Bridge of Hope Innocence Initiative (BOHII): a multi-disciplinary partnered workplace 

A multi-disciplinary campus workplace for students who investigate wrongful conviction claims in collaboration with staff and industry. 

 

Associate Professor Michele Ruyters

Associate Professor Michele Ruyters

BOHII Director - RMIT University

Discipline

Criminology and Justice (BOHII also offers placements for interns from other disciplinary backgrounds, such as law, journalism and media studies, social work, and youth work).

Model/s of WIL activity

Industry/community-based placement.

Description of WIL activity

BOHII is a multi-disciplinary campus workplace for students investigating wrongful conviction claims in collaboration with staff and industry.  Students complete 20 or 50 day internships supported by tutors, mentors, and supervisors. Students work in teams to research the merits of claims including factual errors that might establish a person’s innocence. Students are trained in ethical procedures and professional communication, resilience and self-care, critical thinking, and case analysis methodologies, providing authentic learning experiences and translatable work-ready skills.  In response to 2020 COVID-19 restrictions, BOHII activities were migrated online enabling continuity of WIL opportunities and case investigations, and a new familiarity with real-world online protocols.

How long has it been operating?

BOHII has been in operation since 2014 and runs all year through ‘flexi’ semesters. ‘Virtual BOHII’ has operated since 23 March 2020

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

BOHII is a simulated workplace offering unique opportunities for students to develop and apply transferable employability skills to real world situations with tangible life changing outcomes. BOHII has strong industry links through legal entities, experts, and alumni who have exited to diverse careers continuously expanding the network of professionals who support and promote BOHII.

BOHII’s embedded industry linkages give students a cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral experience that is generally not available in standard internships where students work under supervision in a specific role in an organisation.  Instead, BOHII students are exposed to diverse disciplines and skill sets. They are invited to take initiative and innovate, introducing improved ways of working that result in a reciprocal learning environment between students and teachers.  Academic staff scaffold students’ learning and are responsive to their immediate environment in ways that students would not usually experience on placement, e.g. bringing in field experts and integrating BOHII activities in academic programs. BOHII’s case-based team learning model is scalable and adaptable to other HE or VE contexts and across disciplines.  This model has been applied to two other on-campus workplaces:  Criminal Case Review Project and Disaster Response Project.

BOHII uses a dedicated physical space but does not receive university funding other than staff salaries. As the School’s leading internship provider, BOHII has an essential role in providing WIL curricula. Migration to a supportive online environment in 2020 enabled interns to continue working collaboratively in teams, experience organisational culture, develop workplace literacies and skills required by the changing workforce.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

Students develop work ready skills demonstrated through daily activities, communication and interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence and well-being strategies, and collaborative working skills. Alumni returning as volunteers and mentors benefit from students’ new insights. BOHII assists people making wrongful conviction claims by uncovering facts to support post-conviction review as evidenced in media coverage, and by listening to them share their experiences – sometimes for the first time.  BOHII provides practical assistance to lawyers who refer cases by searching voluminous materials and doing case research. The community learns about the causes and effects of wrongful convictions through media reportage of BOHII cases.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

BOHII’s success is evaluated through the progression of cases, the quality of intern work, the student experience evidenced in subject and intern surveys, and students’ graduate outcomes. e.g. careers in police, prosecutions, and courts. Students engage in reflective practices throughout the placement as well as reflection encouraged by formal academic assessments. BOHII staff continuously review practices and strategies to improve the experience for interns, industry, and applicants. BOHII also engages intern alumni as peer mentors to assist with evaluation.  Research is currently being undertaken by staff to explore student experiences of the WIL activity and its impact on post-graduation outcomes.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?

BOHII’s work has raised the profile of wrongful convictions in Australia. BOHII’s investigations have featured in prominent media such as the Project, 60 Minutes, ABC 7.30 and ABC/Netflix series Exposed: The Case of Keli Lane. This coverage has also resulted in scrutiny of elements in the criminal justice system and their practices, e.g. access to evidence and other information. BOHII’s students’ work has resulted in two petitions for mercy seeking to overturn convictions. These are currently under consideration. Impact is also evident in the volume of public information received to assist BOHII’s cases and offers to volunteer.

How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula?

Students are selected through a competitive application and interview process. During two half-day online induction seminars, students are introduced to the organisation, their fellow interns and online communication tools. They undertake a resilience workshop to support and wellbeing resources that are accessible throughout their placement. Implementation of this WIL activity involves regular supervision by staff members and mentors and daily online meetings where the interns present their work for discussion and review. Reflection is embedded naturally throughout the placement through observing student growth.  Opportunities for reflection are facilitated in a formal capacity and organically by staff members and peer mentors.

How is it informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship?

BOHII draws on well-established principles of authentic and problem-based learning. Studies suggest that students benefit when their learning experience is contextualised in real-life or authentic situations (Herrington & Oliver, 2000). BOHII provides this by immersing students within real cases (and corresponding case materials) where individuals have claimed they experienced a wrongful conviction. Similarly, deeper knowledge and learning occurs when students work collaboratively in groups to solve and explain the problems they interact with (Grabinger & Dunlap, 1995). Retaining authentic work, responsibility, and teamwork in the online setting, aligns BOHII with best practice for effective learning.

What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

The plans are for BOHII to continue in both face-to-face and virtual formats. The successful migration of ‘Virtual BOHII’ has opened possibilities to expand the number of student placements offered and opportunities to collaborate on cases with students from other institutions. BOHII has already expanded into a second on campus workplace for students: Criminal Case Review Project (CCRP), which examines procedural and systemic irregularities that result in a miscarriage of justice. We are in discussions with other universities to expand the BOHII model interstate, and have planned to assist with an Indigenous Exoneration Project currently based in the NT.

References

Grabinger, R. S., & Dunlap, J. C. (1995). Rich environments for active learning: A definition. Research in learning Technology, 3(2).

Herrington, J., & Oliver, R. (2000). An instructional design framework for authentic learning environments. Educational technology research and development, 48(3), 23-48.

Websites

Photos

One room in BOHII’s workplace. Tutor Alyssa Sigamoney is standing to the right of two student interns.
Another  depiction of the same room in the BOHII workplace. Tutor Alyssa Sigamoney is seated in the centre. Associate Lecturer Monique Moffa is in the background.
A room in the BOHII workplace. Michele Ruyters and Alyssa Sigamoney are standing facing the camera.