News

Employability in the curriculum: career thinking and the classroom

This ‘Employability in the curriculum’ blog series is brought to you by the Faculty Employability Team at the Careers Service. These blogs are designed to give you practical advice and ideas to get started with enhancing how your curriculum prepares students for their future success.

If you’ve been following this blog series you should now have plenty of ideas about surfacing employability, developing students’ skills and providing opportunities for real-world learning ‘in the classroom’. If you’ve missed any, you can of course still peruse the whole series at your leisure.

So now onto the important final step: ensuring students can connect all of this with where they want to be in the future, so that they are able to explore career options, recognise the applicability of their skills in the wider context, and successfully secure opportunities. This is essentially the process of tying everything together and making sense of it all. In the Careers Service we call it ‘career thinking’. 

Given its importance, encouraging and facilitating career thinking authentically within the curriculum is the focus of this final post in the series. So what does it look like in practice?

Support real-world connections

Real-world learning was the focus of our fourth blog post – and getting another mention here as it’s one of the best ways to encourage students to reflect on possible career options. In practice this could look like:

  • Using real world examples to show how knowledge or methods studied can be applied in industry, or connecting your discipline to current societal challenges
  • Inviting external speakers to provide a professional context, or share their career journey
  • Encouraging exploration of subject interests beyond the classroom, such as related volunteering or work experience opportunities (students can search on myopportunities)
  • Share relevant labour market information or encourage students to explore this themselves –  our LMI webpage is a good place to start. 

Provide opportunities to reflect

Students need meaningful, regular opportunities to reflect and articulate their knowledge, skills and attributes, to then identify where they might apply these. Reflection is key to the personal development pillar of the curriculum framework, as well as being an important skill in itself – self-awareness is highly sought after by employers, and also underpins the lifelong learning and development needed for a successful career.

These are simple ways to build opportunities to reflect into your units:

  • Live pair or group discussion during a synchronous teaching session
  • A discussion board thread or padlet exercise
  • Reflective blog posts, podcasts or short videos at the end of a unit
  • Incorporating into assessment – a short reflective ‘appendix’ to an assessment
  • Individual Personal Development Plans, or portfolios.

How to support students to do it well:

It’s not always easy getting students to reflect – and if we are honest it’s something most of us continue to struggle with throughout our careers! However, here are a few tips to encourage your students (and possibly you!):

  • Give opportunities to practice and develop reflective habits. Short but frequent opportunities to reflect work well.
  • Provide guidance and support: make expectations clear and consider providing examples
  • Communicate the benefits of reflection for their development and progress.
  • Explain the link with their future career – remind them that self-awareness is a skill sought after by employers, and that reflective practice is expected in professional contexts
  • Provide a range of reflection opportunities – recognise different learning styles and preferences and offer flexibility and variety.

Questions you could use: 

Here are some example questions – select according to the task and stage of study of your students:

  • What skills and attributes have you developed / demonstrated?
  • Which skills and attributes has this unit / task / assessment highlighted for you to develop further?
  • What went well for you? What do you think you could have done differently to enhance your performance / contribution?
  • How could you further develop your skills – in your academic studies, or beyond?
  • How could you use your skills and attributes beyond your degree?
  • In what fields or professional contexts will you be able to apply your strengths?
  • What academic knowledge and interests would you like to explore further beyond the classroom? How could you do this – through work experience, volunteering, or your future plans?

For more ideas on interesting ways to incorporate reflection into your teaching, take a look at BILT’s active learning infographic.

Encourage them to go beyond their studies

Our final recommendation is to encourage students to go beyond their studies and make the most of the other opportunities at university to develop themselves. Whether it’s work experience, volunteering, connecting with alumni, or skill development and training opportunities, going beyond the classroom will both help students progress in their career thinking – and also often enriches their studies too.

The Careers Service is here to help students make the most of their time at university – so please do encourage them to connect with us.

