BEST PRACTICES FOR SOFT SKILL DEVELOPMENT AT THE UNDERGRADUATE LEVEL: A EUROPEAN RESEARCH PROJECT
According to many documents issued by the European Union, soft skills are closely connected with employability, especially with regard to the transition of young people into the labour market. Skill development is one of the four main areas of the flagship initiative, an agenda for new skills and new jobs (EESC, 2010), and the focus of the more recent Rethinking education strategy and investing in skills for better socio-economic outcomes (2013).
Neverthless the programmes of most European universities are still focused on teaching traditional scientific skills rather than paying attention to soft and complementary skills.
The ModES (Modernizing Higher Education Through Soft Skills Accreditation) project, financed by the EU programme ‘Lifelong Learning Erasmus’ and involving 15 partners from 10 countries for three years (2009-2012), was aimed at integrating a common European programme on soft skills in the academic curricula.
The two main deliverables of the ModEs project were: a handbook in 4 languages (italian, English, Spanish and polish) containing a set of guidelines to teach soft skills at the undergraduate level; a prototype of a serious game in 4 languages (Italian, English, Spanish and Polish) to develop some soft skills.
In the first phase of the project, we identified the soft skills most required in the professional field, trough an online survey administered to more than 500 companies in Europe. The identified skills were later clustered and ranked by 35 experts in human resources.
In the second phase, the main partners produced a Handbook of guidelines to assist teachers at higher education institutions and trainers to design and set up learning environments that support learning activities appropriate for soft skill development.
The third part of the Handbook consists of best practices examples collected both in Universities and in halls of residence. After gathering quantitative data through a survey, a further phase of qualitative research was necessary in order to map the best practices and analyse teaching, learning and assessment methods. This second step was carried out through focus groups and interviews with university teachers and directors of halls of residence. We collected some more information through observation on the field.
In the halls of residence, soft skills are developed through formal, non-formal and informal activities. The first groups includes all those activities that are recognized by Universities through ETCS credits, both if they are carried out at university or in halls of residence. Consequently, we can have academic, recognised activities and non-academic, recognised activities. The second group is composed of activities that are non-academic and non-recognised, although the structure of the courses is similar to the previous ones. Non-academic, non-accredited and informal activities belong to the third group since they do not have the structure of a course but mainly consist in tasks and forms of informal, ‘social learning’. Soft skills development can be performed under different forms and with various tools: mini-curricula, programmes, workshops, labs, traning sessions, projects, company visits and study journey, individual or group tasks (learning based on practical activities).
For all these kinds of activities, teaching strategies, expected learning outcomes and tools of asssessment are presented and discussed.