In the realm of STEM education, a shift is underway — an evolution in university education methods that focuses not just on subject knowledge, but on equipping students with transferable skills needed for employment. This article delves into practical strategies innovative educators in our community are using to prepare students for careers in a dynamic job market. From digital badges to tailored modules, discover how educators are adapting to the ever-changing needs of industry.
1. Digital Badging: Engaging Pathways to Skill Recognition
An innovative approach to messaging the employability value of skills and competencies acquired within a chemistry practical course; Prof. Frances Heaney and colleagues from Maynooth University use signposting and a digital badge system to engage students in the skills they are acquiring.
Shared within their winning Teaching Innovation Awards 2022 entry, this government-funded (Human Capital Initiative) initiative is the conscious focus on enabling students to self-identify achievements, to see attainment of key technical and professional skills as facilitators of employability and markers of success, independent of end-of-year results.
Badges with VLE assignment platforms, including our LabSims, enabled automated transfer of 1,485 badges to 181 students. This huge uptake for badging indicates outstanding engagement especially as award criteria included non-credit bearing elements. On-going student feedback reflects a highly positive learning experience, >95% respondents indicated an increased awareness that skills acquired within the module can improve competency for employment.
2. Dedicated Skill-Based Modules
Science 101 is a non-credit optional skills-based module for first-year students studying in the School of Life Sciences at the University of Warwick. Founder and teacher of this module, Prof. Leanne Williams, shared with us that it changes year on year to reflect the needs of the incoming cohort.
This bespoke module supports and encourages self-seeking support behaviour, enabling students to become independent and autonomous learners. Over a 10-week programme a range of professional and technical skills and competencies are practised and evidenced in a portfolio, including:
- extracting relevant information from sources and note taking
- laboratory maths, data organisation and presentation
- lab reports and interpreting data
- generating scientific contexts
- critiquing and evaluating
- logic and reasoning
- scientific figures and diagrams
3. Portfolios: Empowering Evidence of Skill Mastery
Across departments, including Chemistry and Biomedical Sciences, skills portfolios are being introduced alongside practical assessments.
Dr. Lesley Howell and colleagues at the Department of Chemistry at Queen Mary University of London identified 16 key skills for first-year chemists to develop in their first year of study, aligned with those highlighted by the Royal Society of Chemistry as being essential. Multiple opportunities were provided to students to practise these skills, evidenced in a portfolio, and when confident they would be assessed and demonstrate their competency. Bespoke Smart Worksheets supported specific skill development such as analysing data.
Digital evidence with e-portfolios
Similarly, to allow Bioscience students at the University of Bath to reflect on and proactively engage with their skills development, an e-portfolio was developed using Microsoft OneNote, with training provided by a self-paced module. Dr. Cressida Lyon and students co-created this e-portfolio system that guides student skills development by using feedback from past assignments to develop skills in the present, providing evidence for employers in the future.
Creating Future-Ready Graduates
There’s no denying the importance of preparing students for the professional world, and the innovative strategies employed by these educators demonstrates how STEM degrees can support both subject-specific technical skills and transferable skills.
Would you like to learn more about the approaches outlined in this article, and explore how to enhance transferable skills within your course? We're here to provide you with the information you need. Get in touch with us to explore how our solutions align with your educational goals and empower your students to thrive in the dynamic world of STEM.