Let’s continue the conversation

We hope you’ve enjoyed our blog series as much as we’ve enjoyed writing it. We’d love to continue the conversation. As always please do share your comments below to help us continue to develop our advice and guidance. How are you already enhancing employability through your units or programmes?  What else do you need advice or inspiration on?

Would you like to discuss anything further? Get in touch!

The Faculty Employability Team works with an academic Careers and Employability Lead in each school. We can help you to realise and enhance the potential of your programmes to develop students’ employability. If you’d like an individual conversation, get in touch with Ellen (Faculty Employability Manager) at ellen.grace@bristol.ac.uk.  You can also find out who your Careers and Employability Lead and the designated team member for your school here.


News

Evaluating your teaching practice

Evaluation isn’t one thing to everyone. It takes place at different points in the curriculum and can be valued in many ways.  In this blog I provide an overview of good practice for evaluating your teaching and useful resources to support your practice. I then consider potential issues that occur in the evaluation process that can bias student feedback and negatively impact staff. 

What does evaluation look like to most of us?  

The reasons for monitoring and measuring our curriculum are common-sense: to ensure that our degrees live up to the high standards expected of the sector, and to ensure that students get the best education possible. How we do this depends on the nature of what and how we teach. You might think of end of unit evaluation feedback forms, annual programme reviews, or external audits for quality assurance, but they are not the only places you can use evaluation effectively. 

Evaluation can review: 

  • Individual units and/or whole programmes 
  • Teaching delivery styles and engagement
  • Student contribution and success 
  • Digital resources such as those hosted on BlackBoard and Re/Play 
  • Pedagogic approaches 
  • Course content 
  • And many more criteria! 

Here, multiple perspectives are invited into the conversation, most commonly from the students that we teach. We can extend evaluation to the experiences of those who contribute to our courses, such as postgraduate teaching assistants and professional services. Additionally, staff may wish to use personal reflective approaches to review their lived experience of teaching (this surfaces actively through the CREATE Scheme). 

When we try a new teaching approach there is an expectation that we will evaluate the success of the new approach used. It also makes sense to continue the evaluation year on year to ensure that the approach continues to work well, especially if there is change of teaching staff or other circumstance such as the impact of Covid-19. Core guidance recommends that we embed evaluation at multiple points, not just at the end of a term or a year. 

What are the benefits of evaluation? 

Depending on the questions you ask, and how you act upon the answers, evaluation can benefit you in many ways: 

  • Evidences success (which can also support staff progression)
  • Evidences how learning outcomes are met
  • Determines how students have improved skills and competencies
  • Identifies areas for updates and improvements
  • Ensures that the student voice is heard
  • Checks our assumptions and biases as to how effective our teaching is
  • Complements external audits and student surveys

Good principles for evaluation 

Anonymity 

Students need to feel that they can be honest when responding to feedback requests. Articulating how data is collected anonymously promotes authentic responses. 

Good design 

Asking the right questions gets the best data. Templates are available to support the design of feedback sheets (see University Policy for unit evaluationteaching assistant feedback template; and Dunworth & Sanchez 2016) It can be useful to use the same questions year on year to validate the reliability of the data (see Alderman, Towers & Bannah 2012). 

Time 

Student feedback should always be requested during timetabled time. Often, too little time is set aside, and this impacts the level of detail and the quality of feedback. Rushed responses are never going to be as useful as well considered ones for lenthy feedback forms. Given our increased use of digital resources, you can do quick “check ins” with your students as part of live sessions using tools like the polling facility in Collaborate. If you run a focus group, facilitation is key. To support student confidence, you might ask an external colleague to run this for you (ask BiLT team to help too!).  

Sharing 

Once you have compiled the evaluation data, why not share a summary version with the students who contributed? You can even tell them how you will address concerns. This can support students seeing the value in providing good feedback in the future and makes them feel listened to and respected. 

