Higher Education

Careers apps

Back in December 2018, the DfE announced two winners of a £300,000 funding pot open for digital IAG tools that would help young people make more informed choices about their University choice both in regard to provider and subject. Now, in April 2019, both of the tools have launched.

Offering IAG through digital platforms to young people has a mixed track record (we’ll always have the memory of Plotr) but practitioners know they can be a fundamental resource to use with your client base.

The two apps take different approaches to how they inform and advise their users with the Higher Education data now available. It’s worth saying that both platforms are (at the time of writing) still in beta testing so improvements in design, layout and usability will be ongoing and any judgments should be made with that in mind. The first app, ThinkUni is described as a “personalised digital assistant’ bringing together data on universities, courses and financial outcomes that are easy to explore and compare” and is from a team that has a good track record in offering social mobility enhancing schemes through the Brilliant Club. The current site looks fairly basic with text drop down boxes asking users on their preferences on University study (city or campus, course reputation or earnings outcomes etc).

think uni1On first impressions, I found there isn’t much to be impressed with here. The very first question assumes that the user knows what subject they want to study so relies on a baseline that simply isn’t there for a lot of young people and then site assumes that the user will be studying A Levels so widening participation also doesn’t seem to be a concern (I’m sure that other Level 3 qualifications will be incorporated into the site at some point but soft launching without them isn’t a good look). The “digital assistant” selling point is also over played with the course suggestion results being much the same as would result from a search using advanced filters on the UCAS search facility. If the user already knows their views on subject, location, course type etc. to input, then why not just go or be directed to the source site? Currently, the “assistant” part of ThinkUni seems extremely inactive.

The other competition winner comes from The Profs, a team who have previously built a Professional Tutor finding platform, and is a much more interactive looking experience. “The Way Up” games tasks users to pick an avatar and make choices on learning and earning routes at each step of their journey.

way up game1This approach develops a greater sense of ownership in the process and the results as the user is able to modify the route to reflect their own interests while still following the linear structure of the game. The interface isn’t the most aesthetically astounding you’ll see and I also thought that some of the presented LMI was easy to miss on-screen but, once you notice it, the format does incorporate a significant amount of LMI data into each stage. I also think that the biggest learning gain for young people using the platform might not be regarding their career choice or route but the realistic balance to be found when budgeting monthly in-comings and outgoings.

As a format for simulated learning, turn based, point and click games were also used back in the days of late 2000s Aimhigher University visits when one of the regular activities was a web-based game that allowed secondary school students to take control of a new University student avatar and make choices for their study, work and social life. The implications of those choices displayed in a character health chart which valued balance above partying too hard or studying too much. The user was able to see the realistic choices on offer and the consequences of those choices and reflect on how they would react in that possible environment. So the format isn’t new but the inclusion of the LMI and HE data is.

The “Way Up Game” is designed to have the widest possible capture point so that it includes career routes and choice options for lots of young people. At the more specific and detailed end of the simulation market, flight and even truck driving simulations are PC games that can require high level computers to run with the amount of detail their fan base demands while still offering career learning opportunities. More accessible versions of this format can be found in sector skills funded apps such as Construction Manager from the CiTB. Allowing users to take charge of a construction business, hire employees, pitch for contracts and then take on those jobs all presented within a SIMS type graphical interface make for an engaging career learning experience. Place these alongside digital diagnostic tools and digital communication tool there is a rich variety of online CEIAG resource.

Research

Research evidence on the value of digital and online IAG experiences offers some guidance to both of the creative teams on what could help their products have the impact they are looking for with users.

Two excellent summaries of research in this area are the CEC What Works edition: “Careers Websites” and this recent webinar from Tristram Hooley “Approaches to online guidance”

Neither of the two apps offer any links to expanding social networks or sharing results so building users social capital does not seem to be on the agenda.

The CEC document references research from Dunwall et al (2014) which evaluated the MeTycoon careers game and found that

87% of participants said playing the game had given them new career ideas and 66% said they had shared or discussed the game with friends.

The format of “The Way Up Game” more closely matches MeTycoon so those developers will be hoping for that level of impact with their users. The ThinkUni platform perhaps gains research backing with its slight nod towards the user involving CEIAG professionals in the findings from using the site. The CEC summary states:

The use of careers websites should be integrated into schools’ careers education provision, and may be more effective for pupils when use, at least initially, is mediated and supported by careers and education professionals.

Once the user has contemplated their suggestions, the final screen ThinkUni suggests

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This is only a very slight prompt though. The user is not asked, for example, if they wish to email their results to a named individual which could be a CEIAG professional or school tutor so perhaps both developers would benefit from designing accompanying session plans that could enable teachers/CEIAG practitioners to use the apps in group sessions and build upon the learning experiences of the young people in the room. A further step could even be to incorporate “nudge” techniques by communicating to both user and professional so conversations could occur to see if further research tasks have been undertaken by the user. Neither of the platforms require the involvement of CEIAG professionals in the learning journey of the user.

