Neither ‘bolt-on’ nor ‘built-in’: benefits and challenges of developing an integrated skills curriculum through a partnership model
All universities are seeking to develop their students’ skills. Typically, they deploy either or both an independent ‘skills’ offering, separate from disciplinary learning (‘bolt-on’); and/or individual academic staff embedding skills assessment in some modules (‘built-in’). What are the drawbacks of ‘bolt-on’ and ‘built-in’? To what extent does a partnership model, involving an integrated and longitudinal skills curriculum, resolve those drawbacks? Under what circumstances is this possible? What are the main barriers? We present a case study of a major curriculum development in the School of Law at the University of Sheffield to argue that the benefits of partnership probably outweigh either ‘bolt-on’ or ‘built-in’. However, some of the enablers and inhibitors associated with contemporary higher education (HE) may suggest that ‘built-in’ is more viable. This is not primarily because of the difficulties of engaging academic disciplinary specialists; rather it is better explained by structural and institutional rigidities. We therefore recommend courage to take a long view, to aim high, and to celebrate small successes.
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