Full circle 

How will you use this data? How will it inform your future teaching choices? The evaluation process doesn’t end with looking at feedback, it needs to inform changes, updates and adaptations in your teaching as part of the cycle of continuous improvement. 

Self-care and support 

Feedback can make us feel elated, frustrated or crestfallen. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, especially if it’s personally directed at the choices we have made in our teaching. It’s important to recognise that sometimes feedback can be ill-considered and, at times, even cruel. The emotional impact of feedback can send us reeling and dent our confidence.

Evidence demonstrates that female members of staff are evaluated more harshly than their male counterparts (Flaherty 2018). Recent research in Sweden identifies how negative feedback is more common for early career teachers (Flodén 2017). Gender, racial and cultural bias are real issues and can manifest differently depending on the demographics of your student cohorts (see Fan et al 2019).

What can you do to challenge and alleviate these issues? 

Colleagues new to teaching should be actively supported by their School to build their confidence and resilience. Where gender, race, sexual identity, cultural bias, or any other discriminatory feedback is received, care should be taken by senior members of staff to support colleagues on the receiving end including how this can be psychologically distressing. The School should also exercise caution that it does not further compound the issue by penalising the affected staff (e.g. regarding progression, contract continuation or promotion). Line managers, heads of teaching and heads of school can actively offer empathetic support in these situations and protect staff from unwarranted penalties.  

Dr Aisling (Ash) Tierney – a.tierney@bristol.ac.uk  

Further resources

  • Our University Policy for unit evaluation provides guidance on how to implement evaluation at unit level, from its purpose  to frequency and operational principles. The appendixes to this document provide sample templates for how to structure a unit evaluation form. 
  • Evaluation and benchmarking of the Biochemistry MSci Research Training unit.
  • Quality Assurance Agency advice and guidance on monitoring and evaluating.
News

Employability in the Curriculum – helping students to recognise it

This ‘Employability in the curriculum’ blog series is brought to you by the Faculty Employability Team at the Careers Service. These blogs are designed to give you practical advice and ideas to get started with enhancing how your curriculum prepares students for their future success.

In our last blog we explored how you can surface and enhance employability in your units or programme. Now we move our focus to the reason we’re all here, our students.

While it’s one thing for you to be able to recognise how you are preparing students for their futures, it’s another for them to recognise and articulate this themselves. Self-awareness is a skill in its own right. While for some students reflecting on their skills and thinking ahead will come naturally, others need more help and encouragement. Students recognising their employability will in turn enable them to articulate it to others – including future employers.

As an aside, you may have spotted that the new Graduate Outcomes survey asks graduates whether they feel that they’re using what they learned during their studies in their current role. While you may understand where and how your unit or programme prepares students for their professional life, this question emphasises how important it is for them to be able to make the link as well. (For more information about the Graduate Outcomes survey and the recently published results have a look at this SharePoint site.)

Making skills, knowledge and attributes explicit to students is therefore the next piece in the puzzle – and our focus for today.

How can you make employability explicit for students?

Ideally, this is about facilitating skills recognition and development of self-awareness authentically through your own units or programmes. It isn’t about spoon feeding students, but where possible interweaving these elements into your learning outcomes, learning activities, assessments, and opportunities for real-world application.

So what does this look like in practice? Here are some practical ideas:

Framing your unit and learning outcomes

  • Refer to skills in your programme or unit learning outcomes – either in the language of the learning outcomes themselves, or by adding in a short accompanying narrative on their employability links and benefits. You can use the Bristol Skills Framework to identify the skills your students might be developing (see our previous blog post for more information on this).
  • When introducing the unit, clearly outline the skills and attributes students will develop – including how they will do this. This will help them to put the skills in context and see their relevance. You can embed this in an introductory session, short video, Blackboard post, or within your unit handbook.
  • Provide opportunity at the end of the unit for students to identify and reflect on the skills they have used (see more below).

