Refreshing our professional practice module
Name/School/ Email address
James Lloyd / ACD (Typography) / email@example.com
In 2017/18 we reviewed and revamped our flagship professional practice scheme known as ‘real jobs’. The impacts include: a significant increase in the number of students regularly attending feedback sessions and engaging with the process; a large number of highly presentable concluding reflective reports from students; a reduced impact on staff resource due to better management of information and processes; and greater level of clarity among the student body about the existence and benefits of the scheme.
- Boost student engagement
- Embed contemporary workflows
- Streamline assessment and feedback
- Centralise information and information management
- Initiate a briefing session for all students, for the first time
- Generate more competent (and compelling) outcomes. Our new blog at typography.network/real-jobs collects students reflective reports on these projects
- Increase student exposure to industry professionals
- Give feedback as jobs are completed, rather than right at the end of the course
- Provide students with personal, engaging stories to tell on job applications and at interviews
This work is part of TY3PRP on our BA Graphic Communication course. The genesis of these changes came from a sense that the current system was stretched due to increasing student numbers and lack of staff time. We needed to centralise and standardise more procedures in order to free up most staff to function better in their primary role (as design supervisors) and leave issues relating to project management, industry practice and print production to new staff members with a more dedicated set of roles (specifically in professional print production and professional design management). We also sought to address the fact that Real Jobs had never been fully integrated into the modular system on which the University now runs, making it an outlier in many areas (including assessment, timetabling and briefing) and thus causing confusion to students.
Surfacing the issues
The project was initiated following detailed discussion with Rob Banham, our DDTL, based on his experience of running the Real Jobs scheme for around a decade. We also took advantage of the training and techniques offered on the University’s Academic Practice Programme (which Geoff Wyeth and I participated in for 18 months) to assess, flesh out and test Rob’s analysis of the issues. It became clear the scheme was characterised by lack of clarity (with no real assessment criteria or workflow) and lack of student engagement (with the keenest students always doing well, but the majority shying away from the scheme). It also felt excessively manual in its admin – reliant on the generosity of staff time, rather than robust processes.
Planning for professionalisation
Over Summer 2017 I planned a new process, taking in feedback and concerns from a wide range of staff and students, trying to address a wide variety of issues and encode solutions into:
- A Filemaker database of jobs, clients and students (for staff admin use only)
- A Trello online project management board (used by supervisors and students). The board acts as a contract, a step-by-step process and a live project management tool, mirroring many aspects of life as a professional designer
- A blackboard organisation – so the scheme has a VLE for the first time
- A new annual briefing session for all Part 1 students, late in the year
- A revised format for weekly Real Job meetings
- A new rubric, mapped to new assessment criteria
We launched formally in Autumn term 2017, with most of the tools in-place.
In order to get all students up to speed, we ran the induction briefing session for all three year groups. The induction was crucial to the success of these changes. By bringing in staff, graduates and potential clients, we carry all students through a model for the new process over a two-hour session. They experience a dry run of the whole thing, and hear reflections from students and clients who’ve already been through it. The goal is to bring active awareness to the scheme and its process, so that when they attack projects for real, the barriers feel reduced.
The outcome is an entirely new process, much more tightly focused on student understanding, user needs and a more engaging and defined set of tasks – while still allowing students to explore projects in their own way.
Attendance at Real job meetings has gone from an average of around 9 students per week to something more like 30 or 40. A increased calibre of discussion has also been noted by staff.
Final reports have been transformed into more professional, thoughtful, meaningful and marketable blog posts.
Assessment is simpler. More time consuming, but more thorough, and clearer.
Higher throughput of jobs.
Students who DON’T wish to pursue a career as a professional designer now have a parallel route, through Experiential Learning Assignments that let them write about design rather than practice it.
The changes work because there has been a top-to-tail review with solutions carefully targeted across a range of goals. Most of these solutions are working as expected, though there is room for improvement
As a Department we still lack the resources to truly ensure that all students and all jobs stay on track. We have more visibility and better insights, but process steps can be skipped without immediate remedy.
The assessment process is more involved than planned, and is not yet happening as jobs are completed, but still at the end of each year.
It’s hard to measure the impact on employability.
Only a few students take advantage of the offer of a thorough pre-press check on their work.
We have continued to refine assessment criteria and rubric style, in an effort to simplify things for staff and students.
ELAs (which let students get credit for non-design aspects of their studies) are being rolled out slowly.
A module review is needed to assess whether students are entirely satisfied with the way the scheme runs. Anecdotal evidence suggest some students still find the prospect of these projects daunting, and they find ways to avoid engagement.
LE2, SO1, LE3