How can we shape and design a curriculum to help future proof our graduates in the next 10+ years? A rapidly changing job market means we need to help prepare students for jobs which don’t yet exist. (Helen Hook)

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As a parent, I ask myself this very question…if I could influence change which could impact my own daughter’s future experience of Higher Education, what would I deem to be essential?  What experiences could help provide a smoother transition into the labour market and help her become adaptable and resilient in today’s ever changing, global economy?  Also bearing in mind the speed of digitalisation developments and how this will further impact and change teaching and learning environments and the future job market.  Using both my parental and professional head as an Enterprise Educator, a lot of my thoughts and views filtered down into the following areas; interdisciplinary curricular enterprise encouraging transformation not just transition and digital transformation and innovation.

More interdisciplinary Curricular Enterprise Coherence:

My role as an Enterprise Educator focuses on curricular development, working with academics and external partners to provide credit bearing modules linked to thematic enterprise skills e.g. the confidence to be able to take calculated risks, approach problems using creativity and innovation to find a solution whilst also developing skills to become adaptable and resilient to change; 21st century skills employers of all shapes and sizes are expecting our graduates to have according to the World Economic Forum (2016).

There is a lot of research linked to design learning, which I feel is very closely linked to curricular enterprise.   It focusses on problem finding and problem framing through convergent and divergent methods, rather than simply problem solving.  The design thinking then introduces methods of problem finding and problem framing in the pursuit of emergent innovation. This is a method used within curricular enterprise linked to creativity and innovation in solving problems.

Embedding these skills into the curriculum is crucial, and at its most effective when we are providing experiential learning opportunities for our students, enabling college wide, interdisciplinary teaching opportunities so that students can not only recognise the importance of working in groups across a broad scope of specialisms, but so they can articulate how that experience has further developed their own teaching and learning experience.

College-wide interdisciplinary enterprise modules offer an amazing opportunity for students to explore a major topic which connects courses and disciplines whilst exploring key themes. Having a range of modules available across all 5 colleges would enable students to learn from one another whilst working with industry and/or on economic/governmental strategies and agendas that could have societal and civic engagement impact.  I really like the notion of research into action, the learning whilst doing approach that encourages our students to become knowledge harvesters not simply knowledge retainers.

This curricular approach provides cross-disciplinary thinking whilst developing a range of softer skills e.g. working within a team, communication skills, influencing others, effective decision making and so forth.  Challenges potentially facing this style of curriculum development could be linked to staffing resource and managing the introduction of new assessment methods.  However, once piloted with a robust module blue print, this curricular development could be something innovative and flag ship for the University whilst taking students teaching and learning experience to a whole new level.

Digital transformation and innovation:

Digitalisation is growing at a speed I am still trying to get my head around.  Research predicts that one-third of all jobs will be converted into software, robots, and smart machines by as early as 2025. In addition to this, according to Futurists, students will be able to learn from robots in just 14 years’ time! How do we keep up to date with this as an institution?  Artificial Intelligence is happening, how can we adopt this into our curriculums effectively and confidently?

Can we form additional partnerships with key organisations to come into our curriculum and work with our students?  IBM Watson is an organisation currently developing Watson-powered robots, making advancements in clinical imaging and producing interactive translating white boards – with how quickly technology is advancing, wouldn’t it be an amazing opportunity for our students to be able to work with market leaders applying their theory into practise? Two days ago Government announced there will be funding of £17.3m for artificial intelligence and robotics research to be carried out by British universities as part of the new digital strategy. I feel we could 100% bring this into the curriculum for our students to develop research into action skills….where do we sign up I say?

An additional range of staff training on digital innovations would be really useful to encourage more use of IT in the classroom and during assessment. As an institution could we identify projects which could be worked on by our very own students by bringing IT developments into the curriculum? One thought could be around the development of mobile apps perhaps – we are constantly thinking of ways of working SMARTER, could our students work interdisciplinary across Colleges to develop something as part of a module?

An interesting article by Kurshan (2016) ‘The Future of Artificial Intelligence in Education refers to Woolfe et al (2013) artificial intelligence grand challenges felt education should be addressing:

  • Virtual mentors for every learner: Omnipresent support that integrates user modeling, social simulation and knowledge representation.
  • Addressing 21st century skills: Assist learners with self-direction, self-assessment, teamwork and more.
  • Analysis of interaction data: Bring together the vast amounts of data about individual learning, social contexts, learning contexts and personal interests.
  • Provide opportunities for global classrooms: Increase the interconnectedness and accessibility of classrooms worldwide.
  • Lifelong and lifewide technologies: Taking learning outside of the classroom and into the learner’s life outside of school.

I certainly wouldn’t like the thought of my daughter entering Higher Education in 8 years’ time to be taught solely by robots (not that I think that would happen entirely), but I do think that the right balance of research, industry experience, innovative interdisciplinary enterprise pedagogy and the use of advanced technologies will provide enriched, innovative and exciting experiences for our future generations of students.