Through your learning and assessment activities

  • Explain to students the different skills and attributes they will need to complete a task or activity well. For example, in a group discussion highlight what effective communication and collaborative working looks like.
  • Explain to students how different assessments are developing different skills and attributes and what they need to demonstrate to perform well. For example, explain to students the applicability of the critical thinking and written communication skills they develop (amongst others) when writing essays.
  • Consider including skills and attributes as part of your feedback on tasks and assessments. This will help students to see the importance of this aspect of their learning, and reflect on their own development.
  • Encourage and facilitate student reflection on their skills development, providing opportunities for them to do this whether individually or with others, or even as part of their assessment. Watch out for a blog later in the series which will focus on ways to do this.

References to real-world application

  • Show students where and how the skills and subject knowledge they’re using could be applied professionally – e.g. through an example, case study, or even inviting an external speaker to share the skills they use in their role.
  • Explain – and where possible provides examples of – where the skills students are developing are those which employers are looking for. This could be in specific professions or sectors linked to an area of study, or more generally – for example, the World Economic Forum has predicted which skills will be in demand in 2030.
  • Suggest ways that students can further develop their skills and subject interests outside of their studies – e.g. through relevant work experience or volunteering. Encourage them to look at the range of options available on the University’s very own skills development hub, myopportunities.

Now we’ve shared a few of our ideas, we would love to hear what you think. Would any of these methods work for your unit or programme? Do you have any other ideas?  Share your feedback to help us develop our advice and guidance for academic staff in the coming months. Get in touch with Ellen (Faculty Employability Manager) at ellen.grace@bristol.ac.uk

Our next posts will look at different ways you can provide opportunities for real world learning in your curriculum.

Student Voice

Bristol University and the Climate Crisis: Reflection on The Role of Higher Education Teaching and Public Engagement in Addressing the Climate Emergency

I am a student with considerable climate anxiety. I worry constantly about how my own actions could possibly lead to the demise of human society and am often left apoplectic with rage at the seemingly blasé attitude of governments around the world, and occasionally that includes my own university. Although it is a significant accomplishment that Bristol was the first university to declare a climate emergency, I often look around at the computers that won’t turn off or the enormous amount of plastic and paper wastage at Freshers Fair and think, is this enough? How could the university be doing more? 

Although this conference did not solve the climate crisis, it was a great relief to see a variety of staff from an array of areas expressing their concerns and thinking of possible solutions. Not to mention, the guest speakers from universities in South Africa offered an insight that we should be considering significantly more when talking about the climate crisis: we are not the ones that are bearing the brunt of the climate disaster. Our university does not have droughts or 4 hours on then 4 hours off of power. You thought the strikes were bad? Imagine only being able to use the internet half of the day. Professor Coleen Vogel illustrated this beautifully and although her talk did not soothe the anxiety, it did contribute to the sense of urgency that characterised the day and brought a universality to the crisis.  This conference demonstrated to me that the university not only has to mitigate these consequences for itself but has a responsibility to inform students about how their actions impact people across the world. 

One of my favourite speakers of the day (other than one professor who sang and gave us a deeply needed wake up 3 hours into the conference) was Professor Keri Facer, who spoke about ‘living on a lively planet’. What really struck me about her talk was that it went beyond the doom and gloom approach to climate change, lecturing on how we need to reexamine our relationship with the planet and each other. For the first time (to me) it presented climate change as an opportunity for growth and learning, rather than a signifier of the apocalypse. I often feel that climate change can be disempowering, particularly for young people, as it undeniably presents some giant obstacles. This outlook, however, is less than useful as it means that every step in the right direction feels like dropping a stone into a void. Keri’s lecture demonstrated a different approach and climate change finally felt like something that could be a learning process for the human race. 

