“Students get a better learning experience”
Senior lecturers Ben Clarke and Davide Girardelli are the winners of IT Faculty pedagogical prize 2022. Both are teachers at the programme Master in Communication and they receive the prize for their appreciated initiative with creating an industry advisory panel.
The panel includes teachers, students, and representatives from the industry – including alumni from the programme – with the aim of linking industry and academia.
Why did you decide to start a industry advisory panel?
– Before joining University of Gothenburg I worked for an institution which had a similar industry panel. The conversations that were taking place in that panel were later used as a centerpiece of discussion among the teaching team. I really liked that idea because it was a great way to have your finger on the pulse of the latest industry trends and to keep courses updated and relevant, Davide Girardelli says.
When Davide Girardelli later joined University of Gothenburg he noticed that the latest external review of the programme recommended that the teachers should find a systematic way to engage the potential future employers of our students. Therefore, he suggested to Ben Clarke in his role as director of the programme that they implement an advisory industry panel as a way to respond to that recommendation.
– We started working on the project in January 2021. And we held the first plenary meeting of our industry advisory panel in May 2021, so we were able to move relatively fast, Davide Girardellis says.
What response have you received from the students?
– Students expressed their desire to see more practical applications and a stronger focus on career, labor market relevance and employability skills, Ben Clarke explains and continues.
– As one of them exclaimed: “We become good at analyzing communication; but can we produce communication?” The sense that we have from the programme representatives is that students are very interested in the initiative as it represents an engagement of the employer voice.
Ben Clarke also highlight that the students seem particularly thrilled by the long internship that the teachers are in the process of designing using the advisory panel as a sounding board.
– We received a wealth of important feedback from the representatives in the advisory board about this topic, and we are doing our best to include it in the final document, he says.
What is the purpose of letting students get in touch with the industry, why is it important and what could the students benefit from this?
– The students benefit from the work and the contacts of the panel in terms of a better learning experience, as the panel provides opportunities for guest lectures and authentic case studies. It also supports students in planning their next steps, their life after graduation, says Ben Clarke.
The industry panel helps the teachers connect the programme with the vibrant network of profit and non-profit organizations in the Gothenburg’s area. There has been a big push for internationalization in Gothenburg in recent years and the students in the programme from more than 25 countries can significantly contribute to that.
What types of companies and organizations did you look for?
– We wanted to find the right mix of communication experts from a variety of business sectors, roles, and seniority levels to reflect the potential career opportunities available at the end of our program. For this reason, we reached out to both small consulting companies and large organizations, for profit and non-for profit, private and public, Davide Girardelli explains.
Another factor that the teachers keep into consideration is the balance between alumni and not-alumni: it is good to have a dialogue with professional communicators who have an intimate knowledge of the master programme, but at the same time they want to hear the voice of those who may have a fresh look of what they are doing.
Is this type of initiative something that could be suitable for other programmes at the University?
– I think it can be a healthy exercise for all programmes, Ben Clarke says.
He explains that even in his own more ‘pure’ academic research and teaching interest, the panel has given him useful ideas about linking theory to practice in his courses’ assignments in creative ways by engaging the voice of practice to explore further potential implications of research that are not apparent to him.
– We intentionally label our panel ‘industry advisory panel’; they help us think about a perspective we simply do not have, but one that is extremely relevant for our students. It’s a constructive dialogue and at times there are differences of opinion, but those can sometimes be the most useful, Ben Clarke says.
A big thank you:
Davide and Ben would like to thank the communication professionals who have generously agreed to take part in this initiative, namely Anna Abenius (UN Global Compact Network Sweden), Hanna Blomdahl (Lindholmen Science Park), Ulrica Hammarqvist (Stena Line), Anastasiya Klyushnikova (Volvo), Susan Lorentzen (Gullers Group), Lars Qvart (Skatteverket and Sveriges Kommunikatörer Västra), Verena Schödl (Acumis Minds), and Martina Slättberg (HoloHouse).
A big thank you of course to Anaïs Bompuis, Alexa Dippold, Vanya Viktoria Eide, Laura Kvist, Priyadharsini Palaniswamy, and Wiebke Weiland, who brought enthusiastically the voice of the students in our conversation, and to Magnus Bergquist and Alexander Almér, who have been great sounding board of the steering committee.
- The Industry Panel includes a selected team of communication professionals, student representatives, and instructors who meet twice per year for a 2-hour meeting to discuss roughly 2-to-3 topics that they feel are strategic in the medium- to long-term development of the programme. Some of the topics of conversation include, for instance, broader future scenario topics, such as “what roles are likely to appear or disappear in the communication industry in the next 3/5 years?” or “what professional skills/technologies are the most sought after for entry-level positions in communication?”
- They also discuss planned changes in the programme. For instance, they may share an early draft of a new course, such as the internship course, and ask for feedback.
- Finally, they work on improving a specific course that is already part of the offerings to make it more relevant from an industry perspective and sometimes to question if a certain facet of the programme needs to retain a purely academic focus (or not). At the end of the formal meeting, they have a convivial moment, normally a meal together, so as to foster personal bonds between the communication professionals and the student representatives.