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Students at Auckland International Campus, Otago Polytechnic
Photo by Otago Polytechnic

Demonstrating capabilities

Lesley Brook —

Students are not always aware of the wide range of competencies they are developing.

Tertiary education programmes have formal Learning Outcomes which are recorded in the approved programme documentation. But when they carry out facilitated learning activities, students also gain a range of informal capabilities. Spontaneous learning can also occur, and all three kinds of competencies - formal, informal and spontaneous - are valuable for students as they move into the workforce.

Senior Lecturers Bing Dai and Yury Zhukov, at our Auckland International Campus, carried out a research project to find out just what competencies their students were gaining. They focussed on the eight week project undertaken by Applied Management students, which explored ethical issues of leadership through a study of a cultural artefact. Teams of 4 to 5 students in two cohorts completed 10 projects. Bing and Yury examined the students' project outputs and reflections, they looked at the students' social media posts about their projects and also interviewed 9 of the students.

Of the 36 competencies demonstrated by the students across the 10 projects, only 17 were formal, associated with the Learning Outcomes for the project. Another 13 informal competencies, based on the Learner Capability Framework, had been demonstrated, for example oral communication and teamwork. There were also six spontaneous competencies: dancing, cooking, video making, event promotion and management, tree planting, and project budgeting and fundraising.

The interviews revealed that students were not aware that they were demonstrating informal or spontaneous competencies, and did not value these. Bing and Yury therefore recommend that reflection on learning expressly prompt students to consider their learning more broadly. They also found that students loved positive social media feedback on their projects, so they recommend finding ways to acknowledge the value of students' work.