In this post, Ruth Donnelly, Assistant Director at the Careers Service describes the impact of the transition of two face-to-face student development programmes to online and how they helped students develop new skills in networking, communication and professional behaviours.
While the move to hybrid teaching will present many new challenges for staff and students, it can also present the opportunity for students to develop new skills which will prepare them for the changed workplace of tomorrow.
The Careers Service recently redesigned 2 face-to-face student development programmes to deliver them exclusively online: the Insights Programme, a 1 week experience for widening participation students to spend time with alumni, locally and internationally, to build up their confidence and networks and Students as Change Agents, a 4 week challenge-led experiential learning programme with external partners.
Transitioning these programmes successfully online confirmed to us that students can continue to develop their skills and attributes in the online space and it can have the added benefit of breaking down barriers and fostering community.
With the reduction in traditional development opportunities such as work experience and international travel during lockdown, and that fact that many students were looking for ways to use their time usefully to progress their personal development, we fully expected there to be interest in these programmes, but we were surprised with the level of commitment: Students as Change Agents (SAChA) attracted more than 3 times the number of applications we would expect for a face-to-face versions. Over 100 students signed up for Insights Online and 93% of them engaged in at least one live session. The majority of participants also completed each programme, which we attribute partly to the fact that they were designed with accessibility in mind: session timings were flexible and they were all recorded to allow students to be able to also accommodate other demands on their time, such as work, caring responsibilities and the need for downtime.
Students were able to meet the full learning outcomes of both programmes, while working at a distance. We had 20 groups of Change Agents from all Colleges and levels, operating across multiple time zones, working together on challenges (reducing youth homelessness / how to rebuild Edinburgh’s tourism industry and festivals sustainably post Covid). The speedily redesigned training courses, combined with the application of their learning to their challenge topic, allowed them to develop their skills and confidence in complex problem solving, using data and working in teams. Insights participants got to grips with working in an online team to gain an insight into job sectors and careers of alumni, make new connections, and develop skills in networking, communication and professional behaviours. And all of this activity was underpinned with reflection, to ensure students got the most out of the experience and were able to articulate this to others.
Through working remotely, students were also able to learn new skills which will prepare them for the future workplace, where it will be more necessary than ever to be digitally literate, highly organised and self-driven. We provided support to help them navigate multiple platforms used in the programmes (Teams, Collaborate, Sharepoint, Mural and Zoom), but let them get to grips with their choice of free video editing software. We started the online conversations with the students, but they continued these, getting to know each other, creating synergy in their group, learning how to listen to each other and check understanding, how to communicate their ideas without talking over their peers and delegate tasks appropriately. They developed empathy and an appreciation of the need to be flexible as they gained more insight into each other’s personal circumstances. They were also thrust into the limelight in online presentations to staff at their host organisation, an opportunity few of them would have had in the normal course of their time at University.
Both programmes have student development at their heart, using external partners, such as alumni and organisations working to build up their confidence and networks. An unexpected benefit of the move online was the sense of community which developed between staff, students and external hosts, many of whom met for the first time during these programmes. Barriers were broken down as we were all learning together how to best use the software and communicate effectively at a distance, and happily shared tips as we got to grips with this.
Analysis of the impact of the programmes on students is ongoing, but confirms so far that the online programmes have had comparable results to the in-person equivalents. An Insights participant summed up the opportunities as
…honestly like no other. The information I learnt will be valuable for the rest of my life and I can’t imagine where else I would have been able to gain such experience and knowledge – I have had no other opportunity like it at university. I think it could be the point in my university life that will have MADE my future career.
For inspiration about how to design your teaching to incorporate elements which will support student development, see the Curriculum Toolkit for embedding student development, employability and careers.