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Course Design Blueprint

Student Skills and Attributes


Through their studies, all students will need to develop and extend their skills to enable them to succeed in their studies, subject related work, and to equip them for their futures.  While most courses will identify essential skills for their students and capture these within the course content, students will need to take responsibility for expanding their skills as will enable them to flourish and succeed, both during their studies and in their future.  Course teams, in partnership with other University departments, work with students to identify and signpost opportunities for the development of skills both within the course and through further University and external provision.

Through the pages within this theme we explore the different types of skills and attributes which might be incorporated into courses' curriculum, and how this might be done, often in partnership with other University support departments and external stakeholders.

Subject and generic skills

Many subject specialist skills will be captured in course learning outcomes, and students will learn and and develop these through course delivery and assessment.  Some specialist skills can only be explored and practiced within an appropriate setting such as placements or work settings (particularly for apprenticeship students), and the responsibility for developing and assessing students skill acquisition and proficiency will sometimes be taken on by placement staff, mentors or trainers.  Supporting the diverse student aspirations and interests usually present within any single cohort, some courses will provide optional or extra-curricular opportunities for students to explore particular skills, possibly in conjunction with employers or visiting sector specialists

Key phases in skill development

While some skills are relatively simple to learn, there will be some that are more complex and require prolonged effort to accomplish a good level of competence.  For example, all Honours degree courses will expect their graduates to have developed the ability to use critical thinking skills, but such development requires the student engaging in a significant amount of learning, practice, refinement and reflection before they are able to demonstrate good competence.  

  • Learning: any skills that students are required to develop through the course will need to be taught (directly, through demonstration or through guided learning such as on-line tutorials).  For more complex skills, multiple opportunities for the students to be taught or shown the skills will be needed, perhaps exploring their application to increasingly complex scenarios or to resolve increasingly involved problems.
  • Practice: Skills are best learned through their use.  Students need safe or low-risk opportunities to use the skills, make mistakes from which to learn, and recognise positive progress and success.  As for learning above, the provision of increasingly complex situations in which to employ skills will reinforce learning and further develop competence.
  • Reflection and Refinement: Students should be expected to take ownership of their skill development.  Students should be encouraged to reflect on their skill development progress, and to set or locate further opportunities for their independent learning and practice activity targeted at those aspects of the skill application they believe would benefit from further refinement.  Reflective skills are essential for students'  progress in complex skill and attribute development.
  • Demonstration: If the possession of a skill is seen as a course learning outcome, students need to be able to demonstrate this within summative assessment.  This also provides an opportunity for many students to be able to relate to potential employers their ability to apply the skill, either at interview or through portfolios or exhibition artifacts.

Training

Many courses will consider the need to include elements of learning that take the form of training.  There are often skills sets that students are required to attain which need to be learned and practiced before they can be deployed more critically to support vocational or academic activity.  Typically, where students will be required to employ specific software or practical techniques, course teams will need to schedule opportunities for students to be trained on these.  It is important that such training is not assumed to be sufficient for students to make best use of the tools or techniques, and that further opportunities are integrated into the curriculum to equip students to make decisions on when and how to deploy their skills, and to make judgements on the quality of their application of the associated skills, the validity of any results, and the impact of their actions.

Developing Attributes

The University's Graduate Attributes cover a wide range of areas of student development and achievement including both practical skills and competencies, and more behavioural and attitudinal attributes.  While including skill and competency development within the curriculum is relatively easy to plan, incorporating opportunities to focus on and develop behaviours and attitudes will be more difficult, and require an approach that allows and encourages each individual student to take ownership of their personal development through opportunities for practice and critical reflection.  It is anticipated that the role or personal academic coach that is being adopted throughout the University will be pivital in supporting students' graduate attribute development, and the exploration and evaluation of skill development is a central aspect of apprentice course provision focussed on students' work with skills coaches.