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Title: From practice to theory in developing generic skills
For a number of years now, attention has increasingly focused on the skills that university graduates develop during their undergraduate study. Concern has been expressed by employer groups worldwide that existing undergraduate programs are not producing graduates with the kinds of skills that they need in order to be successful in the workplace. In addition, graduates themselves have reported that their undergraduate study has not improved their generic skills. In terms of the university curriculum, there is often a gap between what universities espouse as the outcomes of successful university study and what is actually taught, learned and assessed. More often than not, the emphasis is on discipline content knowledge rather than on skill development or other aspects of learning. More recently pressure has been placed on institutions of higher education by governments, professional bodies and quality agencies to produce graduates who are lifelong learners and equipped for careers in their chosen fields. Many universities have recognized that, in order to better meet employer requirements for quality graduates and student expectations, they need to make changes to the curriculum and, necessarily, to how it is taught and what is assessed. In response, a number of institutions around the world, notably in the UK, Canada and Australia, have implemented projects, often in response to nationally determined agendas, to promote skill development.
As a result, a number of different approaches have been adopted to promote skill development. These have ranged on the one extreme from stand-alone 'bolt-on' courses to courses where skills are highly integrated with the discipline content and are taught and assessed in-context by the subject teacher. In terms of coordination of skills across programs of study, again different approaches to what skills are taught and assessed have been reported. These range from skills being highly co-ordinated both horizontally and/or vertically to ad hoc instructor determined integration.
In this paper, we focus on what has been learned from practice that may inform a theory of skill development. We draw on recent research literature on skill development, current learning theory and accounts of practice to develop a theory of skill development that can be used to ensure that efforts to facilitate skill development are maximized.