Digital literacies for student employability: Spotlight on work placements

Rachel and I were invited to speak at the Teaching & Learning Showcase on ‘Assessing work placements’ here at Reading yesterday. The showcase events are a series of informal lunchtime gatherings which provide an opportunity for colleagues to share T & L practices and ideas. The format is three speakers talking about a common topical issue for ten minutes each, with time for questions and discussion at the end.

Rachel and I were up first, followed by Cindy Becker (English Literature) and Hannah Jones (Agriculture, Policy and Development). Organiser Joy Collier had asked us to set the scene a little bit, so we thought we would share some of the insights from our research into digital aspects of work placements, and to show our colleagues the model that we use to evaluate students’ digital experiences. Our presentation slides can be found here.

The framework we use is adapted from Rhona Sharpe and Helen Beetham’s ‘Developing Effective E-Learning: The Development Pyramid’ (2008) which describes the development of digital literacies in terms of access, skills, and practices as prerequisites to becoming a critical, informed, expert user of digital technologies.

Digital literacies and work placements

If we apply this to work placements, it becomes about affording students digital opportunities. Work placements can provide opportunities for students to experience and explore digital technologies (access); to develop technical proficiency in using digital technologies (skills); and, crucially, to apply these skills in a professional, ‘real world’ context (practices).

This is where the real value of work placements lies – in bridging the gap between students’ learning and how this is applied in a work environment, and in making that connection in the student’s mind, too, so that they are digitally ready and so that they have the awareness and the ability to articulate that readiness in order to make stronger applications, perform better in interviews, and, ultimately, better able to do their jobs.

Developing those higher-level attributes and attitudes – digital literacies – requires reflection. Cindy and Hannah spoke about the ways in which they encourage students to reflect on their placement experience and how this is linked to assessment, which surely then ought to be based on students’ ability to draw out and illustrate their learning and development rather than a descriptive account of, say, the company or their day-to-day tasks while on placement.

Hannah’s closing comments, which suggested that perhaps students should not actually be marked on this at all, that being able to truly reflect on their experience is enough, I found particularly thought-provoking.

My own closing comments were twofold: firstly, to encourage anyone involved in planning, assessing and evaluating placements to consider what digital opportunities might be embedded in them.

And secondly, to consider whether the development pyramid might be applied to planning, assessment and evaluation of work placements more generally, not just to look at the digital angle. After all, having the right tools for the job, learning how to use them and knowing what to do with them, are the building blocks required to develop any sort of expertise. Thus the development pyramid might provide a useful framework for designing WRPL activities. I will say more about this in another blog post.

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