Author: Penny Dineen, Study Skills Tutor, Centre for Collaborative Learning, UCLan

By way of introduction Penny comes from a background of educational development, management, and organisational culture in HE, and is currently working as an Academic Skills Advisor with the WISER team, and part of the CCL community at UCLan.

When evaluating practice in a student academic skills developmental role there is much to consider. With WISER – UCLan’s Academic Skills Development service for students – only having been re-formed in October 2021, it has been tempting to be inward facing when establishing what and how students should learn academic skills…and furthermore what they should or should not be. On reflection of providing academic skills development for students across the university, I can perceive that there can be no assumptions of the nature of depth and breadth of subjects, including modalities, delivery and student experience that are currently coined as academic skills development. Providing and supporting academic skill development for students at UCLan requires integrated planning, merging the student expectation and experience alongside UCLan’s strategic goals.

Writing this UCLan CCL Blog has been an opportunity to ask a rhetorical question to colleagues in the CCL community and the greater UCLan community to discuss how we evaluate the need for academic skills, acting upon that need, and giving quality time for students to understand what type of learner they are. Giving this adequate recognition could provide a platform for students to work with their strengths within their context. With this is mind, is the process of thinking about how you think and learn(metacognition) a soft skill? Or an essential skill in HE? How are study support services valued? Voluntary (optional for students) or embedded (built into the curriculum planning)? Discussing content, and how they are integrated into the student’s academic pathway is where we are at in WISER Academic development. The nexus between study skill development and programme leaders through collaboration could support educational change.

Socrates is a vanguard of modern education and stated that one of the great virtues of knowledge is self-knowledge. As such one could humbly argue that this is fundamental for an individual to develop their full abilities. However, has this been devalued as a soft skill? Is there now opportunity to re-evaluate through a case study approach the impact of metacognition/soft skills, and how it can help students to be successful learners.

I have asked myself the question, how have our students at UCLan developed these essential skills? During the covid pandemic with an online world and limited exposure to the hidden curriculum (unplanned lessons, values and perspectives), this has potentially limited students’ ability to develop their own voice and perspective through dialogue.

It is no surprise that The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) urged the achievement of cognitive and meta-cognitive skills in education, which include critical thinking, creative thinking, learning-to-learn and self-regulation to address the trends in globalisation where individuals can contribute to a changing economy (“OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development”, 2022).  Within WISER – Academic skills development, looking at university students concerns at UCLan post covid, it is noted that a focused set of skills reoccurred including self-regulated learning (SLR), organisational skills, scaffolding skills, and critical skills. The recognition of such impacts can positively affect retention and achievement, accessing the curriculum and widening participation. As stated by my colleague Simon Hawkesworth, Educational Developer within CCL at UCLan (“Scaling up soft skills and the role of online communities”, 2022), ‘simply providing more and more online resources of itself, seems unlikely to increase engagement (…) Voluntary uptake is always going to struggle against the pressures faced in the sector’. Indeed, the voluntary element (non-essential curriculum) of academic skills development reveals the achilleas of uptake and impact. With reference to the UCLan Curriculum Framework include non-specific curriculum elements into a holistic approach to benefit all UCLan students across all campuses. This would require the creative production of additional resources to support the initiative for teams and academics…which is not beyond reach.

It is interesting to note that competing universities in a recent publication from the LinkedIn Learning success review released in April-June 2022, acknowledge the increased need and access to support materials such as, organisational skills, communication skills, time management and critical thinking processes. On looking at the graph it is clear to see that UCLan students tend to select the technical aspects compared to their peers who show more of an interest in e.g. career management, time management, interpersonal communication, critical thinking and decision-making. Furthermore, research suggests that students exposed to academic development skills/soft skills, such as these indicated have shown statistically significant higher levels of achievement in contrast to students not receiving academic development support. Indeed, Iles (2021) identified that high levels of student achievement were related directly to academic skills development/soft skills as well as quality instruction in addition to students’ talent. The impact study identified that the development of student’s learning how to learn (metacognitive skills) and self-regulation assisted them in becoming independent learners.

Skills learners are developing at UCLan compared to their peers.

Is the expectation that student should enter university with these skills fair? Should these support services and skills not be part of a wider conversation and embedded into the learning pathways for students to empower themselves with the full complement of skills and abilities? I recognise the outstanding research from colleagues on teaching and learning, assessment, pedagogy, and scholarship. This is a further opportunity to open conversation for sharing practice with key thinkers and educational developers.

Additional information:

Impact study shows that the Oxford International Curriculum builds pupils’ metacognitive skills and self-regulation – Oxford Education Blog. (2022). Retrieved 1 June 2022, from https://educationblog.oup.com/international/oxford-international-curriculum-study

‘Mega mid map’ Image used for blog header produced by Dr Penny Dineen 2022

OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030 – Organisation for Economic Co-operation and               Development. (2022). Retrieved 1 June 2022, from https://www.oecd.org/education/2030-project/

Hawkesworth, S. (2022) Scaling up soft skills and the role of online communities. Retrieved 1 June 2022, from https://ccl.uclan.ac.uk/2022/01/27/scaling-up-soft-skills-and-the-role-of-online-communities/


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