Jackie Skinner, Library
Year of activity: 2015-16
This is an ongoing project to devise and implement a framework of skills to be developed by undergraduate students in Food and Nutritional Sciences throughout their degree programme. I have worked closely with staff in the Department on this project and so far it has resulted in changes to module content and a redevelopment of the departmental personal tutorials system.
- To audit existing skills development across the Food programmes.
- To devise a framework of skills competencies to be developed throughout the programme.
- To embed skills in suitable modules, or explore additional ways to enable students to acquire those skills.
- Explore ways to allow students to assess their own skills competency: how confident do they feel with their skills proficiency and how have these skills been developed?
- To ensure international students entering at Part Two are given the same opportunities to develop skills they might have missed by not taking Part One modules at the University of Reading.
Through teaching and supporting Food students as their liaison librarian it had become clear to me that there were inconsistencies in skills expectations, which caused problems for students. It appeared that some academics expected advanced skills competencies which the students had not had the chance to develop, especially in Part One. There was also a feeling among staff that the students lacked skills they should have acquired by Part Three. In addition the Department’s Industrial Advisory Board had highlighted skills weaknesses in University of Reading graduates which needed to be assessed and addressed.
Inspired by a Library staff training workshop on the ANCIL (A New Curriculum for Information Literacy) skills framework, I decided to try to assess the scale of the problem and devise a plan to address it. This framework aims to help undergraduates develop an advanced, reflective level of information literacy which will enable them not just to find information, but to evaluate, analyse and use academic material independently and judiciously.
The first step was to undertake a survey of module convenors to map the skills required for each module and those the students would develop in each module. Submissions were received for 41 out of 51 modules and showed evidence of a disparity in skills expectations and development.
After discussion at the Department T&L Committee I met with Programme Directors and used a card sorting exercise to map out skills required by the end of each Part. Once the skills framework was ratified, these were mapped onto suitable modules. This task was made more difficult because there are very few modules taken in common by all students in the Department. In addition to mapping most skills to modules, others were identified by academics as suitable for development through the personal tutorials system, e.g. reflective learning.
Although this is still a work in progress, it is has resulted in a greater awareness of skills development within the Department.
The framework and module mapping discussions have already resulted in some changes to module content, such as integrating a session on online identity management in a Part One module. This project has also instigated a change in approach to the personal tutorials system, moving towards a more structured approach, with group tutorials fostering more peer support and learning. I am currently working with academics and one of our Study Advisers to put together an online resource to support tutors in running their tutorials.
Although I have worked with the Food and Nutritional Sciences Department for many years, the whole process of conducting this project has enhanced my understanding of the work of the Department, and enabled me to become an embedded member of the academic team.
This project coincided with a restructuring of the Department’s degree programmes and a desire for a more co-ordinated approach to module provision. The enthusiastic support of the Head of Department was a key factor in its success, as well as the openness of all academics to discuss ways to embed skills development in their modules.
Although the initial survey was time consuming, and could be skipped by anyone seeking to develop a similar skills framework in less time, it provided firm evidence to take to the T&L Committee.
The final two objectives have still to be achieved. Developing a skills self-assessment tool will require assistance from the TEL Team, if it is to be embedded in the student record and available to tutors too. Ideally this would provide evidence of the effectiveness of skills teaching which could be reviewed annually to influence development of module materials. Reworking the language module taken by students entering Part Two from overseas universities to ensure it includes the Part One skills also needs further work with the International Study and Language Institute and the International Student Tutor. The project may be of interest to those developing Curriculum Framework resources and toolkits.
The skills framework has been tweaked a few times as a result of discussions with module convenors and at the T&L Committee. Recent feedback from students on their research project training may also result in further changes. Iterative changes will take place as a result of analysis of information from the skills self-assessment tool.