The Employability Misconception

There is a misconception amongst our students that a degree will guarantee a job. I realised this belief is probably a huge factor that contributes to the worrying behaviours I wrote about in my last post Students: I’m worried about you.

There is a belief, or misguided hope at least, that a degree will guarantee a job. Most worryingly there seems to be a feeling that if a student leaves without having got a job then it’s the university’s fault.

What is employability anyway?

a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes – that make graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy

One would hope that we are teaching students the skills, understandings and personal attributes they need to be gainfully employed anyway. Surely this should be par for the course. Apparently it’s not so we go through endless initiatives that aim to increase employability. Lets develop the skills and values to make them better people. Not to massage our DLHE survey results but because we have a duty to.

What I feel we miss is the part that talks about their benefit to the workforce, community and economy. That it’s not all about getting a job. That it’s actually about so much more than that.

Employability is a misnomer

I  know we like to put names on things. Chiefly because they are words by which we are measured but I wonder is employability really the right word? Have we created a rod for our own backs?

Emplyability is not something that can be taught. It’s not a clear list of skills that we can tick off. It’s about wide ranging skills, personal values and attributes that vary for each individual.

Employability as a term implies a degree will teach you everything you need to know to be employed. The higher the level of employability the better chance you’ll have of getting a job. Nope. Remember you have a degree like the majority of other applicants. Yes yours might be from a slightly ‘better’ university but you need more than that to stand out.

I agree we should be making sure our students are ready to leave university and be effective members of the community. What I disagree with is the wealth that learning offers being boiled down to their getting a job. It’s about so much more than that. If I could do one thing it would be to convince students of that.

Fees, monetisation and expectations

Let’s face it. Students have this view because they are paying a lot of money to study. I wrote about it in detail in my previous post. They want (and deserve) it to be worth something eventually. Students, please trust me. It is worth it. It may take you a few years to realise it but it’s worth so much more than you think.


I thought I’d go to University and be Stephen Spielberg. I’m not. I’m sat in an office, above a launderette, on my own, in the dark because it’s raining and I don’t want to turn the lights on. I am not Stephen Spielberg. Has my degree contributed to my being where I am now? Of course. Could I have got here without it? Yes I could. It might have taken longer but I could have.

Students need to understand that a degree is not an automatic job guarantee. They need to think about the transferable skills they gain from a degree and their involvement in wider university activities. I’m sure I’ve heard someone say that most jobs won’t exist in 20 years time. Don’t pigeon hole yourselves.

Be brave, work hard and walk your own path.

Highlights: UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities 2

I had a fantastic time at this years UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities 2 (USDC) conference. I was so pleased that the Digital Capabilities group put on another event.

People matter

My biggest ‘take-away’ from USDC is the continued belief that people matter. The featured image for this post was an attendees idea of digital nirvana represented in box form. The message felt particularly pertinent given the discussions we had over the two days.

Be just you. Surround yourself with technology, but remember that humans are still the most important thing. USDC attendee May 2016.

I have often been guilty of putting technology before people. Thinking that using the technology is more important than how it will be used and how it will support learning. I think Helen Beetham put it best:

We should be bringing people with us. Finding technology that relates to them and their practice. That enhances their practice and the experiences of their students.

Most importantly we should be careful that our language, attitudes and behaviours don’t alienate those with lower digital skills.


I had never heard of this term until my former colleague Sue Watling mentioned it in her presentation. Follow Sue on Twitter, check out her brilliant blog the Digital Academic and her post Metathesiophobia and other #udigcap take-aways.

My experience of staff attitudes to technology has most regularly been a mixture of fear and irrelevance.


James Clay (James has written several posts about USDC on his blog described the work Jisc has been doing on digital capabilities and reminded is of their framework on day 1. I live blogged about it on this site in the post Building digital capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency. I really like the Jisc framework. It is clear, simple and well designed. Helen Beetham wrote a post about her work revisiting the framework in her post Revisiting digital capability for 2015.

Jisc six elements of digital capability
Jisc six elements of digital capability

One thing I wondered, whilst I listened to Fiona Handley from University of Brighton talk about the framework they developed, was whether it is even worth doing? (Read Fiona’s blog on USDC here.)

I have lost the plot with frameworks and frankly I’m not 100% certain what a framework actually is. The definition of framework is:

  • the basic structure of something : a set of ideas or facts that provide support for something

  • a supporting structure : a structural frame


The key word, in this definition, is basic. What I fear happens when we take a framework is that we take it and make it far too complex. That in its adaptation we lose the simplicity that makes a framework so accessible.

