Defining Transferable Skills

Recently I have been advising colleagues on how they should write Intended Learning Outcomes across all five educational domains (cognitive, knowledge, affective, psychomotor and interpersonal) and conform to the QAA guidance (UK). This guidance (widely adopted across UK higher education a sector) breaks ILOs into:

  • Knowledge and Understanding
  • Intellectual Skills
  • Practical and Professional Skills
  • Transferable Skills.

I don’t agree with this guidance and would prefer learning designers to identify a balance of outcomes, appropriate to the nature of the discipline, the focus of the module and the modules shape or purpose within a programme. I suggest it makes more sense to do this by using five distinct domains, rather than the existing four vaguely defined catagories. Pragmatically though it is possible to map five distinct domains onto the four existing catagories. This is illustrated below.

Table 1.         Mapping educational domains to QAA categories

 Domain QAA Category Description
Knowledge Knowledge and Understanding Knowledge often describes the scope of the subject intended to represent the ‘nature’ of the discipline with reference to the personal-epistemological and metacognitive development of students
Cognitive Intellectual Skills Cognitive often referred to as intellectual skills refers to ‘knowledge structures’ in cognition, the progressively complex use of knowledge artefacts
Affective Practical and Professional Skills Affective sometimes referred to professional ‘skills’ or attributes perception of value issues, and ranges from simple awareness (Receiving), through to the internalization of personal value systems
Psychomotor Transferable Skills Psychomotor referred to as practical skills refers to progressively complex manual or physical skills. This could be the ability to use a complex piece of software, instrument or paper documentation
Interpersonal  Transferable Skills  Interpersonal referred to as communication skills refers to progressively complex levels in interpersonal communication, conflict resolution, collaboration and cross-cultural communication

As stated elsewhere I think higher education fails to accurately describe the skills, attributes and knowledge that students are intended to acquire through their studies. Creating meaningful ILOs is the beginning of well designed constructively aligned curricula.

Paper: Rethinking personal tutoring systems, the need to build on a foundation of epistemological beliefs.

Newly uploaded, here is the final paper that was previewed in blog postings during December 2014.

Atkinson, S. P. (2014) Rethinking personal tutoring systems: the need to build on a foundation of epistemological beliefs. BPP University Working Papers. London: BPP University.

Image of the cover of Rethinking Personal Tutoring Systems
Rethinking Personal Tutoring Systems

My argument is that in order to tailor effective support for students we must understand better their fundamental beliefs about learning; that to have a conversation about ‘our’ values we need to understand how others experience their own.

This was the purpose of the POISE project, an HEA Change Initiative and this paper is a summary of its conclusions.

There is much work to be done to make these insights more accessible to rank and file tutors in higher education but the POISE website is a start. As always I am delighted to hear about any use made of the work and to enter into a dialogue with anyone working on similar initiatives.

Teaching-Research Nexus

Part of my role at the LSE that I really enjoy is working with staff to find novel solutions to age-old problems. So a few weeks ago I was invited to discuss with colleagues in a research and teaching ‘cluster’ within a department that perennial question: “what’s the point of an away day?”

The head of department appeared to want the staff to spend the day writing serious funding proposals and yet a survey of the staff suggested they wanted to “have fun, and get to know each-other.” The away-day became a half day and the focus remained a little vague. The fixed points were lunch at noon, a gastro-pub at 5pm, and those apparent polar opposites, ‘research applications’ and ‘fun’.

The result was an off-campus half day at St Martin in the the Fields, in the newly refurbished St Martin’s Hall. I had organised a ‘research-poster workshop’, in which tables of 4 or 5 colleagues, of different grades, backgrounds and discipline focus (socially engineered by the departmental manager), worked from a ‘mock’ European Journal funding call. The funding call, which modelled the ‘real thing’,  invited applications for 12-24 month projects to build research networks with at least three country partners and a particular discipline focus. There was a specification about dissemination, use of technology and so on. The session ran along lines similar to the ‘World-Cafe‘ concept. So each table had to come up with a draft idea, blu-tac their A2 poster to the wall and then circulate around the other four groups’ posters providing feedback in the form of post-its (colour coded for each group).

Workshop Image

Away Day World Cafe model
Research Poster Workshop

The second session then allowed groups to revise their posters, go around and ask for clarification on any feedback received and produce a ‘final’ version of their research network proposal. All the while, the groups had a copy of the ‘marking criteria that would be used at the end, by them, to judge each-others efforts.

Final posters were put up and the groups circulated ‘marking’ the submissions. Each group had to come up with an agreed mark for each of the posters under some time pressure. As the ‘very light touch’ facilitator I went around between each round and photographed the posters, and I threw in a ‘red-herring’ with an envelope for each group suggesting a rumour that “The DG apparently likes…..”.

The effect was to have groups explore:

  • the difficulty of working with criteria which can appear ambiguous and needs careful unpacking;
  • the advantages of collegial review at both the developmental and final stages of proposals;
  • the need to think often ‘outside the box’ to come up with something original;
  • the danger of getting so carried away on a good idea it evades the call;
  • the danger of listening to rumour;
  • and that it is possible to have fun and still talk about research funding applications!

The feedback was gratifyingly positive and I’d suggest it’s an excellent model for a half-day workshop that recognises the need for junior staff to benefit from the experience of more seasoned researchers whilst bringing creatively and innovation to the process. It was also fun! Any workshop where people willingly stand-up and start moving is good to see!