University of Strathclyde



The project aimed to contextualise Graduate Attributes by developing a model of innovative learning and teaching practices to support Initial Teacher Education (ITE) students transitioning beyond Strathclyde. To do this, we drew on real work-based learning experiences encountered by recent graduate teachers in their Probationary year. Some interesting data emerged from focus group discussions with graduates, and initial analysis of the data identified some of the challenges new teachers tended to face, and the ways in which they used knowledge and skills developed during their ITE studies to negotiate these.

Employing the P21 Framework for 21st Century Learning[1], we developed a Problem-Based Learning (PBL) task which we then used with current students, This focused on the following skills and attributes: self-direction, critical thinking & problem-solving, and collaboration.

Utilising a PBL approach, students were first presented with the problem. They then worked within their own group to brainstorm, research, and discuss this. Once they came to a shared solution to the problem, they presented it to other groups. They also had a chance to learn from the probationary teachers’ problem-solving process, while developing their own solutions. Emerging data allowed for an understanding of the ways in which current students engage with authentic work-base problems.

A case study from this project is also available:

This work was supported by Enhancement Theme funding from the Quality Assurance Agency Scotland


School of Education

Contact Details

Dr Eleni Karagiannidou

Dr Alan Huang

Jennifer Zike (


Student Transitions


This project looked at ITE students’ transitions beyond Strathclyde and into their probationary year with a particular focus on supporting the development of graduate attributes.

Once student teachers complete an ITE programme – either through the BA or postgraduate degree in Education (PGDE) – they must complete a probationary year to obtain full registration with the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS). Research has shown that there remains a gap between University-based learning and how new teachers use this to negotiate work-based challenges during the probationary year and beyond. This project was designed to address this gap.

We utilised a PBL approach - a useful avenue for current students and graduates to reflect on attributes, and learn and apply skills that are important to solving work-based problems.


Participants (including recruitment and ethics):

Two groups were involved in the project:

(a)   Recent graduates (N=2) from ITE programmes recruited by the intern via a snowball sampling technique. They worked in schools located in areas of high deprivation, as defined by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation.

(b)   Current ITE students (N=8) who were invited to participate via a notification on Myplace.

Ethics: The study was granted Ethics approval from the School of Education Ethics Committee. Prior to collecting data, informed consent was sought from all participants.

Design and data collection:

Data collection and implementation was completed over two stages:

Stage 1: Focus group interview with recent graduates

For the main study, the intern conducted a focus group interview with the participants, where they shared real world learning experiences encountered during their probationary year. The interview was audio-recorded and later transcribed. This formed the basis for developing PBL scenarios.

Data analysis of these data served two purposes:

            (a) to understand some of the challenges that new teachers tend to face as they transition           beyond Strathclyde and into the workplace;

            (b) by mapping the analysis and synthesis of the data onto the P21 Framework, we developed a PBL scenario. This reflected graduate attributes and skills and informed the next stage of the data collection.

Although our sample was small, the methodology allowed for detailed descriptions of the context from which the challenges were derived. Initial analysis identified eight emerging themes.

Stage 2: Implementation of the PBL approach with current ITE students to:

            (a) support the development of their graduate attributes and skills, and

            (b) collect data which were further explored as a way of understanding how current students engaged with the real-world problem.

Over two 20-minute sessions, small groups of BA Primary Education students were first presented with a PBL scenario. They then worked collaboratively in smaller groups, brainstormed, researched and discussed the problem. They came to a shared response/solution and presented this to other groups. They also had a chance to hear about and learn from the probationary teachers’ problem-solving process.

Key findings

Graduate students, PBL approach and skills and attributes:

Initial analysis showed that probationer teachers were faced with a range of issues in the workplace. They used graduate attributes they developed not only during school placements but also during other times of their studies, namely, tutor-led placement learning seminars and tutorials at the University. Five 21st century learning skills were drawn on particularly frequently:

  • Creativity & Innovation
  • Flexibility & Adaptability
  • Initiative & Self-direction
  • Critical thinking & Problem-solving
  • Communication & Collaboration

We found that these 21st century skills were amalgamated when graduates tackled challenges. While other skills were important as well, these skills were identified as being particularly versatile and essential to effective problem-solving during the probationary year.

Considering the three focal attributes that emerged from the data, self-direction, critical thinking & problem-solving, and collaboration: Collaboration is inherent in the PBL process (Patrick & McPhee, 2014). It ties in well with the collaborative environment fostered under the Teacher Induction scheme where each probationer receives guidance and support from a mentor in their school (Teacher Induction Scheme, n.d). Critical-thinking is also tied in with the PBL process as teachers must be able to think beyond one single solution to the problem; they must develop the skills to compare and contrast different solutions and justify the optimal solution. Self-direction was identified as important by the probationers, especially when they were placed in a school where support provided was not deemed to be relevant to their (perceived) needs.  

Although the main purpose of the focus group was to inform the development of a PBL activity, it also became apparent that this was an opportunity for new teachers to openly discuss common issues and challenges as a way of offering each other support. Graduates reported that they found the project was useful as it highlighted the challenges that new teachers tended to face, and welcomed the opportunity to work on solutions to work-based problems in a collaborative manner. In particular, they were able to make explicit links between skill development and professional learning.

