For over 10 years the Business School has been using professional engagement to develop the confidence, soft skills and resilience students need to make the transition from higher education to employment. An approach called Try, Test, Talk has been developed by Dr Karen Thompson of the Department of Leadership, Strategy and Organisations, and is shown here in use with second year BA Business Studies students.
Projects undertaken by small teams of students working with external stakeholders are at the heart of a range of units at levels 5, 6 and 7. As Karen explains, “Often the most the difficult part of a project is the beginning, when the objectives are unclear and there may be many competing ideas. We do not shield students from the early challenges and the difficulties of navigating through the definition stage”. Built on the notion that “Resilience is built by facing fear, not avoiding it” (Byron 2018), we have developed an approach that encourages students to TRY out ideas, TEST what they create, and TALK about the project and their learning. This approach not only develops resilience, but also builds students’ confidence and communication skills that are essential for employment. The value of the approach is illustrated by feedback from a project stakeholder:
“… when we take on a graduate, it can take a couple of years before they are having a directly positive impact on the business. It can take that long for them to extend their capabilities beyond the subject-specific knowledge they gain at university. Your students, on the other hand, have made a difference from day one with their hands-on projects, albeit on a much smaller scale.” (Russel Jamieson, Professional Communities Development Manager, BT)
Students are given a high-level brief that provides the framework for the project and how their work will be assessed. Team members usually self-select and this helps them stay together when the going gets tough. At the start, teams are encouraged to TRY out a wide range of ideas and concepts, and to consider the risks and value of each. On most units where the approach is used, teams choose both the format and the content of what they create. Booklets, videos and posters are frequently chosen.
Next, the teams develop plans for their project, design and create artefacts and then TEST the results with classmates and tutors. Extensive formative is received by each team, providing both the practical suggestions and the motivation for them to make improvements to the work.
The third and final step is to TALK about their work – the artefacts created, the process used to undertake the project and, most importantly for developing reflective practitioners, their learning. On many of the units, there is an opportunity for teams to engage in discussion with, and receive feedback from, external stakeholders and other professionals at the end of their projects. Students are often required write an individual critical review (ICR) of their learning. The value of this final step is that students sift through the experience and capture their unique learning. They develop the professional language that enables them to impress potential employers and being able to talk about their unique learning helps our students to stand out from the crowd.