Let's talk about R&I

Adriana Ornellas: "We analyse how to improve university graduates' cross-disciplinary skills in order to increase their employability"

Researcher, eTIC group

What is your academic background?

I graduated in Computer Science in Brazil in 1994 and have a doctoral degree in Education from the University of Barcelona (UB). In the final stage of an essentially technical degree like Computer Engineering I saw the need for studies with a more social and critical approach to technological tools. I decided to guide my career towards educational computer applications because I knew I wanted to work with technology but not with a technologist outlook and understanding of the world.

What has your research involved?

My academic career began at the UB, where I was an adjunct professor for 11 years. I was also involved for 15 years in ESBRINA, a consolidated research group with an extensive social and critical investigative tradition in the field of ICT, both in Catalonia and in Spain. At the UB, I defended my doctoral thesis on secondary school teachers’ ongoing training in the field of ICT in Catalonia. I analysed the perspectives underlying the training provided by both the Catalan Ministry of Education and some Catalan universities to see if it was based on critical approaches and had practical and technical applications. In 2007, after defending my thesis, I joined the UOC as a professor, first at the Faculty of Computer Science, Multimedia and Telecommunications and now at the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences.

What are your areas of expertise?

My research has been focused on the social, cultural and educational aspects of technology’s social applications in education. During my years with ESBRINA I participated in national and international projects related to policies and practices of educational technologies, learning, and teacher identity construction in the knowledge society. I’ve always employed more narrative methodologies, such as ethnographic studies and biographical narratives.

What sort of work does your research group do?

I’m currently involved in a UOC research group, eTIC, which studies the relations between education, ethics and ICT. It’s an emerging group that was recognized in the Government of Catalonia’s last call in 2017. It’s interdisciplinary and brings together the interests, concerns and experiences of its members, who come from fields such as pedagogy, engineering and social education.

Which research project would you highlight?

In the eTIC group, we are currently coordinating a European project, an Erasmus+ called Skill Up. It’s a strategic partnership in the field of higher education with the participation of six institutions from three European countries. There are two technical universities from Germany and one from Stockholm, as well as three institutions from Catalonia: the UOC, the IOC and the Fundaci Factor Hum, which acts as an employer in the project consortium. The objective of the Skill Up project is to promote actions that help to improve new university graduates’ skills in order to increase their employability. We are undertaking three actions in the framework of the project: firstly, developing new technologies and learning activities which will connect students’ experiences with what the job market will ask of them, ie the skills demanded by companies and organizations, such as decision-making, teamwork, analytical thinking and conflict management; secondly, training professionals in the field of professional guidance and the use of digital environments in order to help students and graduates throughout their professional career, which is the idea of lifelong guidance; and, thirdly, involving employers in curriculum design and the development of authentic learning activities.

What results have you achieved in the project?

The tangible results of the project include a MOOC to train professionals in professional guidance, above all in fields related to e-guidance and lifelong guidance. We will also develop a platform to connect employers, universities, students and graduates.

Do graduates come from any field?

Although in the project we don’t ignore the specific abilities needed for any profession, we basically work on cross-disciplinary skills: in other words, those demanded of professionals regardless of their field of training. In the framework of the project, we have defined a taxonomy to classify these skills into three groups: cognitive, methodological and social. We are also designing learning activities to develop these skills and apply them in different programmes in the participating universities and institutions. This means we have designed activities for higher education. At the UOC, for example, a course in the bachelor’s degree in Business Administration is taking part in the project, where we are checking whether the development of these cross-disciplinary skills in students is being strengthened.

Is the need for professional cross-disciplinary skills the same throughout Europe?

We reviewed studies in different countries to analyse which skills are demanded by Sweden, Germany and Spain’s job markets as well as within the framework of the European Union as a whole. The taxonomy we defined in the framework of the project is based on the exhaustive review of these studies. It has been verified using a virtual focus group and defined jointly by the three countries. Therefore, we can say that these skills are a requirement for students throughout the European Union.

What book on your field would you recommend?

Anyone who wants to understand the complexity of the society in which we live must read the sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s work and his liquid modernity metaphor. Bauman used metaphors such as liquid modernity, life is liquid, liquid fears and liquid love in order to characterize our constantly changing society, this fluid society in contrast to the solid world in which our parents or grandparents lived, analysing different facets, such as labour, human bonds, social relations and even the very conception of knowledge or love as consumer products.