9 thoughts on “How can we shape and design a curriculum to help future proof our graduates in the next 10+ years? A rapidly changing job market means we need to help prepare students for jobs which don’t yet exist. (Helen Hook)”

  1. There is so much in this post and it is difficult to argue with much of what Helen is saying. As she points out – this is not some far distant future. Much of what she discusses is on the visible horizon.

    There are links here with the earlier post on engineering – and also the rest of the thread on Birmingham Digital.

    At Deakin University, ‘Digital Literacy’ is identified as a Deakin graduate attribute. By this, they mean much of what Helen refers to above. Any other thoughts on how we can refine some thinking on Birmingham Digital?

    1. Linking to the comments on Birmingham Digital, I thought the report produced by Microsoft on ‘The Future of Learning Technology in UK Higher Education’ really insightful. It highlights the importance of universities updating teaching practices to suit the demands of the job market and further our roles as transformative influencers within society.

      I particularly liked the closing paragraph of the report; “the revolution in learning technology is quickly becoming the most significant factor in improving student performance – in turn helping universities to fulfil their transformative role for society, the jobs market and the economy.”

      Could be parts worth exploring further….

  2. I think engagement with industrialists should be an on-going activity to see what their technical requirements are or are emerging, and indeed if they can see what winds of change are further on in time. Through this activity we can have a dialogue with industry that can shape curricula for the job market for our students.

  3. I agree completely Jon. The more joined up we are with industry, the better we can prepare our students for life after graduation. The beauty of curricular enterprise is that we can develop links with industry to help shape and design the curriculum, a great example of this is the partnership Gemma Hunter (Enterprise Skills Manager) has established with Reckitt Benckiser who currently partners on modules across EPS; Chemistry and MDS; Biomedical Science and Pharmacy.

  4. I also agree with Jon. Having a joint approach towards educating students is highly important in order to help ‘tool-up’ those students looking to go into employment after Graduate. In previous jobs, we ran Employer Advisory Boards whereby employers and educators would come together to discuss changes in both education and industry establishing the joint up working approach. Other options were work based learning modules. My team, work with students who go out on the Year in Industry, and we find that students gain the required skills and experience to help them upon Graduation but furthermore they bring back what they have learnt from industry into their degree with much help from employers. There is certainly evidence of students demonstrating their skill set gained from University in order to secure these roles and quite often the problem is that students find it difficult to convey their skill set. All in all the Year in Industry helps us remain up to date with employer requirements.

  5. I think this is a great post; only this morning I read a Guardian article that refers to a survey predicting that a third of graduate level jobs may eventually be replaced by machines or software. This is taking place in key destination industries/sectors for our students including law, accounting, banking, marketing to name a few. The recent article in Times Higher by Nancy Gleason entitled “Higher Education must prepare for the rise of the machines” includes examples of how universities can prepare students for the kind of future to which Helen refers. I agree with Mandy that Employer Advisory Boards are incredibly beneficial although a professional I spoke with admitted that he finds it difficult to keep up with the pace of change! In her article Nancy talks about the fact that the future labour market needs lifelong learners who are able to acquire new skills as old ones become obsolete. I would love to see a digital and technical skills “lab” on campus where students across disciplines could access online courses training them in the latest software/technology (beyond what is currently offered around Microsoft Office and SPSS). If this is offered alongside Birmingham Digital then we will be offering the combination of hard, technical skills and soft skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and communication that will help our students become the kinds of “digital leaders” required now and in the future.

  6. Digital assistance (Siri, Alexa etc) is already helping automate our lives, its brill. This we only increase (with VR/AR) as we lose the mouse and keyboard (finally) for a ‘digital touch’ world. Our intearctions (literally) will change, are we ready for this?

    We should embrace technlogy and never fear it – its people who make technology work/or fail. We should invite students to the learning process. How would you (the student) present this module? Students as producers of learning rather than consumers of learning. A win-win.

    Instead of ‘getting a qualification in Microsoft Office’ we should teach our students the joy (and impact) of writing/blogging/communcation in the digtal world, whatever writing platform they use. We know that technology changes- but core priciples do not.

    Give them the fishing rod, not the fish. You will be suprised what they catch!

  7. The main issue appears to be that as the title suggests, the pace of changes make things difficult to keep up – and that’s why I really don’t feel that it is the job of education to fill this gap. Yes, by all means teach transferable skills, but by teaching technology in an ever evolving market, once you have written a curriculum and bought and trained the staff it will be out of date. Academics do not have to view education through utilitarian or vocational ideology. Why not let graduates do the job preparation themselves or better still the employers? And let the industry train them and foot the bill. Once industry is involved in curriculum it opens an whole other can of worms. What is wrong with knowledge for the sake of awe and wonder?

  8. I see your point, but I disagree. I feel in order to equip graduates with the relevant skills to be fit for future employment, there is a level of commitment we need to ensure when redesigning our programmes. Bringing industry in as co-designers into that space is crucial in my opinion, what skills are essential? How we can embed into pre-existing programmes, in addition to the new programmes we develop and launch? I think bringing together key partners; internally and externally, we can draw upon expertise to make this happen – to design meaningful assessment which is authentic, providing more opportunities for students to learn through doing to become more active learners. A model I really like is UCLs Connected Curriculum model:

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