On supporting student learning in Higher Education (and why we need to radically rethink the ‘Just Make ‘Em Do a Compulsory Skills Module’ paradigm)

Nicki Smith

Driving instructor: OK, so you need to read the DVLA handbook, and here’s also a presentation with photos of people driving, and a description of what makes a good driver. We’ll test you on all of that, and then you’ll be able to drive!

Student: Don’t I need to get into a car and stuff?

Driving instructor: Not if you read the handbook! Now, here’s a photo of someone using the clutch.

Student: This is a bit … dry, and I still don’t feel like I really know how to drive …?

Driving instructor: Ok, so let’s get that test underway … STOP THE CAR!! You are a terrible driver! Didn’t you read page 23 of the handbook??

Student: No, I got bored at page 2 but … could you maybe explain to me what to work on while I’m actually in the car?

* * * * * * *

Notes: Although it’s common in HE to bracket-off the ‘skills question’ (literally) into separate modules, it should in fact frame all aspects of our teaching – this is because the issue of what students learn (i.e. the ‘content’) is simply not separable from the issue of how they are actually learning that content (i.e. their ‘skills’). 

This means engaging students in ongoing dialogue about how they are learning what they are learning in practice (i.e. the actual substantive content of each module) throughout the duration of their studies.

This is a collective project and can’t just be left to a few individuals (‘the skills people)’. To state that ‘someone has to teach skills’ or to ask ‘who’s going to teach skills?’ is precisely the issue – for great learning & teaching/NSS we should all be integrating skills into the teaching we are already doing.  

Skills development is not a ‘thing’ that we can ‘give’ to students; it is a process, not a product, and depends upon ongoing dialogue (‘feedback’).

2 thoughts on “On supporting student learning in Higher Education (and why we need to radically rethink the ‘Just Make ‘Em Do a Compulsory Skills Module’ paradigm)

  1. Hmmm, I see your point here, and of course I agree with the fact that knowledge (all knowledge) has to be applied if it’s going to make sense to people. Feedback and ongoing dialogue is so important and I’d never say it wasn’t.

    However, as one of the aforementioned “skills people” I wonder where you think we fit. What I do *is* a specialism, and it’s one that takes time and, yes, skill, to develop! It sounds kind of like you’re saying we shouldn’t exist?


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