Engagement Before Placement
A successful placement experience depends on numerous factors – many of them arising prior to the placement itself. Adequate preparation on the part of the university, the student, the workplace student supervisor and the workplace can mean the difference between a successful placement and one that has negative repercussions for all parties involved. For this reason, you will find that the BEFORE Placement section of this module is far larger than the DURING Placement and AFTER Placement sections. As the famous Sun Tzu saying goes ‘time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’.
“An Unwanted Task” makes the point that good engagement between the workplace and the university before placement encourages a better WPL experience for all. Watch this 10 minute film and consider the following discussion points:
- This film provides a classic scenario of an unprepared workplace with seemingly little interest in WPL. This scenario was purposely chosen as a reminder of the potential consequences if a workplace and university do not actively and intentionally engage with each other.
- Ideally, watch the film with your colleagues and managers. It has been designed as a discussion starter to trigger your thinking about what it takes to prepare for a student placement.
- Here are some questions you could discuss with others after having watched the video:
- What do you think about the manager’s attitude towards WPL?
- Who is letting Ada down in terms of support as a WPL educator?
- Do you know someone like Ada or Peter in your workplace?
- Who creates the culture of WPL? Who decides how students are supervised in a workplace?
- Who provides training and mentor opportunities for WPL educators?
- What are your university-workplace consultation processes?
- What do you think is the most important factor for improving WPL in this scenario?
For students, WPL placement can be a very nerve-racking and overwhelming experience. Learning more about the student, including their expectations and requirements and what their roles and responsibilities are, and providing the student with information about you and your workplace, prior to the placement will help all to be well prepared with shared understanding about expectations and responsibilities.
There are a number of ways you can clarify this information with students prior to them arriving in your workplace. You may want to set up a meeting with the student prior to them starting the placement. This meeting could be in-person, via Skype or telephone. The aim of this meeting would be a reciprocal sharing of information – for you to learn more about the student, but for the student to also gain a better understanding of you and your workplace.
- What course the student is involved in;
- What the student’s expectations, concerns and hopes for the placement are;
- What strengths the student considers they bring to the placement;
- What the student’s prior experience of this type of work has been;
- The requirements for effectively engaging in your workplace;
- Your expectations of the student.
In telling the student information about yourself and your workplace remember, some students may not have been on placement or in a workplace before, and even if they have, they may not have been on placement in YOUR workplace previously. It may be important for you to outline what is expected of the student prior to them starting. Workplaces have specific cultures – ways of doing things, and while this may seem like common sense and routine to you, this is not so for students. They are entering into a new workplace culture. For this reason, you may consider telling the student information including: what time they are expected to start, your dress code and whether they should bring their lunch to work. Knowing these things in advance contribute to the student starting off their placement on the right foot.
You may also consider sending the student a welcome letter, to introduce them to yourself and to provide pertinent information about your workplace. While a letter doesn’t invite open conversation, it does allow the student to have pertinent information about their placement in hard copy.
Here is an example of a welcome letter that a host organisation, the Media Federation of Australia, emails to students prior to the WPL placement. If you don’t already have one, you may want to consider creating a similar resource for your own workplace. In creating your welcome letter you may also ask the student to provide you with some background information about themselves, for example their learning goals and what outcomes they would like to achieve from the placement. It might also be an idea to ask the student what strengths they believe they will bring to the placement and what their prior experience of this type of work has been.
Here is an internship placement planner provided by the School of Communication and Creative Industries at CSU to workplace student supervisors. When the student initially arrives on placement, you may ask them to sit down and fill out this planner and then discuss what they wrote with you. This is a good way to clarify both the student’s, and your own, expectations, hopes and concerns for the placement.
With the increasing prevalence of mobile technologies it may be important for you to discuss your workplace’s policies around mobile phone, personal device and social media use with students prior to them starting placement. Questions you might want to consider include, are students allowed to use their smart phones during placement? Is adding a work colleague as a friend on Facebook permitted? For more information about these issues please visit the OLT website.
Occasionally, you may be asked to supervise a student who identifies as having a disability. The university will contact you prior to placement to discuss this with you and you will remain in close contact with the university’s disability office throughout the placement. It is important that you understand the student’s rights and responsibilities as well as your own in this situation. For example, you may be able to request specialised equipment be purchased by the university for your workplace to support the student during placement.
Here is a Workplace Learning Disability Policy from Charles Sturt University. If you don’t already have access to a similar policy from the university that you are partnering with, be sure to obtain a copy. If you cannot find any information online about your partnering university’s policies regarding students with disabilities, be sure to check with your university contact liaison about what the university’s specific policies are.
You may be working with a single university in your workplace student supervisor role, or you may be working with a number of universities. Regardless, it is important that you know who the contact liaison officer for the university is. This is the main person who you will contact if you need to talk to the university throughout the placement. Remember that the student remains the university’s responsibility even while they are on placement in your workplace. This means that if you have any queries or concerns before, during or after placement you should not hesitate to contact your university contact liaison.
Take a minute now to ensure that you have up-to-date contact details and information about your university contact liaison. Think about how you in turn can make your contract information more easily accessible to the university. For example, is your contact information available online through your workplace website? Are you clearly delineated as a workplace student supervisor and a contact point to discuss workplace supervision on your website?
Here is a worksheet you might want to fill in about strategies to improve partnership and engagement between yourself/your workplace and the university. After filling out this worksheet, you might want to discuss your answers with your university contact liaison to ensure that you are both on the same page regarding WPL.
