SkillsNet: Boosting Academic Skills Performance

“Students’ lackadaisical attitude is just one of the things that troubles Bernard Lamb, emeritus reader in genetics at Imperial College London, who campaigns to improve the use of English. He worries that students are leaving university without a grasp of the basics and paying the price in the jobs market. He says employers often reject applicants purely on the basis of spelling or grammatical mistakes in their CVs: “Their errors showed poor attention to detail, ignorance and a bad attitude.””

Newspapers enjoy demonstrating the lack of skills that graduates have, but Ann Mroz, editor of Times Higher Education indicates that these issues should be passed back to the government, and back down to skills… : “At university, students should be broadening their minds and learning how to think and work independently.” See full story, and associated stories on employability, and “by an English pedant“.

SkillsNet: Boosting Academic Skills Performance

SkillsNet offers on-line resources, tips and information to boost the academic performance of students at the University of Winchester. Study skills and study strategies are abilities and approaches applied to learning. Good study skills are critical to success at University, both in acquiring good grades, and proving useful for learning throughout one’s life.

Who is the site for?

SkillsNet is an interactive site providing easily accessible, relevant on-line resources to help students excel in their academic work, bringing together materials from across the University into one site. Whether the student is diligently preparing preparing ahead (everyone can improve), or working to a deadline, SkillsNet is available 24-7, 365 days a year to all students with a University log-in. The external site is fully open, and in future will include exemplars of material upon the site.

What information is on the site?

Students can search for useful tips, worksheets, ideas and information on such topics as dealing with written work, presentations, group work, learning actively, dealing with assessments and jargon under the section “I want to know about”. They can also access information about face-to-face workshops, other sources to dip into, and people who they can contact through “I want to go on a workshop” and “I want to talk to someone”. We are also encouraging contributions (comments, questions and suggestion)s through the interactive features, such as the blog, Facebook and Twitter under “I want more”!

“I want to know about…”

“I’m a student in”

“I want to go on a workshop”

“I want to talk to someone”

“I want more..”

In the future we will be adding specific information for specific disciplines through “I’m a student in…”, but this requires material provided by staff across the University, and until the site is within their consciousness, this will be slow in materialising – we could only work with the material that was already available at this stage. As the site develops, there will be options for more interactive material.


How was the site developed?

SkillsNet has been under development throughout the 2009/10 academic year, and, after much discussion as to whether it should external or internal, has been built upon the internal portal (using a 5+ year old infrastructure, which is undergoing some modernising). Bex, who Project Managed this, considered other similar sites, collated material, instructed other staff as to how to construct their sections, developed social media strategies, and undertook a focus group study which allowed us to see the enthusiasm that the students have for the project, and how we can continue to develop it – they were particularly keen to see exemplars of good/bad work from different disciplines. There is much material that can go on the site, and we have plans to develop SkillsNet to other aspects of personal skills development, including those related to employability.

"They're, Their, There" – so true… build the skills!

The UK sector should tackle undergraduates’ poor written English via a nationally prescribed update of the US model, urges Alex Baratta

Getting undergraduates to enjoy academic writing is a bit like getting a child to eat liver. First-year university students are usually more interested in content-based classes than skills-based instruction. But while they may see academic writing as boring, it is nonetheless a valuable and necessary skill for them to master, as the academic essay is still one of the main tools of their assessment.

Recent surveys have shown that employers consider proficiency in speaking and writing to be the most desirable skills for graduates to possess. A 2008 report for the Council for Industry and Higher Education, Graduate Employability: What Do Employers Think and Want?, found that 86 per cent of employers consider good communication skills to be important, yet many are dissatisfied with graduates’ ability to express themselves effectively.

It is all too often the case that students enter the job market armed with a BA degree, but still unable to distinguish between “its” and “it’s”, not to mention “there”, “their” and “they’re”. While relatively “minor” errors such as these may not prevent an essay being awarded a 2:2, the possibility remains that the same errors in the context of a cover letter could result in being passed over for a job interview, especially in the current job climate.

Read full story in Times Higher Education, and see how we’re planning to tackle this in Media Studies at the University of Winchester. I am also working on a project called “SkillsNet” which is expected to go live (largely internally) before the academic year commences – this will make skills-based information much easier to access for students, 24-7 online, rather than during the working day – the students are really enthusiastic about this idea.