Active Learning for Employability
Preparing undergraduates for the rapidly changing and increasingly technological world of work is a challenge for any higher education institution. I recently came across an interesting entrepreneurial project being run by Birmingham University designed to do just this.
The Birmingham Project is an attempt to bring together undergraduate students from different disciplines, in the first year of their degree, to work together to tackle a “real-world” challenge set by an academic. The challenge is framed as a question such as “How can technology revive high streets” or “What role will driverless cars play in the future of transport?” and relates to one of five themes. For example, the driverless car challenge relates to the theme of “Designing the Future of Transport”. Each theme has an external partner associated with it.
To complete the challenge, students are expected to conduct research as a group and ultimately produce a digital resource to communicate their response to the challenge. The digital resource could be anything from a mobile phone app to a digital magazine, a blog to a website. The group that produces the most innovative output are awarded a prize by the external organization associated with the theme they are working on.
During the Project, students are offered support from academic staff, Professional Services staff and Postgraduate Teaching Assistants as well as staff in a number of external organizations. They are encouraged to attend workshops to be trained in aspects such as project management, how to manage intellectual property rights, or presentation skills.
Work on the Project is assessed through a group presentation given at the end of the two week period and a peer evaluation but it does not count towards the final degree. It does however give students the opportunity to develop a range of skills and experience that may otherwise be inaccessible for them.
The success of the project is evident in terms of the growth of students enrolling for it, increasing from 60 students in 2013-14 to 300-400 students taking part in 2016/17. Building on its success, a new project called DigITal Matters is being created to start at the beginning of the coming academic year to form a 10 credit module which will run over the first 2 semesters. Students will be expected to engage in market research, data analysis, social media communication and production of a digital product with the final presentation forming part of the assessment of the module.
For more information and to listen to some of the students relaying their experience, visit the website for the Project: https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/as/employability/bhamproject/index.aspx or follow the project on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheBhamProject
With thanks to Paul Foxall, Digital and Technology Skills Advisor, University of Birmingham for his input to this post.