I for one will not be adapting the Jisc framework. It will drive our work here at Lincoln but it’s perfect, and most helpful, exactly as it is.

 IT Training Teams

I wrote a full post on the panel discussion Debate: Do we still need IT training teams?. Having been an IT trainer it’s an issue very close to my heart. There is a tendency to believe that resources like can be a replacement for the classroom training team.


Lynda is brilliant. It has it’s placed. Particularly for the any-time anywhere learning we are told students so desire. It cannot replace the reassurance and skills of the IT trainer. Lynda can’t pick up on when you don’t understand. It can’t change it’s delivery to suit it’s audience. It can’t answer questions. It can’t ask you questions to see if you understand.

IT Training teams can. We need them.

Employing staff without skills

There was a big debate in the room on why we continue to employ staff who don’t have the existing digital skills. This is something that I will be dedicating an entire post to.

For more tweets and activity from USDC check out my Storify

Live blogging the verdict: madness


Live blogging. How do I loath thee?

How do I loath thee? Let me count the ways.
I loath thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I loath thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I loath thee freely, as men strive for right.
I loath thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I loath thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I loath thee with a hate I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I loath thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but loath thee better after death.

Adapted from How do I love thee by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

If my poem was too subtle let me tell you how much I have hated every moment of my live blogging experiment today. It was the worst idea I have ever had. I should have listened to those of you who warned me. It was hideous.

I arrived at the venue full of optimism. Although I could have done without carrying the laptop all the way here. Woop woop I thought, there are tables in the lecture theatre, I can use my laptop. I couldn’t find a plug but we’ll return to that later. So I eagerly set up and log in. Connect to the WiFi but wait, the WiFi drops out constantly. I managed to get on to this website for a few minutes before it died.

Let’s not forget the adaptation of Maslow’s hierarchy:

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

It’s tongue in cheek but seriously,we need WiFi to communicate. I had no better connection on my phone but at least I had signal.

So I used my phone. Writing my posts in Google Keep and then pasting it in to the WordPress app. It was the least comfortable thing I have experienced in a while. I am convinced I now have RSI. I kept hitting the full stop or it would auto-correct the words. It was a tiny screen and I was hunched over looking at it. I did this until after lunch.

IT Crowd
IT Crowd

So during lunch someone ‘fixed it’ and I endeavoured to use it. It still dropped out. But we did find the plugs on the inside of the chairs. Phew, POWER. Particularly when I clicked the publish button on my posts. I think this was just the WiFi demons having their fun. As you will see on my Twitter I produced a blog for every session I attended.

I found I couldn’t fully concentrate. Too busy thinking about what to write or trying to capture what someone has said and missing everything afterward. It stopped my participating and enjoying the conference. It probably annoyed my neighbours too. Keyboards are not subtle.

I haven’t read them back yet so can’t comment on their ‘sense’ or ‘quality’. I leave that to you dear readers. But I did what I set out to do. I have experienced live blogging. I’ve practiced what I preach.

Will I be doing it tomorrow?

Dr Evil - How 'bout no
Dr Evil – How ’bout no

Nope. I will go back to micro-blogging with Twitter. My hand hurts.

Tips if you’re thinking about live blogging

  1. Don’t do it.
  2. Make sure you have quality, reliable WiFi access.
  3. Don’t do it.
  4. Use a device you will be comfortable typing on.
  5. Don’t do it.
  6. Make sure you have a comfortable environment. A table preferably.
  7. Don’t do it.
  8. Decide what you’re going to write, your interpretations or a transcript.
  9. Don’t do it.
  10. think about alternative methods. Twitter and Storify for example.

Building digital capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency

Jisc six elements of digital capability

I am sat in Birmingham listening to another of James Clay’s greatest hits. If you don’t know what I’m talking about read James’s blog. I am happy to call it a greatest hits keynote because I never tire of hearing it.

(I am writing this on my phone as the WiFi here is awful!)

James talks about the digital capabilities discovery tool. The tool has broken some of his perceptions about his online behaviour. He scored low on promotion. Clearly his perceptions of himself were wrong. The tool will be available to everyone in the summer.

The most valuable thing about the tool will be the development of the resources to accompany it. It’s all well and good showing what you can’t do. But we need to.make sure we have a solution available.

