What was the activity?
Students studying on mathematically based undergraduate Business courses often struggle when preparing narrative assessments. For many this is because they have only undertaken calculation-based summative assessments in prior studies and haven’t written essays for a number of years. Students often can’t see the relevance or benefit of written theoretical academic assessments on these courses, preferring to focus on ‘doing’ rather than understanding ‘why we do’. This is often reflected in the results obtained and student feedback on theory based assessments.
Tiddy and Norton in the Advance HE Embedding Employability Framework (2020) noted that “employability should be embedded into all learning and teaching policies, processes and practices” so, by revising the assessment strategy, students could understand that the narrative assessment was linking technical knowledge and employability skills.
High level communication and presentation skills have been identified by numerous university wide consultations during the past year as being fundamental to graduate success. This is supported by the findings of the Storycraft report (June 2021) and the most recent Skills Shortage Bulletin (Edge Foundation, 2021) which both note that the ability to explain what you are doing and how that impacts the business is one of the key requirements for employees at any level within a business.
Designing a time constraint podcast assignment allowed students to integrate the core communication skills with acquired focused technical content. The audio only format removes the “comfort blanket” of PowerPoint slide presentations where overly busy slides contain all the detail which students often forgot to mention and requires students to think about the message they are delivering.
The time restriction means that students need to consider what was important and synthesise the information into interesting and relevant narratives rather than just regurgitate everything they find online irrespective of its relevance. Providing very broad topic areas also allowed the students the opportunity to develop their own academic research voice. Topics such as ‘The impact of COVID on business’, ‘How do we account for crypto assets?’ and ‘The future of sustainability reporting’ give students the ability to focus on researching and investigating topics that interest them and provide their unique take, on often very complex, areas of reporting. Even when students research areas collaboratively the resulting podcasts reflect personal views and opinions which create completely different assessment responses and listening experiences.
The ability to undertake guided independent research has helped these undergraduates further as they have taken ownership of their work both in terms of time management and academic understanding. This has given them something to talk about in graduate interviews, explaining their deep knowledge of a technical topic as well as allowing them to explain how and why they ‘overcame a challenge’ in their studies.
…. And the results and student feedback reflect both improved engagement and success with theoretical narrative tasks.
How did it impact students?
A number of students found this assignment took them outside of their comfort zone and required them to work in a format that they had not attempted before. The idea of the assignment was a challenge for a number of students but providing consistent formative support, exemplars and using a format that they knew gave them a starting point to face the challenge.
Anecdotal feedback, at the end of the course, identified this assignment as one of the most memorable. A number of students who were planning to continue in education identified the topic of their podcast as something they were really interested in. For these students the work they did on their podcast was the starting point for their Master’s research.
Any advice for others?
Explain the reasons and rationale behind your assessment decisions. In response to pre-assessment feedback from students we ran introduction sessions in future years. These sessions allowed students to ask questions and understand why this assignment had been set. It also allowed the team to explain the benefits both in terms of technical knowledge and employability focus.
Students who would ordinarily find presentations challenging described the podcast as an easier task than standing in front of a room of students presenting. They didn’t have to think about their body language or the direct needs of an audience. They weren’t conscious of their accent or any mispronounced names or questioned on why they were including the information that they had.
Over the three years that this assignment has been running it has only needed to be adapted once, for a student with an extreme stammer. By removing the time limit and providing a rough transcript word count to ensure comparability, this student completed the assignment successfully and gained confidence in presenting his thoughts and opinions.
The Edge Foundation (2021) Skills Shortages in the UK Economy. Available at: https://www.edge.co.uk/documents/262/DD0511_-_Skills_shortages_bulletin_9_online_version2.pdf (Accessed 24 June 2022)
Robson, J., Holgate, B., Randhawa, A. (2021) Storycraft: The importance of narrative and narrative skills in business. Available at: https://skope.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Storycraft-Full-Report.pdf (Accessed: 24 June 2022)
Tibby, M. and Norton, S. (2020) Essential frameworks for enhancing student success: embedding employability. York: Advance HE. Available at: https://s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/assets.creode.advancehe-document-manager/documents/advance-he/EFSS%20Guide-Embedding_Employability_1589557033.pdf (Accessed 24 June 2022)