This failure to build in involvement of practitioners places both of the apps well behind more detailed digital offers such as Start Profile. This program combines both personalisation lead by the user lead and exploration of career routes with LMI drawn from LMI for all and the ability for practitioner oversight and involvement. As this ICEGS evaluation of Start concludes

Start builds on much of what the existing evidence base tells us about the efficacy of online products. It brings together information and advice for a young person and allows them to personalise their learning journey. It offers a blended learning technology in which the school can connect the online learning to classroom based career learning. It builds on longstanding career assessment practices by building a personal profile of work preferences, qualities, skills and interests and using this to match users to jobs and learning opportunities based on their suitability and how available those jobs are in the labour market.

Differences do remain though between Start Profile and these two new apps in their data sources. LMI for All utilises a range of sources (detailed on page 10 here) but they (and so Start Profile) do not seem to include data from the Office for Students on HE access, continuation, attainment and progression.

By side-stepping CEIAG professionals both apps purely user focussed offers but this could still offer positive impact. The CEC Moments of Choice research concluded that young people desire the presentation of careers data that:

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and it would be fair to conclude that both apps achieve at least 7 of those requirements to varying degrees. Young people can access the data in a method that is convient to them, when they require it, be safe in the knowledge that it is using reliable sources, receive suggested future actions and be able to personalise it. Only the involvment of influencers is missing.

International comparisons

These formats for offering HE focused CEIAG learning are also available in other countries. For example, Australia has Campus Quest which offers users two games, Campus Quest based on a student attending a University campus and E-Study Quest based on a student studying from home.

The graphical interface is slightly more interesting than both of the new UK apps but in particular the 3D presentation is more eye-catching than “The Way Up” game.

Value

For the DfE to offer funding, policy holders must hope that any resulting resources will add value to the marketplace of existing CEIAG digital products either through successfully filing a niche or building upon existing products. For me, currently the two apps (still at testing stage remember) do neither and they also choose to set aside a proportion of the research in this area. It may be more politically satisfying for the DfE to achieve a new CEIAG platform through this process but questions should be asked whether a more worthy platform could have been achieved through the adaption of existing products and how any resulting products are able to fit into, adapt and shape for the positive the current CEIAG landscape supporting young people.

In 2018/2019, UCAS will charging schools & colleges for a poorer service

One of the regular annual financial outgoings from a school or College’s CEIAG budget are the various fees to access the different services and registrations for the UCAS advisers website. For education institutions there is no choice but UCAS to administer their learner’s Higher Education applications and this is reflected in the zero charge to become a registered UCAS centre. Where the charges from UCAS do start to rack up though is the extra services on offer to track the progress of offers, replies and acceptances your learners make. These are useful tools for tracking the destinations of learners, the offers they received and how your institution compares to competitors but they come with an individual or packaged price tag.

ucas adviser track fees

Paying for a service is that helps write destination reports and offer a better service to learners is perfectly reasonable. What will cause consternation to those paying for those services from the 2019 application cycle will be the fact that the data they rely upon may be incomplete.

Advisers signing into the 2019 portal will be greeted with this:

ucas 2019 sign in

Which, as I asked UCAS,

means that, from now on, any reports offered by UCAS may be based on incomplete data as learners may not have opted in to share their post application progress with their centre.

Of course GDPR is an important piece of legislation that has fundamentally reframed the way that individuals regard the use of their data both on and off the internet and UCAS Corporate cannot ignore it. What is seems they are willing to ignore though is that they will be charging educational institutions a fee for what will be, in effect, a poorer service and product. They are also oblivious to the potential knock on customer service effect this will have on learners as many will be approaching the source of IAG in their school or College post application only for the Adviser to have no method of checking their application unless the applicant signs in to UCAS Apply/Track themselves. I can see this significantly increasing the number of calls to UCAS support lines as school based IAG advisers find themselves unable to offer much post application IAG as they will not be able to see the learner’s application.

Schools & Colleges should be aware of this change and will have to do their best to encourage their learners to opt in to sharing their post application progress but this will only go so far. Many learners complete their form in their own time, away from school or College, so will go through the terms & conditions section without an Adviser present.

For Careers Leaders in Colleges, writing their Higher Education destinations reports next summer will be much more of a headache than previous years.

 

Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals – Nudging to better CEIAG outcomes

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I’ve posted before about the work of the Behavioural Insights Team (previously known as the Government nudge unit) and their work on designing and implementing changes to frameworks and procedures in the public and private spheres that result in greater positive gains.

