Photo Professor Mark Simpson, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning & Teaching), Teesside University

Education for the Working World: How to Develop Students’ Employability Skills Through Future Facing Learning


Article originally published on E-Learn Magazine on Oct 23, 2017 – Click here for the Spanish version

Through a strategic focus on future facing learning, Teesside University, in the United Kingdom, develops students’ practical skills to enter the workforce. How do they enhance online teaching to create competitive advantages for post-university work life?

Preparing students for the workforce not only includes teaching knowledge about a discipline or occupation, but also involves developing employability skills that allow for adequate interaction within a professional environment, as well as success in the performance of tasks. Failure to teach these skills to students may generate great gaps and limitations in young graduates who aspire to get a job and compete within an increasingly complex world.

For this reason, Teesside University has implemented methodologies to ensure students acquire all the skills and abilities to deliver impact in the workplace. In fact, the university has recently been named as the top higher education institution in the North East of England for graduates securing professional and managerial level employment. Just six months after graduating, 57% of its students secured graduate-level jobs.

Professor Mark Simpson is the pro vice-chancellor of Learning & Teaching at Teesside University, and Dr. Jonathan Eaton is the head of Learning and Teaching Enhancement. Together, they have developed and led innovative projects within Teesside University, with a unique focus on future facing learning. They both shared with Blackboard the strategies they have implemented to prepare students for life post-graduation.

Developing an Immersive Learning Environment Embedded in Blackboard Learn

Teesside University is among the institutions that received funding to work on innovative and experimental projects to enhance learning and teaching. The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) awarded them, from its Catalyst Fund, with funding for a project aiming to improve employability outcomes through an immersive learning environment.

The project, ‘Enhancing employability outcomes through an immersive learning environment,’ aims to assess the impact on employability skills, based on an experimental approach to online learning, while also engaging employers in the improvement of learning and teaching, and students through co-design and research.

As a result, a tool was developed as part of the project and in partnership with students and local employers based on pedagogical principles of experiential learning.

Dr. Eaton explains that the tool was embedded in Blackboard Learn, which works as a great complement since it allows absolute interactivity, and recreates a realistic immersive learning experience regarding the employee selection process by using videos with actors who role-play particular scenarios.

The tool also enables students to record video responses to interview questions, which they can review and reflect on their responses. In addition, built-in assessments and feedback within the tool provide opportunities for students to self-evaluate their understanding regarding the employee selection process. Key documents are also available to instruct students about the interview process.

Likewise, the tool enables tutors to collect meaningful student analytics, including completion rates for each activity and time spent on particular activities, which are gathered at the program level. Students constantly receive visual feedback on their progress, completion rate and achievement through all the available features available.

The tool is currently being tested with a cohort of students, with the purpose of determining how the use of this immersive environment can improve students’ development of skills and confidence during the employee selection process. The environment will become available for all students as soon as the tool’s impact is determined through a robust evaluation.

Employer Engagement

Collaboration between Teesside University and employers enables the design and joint structuring of the qualifications and learning standards that students must meet in order to become competitive employees. Dr. Eaton points out that collaboration between the university and employers helps ensure that course contents match industry needs, and as a result, ensures the skills that are taught to students are current, according to the changing demands of local, national and international labor markets.

According to Professor Mark Simpson, “Students are so satisfied with projects such as these ones because they allow them to be heavily involved in the creation of projects, and acknowledge that technology is not the most important [aspect], but the human interaction, which is clearly important in terms of finding a job.” In this regard, students are at the center of all innovations.

Student Participation in the Process

Teesside University seeks to enhance the student experience through the delivery of future facing learning, aiming to synergize teaching and research. For example, there is an extracurricular program called Students as Researchers, in which students are funded to engage in research projects with academics. It is an opportunity to learn aspects of research processes and help students develop a number of skills, including teamwork and time management.

Additionally, working closely with students ensures that the curriculum maintains its relevance because it’s not done in isolation from the students. The university ensures that students and employers consistently provide feedback on how the curriculum should be structured and how students should complete it.

Practice the Blended Learning Model

As said by Professor Simpson, one should not fall into the mistake of thinking that technology is a magic bullet that solves everything and leaves aside the interaction between people, which is fundamental when it comes to looking for a job. “The blended system that we use is intended to use the best part of technology, but it also allows employers to have face-to-face interaction with students,” he explains.

One of Teesside University’s projects is the Law Clinic, which has a dual purpose. For one, it provides Law students with real practical experience on the handling of legal cases, while also offering a service to the community in cases where people may otherwise find it difficult to afford legal advice and representation. The university has partnered with several local law firms in order to offer free legal advice services. According to Professor Simpson, the Law Clinic is a safe place since it is inside the university. There, students begin to interact with potential employers, so when they leave university, they feel more confident in their interactions in the workplace.

Using a blended learning system ensures that students develop the skills they will utilize both within their degrees and in their post-graduate working lives. Since the focus is not only placed on the development of knowledge but also on providing students with different skillsets such as researching and analyzing information, teamwork, creativity, time management and problem solving, they will be prepared for the complexity of the workplace.

Lastly, with the intention of integrating the traditional learning environment with the digital, Teesside University is planning that by September 2018, all new first year students are to have an iPad. The idea is that it can be taken to the classroom and students can access interactive resources online, initiate discussions, or manipulate data, using preloaded applications.

Both experts express that they are “very excited” about what Teesside University has to offer in the future, as they have the opportunity to continue innovating and implementing strategies that, in addition to integrating technology with education, prepare graduates to thrive in an increasingly complex world.

Key Advice for Implementing Immersive Learning Environments

* Creating immersive learning environments should involve the entire institution and its stakeholders: this means that they are not limited to the academic component. Collaborative development should also include Educational Developers, Learning Technologists and Career Advisors to ensure that the final product supports students to deliver impact within the contemporary and future workplace.

* Working closely with students and employers: It is very useful to build a network to structure programs, content, and other elements necessary for the development of employability skills, which ensures that university and industry needs are both met.

Leading the Future: Teesside 2020

Teesside 2020 is an ambitious strategy that aims to position the university as a leading institution, with an international reputation for academic excellence and for providing students with an outstanding learning experience. It’s also about “acknowledging that we put students first, that they are the heart of everything that we do,” Professor Simpson notes.

This mission aims to enrich education through research and innovation through the engagement of companies and professionals to transform lives and economies.

Teesside 2020 includes the following objectives, vision and plans which the university seeks to carry out in the next few years:

* Students and learning experiences: Create a learning culture and an innovative curriculum. Collaborate with employers and organizations to develop employability skills that will also positively impact industry and businesses and create learning spaces with the best technology available.

* Research and innovation: Develop high quality research in various subjects and interdisciplinary topics and integrate research into teaching methodology to develop students’ research skills.

* Enterprise and business engagement: Create a network of companies and academic associations to increase student employment rates upon graduation.

* International strategy: Increase the number of international students on campus to have a culturally diverse learning community and increase transnational education opportunities to support the exchange of students and university staff.


Photos by: AFP – Scott Heppell