This week I have been thinking about the structure and content of my undergraduate courses because as a department we are mulling over ideas about where to go in the future. As much as it disappoints me, 99.9% of my students do not want to become historians and nothing I can say or do will change their minds. So I must make sure that, as well as reaching the required intellectual standard to pass their degrees, I can give them some useful skills to take with them into the world of work.
‘Transferable skills’ is the phrase used to describe these rather woolly attainments that students should to help them in the real world: things like IT skills, oral communication/presentation confidence, project management, being a team player and so on. It’s important, especially in a subject like history, to bring these skills into the learning process in order to prove to employers that doing a degree in our subject is as valuable than doing a more vocational course.
Other sorts of skills have to be taught too: how to research, how to reference an essay, sometimes even how to write an essay. Studying at university level is very different from school and I think some lecturers forget that. It is important to provide the students with the skills to actually do their degrees. This could mean that we as history lecturers spend less time teaching our students about what happened in the past, which would be a shame as that is what they have signed up for. It’s a challenge for us to integrate the skills with the knowledge and provide exercises and guidance that allow students to develop skills while learning about history.
In our department the best ways to do this are hotly debated, so I am sure similar conversations are going on around the country. So, if you are a jobseeker going for a teaching-heavy post or a lectureship at a university or college that places a strong emphasis on teaching, make sure you have thought about this issue and have some ideas about how your specialist area could be used to help students gain the skills they need. It will improve your teaching practice and gain you brownie points with potential employers too!