Behavourial Science is a field with significant overlap in supporting CEIAG work. How young people make decisions at important transition points, why they aspire to certain routes, how people make and then stick with plans to enact change in their circumstances are all questions which mesh with Careers work both at the strategic, Government message level enacted via the Careers & Enterprise Company and at the much smaller, individual careers guidance sessions with clients level.

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Two of the team members are the latest to publish a book about their work. How “Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals” differs is that is takes the lessons from the big strategic projects the Insights Team have worked on and shows how the behavioural science theories then can be applied by individuals to their own circumstances.

As a read, I found the tone of book accessible but very convinced by the infallibility of behavioural economics as a science. They may have good reason to with the recent award of the Nobel Prize to Richard Thaler, but the absence of any mention of traditional psychological work or evolutionary science to explain behaviour and decision making is noticeable. Also obvious is the much repeated technique of involving the lives of the authors or their office colleagues to show how behavioural change techniques work for real people. While this is useful once or twice to show practical implications, by the fifth or sixth time the reader is hearing about Owain’s plan to balance his extremely well paid job with more exercise and the demands of his home life, your sympathy and interest does wane.

Spread throughout the book though are some fascinating nuggets that Careers practitioners could (and many probably already do to some extent) incorporate into practice.

For individual clients

Practitioners will know that an action plan should not merely be a wish list of future achievements but realistic steps which are time limited. This has shown to be effective for individuals across a wide range of public policy initiatives

Making a simple plan that sets out when, how and where you are going to follow through on your intentions has been shown to be effective at helping people to eat more fruit, increase public transport use, reduce discrimination, get more exercise, diet, improve academic performance, quit smoking and recycle more.

but for individuals the key seems to be linking actions to regular moments in a daily routine

you’re much more likely to follow through on the things you need to do to achieve it if you create a simple plan. And the best way of doing this is to create connections between moments in your daily routine and the actions you need to take.

and asking clients to write these action points down themsleves

The first, simple step, is to do exactly what the individuals in the re-running of the experiment did: write your commitment down.

Asking clients details of their daily routines to link commitments to is more the kind of intervention that a life coach would make rather than a careers practitioner but I could certainly see how a simple change towards the end of a guidance interview of asking the client to write their action points down themselves could drastically enhance the impact of that interview.

For longer term or returning clients, a practitioner may want to investigate more of the cycle of actions that “Think Small” proposes to spur change and adherence to that change.

SET

  • Choose the right goal
  • Focus on a single goal and set a clear target and deadline
  • Break your goal down into manageable steps

PLAN

  • Keep it simple
  • Create an actionable plan
  • Turn the plan into habits

COMMIT

  • Make a commitment
  • Write it down and make it public
  • Appoint a commitment referee

REWARD

  • Put something meaningful at stake
  • Use small rewards to build good habits
  • Beware of backfire effects

SHARE

  • Ask for help
  • Tap into your social networks
  • Use group power

FEEDBACK

  • Know where you stand in relation to your goal
  • Make it timely, specific, actionable and focused on effort
  • Compare your performance with others

STICK

  • Practice with focus and effort
  • Test and learn
  • Reflect and celebrate success

Some of those steps are common sense which any educator asking for improvement from a student would implement but steps such as “Put something meaningful at stake” (the book gives the example of wearing a rivals football shirt for a day at the office) can add a level of social fun that you can easily see working in practical situations with clients.

For cohorts

Many practitioners will also run group sessions for learners or work with year group cohorts. The book references studies that I’ve previously posted about that showed that sending letters of encouragement to high achieving young people in Year 12, “penned” by students from similar backgrounds, increased the number of applications and acceptances to Russell Group universities.  What may come as a blow to Careers practitioners though are the findings that presentations of data or talks

about the long-term benefits of attending university – are not effective. What does seem to work is pupils hearing about what it’s like to go to university from former pupils; such pupils inevitably dwelt on the lifestyle benefits as well as future career prospects.

In these instances it is the authenticity of the person delivering the message that seems to have the impact on learners rather the (ahem) more impartial or informed Careers practitioner. The lessons for practitioners is to ensure that their program of alumni engagement is collecting contact details and that a pool of ex students are ready to be approached to revisit their old haunts and deliver sessions to current learners alongside the impartial delivery. It is their stories that will help snowball your positive destination outcomes.

For us all

Careers practitioners will regularly speak to clients about the value of work and how different values appeal to different clients in finding job satisfaction and happiness at work. It seem though that a constant is there

if you rate your relationship with your boss one point higher on a ten-point scale, it is statistically equivalent to a 30 per cent pay rise

You have to find a good boss.

