Digital skills at History
In her teaching, University Lecturer of Ancient History Liesbeth Claes uses various digital tools. Using that experience and interest she started an innovation project in order to research which digital skills history alumni need on the labour market and how these skills can be implemented in the curriculum.
‘I am interested in innovating education,’ says Liesbeth Claes. ‘In my course on Roman numismatics we work with different ICT tools such as a GIS application and SQL databases and I started wondering whether we could implement these digital skills more broadly in the history curriculum. The innovation project had two research pillars that have led to recommendations for a better connection with the labour market and recommendations for a digital learning trajectory.'
A better connection with the labour market
‘The first pillar mainly revolves around students’ awareness of acquired skills and their usefulness on the labour market,’ Claes explains. In order to research how a connection with the labour market can be integrated into the existing curriculum in the best way possible, Claes had conversations with other study programmes of the faculty about their approach. These conversations resulted in a couple of ideas for the history study programme: for example, the development of a standardised checklist of extracurricular activities and small assignments that focus on the labour market. ‘Assignments like making an inventory of skills that are asked for in job vacancies and writing a reflection report stimulate students to watch over the wall of the history study programme during their studies,’ says Claes. ‘The thesis seminars during the bachelor and master would be a perfect moment to pay more attention to this.’
‘It is mainly important that students are encouraged to learn to look over the wall of the history study programme.’
Learning trajectory digital skills
The second pillar of the project focused on recommendations for a digital skills learning trajectory: which skills do students of history need on the labour market? ‘At the moment, hardly any explicit attention is paid to digital skills in the history curriculum. There is a desire to do more in this respect, as is also evident from the Transferable Skills report from the faculty,’ says Claes. That is why she made an inventory of the digital skills that students ideally need to have, in order to make a good start on the labour market. For this, Claes consulted employers such as the The Dutch National Museum of Antiquities, De Nederlandse Bank and the Historisch Tijdschrift, and an alumnus of Archaeology and ICT specialist Bart Noordervliet. The skills that emerged from this inventory were then incorporated into a survey that was presented to history alumni. ‘This survey revealed an interesting result,' says Claes. ‘Alumni indicated that they mainly need Excel in their working lives. Other software programmes, such as Access, Python, or SQL score much lower.’ Claes explains that it is therefore useful to make a distinction between learning to work with specific software packages on the one hand and learning digital jargon and basic digital skills on the other. The latter is of particular importance, since at their jobs students may be confronted with various programmes.
Claes' project has led to a concise research report with concrete recommendations for a better connection between the labour market and the history study programme and for a digital skills learning trajectory. ‘It would be nice,' says Claes, 'if the recommendations could be presented to a small group of students, alumni and lecturers, after which the follow-up can be discussed by the programme committee. Developing a learning trajectory on digital skills requires a lot of work and could perhaps be tackled in a subsequent innovation project.’
In addition to concrete recommendations, the project has also brought Claes herself new experiences: 'Through this innovation project, I have become acquainted with more Dutch employers. It is good to strengthen these ties, especially because I used to study and work in Flanders and was therefore less familiar with the Dutch labour market. An innovation project like this takes you out of your own 'cocoon' a bit, not only by talking to people outside the faculty, but also by collaborating with other people within the faculty, such as the Career Service and the Alumni Relations Officer. It's nice that a faculty innovation project like this provides the opportunity and time to do that.'
In the past two years, more than thirty educational innovation projects have been set up and implemented by lecturers at the Faculty of Humanities. In this series, they talk about their experiences.