So what does digital capability mean? We need to gain a shared understanding within organisations. For example to some just being able to use Office is capable to some.

We need to understand that people who don’t engage with social media will struggle to use other communications tools. It’s not about Twitter. It’s about the transferable skills gained through its use.

James used the example of the release of HIV patient data to demonstrate that it wasn’t caused by human error, it’s lack of digital capabilities. How can we expect people to know how to deal with data if they’ve never had training?

An interesting observation is that academic staff job descriptions do not include digital or technology. What does that say about our expectations and the seriousness with which we take the digital?

“How do we know what we know?”

James asks “where is Barclay’s biggest branch?”

The answer. Their app. A modern organisation needs to be digitally capable.

It’s so true look at HE. Where is the biggest classroom? It’s the VLE. It is the most visited resource (aside from the pub) at Universities.

We need to take advantage of it and do it well. Staff need support to do that. They weren’t born with those skills. We need to facilitate their gaining them.

Technology, Digital Capabilities and the Language of Change

Communication and resilience are key to change. Here here. We often neglect people and focus on the service. Change effects people differently but all change is disruptive. This is the basis of David Walker’s presentation. How do we avoid alienating everyone?

When we think about technologies we shouldn’t be distracted by the shiny stuff. I like to think of this as not doing stuff for the sake of it. Do we need to change? Is the disruption worth it? How do we support people through? How do we communicate?

David says that HE has taken a developmental approach to change rather than transformational. We’ve been in the brink of transformation for years but we’re yet to take the plunge. The learning curve is only going to get steeper.

How will people react to change? Badly? Well it’s largely down to poor communication. So true. Someone described it as setting the ‘hares running’. The rumours get out, Chinese whispers start and the message is completely different and much more frightening than it was when it was sent out.

Our language doesn’t help. What the heck does excellence mean for example. We need a common language. What works for business won’t work for engineering. We need to understand all contexts to get the message right.


So how do we implement change?


Benchmarking your students’ digital experience


We’re now talking student engagement with Ellie Russell, Student Engagement Partnership Manager, NUS, and Sarah Knight, Senior Co-design Manager, Jisc.

(I am getting RSI from blogging on my phone. I regret this decision. No WiFi so needs must)

So we’re looking at how we involve students in our learning community. It already kinda happens. Students unions, involvement in curriculum design and committees. What I was most pleased to hear was the acknowledgement that sometimes student engagement activities focus more on the warm and fuzzy feeling we get from doing it. Rather than looking at the results and impact.

So how do we involve students in the digital?Consider:

Are students involved from the start? In the design? What about training and support?

So, how do we measure student skills and experiences?

I love that after all the research Sarah Knight has done WiFi is the thing students are most concerned about.

Sarah suggests that we are not taking advantage of involving students in the development of our strategies. There is a real power in this. To persuade staff to improve their digital capabilities leaders said they want case studies, not from the teacher, from the learners perspective. This is something Jisc is working on. I look forward to those.

Jisc have created a student experience tracker. 11,000 responses have been received during pilots. A report will be released within weeks. Interesting that students are not told about how their data is held. Most surprising is that that’s something they are concerned about.

71% of students responded that their learning experience is improved when technology has been involved. We should be shouting loudly about this. Perhaps it will persuade the ‘negative Nelly’s’ to start using tech in their teaching.

Amber Miro Award winner 2015: Lessons from a Learners’ Toolkit


Hamish Loveday is talking about the learner toolkit he’s developed. I am really enjoying this talk. XXX is speaking my language. People first, technology later.

(I’m on the la

Let’s start with people. What do they want to achieve and what can we do to achieve it. Technology is there to serve us and what we do. It shouldn’t drive what we do! So Hamish overcame an issue with the VLE, its inflexibility, by building a platform of their own. Learning gained from the process was more valuable than the building of the tool itself.

It’s important to give people space to innovate. All too often workload gets in the way of ideas. We have them but don’t have time to implement them. YES. So true. So often I think of things I would like to do. They get to the bottom of the list and remain there. Institutions need to understand that progress can only be made when we are given the space to make it. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Never assume anything. Don’t be afraid to test your idea. Make a minimised version and test it out. This is very true but you need the space to create and the skills. ICT departments are often reticent to install something that is not supported by a company. Their fears are legitimate no doubt but it does make innovation very difficult.
The learner’s toolkit collects all the learning materials and training resources in one place. I like the use of profiles to help users navigate to content. The fact that something so simple was achieved by 2.5 people in a couple of months is staggering. It all seems to be down to the fact that the team were left alone to do it. They also knew the value of the long game. There are no quick fixes. The team are now looking at allowing other members of staff to contribute content to the toolkit.

