Dr Cindy Becker, Literature and Languages
Year of activity: 2015-16
During the summer of 2016 we applied for £300 from the funds of Teaching and Learning Dean Dr David Carter and were awarded the full amount. We were keen to develop our professional development scheme for students in the School of Literature and Languages, the Professional Track, and we needed some external, professional input in order to do this.
- To use an intern for 45 hours, asking her to interview alumni and local employers about the scheme.
- To find out how well the training courses we offer on the Professional Track are meeting the needs of employers.
- To increase our contact with alumni and local employers for a variety of reasons.
Our Professional Track gives students the opportunity to undertake certified vocational training and skills development courses alongside their degree. We needed an impartial person to find out if the range of training we offer is sufficient; we also wanted to gain interest for our planned Professional Board, an advisory team for our professional development activities.
Our Professional Track and Placement Facilitators (Sarah Mills and Lucy Stone) prepared the way by making some initial contact with employers, and together we decided on the questions to be asked. Our intern (a Part Two student) was briefed and she then interviewed our contacts in person, by phone and via Skype. She asked whether our courses were relevant to their area of work and whether we should add more. We learned that there are some skills development areas that we do not currently cover in our training; we also discovered that we need to do as much as we can to help our students network professionally. We were delighted to find some ‘warm contacts’ for future academic placements (i.e. activities in the professional world linked to module learning) and we received offers to give Professional Masterclasses to our students. Having several contacts agree to join our Professional Board has inspired us to move ahead with this.
Next year we will introduce Professional Track courses in social media, starting your own business, journalism, teaching practices, leadership and project management. We are pleased to learn that all of the courses we currently provide are thought relevant (these include report writing, assertiveness, presentation skills, First Aid, British Sign Language, Marketing and teaching English as a foreign language).
We will stay in touch with the contacts made on the project and other professionals we have been in conversation with over the last year in order to set up our Professional Board, members of which might advise on the development of our teaching in relation to the professional readiness of our students (such as transferable skills acquisition), offer face-to-face support to our students, and get involved in the Professional Track (for example, awarding prizes or speaking at Professional Track events).
We are keen to provide some warm contacts for students wanting to undertake academic or professional placements; this project has allowed us to begin to do that.
A relatively modest amount of money can go a long way in helping to move a project forward, but it does need careful planning and plenty of preparation if the money is to be used effectively.
Our intern wrote a full report after each interview and this was crucial in helping us to make the most of the information once she had completed the project.
We would like to do something similar during 2016-17 but we would be more ambitious in terms of our contacts. We would ensure a longer lead time before the interviewing stage of the project began so that we could line up a wide range of contacts.
We plan to keep in touch with the contacts we have made on the project and to use that network to explore more fully the ways in which local professional organisations can be of direct value to our students.
Whilst we have found training providers for most of the courses we plan to offer next year, we are struggling to find IT training for our students, so that will be one of our tasks in the coming months. Any advice gratefully received!