Preparing students for work

Students in Arts, Humanities and Social Science have many exciting opportunities to plan for life after university:

English Language Assistantships Abroad - Department of Modern Languages and European Studies

As part of their year abroad in third year, modern language students are offered the option of working for seven to nine months as an English language assistant in schools abroad through the British Council assistantship programme. The scheme is open to all students who have studied a modern language module as part of their degree, and final year students and recent graduates may also apply.

Assistants provide support for English teaching in schools (they can choose which age group they want to work with, from primary up to university level). They have to plan activities and games using a variety of teaching materials, to make classes more fun and interactive.

Their work focuses on improving students' confidence in communicating in English. On their return, students can also apply to become 'student ambassadors' for the British Council, whose role it is to actively promote the programme within their university.

An assistantship is worth 40 credits, and will count towards the student's final grade. This is assessed at finals by a 5,000 word report (in the modern language that they are studying) that covers the following aspects of the teaching experience:

  • The school, its facilities, staffing and pupils
  • The welcome and initiation received and the nature of the ongoing support
  • The range of classes taught, their size, type, aims and objectives
  • Problems encountered in school and their resolution
  • Successes achieved

The report therefore encourages students to record their experiences whilst abroad, and to reflect on what experience and knowledge they have gained. This report is submitted to the department at the beginning of Autumn term in the final year.

The central aim of the programme is to provide students with the opportunity to improve their language skills through the practical application of living and working abroad. It also provides invaluable professional experience for students who are thinking of pursuing a career in teaching. Feedback on the programme has shown that working as an assistant provides an excellent environment for the development of personal skills essential for any career: self-confidence and self-reliance, independence, problem-solving abilities, teamwork; creativity, cultural awareness, and communication skills.

Through the scheme, students gain a wide range of broad employability skills and develop personally and socially. Living abroad helps students improve their language ability and gain wider cultural awareness that enriches their academic study. The employers gain through having additional classroom support (from native English speakers) and the department benefits by being able to offer a popular and challenging learning experience.

'Communications at Work' - Department of English Language and Literature

In this module, English students consider aspects of language and other communication tools during the seminar phase of the module. These include: TV media broadcasting; the history of print media; the art of the press release; semiotics; marketing and publishing; technology and communication.

In all of these areas, the focus is principally upon the use of language, thus picking up on the close reading skills which students have already gained, and the application of what they have learnt to new situations and material.

A key aspect of the module is that of placements: students undertake a two week communications placement which allows students to work directly with employers and puts their seminar-based learning into the work place. Students work with placement providers to develop a project based on communication issues within the placement organisation. The students then produce a fieldwork report which has a word limit of 2,000 words and comprises analysis of one or more aspects of communication in the workplace as encountered by the student.

This allows students to analyse communication in a workplace setting; it deepens their understanding of language and wider communication within this setting and enhances their skills base as they apply their skills within a professional organisation. The links between the university and the wider world are also strengthened by this module.

Theatre practice modules - Deparment of Film, Theatre and Television

Dr Teresa Murjas (Film, Theatre & Television) has worked in partnership with a number of professional theatre and art practitioners in delivering theatre practice modules at parts 1 & 2.

Practitioners are invited to devise 3-4 hour workshops - sometimes a workshop series - in order to assist students in developing a portfolio of skills which they can then apply to their own end-of-module projects. Practitioner-led workshops have covered a diverse set of topics including: the principles of the Laban school, set design and approaches to devising poetry-inspired performances. In one instance, a workshop on site specific theatre that ran over two weeks entailed students generating performances in various spaces around the Bulmershe Campus, using the properties of the space to create interactive installations. These workshops provide a valuable opportunity for students to undertake realistic projects with professional artists.

The skills and insights that the students gain enrich their wider academic learning. Furthermore, the breadth of experience enhances their employability and provides evidence for their CVs. Some of the professional artists provide their time freely (perhaps where they have previous involvement with the department - some are Alumni) while others are remunerated.

There are also other forms of motivation for the professionals involved: theatre companies see running workshops like these as an important way of developing and disseminating their ideas as well as generating future audience groups. The department benefits from being able to offer diverse and realistic experience of work in-house, which would be hard to source through external work placements. Throughout, the course tutor plays a key role in managing the input of externals, ensuring practitioners exemplifying a diverse range of modes are selected and that the workshops fit within the parameters of a module. The tutor is always present during the workshops to ensure continuity and coherence.

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