This workshop was funded as part of one of HEA Social Science’s strategic priorities 2013 – 14 ‘Active and experiential learning in the Social Sciences’.
This blog post was compiled by June Dennis, University of Wolverhampton (June.Dennis@wlv.ac.uk).
In 2012, I undertook a survey of current practice and trends in marketing curriculum design and development which highlighted that many curriculum designers are including more opportunity for active learning, simulations and real project based work into the curriculum at the same time as integrating additional employability skills (Dennis & Vos, 2013). One of the main reasons for embracing active and experiential learning is that these approaches are seen to improve students’ skills (Laverie, 2006), something that is of significant interest to UK Higher Education given the emphasis on employment within the Key Information Sets (KIS) and when paid work experience can be difficult to obtain. Brennan (2013) notes that experiential learning has been a major area of discussion and research over recent years and is one of the most popular topics considered. However, he goes on to question whether experiential learning is always embraced positively by students and whether it loses its appeal if it becomes the modus operandi.
Having spoken with a number of tutors over the years, it was clear to me that in most courses there are usually one or two modules where the module leader has taken it upon him or herself to embed either active or experiential learning into their module. Often the tutors are highly motivated and are prepared to go over and beyond the call of duty to support their students. Perhaps it is not surprising therefore that these tend to be the modules which are identified in student surveys as being most inspirational. However, these tutors tend to be in the minority and it is rare that their activities are replicated in other parts of the institution.
The purpose of this workshop was to gather like-minded tutors to share current practice in incorporating active and experiential learning in relation to improving the employability of marketing students. We hoped to consider a range of approaches to experiential and active learning and how they work in practice both when incorporated within the existing curriculum or as an optional adjunct, with the aim of encouraging delegates to improve or even consider incorporating elements into their modules and courses. We discussed the benefits and challenges of experiential and active learning and how it can help students develop employability skills, looked at various methods of incorporating this learning into the marketing curriculum and considered different approaches to offering active and experiential learning.
The session was attended by educators from a wide range of subjects within the social sciences including marketing, business, leisure, tourism and history. All presenters had links with the University of Wolverhampton. The day’s discussions were structured to begin with some traditional approaches of embedding active and experiential learning within the curriculum, led by Barry Whitehouse, Senior Lecturer and Charlotte Poole, Placements Officer. In the afternoon, we considered two examples of when experiential learning is not within the curriculum – using ad hoc consultancy projects by Steve Grady, Principal Lecturer and also a mentoring scheme led by Jenni Jones, Senior Lecturer.
We discussed generally the issue of lack of student motivation and participation in voluntary participation of experiential learning and the struggle to get students moving from being receivers of education to being self-motivated and co-producers or co-creators.
Session 1: Embedding active and experiential learning within the curriculum – the experience of a large cohort undertaking fundraising activities. Barry Whitehouse, Senior Lecturer in Enterprise and Marketing
Barry Whitehouse shared how when developing the concept for the 'Entrepreneurial Creativity and Innovation' module, the module team wanted to ensure that students had the opportunity to practice enterprise and engage in creative activities. They wanted to ensure that the learning was based on real projects and focused on providing solutions to problems. It had to be non subject specific to engage students on a number of courses and take the students from a transmission model of learning (learning about) to an experiential model (learning for).
The module involves groups of students raising funds for local charities, although there is more to the module than that, with students undertaking diagnostic testing, time management, personality, teamworking exercises and other activities prior to working in groups. The students have to come up with creative fundraising ideas for their charity and deliver on this. This is then assessed by the ‘exhibition of applied creativity’ and a presentation. The students are given strict guidelines that they must adhere to, such as event approval forms, risk assessment templates and the need to account for the financial element of the fundraising. Some of the challenges of running such a module include the issue of risk, uncertainty and ambiguity. While mechanisms are put in place to manage risk, there is still some reliance on students to comply.
Some of the benefits that students identify are that they begin to understand a little of the third sector, they have to work together to be creative and implement their plans and it improves their confidence and initiative. It is also a vehicle for the release of creativity and an opportunity to assess and take risks in a relatively safe and structured way. This module is also delivered in FE partner colleges and in China, where has been successfully adapted to accommodate the limited fundraising opportunities that students have there. Last year, the students raised over £28,000 with a further £900 being raised by Chinese students.
The discussion that followed the presentation noted that this module could be used for other cohorts of students, including those in the Social Sciences generally. Some delegates had experience of similar modules and shared good practice, such as a group project based module in leisure and tourism and volunteering modules at levels 4 and 5 and a business and community link module at level 6 as electives in social sciences. It was agreed that it was important to have such learning opportunities in a broader range of courses, such as history and politics, where there might not be natural routes to employment embedded into the course. We discussed how to support students transitioning from passive student at level 4 to being partners in learning at level 5 and the need to ensure that students could build on this at level 6 – which currently they do not have the opportunity to do so on many courses.
Delegates noted that it was difficult to harness the enthusiasm that students had for modules such as these in other modules and we debated whether these modules stand out because they are different and whether students would be so positive about them if they were the norm rather than the exception.
Session 2: Why don’t they see the benefit? Encouraging students to undertake placements, internships and volunteering – Charlotte Poole, Placements Officer
Most universities would love to see more students taking up placement opportunities, yet despite many students wanting to go to university to improve their job opportunities, many universities are seeing a drop in the number of students choosing to take a year-long placement. It is not the number of placements available which is the limiting factor, but rather the number of students prepared to activity seek out such opportunities. In response to student ambivalence to spending a year on placement, universities continue to promote Erasmus exchanges, volunteering and short-term placements to those who want to augment their CV, yet again, uptake is disappointing. All delegates noted a decline in interest for placements.