The sharing of different perspectives allowed participants to offer each other suggestions for enhancing practice, making it a constructive and collaborative process of professional learning. Analysis of the focus group data not only reflected the diversity of work-based learning experiences, it also highlighted the need or desire, as was explicitly expressed by graduates, for the University to continue to be a source of learning while in their probationary year. This suggests that further opportunities for a partnership between Universities and Local Authorities are essential in supporting the transition of both current and graduate students.

Current ITE students, PBL approach and skills and attributes:

Participation in the PBL activities was shown to be beneficial to current students in several ways. Not only did they have the opportunity to go through the problem-solving process in a systematic way while being supported by their peers, they also indicated that the PBL approach was an effective way for them to engage with professional learning.  Through the task, students reflected on the connections between theory and practice. The PBL approach supported students’ critical thinking, which led to quality contributions of all students involved. The potential for these to further contribute to the development of critical thinking was apparent when defining the authentic work-based problem. The PBL approach also supported the development of collaborative skills. As students worked through the scenario, they negotiated a shared understanding of the problem before reaching a solution. The potential of supporting students’ self-directed learning was also evidenced. For example, through researching and reading the literature, students were able to relate their own understanding of the issue to research.

However, this small-scale study also showed that appropriate scaffolding is key to the success of a PBL activity. Such scaffolding must consider learner stage and ability level; for example, by providing varying degrees of direction towards initial academic reading, or by tutors, lecturers and graduates modelling the application of skills to real-world scenarios. These scaffolding techniques provide the foundation for future development of higher-level self-directed learning skills. 

Finally, a finding and potential strength of our research was the fact that the research intern involved in this project had recently completed an ITE course herself, and she is transitioning to her PhD studies. This provided opportunities:

  • For the intern: it meant that she had a chance to work on a research-based project - contributing to literature review, data collection, data analysis and write-up. This is invaluable for her own professional development;
  • For participants: it created an open platform for them where their voices were heard and enhanced, one they could relate to directly.

This perhaps suggests the importance of creating further opportunities for collaboration between current students and graduates to support transitions, and an exploration of how the various University services and structures can further support the development of transferrable 21st century learning skills and attributes. 


Participation in this PBL-based project has shown to be beneficial to both current students and graduates in various ways. The collaborative aspect led to high quality contributions from all students involved. The study highlights the importance of developing innovative models of teaching to engage current students and graduates alike, making a significant contribution to supporting student transition beyond Strathclyde.

The findings also suggest that the PBL approach can be embedded into future development of modules and courses. If implemented properly, it could allow students to further develop graduate attributes such as critical thinking, self-directed learning and collaboration in meaningful and authentic contexts, all of which are crucial for dealing with work-based challenges.

In terms of addressing the gap between University-based learning and its real-world applications, this study highlighted the need and desire, as was explicitly expressed by graduates, for the University to continue to be a source of learning even while in their probationary year. This underlines the importance of creating further opportunities with a focus on student engagement and strengthening partnership with other organisations to support student transitions.

Finally, the study provides evidence for embedding more student-centred problem-based learning experiences in ITE programmes as a way of promoting the development of transferrable 21st century learning skills.

Next steps

  • A dissemination activity/seminar, inviting current ITE students (undergraduate and postgraduates), probationary teachers and University staff members, including a seconded GTCS member.
  • We intend to set up the Graduate Attributes in the 21st Century Hub. This is a digital learning hub which initially will be used for students from the School of Education, but we envisage that it has the potential to be adapted for students across the University.

Lessons learned

The timing of the project entailed some challenges around recruiting graduates. By the time we launched the project, it was approaching the end of the school year and the summer holidays. While we succeeded in obtaining some in-depth data, one of the aims was to tap into the wealth of work-based experiences of our graduates working across a wide range of SIMDs. This was challenging. In addition, the graduates recruited were all primary teachers; therefore, the emerging themes may not be applicable to secondary teachers.

Furthermore, timing for current students to participate in the PBL activity had to be negotiated: a time-slot within an existing tutorial was used. Future undertaking of such activity would benefit from allowing more for the research stage of the PBL cycle.  While the original aim was to implement the PBL activities with current students online, this was not possible due to time constraints. However, this will be implemented at a later stage, with the development of the Hub.

Student involvement

The student intern was involved in designing the research  instruments, data collection, analysis and dissemination. As the intern has recently embarked on her PhD studies, “having additional experience conducting research has been incredibly beneficial” to her (quote from intern student).

Former students were involved in focus group discussions, based on which the PBL activities were developed. These newly qualified teachers indicated that the project was useful as it highlighted the challenges that new teachers tend to face. They welcomed the opportunity to work on solutions to work-based problems in a collaborative manner, linking it to skill development and professional learning.

Current ITE students were involved in the implementation of the PBL activity, working through the problem-solving learning process in a systematic way, supported by their peers and the intern. They indicated that participation in the project and the PBL activities was effective and that they could picture themselves in the teacher’s place.

Both groups will also be invited to the upcoming dissemination seminar.


[1] Framework for 21st Century Learning:


Patrick, F., McPhee, A. (2014) ‘Evaluating the use of problem-based learning in a new initial teacher education degree’, TEAN Journal, 6(2), pp. 3-12. 

What is the Teacher Induction Scheme? | In2Teaching. (2017). Retrieved 28 June 2017, from



General Teaching Council for Scotland: 

Framework for 21st Century Learning:

PBL process – (from:


  File Modified
PNG File Image.png Nov 24, 2017 by Alex Buckley