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How can I help my students to recognise their unique skills?

On Friday 10 June a workshop on students’ unique skills was organised in the context of the joint Erasmus+ project ASSET-H. In this workshop, teaching staff learned how to showcase the skills that students can learn in their classes. Trainer Catho Jacobs has five tips on helping students to recognise their unique skills, for any teaching staff who were unable to attend the workshop.

1. Take the course’s strengths as your starting point

‘Teaching staff should take the strengths of their course and the discipline’s approach as their starting point,’ says Jacobs. ‘It’s important to emphasise that we don’t want them to unnecessarily add extra skills to their course. Our philosophy is that they already naturally impart many of the skills that students need for the job market,’ she explains. ‘The main point is the course’s inherent value and how the teachers make use of that value.’

2. Pinpoint the skills you offer

The next step is to identify what skills you offer. Based on responses to a survey held in the partner universities (Leiden, Leuven and Helsinki), the skills have been distilled into six clusters. The first is knowledge; this does not mean that students have a lot of knowledge, but rather that they can process large amounts of knowledge and information. The other clusters are language skills, communication skills, project management and leadership skills, creativity and interculturality. All of the clusters are divided into sub-skills. ‘More information about the research and the skill clusters can be found on our website,’ adds Jacobs.

3. Think about content and learning activities

Her third tip for teaching staff is to think about the content of their course and the existing learning activities. ‘For example, is it a lecture or a tutorial? If you change the learning activities, you can increase or decrease the emphasis on skills in certain clusters. Lectures are helpful for skills in the knowledge cluster, because students have to process a lot of information simultaneously. If you turn the lecture into a tutorial, for example, there will be greater emphasis on skills in the communication cluster.’

4. Communicate with your students

Once you have identified the skills that are emphasised in your courses, it is important to communicate about them with your students. The best way to do this depends on the teacher’s personal preferences. ‘There’s no right or wrong way of going about this,’ says Jacobs. ‘Some teachers prefer to give a rough outline of the skills at the beginning or end of a course, or you can specifically state them for every relevant project or lecture. You can choose to discuss all six clusters, but you can also decide to highlight the most relevant cluster for your course.’

5. Seek guidance

Jacobs advises teaching staff to seek guidance if they find this difficult; help is available from many sources. Within the Faculty of Humanities, they can contact Sanne Arens or Annebeth Simonsz of the Educational Advice and Quality Assurance (O&K) team. Another option is to contact the ASSET-H team via the contact page on their website, where they will be available to answer questions until October 2023.

An EU grant has made it possible for the Faculty of Humanities to enter into a three-year partnership with KU Leuven, the University of Helsinki and the employment agency Randstad Belgium. The Erasmus+ project ASSET-H arose from the realisation that transitioning to the labour market takes longer for humanities students than for other students. Helping students to recognise their specific skills and capacities should make this transition easier. The project consists of several components, including the design and testing of a personal development planning tool to help students discover their own skills and a training module for teaching staff.

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