Overall

I would say that the book has some good lessons for CEIAG practitioners but readers should always be keeping in mind the wider literature around careers theory and social mobility. “Nudges” are clearly based upon interesting and provable behavioural science but the reasons that the State would employ such techniques (ease, low cost for return etc) are the opposite of the time intensive, personal service that CEIAG practitioners strive to offer clients.

HE Careers support and consumers

The trend for Higher Education students to think of themselves as consumers of a service rather then learners in a place of education is a wider societal change accelerated by tuition fees and qualification demands of and competition within the labour market. A recent survey (“Education, Consumer Rights and Maintaining Trust: What students want from their university”) carried out by ComRes on behalf of Universities UK found that 47% of student now considered themselves “customers” of their Universities. There will be diverging views on this as some will welcome the customer focus and efficiency this brings while others will mourn the loss of a sense of the value of learning for it’s own sake.

An offshoot of this growing viewpoint seems to be an increase in the quality of support services students expect to access during their time at University which, in turn, is both a boost to the standing of Careers departments in Higher Education but also a raising of expectations. The survey results show a clear desire from students to receive personalised support and advice from their University with 80% responding that this was one of their top three priorities and 34% (which was the second highest after “a service for the fees you pay”) placing it as their top priority.

universities uk report

Students expect their university to take an active interest in them as an individual and to help them progress through their education, as well as providing careers guidance and support.

The importance of their University experience in helping their career progression is also clearly apparent in student views on what makes a course good value for money.

universities uk report2

The inclusion of “future career prospects” here is interesting because it would seem to include not only stand alone Careers Service offers but also the employability offered by the degree being studied. The collaboration needed to embed Careers work into programmes of study and academic departments is a strategy that colleagues in Higher Education would be more able to give their view on but the example in this recent article in the Times Higher Education from the Director of Graduate Advancement at Liverpool John Moores of “faculty teams” developing “academic school career plans” seems to be a model to emulate.

The growing importance of Careers Service provision to student satisfaction levels (and so marketable statistics for a HE institution) will be a boost to colleagues in HE who, like many practitioners, are conscious of the need to justify their departments. The slides below from a presentation at last month’s AGCAS conference by Nalayini Thambar, Director of Careers & Employability at the University of Nottingham, are a neat way of approaching this task

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Lists of types of provision won’t cut it

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But how problems are solved does

All of this adds up to a promising time for Careers support services in HE as they become central to the future plans of any UK University. The recent news that almost half of young people in England are now progressing onto Higher Education and the potential growth of other employer linked courses such as Degree Apprenticeships shows that (bearing in mind fears over Brexit restricting recruitment) the demand for Higher Education places is still very strong. With the right promotion, collaboration and support from Vice Chancellors and their Executive teams, Careers provision in HE has the drivers to go from strength to strength over the coming years.

 

 

Some UCAS graphs

This week, I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by Mary Curnock Cook, the Chief Executive of UCAS.

Some of the slides she went through were striking and I think are worth sharing as they may well help frame your advice & guidance to Key Stage 4 or 5 students.

All slides are the work of Mary & UCAS and are reposted here to help spread the message.

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Your leavers until 2020ish are going to be part of a falling population of 18 year olds before the big population bump comes through. This means they will be entering a HE marketplace primed for greater numbers and so very, very keen for their applications and acceptance of offers. This will put those with good grades into a strong position of consumer power.

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Similarly, as the warnings about grade inflation have fed through the system the number of ABB+ achieved at A Level has been falling. With the new A Levels and the AS/A Level decoupling, don’t expect this to reverse anytime soon. Those who do achieve ABB+ will be rarer and so hold even more power in their choices.

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Mirroring this, predictions don’t seem to be recognising the new landscape. Those students of yours who think, just because they’re being predicted ABB+ that it’s in the bag; it’s not.

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Overall though, A Level acceptances have remained steady over recent years while the growth has come from students holding BTEC or combined A Level and BTEC qualifications. If you have BTEC students nervous about how HE will view them, reassure them that they are the growth area.

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But that comes with the usual caveats, BTEC and A Level & BTEC combined students are much more likely to progress onto HE institutions with lower tariff requirements. As with a lot of career decisions, this is perfectly acceptable as long as the student is aware of and happy with the future doors they might be closing.

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Similarly, BTEC students are more likely to progress onto a narrower band of HE subjects than A Level students who spread out into a broader range of disciplines. Again, perfectly fine if the student is clear and confident in their aims.

Social Mobility

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A levels are getting better but aren’t great at getting students from poor backgrounds to access HE (prior attainment will play a large role there).

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Whereas BTECs are much better at providing an egalitarian access route to HE.

It’s interesting to combine that information with this data from a recent Yougov/Ofqual survey

that might hint that young people are being a tad sniffy about the “easier route the poor kids take to get to Uni.” You would imagine this should change as the growth in numbers taking BTEC and the curriculum reforms come into play over the next few years.