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Hosting industry professionals: embedding vocational skill-building into higher education

Before becoming a lecturer, I worked as a freelance professional theater director for 15 years. Occasionally, she was invited to work in higher educational institutions as a guest practitioner.

I remember once being left with minimal support or supervision to coordinate the 40 master’s students I had just met. The students were provided with a bit of context surrounding who I was, what we would be working towards during our Collaboration Week, or the benefits to be gained from their participation.

This opportunity has been presented to me as an opportunity to conduct research and development for a new touring theater show with student support, but this has not been made clear to the students. There was no institutional framework for the event and student expectations were not pre-managed, which meant an arduous journey for me to make sure the benefits of learning were clear.

Through effective facilitation, collaboration between students, educators and industry professionals has significant advantages. Inviting guests or companies to work with students through extensive practice can be an excellent way to develop the soft skills necessary for employment. Personal experience has taught me that there are also pitfalls when hosting industry professionals at universities, but many of them are negotiable or avoidable.

Here, I identify three common pitfalls and three key tips for educators who want to host industry professionals and integrate professional skill building into an academic environment:

Common pitfalls of collaboration among industry students

1. unequal benefits

The desire to meet institutional ‘hire’ agendas by mediating confrontations between industry professionals and students can turn into students feeling exploited for their work. This can happen when the meeting is not designed and managed carefully enough to make the benefits clear to all relevant stakeholders in advance. Be upfront about the potential learning gains for students who participate in the project.

2. Guest professionals as a teaching relief

Visiting practitioners can sometimes be viewed as educational relief for regular employees, who may already be managing significant educational workloads. But a lack of support for an outside practitioner from an internal contact who knows the culture of the organization can leave them ill-equipped to deal with complex matters, ranging from ethical policies and procedures, such as protocols around regulating intimacy in performance, to the special educational needs of individual students.

3. Calls to contribute without context

Guest contributors often do not have the full context of how their specific input will interact with the broader learning outcomes of a course or module as a whole. How can they be supported and given the appropriate context to make their input more meaningful?

Key tips for those coordinating industrial cooperation

1. Create a clear summary for each of the industry professionals And the students

Approaching the design of learning activities collaboratively can be an effective way to establish clear focus and structure when external practitioners are central to their delivery. Careful organization and setting clear goals for the invited professional is important, especially if his or her contribution falls within the context of a particular module.

I have found it helpful as a host to help ensure that learning activities align constructively with the learning outcomes of the unit. sPre-participation meetings with a practitioner were necessary to discuss the overall goals. This planning time should be reflected in the practitioner’s fee.

I have also created brochures and mini guides for presenting the visiting practitioner’s CV, to explain the rationale for their participation, to outline learning outcomes and assessment forms, to define preparatory tasks, and to frame expectations for their participation. This includes making clear what they are not responsible for; For example, student inquiries that require detailed institutional knowledge, such as labeling for pastoral support, should always remain the responsibility of teachers and in-house supervisors.

2. Share learning widely

Designing, organizing, and managing learning events that include external partners can be labor intensive, so telling the story of what happened is critical. In my pedagogical practice, the dissemination of the process and its results when students collaborate with theater companies or directors takes various forms. These include Articles Which collect testimonials from multiple viewpoints and Interviews or blogs To share unique student insights.

Where resources permit and participants agree, we have created mini documentaries which invites all stakeholders to reflect on their experiences and share what they see as key learning benefits with our broader learning community in public forums.

3. Recognize the needs of external freelancers and meet their needs

A common complaint I see on social media is about delays in payments to independent creatives in the creative industry who have been involved in engagements at universities. There is often tension between HR’s mechanisms for paying non-regular employees, which can be cumbersome and slow, and the self-employed who depend on timely payment for services rendered. Close contact with HR and administrative staff and transparency with external practitioners early on about when to expect payment is vital to building trust and maintaining good relationships.

Feedback from my students has shown that the participation of professionals from the industry can have a significant impact. Effective hosting and careful facilitation to remove the kinds of barriers I encountered in my early career can help develop strong relationships between students, staff and industry professionals and ensure that these encounters can be realized to their full potential.

Liam Jarvis is Senior Lecturer and Co-Director of the Center for Theater Research in the Department of Literature and Film and Theater Studies at University of Essex.

He was nominated for Innovative Teacher of the Year at the 2021 THE Awards. A full list of shortlisted nominees can be found here with the winners due to be announced at the ceremony on November 25.

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