South African students in higher education face many challenges other than the requirements of the academic programme. This places additional demands on academic staff tasked with delivering specialised content in support of student success rates. In response, we have introduced a subject intended to support first-year design students in navigating studio and theory subjects in a trans-disciplinary way. This subject covers academic, personal and professional literacies. Personal and professional literacies are the subject of this investigation, in which we question how we can support students in preparation for fast-changing future environments? Designers are becoming “nomads, storytellers, peddlers, do-gooders and Swiss army knives” in response to the fast-paced context of the third millennium (Vrontikis 2013). In this paper, we reference these trends, as well as the well-documented skills and attributes required to navigate digitally mediated globalised contexts. Literature indicates that there are skills and cognitive processes that fall outside the boundaries of our academic curriculum. We, therefore, ask how these personal and professional literacies could be supported using a coaching approach, and how could these literacies be assessed? We present an autoethnographic account of learning interventions within the subject of academic and professional literacy, with a specific focus on a coaching approach to developing personal and professional literacies. This narrative method enables a critical reflection and interpretation of personal experience in which we interrogate notions of identity and value. Knowledge itself does not drive habits or change; what matters for students is not necessarily knowing the theory, but an ability to live it, to do it, and to do so consistently enough in a way that integrates with their existing selves. We propose the development of student agency assessed on the strength of engagement rather than outcomes.
Keywords: academic literacies, twenty-first-century skills, coaching