The first ‘E’ - Employers
Transitioning from ‘traditional’ directed teaching to explorative, real-life learning offers students the opportunities to engage in career enhancing experiences suggests Cameron (2020). PBL connects the curriculum learning to industry continuously every time students tackle a co-designed problem with employers, becoming familiar with their ‘ways of working: employers bring the ‘real world’ to the classroom. As students master this way of learning, they become increasingly motivated as they connect “why” they are learning content: it is brought to life.
Guile and Griffiths (cited in Cranmer, 2006) suggests it is meaningful engagement in activities that hold relevance with subject context, resulting in the natural development of employability skills; remove the employer from the project and we are merely left with a case study! The problems, learning and experiences lose authenticity for students.
The second ‘E’ - Expectation
An employer’s mindset will not only differ from ours (as teaching practitioners) but also of a student. Therefore, it is vital that expectations are addressed from the offset. We found that where we worked with employers with whom the curriculum area has established relationships helps. The approach and its benefits to employers and students needs to be explained in a ‘common’ language - lose the word pedagogy, keep it simple and focus on the advantages this teaching and learning strategy can have.
Employer involvement can vary, from a guest lecture or an industry visit right through to continued support and facilitation of larger projects. The key to the level of input relates to pathways, the problem that students will be tackling, employers’ time and the students’ current abilities. As suggested by one of our project practitioners ‘you have to find the right project for the right group of students and then agree what the employer will do.’
The third ‘E’ - Engagement
When gearing up for incorporating this teaching and learning approach, it is essential that we understand and respect the value students place on engagement with employers. Highlighted by Higher Education students: without PBL, skills that are required in current employment vacancies would not be part of the study programme due to them being non-existent in qualification specifications. Differing from previous teaching and learning strategies, students clarified the essence of real-world application, explaining that they are able to prove what they have theoretically learnt whist tailoring personal interests (always a bonus if we can genuinely be in interested in the content) and exploring ‘real life’ CV attributes through PBL.