Exchanging practice across Europe: developing soft skills in the curriculum – staff and student perspectives

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Abstract

Northumbria University has been working with other international partners (student bodies, employers and highereducation institutions) and four of the leading national state universities in the Ukraine on an EU funded Tempus Structural Measures project called IMPRESS aimed at improving the student journey from recruitment to graduation and beyond. A key part of the project has been the design and delivery of a ‘soft skills’ module. The module is centred on student learning and development and aims to prepare students for seeking and obtaining employment, and to help them become effective, independent and confident self-directed life-long learners. Soft Skills have been defined by the World Health Organization as ""adaptability and positive behaviour that allows a person to effectively deal with the demands and challenges of everyday life."" This paper reports on the experiences of the Northumbria team working with staff and students across Europe to co-create the module and explores the feedback from an evaluation of the pilot delivery of the Soft Skills module. This work is multi-layered in that it involves both the creation of a module by the soft skills team, comprising two academics from each Ukrainian University and a Lead from Northumbria and also training in student centred approaches to learning and teaching for the academics involved (Race, 2010). This approach is still very ‘new’ in Ukraine therefore the academic team underwent training in developing learning outcomes to articulate the objectives of the module (Bloom,1956). Further training was also delivered in the approaches to teaching the skills identified as core to the module: • Reflective thinking and writing as a learning and teaching framework (Levine et. al. 2008; Hampton, 2010); • Taking responsibility for your own learning and the nature of learning partnerships in HE (Race, 2010; Strachan & Liyanage, 2015); • Assessment for learning; • Critical thinking (Shenton & Pickard, 2014); • The ability to communicate with the audience; • Ability to work in a group/team; • Peer support (Downes, 2007; Pickard, 2008; Strachan et. al. 2010). For the students in the Ukraine, the approach has also been very different to that usually experienced in their main programmes of study. This has required a careful approach by the module tem with strong scaffolding to support the students in their studies and engagement. The paper will also share the outcomes of the final workshop where the pilot evaluation was explored through participatory action research (Reason & Bradbury, 2011), and the team received training on Northumbria Quality processes in order to validate the module. The final workshop also included a number of students who joined the team from the Ukraine and we took this opportunity to design and ‘test’ the module assessment by ‘flipping’ the classroom, having the students assess the live debate performed by the academic team members to allow them to experience designing and applying assessment criteria. For the Northumbria team the experience of working in the soft skills team has caused them to reflect on their own approach and practice and identify the key elements of good practice and enhancement. It has also provided the opportunity to explore our respective educational and national cultures increasing our understanding of our differences and similarities during what has been a truly enriching journey of learning, discovery and sharing.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2016
EventInnovation in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: North East Universities (3 Rivers Consortium) 2016 Learning and Teaching Conference - Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Duration: 18 Mar 2016 → …

Conference

ConferenceInnovation in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: North East Universities (3 Rivers Consortium) 2016 Learning and Teaching Conference
Period18/03/16 → …

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