Review of: Psychology students’ understanding of the skill-based learning fostered through university assignments

Martini, T.S., Norton, C., Rail, A. (2015). Psychology students’ understanding of the skill-based learning fostered through university assignments. Teaching of Psychology 42(4), 335-338. doi: 10.1177/0098628315603182

This group of researchers undertook a study examining whether or not undergraduate psychology students felt their coursework was valuable in helping them develop skills necessary in the professional world. The researchers recruited a total of 195 first-year psychology undergraduates and a group of 141 third- and fourth-year psychology students and administered a survey to them asking about the effectiveness of classroom activities in helping them develop skills necessary for life after college. The main questions the students were asked regarded students’ understanding of the purpose of school assignments, as well naming a list of skills they felt their degree was helping them to acquire. The majority of the students surveyed said that they did not feel that coursework corresponded significantly with the development of skills necessary in the professional world.

While many students named skills they felt their major was helping them develop, answers were extremely varied and many students omitted skills that most people would consider essential for those graduating with a degree in psychology (e.g., community/global awareness, conducting research, and technical skills). The researchers were concerned with the perceived lack of student understanding as to why professors assigned specific tasks, as well as lack of student confidence that learning activities were beneficial to skill development. There was also some concern that very marketable and sought-after skills (such as research and technical skills) were on the whole omitted by students.

The researchers concluded that instructors need to help students understand how learning activities are intended to help them further their education, and what skills specific activities are meant to help students develop. The researchers’ specific concern is that when students seek to enter the workforce as college graduates, they will not know exactly which skills they have developed and how to market these skills to potential employers. The researchers suggest that faculty members could attempt to, with regularity, inform their students of the important skills their courses as a whole, as well as specific assignments, are intended to help students develop. Their main concern is not that students are not developing marketable and sought-after skills, but that students may not be aware of the skills they have acquired and thus not able to recognize them and put them into practice.

The authors of this study bring to light an important topic that many instructors may not even be aware of. It is possible, if not probable, that most faculty members place an emphasis in their courses on students developing certain skills and qualities as a result of having taken their course. However, do these instructors help students understand why these skills are important and how they will help them after the course is over? Additionally, do instructors accompany assignments with an explanation of how the assignment will contribute to the students’ learning? In my experience, most professors provide learning outcomes on a PowerPoint that is reviewed during the first day of classes for the semester, and then these learning outcomes are never mentioned again. This article makes me think that professors would do well to revisit these learning outcomes often and with specific assignments in mind, in order to emphasize to students the importance of coursework and the marketable skills they are acquiring for their life after college.

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