Data literacy skills – why are they so important for graduates? What can business schools do to improve the current situation?

Cunningham, Liz (2021) Data literacy skills – why are they so important for graduates? What can business schools do to improve the current situation? Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

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The subject of digital literacy in the UK is of great interest at the moment in the context of business, education and citizens in general. There are concerns from Government that the UK is experiencing a digital skills gap, with businesses expressing a need for staff with basic or advanced digital skills. There is some concern expressed that young people (aged 16-24) do not have a high enough skill level to meet these needs.

Research has also identified that another current issue of great importance to business is the analysis and management of data. Data is easily generated and if it is dealt with appropriately and transformed into Business Intelligence it is a key business asset. Business Intelligence is a major driver in the gaining of competitive advantage.

Taking the above two topics into account, it is interesting that definitions of digital literacy rarely include any mention of data analysis and management. It would be expected that data literacy would form an important part of a digital skillset, particularly with regard to business. When young people take up employment in business, it can be assumed that it would be very useful for them to have a good set of data skills.

The identification of this gap was the starting point for this research, which was aimed at discovering how a range of stakeholders (business employers, students and academic staff) regarded the area of data literacy in the context of graduate employees. A qualitative approach was taken, as it was felt that the depth and richness of the data required could best be captured in this way.

In terms of data collected, employers were of the common opinion that graduate employees had good skills with technology in general but had often had poor data skills. Students agreed with this and also expressed the opinion that they found the data subjects taught at University were “too hard” with a concentration on statistical skills learned using spreadsheet tools with which they were unfamiliar. Academic staff agreed with this and expressed frustration that students were quick to disengage from the subject and did not understand its importance.

Further work carried out involved a sectoral analysis of HE standards and frameworks and an institutional analysis of teaching content at a number of University Business Schools. All Business Schools examined were found to take a very similar approach to the teaching of what could be identified as data literacy, using spreadsheets as a vehicle to teach a variety of statistical and quantitative techniques, with content comparable to that taught on BM9400 (Business Analysis for Decision-Making at Newcastle Business School.

A set of recommendations was developed based on the results of the primary data collection coupled with key points embedded in HE standards. These recommendations underpinned a different approach to data literacy teaching designed to more closely meet the needs of employers while also engaging students. This approach was applied to a new Level 3 module which successfully ran in Semester 1 of academic year 2020/21.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Graduate Employability, Undergraduate Data and Statistical skills, Data Management and Analysis, Data skills teaching in Business Schools
Subjects: G400 Computer Science
G900 Others in Mathematical and Computing Sciences
N900 Others in Business and Administrative studies
X200 Research and Study Skills in Education
Department: Faculties > Business and Law > Newcastle Business School
University Services > Graduate School > Professional Doctorate
Depositing User: Rachel Branson
Date Deposited: 01 Nov 2021 15:48
Last Modified: 01 Nov 2021 16:00

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