Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Key academic skills - seven skills for seven hills

Tim and I met this morning to review the outcomes of last Tuesday's launch meeting and to look forward to the next event on Thursday 17 July. One important task was to consider and feedback on the different group responses to our invitation to outline the three most important academic skills which students need to develop at University. The raw outputs will, all being well, be uploaded to the Generic Skills website later this week and we will be circulating an email shortly thereafter. In the meantime, we wanted to share our particular - and undoubtedly preliminary - take on what has already emerged from this exercise. We will also be using this as one starting point for discussions and resource sharing on 17th.

The picture is of my rough summation of our tentative discussions, uploaded via the wonders of CILASS copycam technology. The grid in the top right hand corner will be explicated, we hope, on 17th.

We are presently suggesting seven key skills areas (in line with the seven hills theme which Claire Shanks has mentioned and which fits with the idea of using understanding/analysing Sheffield as one possible theme for the hub - but also some fit here with the SCONUL pillars and certain other possibilities too):
  • academic literacy (understanding academic cultures, as raised by Nick Fox in discussions on 24th, including referencing, time management, induction and awareness of changes at different levels);
  • personal and inter-personal skills (including self-organisation, self-motivation, working in groups and confidence building);
  • problem solving and data handling (including qualitative and quantitative research methods, statistics etc.);
  • analytical skills (which we hope need no explication here - though clearly they will on the hub);
  • written communication (in its many different forms - including consideration of writing for different purposes and different audiences);
  • oral and other communication (including multi-media presentations, poster presentations, and online literacies);
  • reflective learning (including developing self-awareness of where you are, where you need to be, and what strategies may work best for you to get from one to the other).
Two terms which appeared in one or more of the group offerings, and on the image above, but which we have for now chosen not to reproduce in the list above, are "information literacy" and "resourcefulness". In the case of the former, we are currently arguing that this is a term which cross-cuts many of the sk/hills delineated above, but is not perhaps broad enough to encompass all the social aspects of learning which must also form a key element of the hub more generally. In this respect also, there may be something about the latter term which implies an inner resilience, and willingness to explore and work with resources - however plentiful or limited - which can be argued to be one particular hallmark of a genuinely autonomous learner, but which is as much perhaps about personal development as about academic skills per se. And whilst we want to continue to foreground the idea of academic skills for the moment, we are also entirely mindful of the indivisibility of academic skills development and enhancement from social and personal development within and beyond each individual student's time at University.

It can be taken as read, therefore, that these are both terms which offer important background contexts to the specific skills set we outline above - and that the "meta-skills approach" favoured by one group, and perhaps showing the clearest connection to many of the discussions we understand to have taken place in the Generic Skills Working Group in the past, is by no means excluded from TASH's developing vision. Nevertheless, we remain mindful of the fact that the hub must, first and foremost, be seen to assist individual students and their departments to achieve the best degree results they can - whilst recognising the crucial importance of extra- and co-curricular activities and support mechanisms in aiding this process.

We anticipate that we will return to debates around these and similar issues again and again over the coming months - we also hope we'll find some time to do some extra-curricular reading of our own relatively shortly to check our developing understanding against the broader skills literature.

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