Supporting staff to embed inclusivity and accessibility in their practice


Alistair McNaught is now talking about inclusive practice. Why is inclusivity important? Well look at the numbers 35,000 numbers identify themselves as having a specific learning difficulty.

Barriers are everywhere but they can be overcome.

Alistair uses a fantastic exercise to demonstrate how different people like different methods of communication. We all closed our eyes, assuming the experience of the visually impaired participant, and raised our hands when an option we liked was offered. There was a real mixture of preference. The key is we can’t assume what people like or need.

My perceptions have been changed. Text is the least popular method of communication for deaf students. Uh oh, hang on. That’s pretty much our primary method of communication. Listen + read = write. That’s how we study. Or at least that’s how we are forced to study.

Inclusion is the oxygen of digital capability.

Alistair says that we should manage our expectation on the inclusivity of resources of our staff based on differing levels of people’s skills. A novice might use heading styles in text whereas an expert will do that and release it in multiple formats. We can’t assume that everyone knows how to do everything. It’s no good handing over the guidelines that state what people should do to be inclusive we should support them with the skills to be inclusive.

Online learning and digital capabilities – the theory and the reality


Online learning and digital capabilities – the theory and the reality
Kathryn Wenczek, IT Learning Centre Manager, University of Oxford and Silke Prodinger-Leong, Client Success Consultant,, a LinkedIn Company

Silke Prodinger-Leong showed that there are lots of different interpretations of digital capabilities and of online learning. She shared a number of statistics which demonstrate the prevalence of online learning and it’s importance to educations future. have created a playlist based on the Jisc digital capabilities framework. I’ll take a look and update this blog with my feedback on it.

Kathryn Wenczek from Oxford University talks about her implementation of They had issues with capacity. Technology is updating too quickly to keep up. So they began by offering some online courses e.g. ECDL. Uptake wasn’t high. They bought a campus licence and did a soft launch to spread the word. Lots of promotion using posters, badges and social media.

Lynda has been in place at Oxford for 9 months and 4700 signed up. 1634 of those users are actively engaged. The most popular course are programming and statistics. Does this indicate we’re not doing enough to support students in this? Or are these extra-curricular studies?

The reports are limited as they decided not to provide Lynda with the necessary information. This is something they lament. Kathryn also found that the playlists need improvement to be more manageable.

The team will now review their marketing and offer Lynda learning labs to provide a quiet physical space for studying Lynda materials. They are also hoping to flip the classroom more.

So has Lynda worked for them? Seems so. In my opinion Lynda is a beneficial addition to a robust training and support programme NOT an alternative. To be truly useful in HE we need to embed it in our teaching by flipping the classroom, creating custom playlists and encouraging a culture of self-help. It should also be embedded within our CPD provision. Not have it seen as an alternative.

A Content Strategist’s role in decision making for digital design


Not having learnt her lesson from James earlier, Ellen de Vries, Content Strategist, from Clearleft, begins by asking the group to name the location in her image. Naturally versions of Roady McRoadface are offered. Never ask the internet anything, or a room of conference attendees who are hyped up on coffee and free biscuits.

(I have to confess I am not sure what this talk is about. I was distracted setting up this blooming laptop)

Ellen is a content strategist. She cares about language. Particularly, making a message easy for everyone to understand and has the best learning outcome. Ellen describes the language tools we need to use. Use consistent messages, know your audience, use the right vocabulary and find your voice.

Language in itself is a tool for building understanding and concepts.

What is confusing? Do you find it difficult to explain? How would you summarise it? These are three important questions to ask yourself when you’re working on something. She suggests this as a good activity for teams to do during a project.

Ellen talks about her company’s use of personas as an effective way to understand our clients/users’ needs. To be honest aren’t these just user stories? Something already well known?

Interestingly she advises that, whilst it’s easy to give communications to external consultants or your marketing department, we should do it if it’s our message that’s going out. We understand it. We know what we want to say.

Our patterns are often invisible. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone come in with fresh eyes.

If I had to sum up this talk I would use the words: user stories.

(This post was made very difficult due to some excellent Twitter banter distractions)