ISSUES INVOLVED IN ADOPTING A WORK-INTEGRATED-LEARNING APPROACH IN A MEDIA INTERNSHIP COURSE
Internship programs are increasingly being adopted by Australian arts faculties, under pressure to introduce courses which are seen by students as ‘real world’ experiences, and thus perceived as more relevant than traditional academic work. There are many models which cross the disciplines, such as parliamentary schemes, or time spent in supervised anthropology fieldwork. Some schemes fit more easily into traditional assessment protocols than others, because the assignment work remains recognisably academic – a project report or a long research essay. Work-integrated learning is different, and such initiatives challenge assessment preconceptions when faculty overviews the course aims, assessment results and practices.
Industry placements using work-integrated learning (WIL) principles are particularly popular with media students in theoretically-framed degree programs, as they consider their short placement the most relevant to their future employment. Students are typically highly motivated, and tend to treat the placement duties as quite separate and different from other studies. For the academic responsible, reading comments such as ‘ the best course of my university studies’ on feedback sheets is often a mixed pleasure. It casts an interesting light on the rest of their studies.
The Media Industry Placement (MIP) course at the University of Adelaide has been growing for five years. Most graduating media students elect to enrol in the course. They are expected to research the local mediascape and communications sector to find their host organisation, and to make the cold calls requesting placements, treating it as a dry-run at their first professional job search. The assessment asks them, among other tasks, to prepare a report which synthesising a critique of their host industry with self-reflexive analysis of the adequacy or otherwise of their formal education. Hosts are also asked to assess students against a list of ten attributes, and contribute in this way towards the student’s grade. This assessment task integrates the two kinds of learning, to make the placement more than just a time spent in the workplace.
When the cohort’s aggregated assessment grades are submitted, academics find that they are being asked to explain ‘abnormalities’: i.e., higher than normal distribution curves. When students receive their grades, some find it hard to understand why such an enjoyable and rich experience has not gained a higher grade.
The paper describes the contradictory discourses at play in WIL courses in universities, and is based on over 200 MIP student and host reports.