We discussed why students might not see the benefit of placements and came up with the following list:
- Students have difficulty in or are put off from filling in on-line applications;
- Time pressures of applications – many students miss the boat;
- Students are not confident that they will get a placement and don’t want to ‘fail’;
- There is strong peer pressure to opt out;
- Difficulty in finding placement close to home or university;
- The risk of losing part-time work to support them in final year;
- The assumption that because they do part-time work, that a placement may not be beneficial.
Additionally, we then discussed how we could engage students to consider placements.
- Identify role modules or advocates – level 6 students to promote to other levels.
- If not possible, use good videos of former students talking about their placements.
- Focus on key characters within the cohort – who may influence others to consider placement.
- Provide information about the cost of placement and benefits.
- Offer opportunities to improve employability skills from level 4 onwards, eg CV writing, mock interviews.
- The entrepreneurial, creativity and innovation module incorporate elements of the University of Wolverhampton employability award to enable students at level 5 to develop employability skills.
- Events and hospitality management students undertake placement-type activities on all levels so that it’s not such a shock to consider going for interviews etc for a year-long placement. Students are expected to work for around 100 hours each year with assessment aligned to a core module. Second year students mentor first year students.
- Consider extending ‘placements’ until end of the course – graduate interns.
- There was a general consensus that most students did not seem to understand how competitive the labour market is and might only apply for a few jobs towards the end of level 6 or decide to leave it a while before applying. They need to be distinctive when applying for a job and demonstrate reflection. Many do not realise how much their skills have developed whilst at university and perhaps we should find ways of reminding them of this.
Session 3: When experiential learning is not part of the curriculum – ad hoc consultancy project method. Steve Grady, Principal Lecturer in Marketing, Laurren Wood-Bowness, Amarpreet Kaur (students) & Gareth Jones (In-Comm Training & Business Services)
Given that there are few opportunities to participate in experiential learning that can be assessed in many undergraduate awards, some tutors take up the initiative to provide students with extra-curriculum opportunities. Steve, Laurren, Amarpreet and Gareth shared their experience of a supervised student project undertaken for In-Comm.
This initial project involved a mixed group of recent graduates and current students (including level 4) during Summer 2013 and took place within a 6-8 week period. It was non-credit bearing but the students were allocated an academic mentor (Steve) and a business contact (Gareth). Steve undertook this role as part of his research and scholarly activity allocation. He helped the students scope and plan the project,develop Gantt charts and ensured that the final report reflected the needs of the client, however, it was up to the students to decide how they would complete the exercise. Students clearly noted that they improved their individual and teamworking skills, obtained work experience and appreciated the multi-dimensional nature of their learning. Both Steve and Gareth noted that it was not just the students/graduates who benefited from this project but they also did – in particular, Steve noted that it enabled him to improve the currency of his knowledge about this area and of databases in particular and this also fed into his teaching in the following academic year. One interesting aspect was that it was the first year student who led and co-ordinated the team and whilst she may not have be aware of the relevant academic models, was supported by the graduates to develop this knowledge and then to apply it.
Other delegates shared their experience of in-curricula consultancy projects and noted that such projects are resource intensive and it takes time to sufficient projects for student groups. I reflected on a client consultancy module I ran at a large institution where student groups had to find their own project – which resulted in around 80 in total each year. It was also important to ensure that the correct skills mix was resident within the team and that the client was aware of the scope and potential limitations of the project from a commercial perspective.
Steve, Gareth and Laurren will be running a one hour workshop on this project at the HEA/ABS conference later this year.
Session 4: Working with the Institute of Directors (IOD) to mentor students. Jenni Jones, Senior lecturer, HR
Jenni introduced the University of Wolverhampton Business School’s final year mentoring scheme which is run in collaboration with the regional branch of the IoD. This is the third year that the scheme has operated. Students are encouraged to put themselves forward for the scheme and we currently have around 30 final year business and marketing students being mentored. Following matching with a mentor, students attend a short expectation session which advises them of what mentor is and what they can and cannot expect from their mentor. It is expected that they will have a number of 1-2-1 meetings with their mentors and also meet up as a group on a couple of occasions during the year. Many mentors will offer students the chance of a mock interview or provide practical advice about applying for jobs as well as sharing real life experiences and enthusiasm for business. Both students and mentors have benefitted from taking part, and for some students it has been the impetus they needed to improve their degree classification or successfully apply for a job.
Issues discussed were:
- How to replicate this with other professional bodies for students from specialist disciplines;
- How to ensure all students have the opportunity to be mentored (currently all students who make an application are mentored);
- Ensuring expectations of both parties are managed;
- How to train senior managers in the role without belittling them;
- How to market the opportunity to students to encourage more take-up;
- How to overcome/acknowledge the time resource required to undertake this opportunity;
- Determine a means to measure the success of the project.
It is clear that undertaking active and experiential learning is extremely rewarding for both students and tutors alike. However it is resource intensive and no delegate identified a method that did not rely on the good will of enthusiastic and dedicated tutors. This is probably one of the reasons why such opportunities are still the exception rather than the norm. Student opt in is still low when the activities are not deemed to be core to the curriculum and hence the view of the workshop was that, where at all possible, there should be academic credit for undertaking these opportunities. We discussed a number of potential solutions, such as whether project work and mentoring, for example, should be compulsory modules or if there could be an overarching module at each level which required students to develop a portfolio of evidence. The importance of providing such opportunities to non-business and marketing students was also emphasised to enhance employability skills.
- How can we offer students experiential learning opportunities within the context of limited tutor resource?
- How can we embed active and experiential learning into 'non-vocational' curricula, for example, history or politics?
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