(Session) ‘Skills passport’ goes live in Life Sciences: helping students to help themselves

Patricia Durkin, Janis MacCallum and Anne MacNab (Student & Academic Services)

In this session participants will hear voices from Year 1 Biological Sciences students about their experience with the Skills Passport pilot approach in 2013/14. Staff involved with the project will share the principles that drive it, how that manifests itself within Life Sciences and the plans for further roll out in 2014/15 and beyond, across the Life Sciences Programmes. Participants will use counterargument techniques to review the flexibility of the Skills Passport principles and approach in promoting different modes of implementation within other Schools and for successful engagement of relevant stakeholders.

A survey of Life Sciences employers in Scotland revealed problematic skills gaps with graduate recruits (Life Sciences Scotland, 2010). To address this, Life Sciences Academic staff at Edinburgh Napier have worked alongside Student and Academic Services, and supported by two Edinburgh Napier graduate trainees, have just completed the first year of a Skills Passport pilot project. This project builds upon research by Parry et al (2012) and Speake et al (2007) which outline the effectiveness of reflection in enhancing students’ practical skills in Bioscience. The Skills Passport aims to develop a mechanism within the current curriculum, utilising resources of Academic Skills, Careers and Confident Futures, which supports students in development of and reflection upon the skills identified by Life Sciences employers as lacking. Whilst the Skills Passport was trialled in Year 1 in Life Sciences in 2013/14 the objective is an approach that spans the all four UG years, thereby supporting the University’s focus on development of a meaningful Programme approach to learning and development.

At the core of this approach is the Skills Evidence and Evaluation Record (SEER), which facilitates students in understanding the nature of skills required by industry and identifying where their personal skills gaps lie. A set of principles underpin the use of SEER in the Skills Passport and put responsibility for participation in the SEER process, and completion of the associated activities and documentation firmly with the student. Time and guidance is provided within specific class settings and through PDT meetings for students to reflect on their skills using STARL (Situation, Task, Action, Result and Learning) as a model. This reflection requires them to examine their experience and consider alternative approaches. STAR is a recognised format for the articulation of evidence in competency-based interviewing (http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/factsheets/selection-methods.aspx) which is commonly used in graduate recruitment to assess a candidate’s level of competence against required skills. By using this as their model for reflection students become familiar with competency-based recruitment practices and build a body of evidence to give them a head start in gaining graduate employment. In focusing their attention upon certain skills at certain points in their learning, it is hoped that the SEER documents will form a vital link back to the PDT process, to aid discussions on academic progress and support requirements directly addressing the University strategic objective of providing students with “responsive, personalised support”.

The Skills Passport project originated to address a specific need within the Life Sciences industry in Scotland but the principles of: clarifying skills required by industry; encouraging students to reflect on their skills development; giving students practice at articulating that development using the recognised STARL model and supporting students to discuss their strengths and weaknesses with PDTs are transferable to any subject area. Additionally, while some of the skills described in the SEER document are industry-specific, many e.g. teamwork and time management, are appropriate to all subject areas, and as a result much of the supporting documentation is reusable. Dissemination of the project has already begun through the Academic Professional Development “Employability Jigsaw Series”.

Theoretical underpinning
Life Sciences Scotland (2010). Scottish Life Sciences Employer Skills Survey 2010

Parry, D., Walsh, C., Larsen, C., Hogan, J. (2012). Reflective practice: a place in enhancing learning in the undergraduate bioscience teaching laboratory. Bioscience Education, 19:35-44. DOI: beej.2012.19000004.

Speake, T., Fostier, M. and Henery, M. (2007) The use of reflective practice to support a final year team research project in biosciences. Proceedings of the Science Learning and Teaching Conference 2007

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