Prior to the placement experience beginning, you may find it useful to learn more about the course that the student is enrolled in. You could ask your university contact liaison officer for information about what year the student is enrolled in, whether this is their first placement experience, or their final placement before graduating, what key learning outcomes and objectives the student is expected to achieve in this placement experience, what prior knowledge the student is expected to have and the assessment requirements. You may even find it helpful to ask for a copy of the course or subject outline.
Here is an example of a course brochure outlining the Bachelor of Communication (Advertising) course at CSU. Finding out this information may help you to orient yourself to the student’s needs – what you can expect of them in the placement. For example, what you expect from a student who is in their first year of study and undertaking their first placement experience is very different to the expectations you would have for a final year student who is about to graduate. It is important that you are aware of this information prior to the student arriving in your workplace, so that from the very start you can tailor the placement so that it fits the student’s level of experience.
Alongside your regular professional commitments, as a workplace student supervisor you provide your valuable experience, insight and time to mentor students in your workplace. Understanding more about the intricacies and expectations of the workplace student supervisor role can help to inform and enhance the relationship between yourself, the student and the university.
- Meeting with the student prior to the placement to define their learning objectives.
- Scheduling the student’s work responsibilities and overseeing all activities.
- Orientating the student to your organisation and clients.
- Exposing the student to a variety of learning experiences, and ensuring that the student engages with constructive rather than menial tasks.
- Allowing the student the opportunity to grow professionally and to accept appropriate responsibilities in the workplace.
- Provide the student with constructive feedback, ongoing feedback, guidance, coaching, modelling and instruction – discuss with the student their skill development on a regular basis, including regularly scheduled meetings.
- Thoroughly review the student’s performance (based on objectives agreed in the placement proposal) with the student at regular intervals of the placement and again at the end of the placement.
- Complete and submit assessment forms as required.
- Contact the university supervisor about the student’s performance in your workplace, particularly if any issues or concerns cannot be resolved with the student.
For more information on this topic, here is a module focused on the roles and responsibilities of the university, student and workplace student supervisor in WPL.
Here is a resource from HETI (Health Education & Training Institute) about supervising students on placement. While this is a handbook specifically for supervisors who are supervising allied health professionals, it does contain useful information about supervision principles and how to be an effective supervisor.
The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) Network has developed a range of resources specific to workplace learning that you may find useful. These include:
Roles and Responsibilities of the Workplace Supervisor
Checklist for WIL Supervision
Participating in WIL
WIL in the Creative Arts
WIL in the field of Business
WIL in the field of Law
WIL in the field of Information Technology
Murdoch University has also put together a GUIDE on how to make the most of WIL for workplace supervisors
Prior to the student arriving on placement, it is important that you (along with your work colleagues) undertake a risk assessment to ensure that your workplace is a safe place for the student to work. Remember that the student may have a rudimentary knowledge of workplace health and safety, and therefore it is important that any potential risks are minimised. Here is an example of a workplace risk assessment provided to supervising workplaces by the Faculty of Science at Charles Sturt University. If your workplace has not conducted a recent, thorough risk assessment, you may want to consider doing so before the placement begins.
Workplace learning isn’t a solitary undertaking, you work with a number of other people to ensure the best possible outcomes for both the student and yourself; of course this also includes your workplace and the university. It is important that you know how your workplace can support and assist you throughout the placement. Consider what questions you may want to ask prior to the WPL placement experience:
Questions to ask yourself:
- Does my workplace have a HR representative/department who can provide me with support in my supervisor role during the placement?
- Does my workplace have pre-existing resources available (information sheets/ welcome packs/ instruction sheets) that I could use?
- Is there a mentor in my workplace, someone who has acted as a workplace student supervisor previously, who could provide me with advice and support?
- Am I expected to continue with all of my normal work responsibilities in addition to acting as a workplace student supervisor?
It is important to remember, that it is your workplace, and not just you, that plays an important role in ensuring that the student becomes competent.
Responsibilities of your workplace include:
- Providing relevant and suitable projects for the student to focus on.
- Providing adequate workplace health and safety information and reinforcing safety procedures.
- Providing a suitable induction process for introducing the student to the workplace.
- Providing enabling opportunities for the student, but recognising that it is the student’s responsibility to learn.
As we have discussed, workplace learning is a core part of the academic university curriculum, and as such it is important that students are assessed and evaluated on their WPL experience. Getting your head around assessment prior to the arrival of students is good practice. Important considerations include your role as assessor, the purposes of assessment and good assessment practices. Prior to the student arriving in your workplace, here is a list of actions relating to assessment that you may want to spending some time thinking about and reflecting on:
- To start, liaise with university liaison staff and familiarise yourself with placement objects, assessment requirements and expectations.
- Clarify the placement purpose of the placement and the student’s level of study, including any prior experiences they may have undertaken, with the university.
- Reflect critically on your readiness to undertake student assessment by considering your skills, confidence, time-availability and motivation. Think about what you need to support your assessor role. It is a good idea to learn from colleagues who are experienced in student assessment and to ask the university for training and support.
And just remember, assessment is a shared responsibility between the student, the university and you/your workplace. Assessment can be complex and challenging, but it is not a task that you have to undertake alone. Involving others in the workplace can improve the assessment process can lighten the load and responsibility and makes assessment fairer. Collaborative relationships with colleagues that permit shared assessment and feedback processes will enhance the quality of student learning and assessment.
If you would like to learn more about WPL assessment, be sure to access the module all about assessing students on placement.
Download your reflective diary to start consolidating your thoughts about WPL supervision and how you can communicate your supervision role with students and colleagues in your workplace.
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