Embedding employability through cross-faculty learning

Matt Jones and Gemma Ahearne explain how an innovative interdisciplinary dissertation module enhanced their students' sense of belonging, learning outcomes, and employability.

Gemma Ahearne is a Lecturer in Criminology, Deputy Director of Education for Sociology, Social policy and Criminology, and Faculty Lead for Community and Belonging.

Matt Jones is a career consultant for the faculty of humanities and social sciences at the University of Liverpool

With the Office for Students’ new equality of risk register, the cost of living crisis, the pandemic recovery period, and the rapidly changing world of work – we have a regulatory and moral duty to our students to provide an education that prepares them to thrive in the workplace.

Skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, digital storytelling, an enterprising mindset and the ability to communicate effectively across disciplines and to a range of stakeholders should be embedded into the curriculum.

As educators, we attempt to incorporate such skill development by embracing inter-faculty collaboration. Inter-faculty learning aligns academic practice with the core principles of collaboration, communication and innovation in education and provides students with transformation and impactful learning experience.

This is particularly evident in our Creative Consultant: Dissertation by Portfolio module open to sociology, criminology, and social policy students. They work alongside the engineering students who have their own capstone project module. Unlike the traditional dissertation pathway, students work in clusters on a diverse range of research topics using multidisciplinary perspectives, utilising peer-based support, and developing a strong sense of collegiality and belonging; all of which are vital for encouraging students to see the value of their campus and community in the post-pandemic period.

Student collaboration

During the course of the module, engineering students work on designing and building products to remedy real-world problems while sociologists and criminologists are afforded the opportunity to work collaboratively as creative consultants on a range of projects to add value through a social science lens.

One recent project involved engineering students designing an electric racing car to compete at Silverstone against vehicles from over 100 other universities, while collaborating with their peers in sociology and criminology to look at issues such as racial and gender discrimination within sports, and greenwashing in the electric car industry.

Other collaborative projects included engineers designing a solar-powered refrigerator for tomato farmer collectives in Zanzibar, while the sociological creative consultants have researched the potentials of solar power for remedying food insecurity, food poverty in the UK, and decolonisation in sustainability strategies, as well as engineers designing a machine that shreds waste plastic to produce a filament that can then be turned into new plastic products to sell on campus, while the criminological creative consultants have explored implementing a circular economy within prisons and the broader criminal justice system, the impact of plastic waste on the global south, the potentials of the circular economy for period products, and limitations of current waste initiatives.

By addressing a real-world problem, students recognise the value of applied social science and are more likely to feel energised by future opportunities.

Students worked closely together, attending weekly meetings and sessions with their interfaculty peers – in addition to meeting their own cluster and the broader module cohort. By exposing students to such innovative inquiry-based learning and entrepreneurial mindsets, we believe we can help to tackle equality gaps in attainment in graduate employment.

Inclusive and engaging assessment

For example, disabled students are less likely to continue their degrees, graduate with a good degree, and progress onto a highly skilled job or further study. There are many theories for this discrepancy – including difficulty managing their disability and academic workload, and isolation and loneliness.

The assessed portfolio is more inclusive as it allows students to break down a year-long piece of work into more manageable chunks while receiving ongoing feedback from peers and tutors. Students are able to successfully identify their strengths throughout their dissertation process, and are not overwhelmed by the thought of a 10,000-word solo project – a framework not only rarely replicated in “real-world” work, but one many disabled students report finding difficult.

Disabled students have also reported that they feel that they belong to a collaborative and supportive community of learners – and some report that this module is the only time they’ve made friends when engaging with course material.

In addition to their assessed portfolio, creative consultants present their research at a small, catered conference event with internal and external guests. Students are able to deliver their findings or can choose to present a pre-recorded podcast, a short video presentation, an academic poster, social media output, or other creative media. Researchers and as consultants, students are able to demonstrate the diverse range of academic, professional, and industry-standard skills that have been developed throughout the duration of the module. Students can also use the event to network and talk to experts about the real-world application of their work.

Staff collaboration

The collaborative principles do not just apply to our teaching. In embedding employability and throughout the curriculum design process we worked closely with the Careers and Employability service to incorporate bespoke, in-curricular skill development workshops, constructively aligned to support module assessment. The module has also greatly benefited from input from colleagues in our Centre for Innovation in Education, encouragement from our academic developers and support from colleagues in our Sustainability Team and our dedicated student experience team and professional services staff. It is a real team effort, and we believe that this holistic approach is not only what makes the module such a success but also demonstrates that the skills we teach our students are highly relevant to the current world of work.

Creative Consultant: Dissertation by Portfolio isn’t just another module. It’s a commitment to providing innovative and impactful learning experiences for the workforce of the future.

Leave a Reply