Thursday, 29 September 2011

Thinking Ahead

In another great centrally driven initiative, all programmes were told this year that they had to produce a pre-induction activity for prospective students. Actually I do agree that some sort of engagement with students prior to starting their studies is a great idea, I just dislike central, marketing driven initiatives that sneak up on you without warning....

Earlier in the Spring I had listened to our acting Dean talking about the importance of careers education starting as early as possible in a student's university life and so - Hey Presto! - these two great ideas collided in my head and my pre-induction activity became a "career investigation" website.

I based it on a wiki and started with grandiose ideas about getting students to collaborate or at least start discussions with one another. Then I chickened out and opted for straightforward information-giving with a structured activity culminating in the completion of an answer sheet which they could print off and bring to Induction Week.

The activity directed them to four skills sector websites which guided prospective employees through interactive quizzes to find the most suitable career or provided detailed information about a wide range of roles. In addition I posted links to some of the main charities who represent the types of care users our students will most likely come into contact with. (This idea came from another colleague and I think it really added a helpful dimension to the site).

Finally, I gave them a few contact points for the course, including a Facebook page which our student mentors had set up for them (no staff involved!).

As I was using Wikispaces I found it fairly easy to monitor site hits and views by individual user. We were averaging about 8 or 9 people a day visiting with a peak of 125 views. The night before the course induction we had 40 visitors and 450 views!

The Facebook site was slow to take off but by the time Induction week came along 28 students had joined up.

On the big day I collected in 25 completed answer sheets - out of around 90 students who attended my session.

On the whole I am pretty pleased with the level of response - particularly as this is my first attempt, but obviously I'd like to work on getting an even larger % take up next time!

In terms of the answer sheets that were returned, the first couple of questions asked them to say which jobs most interested them and which least.

(I should explain ours is a BA (Hons) Health and Social Care and we have "pathways" in criminal justice, counselling, communities and policy/leadership)

I was not surprised to find that most wanted to be Social Workers. The next most popular sector was criminal justice, followed by counselling, advice and mental health and finally other types of social care workers.

The most gratifying part of the feedback came in answer to the question "what did you learn from looking at the websites?"

Almost all responded that they had been surprised and pleased at the wide variety of roles on offer in the health and social care sector. Many had not considered a clinical role but some of our graduates do go on to train to be nurses, midwives, Occupational Therapists etc.

One responded that they felt sure they were on the right degree course because of the choice of pathways available given that they were still undecided about their ultimate career direction.

Another question focused on what further qualifications or experience they would need to reach their career goals. Some made quite detailed replies demonstrating that they had researched this thoroughly and all seemed to have a realistic sense of what they needed to do beyond graduation.

Some of my colleagues disagree vehemently with the idea of embedding careers planning in our curriculum arguing that this is not the university's primary function. On the other side of the argument, students themselves seem to want to be better prepared to get a decent job at the end of their university course and employers are looking to us to provide them with graduates who are savvy about the world of work.

Is it right that we talk to students at this early stage about careers? Are we encouraging them to see education only as something instrumental in getting a job? What about the joy of learning for its own sake? Or is that a luxury only those of us already in employment and who got our degrees in the time of local education authority grants, can afford to entertain?

I certainly feel I owe a duty of care to my students to give them the best possible chance of success in the job market and if realising that their education can help them achieve that success makes them a little bit more appreciative of the course they chose, or makes them want to do well in their studies because they know that will also help them in the long term, then that is no bad thing either.

(image Laenulfean)

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