APRU on Times Higher Education: Strategies to Train Students in Three Transferable Skills Wanted by Employers
April 18, 2022

Original content on Times Higher Education

Two simple teaching methods that faculty can use in the classroom to train students in the communication, problem-solving and critical thinking skills sought by employers, shared by Elly Vandegrift

Key Details

This video will cover:

00:27 The three key employability skills wanted by employers

01:37 Using case studies and real-life examples in the classroom

02:17 Using a classroom pedagogy called “Reacting to the past”


My name is Elly Vandegrift and I’m from the University of Oregon and today I’m going to talk to you about some strategies that faculty can use in their classroom to help better prepare students for the workforce.

These are transferable skills that employers say are difficult to hire, but when students have them it makes them better employees.

The first are communication skills: being able to communicate in small groups and large groups, orally and in written communication.

The second is problem-solving skills: where students can take complex problems, they can figure out new ideas, how to put those ideas together, they can work in groups that are large and small, and find answers that didn’t previously exist.

And the third is critical thinking, which is really closely related to problem solving as well, where students see connections between disparate ideas and put them together in new ways.

There are ways that we in the classroom can help students build these transferable skills.

And some of these kinds of big picture strategies include providing opportunities for students to reflect on what they’re learning, to build metacognition, learning about their own learning, to practise and receive feedback on their practice of what they’re learning.

So two strategies that you might be able to employ in your classroom include case studies and real-life examples, and then reacting to the past pedagogy.

So first, case studies and real-life examples. These are small-scale interventions that you could use on any day of class. For example, I have a class where students are exploring whether or not cell phones cause cancer. They read literature articles from a variety of sources. They read public newsprint and then they come up with an experiment.

So, I have them practise the skills that I want them to practise in a science class, being able to create a hypothesis and think about an experiment. And they’re conducting that on a content area that really matters to them.

What do I do with my cell phone? Should I use it for a phone? Should I just text on it?

A larger-scale change intervention to make in a classroom is a pedagogy called “reacting to the past”. Reacting to the past are games that are set in historical time periods.

Each student in the classroom plays a character within the game where they’re creating and coming up with real-life solutions to real challenges.

Students write papers, they give presentations, they have to problem solve in new strategies, in new ways that they’ve never solved before, and they built those critical thinking skills of making connections. So, for example, there’s a game that takes place looking at public health challenges in the 1800s related to cholera.

And the characters in the game are not sure if cholera is being transmitted through the water or through the air. There’s a lot of discussions that students need to have and sometimes students have to take on characters who have personal beliefs that the students themselves, as modern students, don’t agree with or believe in.

Both of these small-scale interventions of bringing everyday real-life examples in the classroom and large-scale pedagogy interventions provide opportunities for students to practise communication skills, speaking and writing, to build critical thinking skills making those connections between disparate ideas, and problem-solving skills for those “wicked problems” that might not have one simple solution. Thank you.

Elly Vandegrift is a program director of global STEM education initiatives in the Global Studies Institute at the University of Oregon and leads teaching and learning programs for the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU).

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