniques in order to capture the views of non-attendees).   Submitted webfolios by the students have also been evaluated. One-to -one discussions with teaching staff have been carried out.

The results contribute to a debate for practitioners and academics on the aspects of embedding employability into the curriculum and teaching career management.  Encouraging students to confront, realise and evaluate overtly their own ‘deficiencies’ and/or strengths through structured and less conventional lecture and seminar formats,  class/shared activities and a sense of being challenged, demands personal learning .  Does it work? How does reflection help or hinder?

Questions raised in interviews and data collected from e-portfolios and the module evaluation draw on 3 key areas –

  • an increase of students’ self-awareness of employability either through the  module activities and by undertaking the assessment
  • how reflection and reflective practice augmented students’ understanding of personal development
  • tutors’ and students’ perceptions of the emphasis on work related experiences, lectures and seminar contact time, rather than content delivered through technology (Blackboard and Pebblepad) 

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Dacre Pool, L. and Sewell, P. (2007) The Key to Employability. Developing a practical model of graduate employability. Education and Training. 49 (4), pp277- 289. Available from: http://www.uclan.ac.uk/information/uclan/employability/careeredge.php

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A4 – (FU37, FU05) 11.00