Case Study - Sociological Futures: Embedding careers content in to teaching provision for finalists
Dr Katie Coveney with Dr Iris Wigger and Dr Thomas Thurnell- Read, Social Sciences and Humanities
Sociological Futures was designed to embed tailored careers content and the development of key employability skills into core teaching for finalists. The module is based around asking three main questions – What will/can you do next after your undergraduate degree? How can we make a difference to the world around us? What will the future of our discipline look like? The pedological approach taken is based around the principles of active leaning, critical self-reflection, creativity, peer support and collaboration. Teaching, learning, and assessment activities were purposefully designed to foster inquiry, critical thinking, evaluation and the development of self-knowledge and self-awareness. Alongside the focus on careers, students were given the opportunity to apply and connect sociological concepts to the world around them, to evaluate the relevance of theory to both everyday experiences and some of the big issues facing society today, thinking about possibilities for change. Students reported that this “opened their eyes to the power of sociology” in society and helped them develop a broader understanding of how the sociological knowledge and transferable skills they have paves their way into a range of graduate careers.
Graduate employability is a key strategic priority for the University and graduate destinations are an important metric used to measure the success of degree programmes. Sociology is a vibrant discipline which prepares students for a diverse range of careers, yet the transition from academic study to employment is often challenging. Students can feel overwhelmed by the different options available to them and be unaware of how valuable and applicable their skills are across different employment sectors. Sociological Futures was designed to have a dual purpose. First, to provide a dedicated space for students to think creatively about and plan for their own sociological futures. Second, to encourage students to think critically about the future of Sociology and its role in making sense of some of the big issues that are facing our social world now and, in the future (appendix 1). The module builds on sociological knowledge and skills students have developed in Part A and B. It enables students to reflect on their sociological journeys so far, and further develops a range of discipline specific and generic employability skills to prepare them for the journeys ahead as they take their sociological imaginations outside of the academe. The focus of teaching, learning and assessment is on developing, strengthening, and applying higher level skills (e.g., critical thinking, evaluation, reflection, analysis, application of knowledge to practical social problems) in line with the level of challenge and complexity expected of a learner as they progress into this stage of higher education (appendix 2). The careers-oriented content of the module involves careful liaising with the Careers Network and building and maintaining good relationships with alumni. The second part of the module requires up to date subject specific knowledge as it is both theoretically informed and research-led, drawing on contemporary case studies and empirical research to get students to think critically about the real-world impacts and applicability of their subject.
Teaching, learning, and assessment was designed to build and develop a number of key subject specific, transferable and employability skills in line with QAA subject benchmarks for Sociology (appendix 2). The course follows the principles of active learning, which is a teaching philosophy that believes learning is best achieved through collaboration and participation in the classroom. A core aim of the module is to provide ways for students to enhance their independent critical thinking abilities and raise their confidence to join and lead class discussion. Student-led learning (e.g., group presentations, sociological/creative interludes, group discussion, reflections) is central to the module design and its success. Each 3-hour session has at least 1 hour dedicated to these activities providing mechanisms for peer learning and formative feedback. Additional time and space were also set aside for 1-1 feedback (appendix 1, 3).
Block 1: 3 three-hour workshops focusing on possible future career paths for sociology graduates with guest speakers and facilitated discussions of how students can apply the subject specific and generic skills they have developed throughout their studies in various occupational roles. Linked assessment: A group presentation, purposefully designed as an inquiry based critical self-reflection exercise into students own personal biographies to foster inquiry, reflection, critical thinking and the development of self-knowledge and self-awareness in addition to creativity, collaborative group working and oral presentation – all key employability skills for any graduate which map onto the national credit framework (appendix 4).
Block 2: 9 three-hour workshops orientated towards studying the future in and of sociology. Purposefully drawing on diverse literatures including black feminism, post-colonialism, critical disability studies and post-humanism to further enhance the decolonisation and diversification of our curriculum, we explore how sociology can help us to make sense of some of the emergent changes, challenges and risks facing humanity today, such as globalisation, climate change, racism and intersectional inequalities, the rise of artificial intelligence and advances in genomics and medicine (appendix 5). Linked assessment: 2000-word essay on a linked topic of their choice.
Holding sessions within the working day meant it was difficult for some of the alumni speakers we approached to attend. To overcome this, we offered speakers the options of attending in-person, online or via pre-recorded video. Going forward, we will begin liaising with speakers earlier and build in more resilience to account for attrition. We have already approached this year’s cohort about returning to the module as guest speakers next year and are maintaining contact with those who are interested in doing so.
We ran two of the careers’ sessions virtually over MS Teams with Loughborough Sociology Alumni and current PGR’s which worked well, making the sessions accessible to our alumni and cost effective.
5. Evidence of Success
Embedding tailored careers content into formal teaching provision for finalists has proved beneficial for students. Several have indicated that they are now considering postgraduate study as an option for them. 65% (18/28) of the students actively engaged with the Careers Network after the taking the module, making individual appointments for careers advice, and attending other recruitment events. Feedback from students indicates that they both enjoyed the careers sessions and found the linked assignment useful in planning for their futures (appendix 6). Students emphasised how valuable they had found peer learning experiences and critical self-reflection and the central concept of connecting sociological futures, the future of societies and their own futures.
Examples of student feedback include: “I really enjoyed the module and felt it made me understand what I wanted to do in the future and all the options open to me. It also made me look into it more before it was too late to apply to anything […]Thank you to both Katie and Iris for teaching it and making me realise a PhD is possible.” And: “I would say the module definitely surprised me as I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first but it opened my eyes to the power of sociology”.
6. How can other Academics Reproduce this?
The pedological approach taken in this module can easily be reproduced in other disciplines. It is forward looking and based around the principles of active leaning, critical self-reflection, creativity, peer support and collaboration. It requires building formal relationships with the Careers Network in addition to a good understanding of the evolving landscape of graduate work in that area. This is best gained by teaching colleagues drawing on their personal experience, alumni connections, professional bodies and contacts within other relevant external organisations. In addition, a strong commitment to the decolonisation and diversification of the curriculum requires a proactive approach, seeking out scholarship from voices beyond the disciplinary mainstream.
The success of the approach we took depended heavily on the goodwill of external speakers, including the Careers Network and alumni giving us their time. Having more formalised relationships would make organising and running the module smoother. Next time around the group presentations will be peer assessed using WebPA bringing in increased peer to peer feedback and evaluation and student -led activities. We plan to include a career session that caters more for students who are already in employment or have secured jobs after their degree and invite representatives from our professional body (the BSA) and groups such as the “Applied Sociology Study Group” run by sociologists outside of academia to talk to students about the future of discipline and their role in this, as future sociologists.