The other speakers were absolutely fantastic, open and urgent but also presenting options for how to move higher education forward. It was incredible to have staff from such a wide variety of backgrounds, meaning that conversations were extremely interdisciplinary and each talk brought about a wide variety of responses. The talks themselves also included an ‘arts-based approach’, including creating a transformative engagement toolkit to building lasting partnerships with civil society. Hearing this side of the argument was refreshing, as the science-heavy focus has often felt like it leaves fifty per cent of the population in the dust, not to mention that the inclusion of community engagement already had me absolutely invested. 

However, although I enjoyed the day and was grateful to be part of the conversation I couldn’t help but think: Is this how we treat an emergency that is causing half of Australia to catch fire and kill over a billion animals? That’s caused three cyclones in Fiji in the past two weeks alone? This event demonstrated to me that the university needs to take its role as a world leader seriously but also that there are impassioned academics who are trying to take that role. One of the professors said that climate change presented an opportunity for academics to use the social capital we have been afforded and to use it to create change. We have the opportunity to truly lead the charge in the fight against climate change and for that, we need drastic action. 

Engaged learning network graphic

Engaged Learning Network – Mingle: Reflecting on Ethics


An open space to reflect on what we have discussed throughout the Autumn Event Series and speak to other academic staff working on Engaged Learning across the University.

This mingle is part of the Engaged Learning Network’s autumn event series on the ethics of Engaged Learning. Each event is designed to build upon discussions from the previous sessions, but don’t worry if you can’t attend all the events in the series. We will ensure that you will still be able to contribute to and benefit from each individual session.

The Brambles is located at the back of The Hawthorns (home to Conferences and Hospitality) on the corner of Woodland Road and Elton Road.

You can enter through the Hawthorns garden, which faces Elton Road, or through the dining room behind the Hawthorns bar. You will need your U-Card for access.

Please note, this event is only open to University of Bristol staff members.

Two cows at the gate
Education Enhancement Funds

Implementing a Mental Wellbeing Toolbox: Reflections on integration into the veterinary curriculum and identification of opportunities for wider application

A Teaching Innovation Grant was awarded to Dr Louisa Slingsby, Dr Rose Grogono-Thomas, Dr Julie Townsend, Ms Lucy SW Bates for the academic year 2017/18 – you can find a summary of the project they undertook with their grant below. If you would like to read the full report, please contact bilt-info@bristol.ac.uk

Project summary

Mental wellbeing encompasses the ability to feel good and function well within one’s life. This is a priority area to address within the university and beyond; wellbeing is a high importance topic within the veterinary profession.

Building on previous work we have devised a novel, evidence based “Mental Wellbeing Toolbox” (MWT) which we have introduced as a wellbeing vertical theme within the undergraduate veterinary programme (BVSc). The aim is to assist students in building their mental wellbeing, personal resources, skills and confidence, and in doing so prepare them for graduation and the workplace. It also aims to highlight how anyone can benefit from improving their mental wellbeing, resulting in better job (and life) satisfaction.

Each year group of the BVSc now has a three-hour seminar introducing one aspect of the Toolbox. A MWT Handbook has been developed for students to access at any time; if desired, it is possible to look ahead to aspects of the Toolbox taught in later years.

Following ethical approval, quantitative and qualitative data has been collected from students to evaluate the introduction of the MWT into the curriculum. Generally, feedback has been positive, with some key areas highlighted for improvement.

Conclusions

  • The MWT offers a more forward-thinking approach to teaching mental wellbeing, by encouraging all students to engage in their mental wellbeing, rather than focusing on those that are unwell.  
  • The integration of the MWT has been well-received. 
  • An aim of the project was to build a curriculum that will assist students in building their mental wellbeing, personal resources, skills and confidence, and in so doing prepare them for graduation and the workplace. On average, 80% of students learnt something new as a result of the seminars and 60% will look up something new and/or do something differently as a result of a seminar, hopefully indicating the curriculum has helped students build resources and skills.  
  • Teaching methods which are deemed positive when delivering a mental wellbeing curriculum include providing interaction with the material (while allowing anonymity), and content which is relatable, personal, interesting and/or scientific.  Anecdotes are also well-received.