Students doing Project work, Civil Engineering – RMIT University
What is it?
RMIT have developed an authentic, simulated, non-placement WIL project for final year engineering students unable to do an engineering work placement. This bespoke WIL module was developed in collaboration with an engineering consultancy, drawing on a real-world engineering project, modified so that final year engineering students, working in groups, could complete the project in 6 weeks. Student groups are jointly supervised and assessed by the University and an engineer from an industry partner. Assessments are modelled on real life reports and presentations. The industry supervisor meets with students at fortnightly face to face ‘meetings’ and responds to emails in the interim. Student work readiness is evaluated before and after the module using a survey tool, and deficits in work-readiness addressed through a series of bespoke workshops and tailored assessments. Data on student satisfaction, student experience, graduate satisfaction and graduate employment outcomes are being collected over time to determine the longer term impact of the module. In the meantime, a significant increase in the self-reported perceptions of the employability skills of the cohort is testament to the success of this WIL activity.
Why is it useful?
This WIL activity takes an innovative approach to address student barriers in participating in placements. It incorporates clear links to improved employability skills, in addition to a traditionally accepted focus on technical capability. The activity embraces and actively strengthens mutually beneficial partnerships between the university and its industry partners, to provide an alternative to an industry-standard placement approach to WIL.
Author: Margaret Jollands, RMIT University, Victoria
Full details about 'Simulated WIL projects for final year engineering students'
Disciplines included in the WIL activity
Model of WIL activity
Industry/community based projects, Simulations, Role plays, Research activities, Industry supervision
The WIL module was developed in collaboration with an engineering consultancy from a real engineering project with rich resources. The scope was modified so final year engineering students working in groups could complete the project in 6 weeks. The original project had rich resources that were made available to the students. The student groups were jointly supervised and assessed by the author and an engineer from the company. The industry supervisor met the students at face to face ‘meetings’ fortnightly and responded to emails. The assessments templates were modelled on the reports and presentations for the client.
Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation
Who benefits from the WIL activity (include all relevant stakeholders)?
At RMIT, final year chemical engineering students comprise two cohorts: those who have completed an engineering work placement, usually the summer preceding graduation, and those who have not. This non-placement authentic WIL program was developed for the cohort of students who were unable to do an engineering work placement, about 50% of the graduating cohort.
How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?
This WIL module was designed in collaboration with industry. A real project was selected suitable for a vacation work student. The project scope was modified to be achievable in the timeframe (6 weeks). Students worked in groups to maximize generic skill development. A large complex data set was provided (photos, drawings). The student groups had meetings with a company engineer fortnightly, who also marked the project reports and presentations. Student work readiness was evaluated before and after the module using a survey tool. Deficits in work-readiness were overcome in a series of bespoke workshops and tailored assessments (reflections, career portfolio).
How adaptable is the WIL activity to other disciplines, sectors, teaching practices etc?
This WIL module is adaptable and flexible. A similar approach could be used in any sector. Any company would have suitable projects. The scope could be modified to be achievable in the desired timeframe. Students in any discipline work in groups to maximize generic skill development. Most real projects have complex resource sets that can be provided to the students to create authenticity. The students can meet their company contact regularly to simulate project meetings. Student work readiness in any discipline can be evaluated using a survey tool. Deficits in work-readiness can be overcome with suitable workshops and tailored assessments.
How sustainable is the WIL activity beyond its immediate implementation?
This WIL module is sustainable in engineering. Work experience is a requirement for many engineering programs. Lack of placements for engineering undergraduates is likely to continue in the medium to long term, so demand for on-campus simulations will grow once evidence is collected that the outcomes of authentic simulated WIL is shown to be equivalent to work placements. Similar approaches are being used throughout RMIT engineering programs.
How is the success of the WIL activity evaluated?
Data on student satisfaction, student experience, graduate satisfaction, graduate employment outcomes are being collected over time to determine impact of the module. Student work readiness of those who have completed a work placement is being compared with those completing the WIL module. This shows the work readiness deficits are overcome. It is anticipated that the gap between the graduate employment outcomes of RMIT graduates compared to the field average will close. Unfortunately there is a time lag of about two years from completion of the course to availability of employment outcomes.
What are the wider impacts of the WL activity beyond completion?
The WIL cohort have much higher confidence in their work readiness after completing the WIL module. The self-reported work readiness of placement and WIL module participants converges. In particular, after completing the WIL module, participants rated themselves equal to placement participants on the question “Overall I am confident I am work ready”. This should enhance student ability to look for and obtain suitable work, as well as make a more rapid transition in the workplace to become successful employees contributing to work processes efficiently and effectively.
How does the WIL activity approach the preparation, implementation and reflection phases of WIL?
In the first week students reflect on their current work readiness by completing a survey and the skills card sort activity. They submit a tailored CV and cover letter for a vacation work position. Mock interviews are carried out with engineers. During the project the students write fortnightly reflections on their learning, moderated by the supervisor. Students reflect on their strengths and weaknesses during the series of bespoke work-readiness workshops. In the last week they repeat the work readiness survey, as well as preparing a career plan that identifies what steps they need to take to further enhance their work-readiness.
What are the learning outcomes of the WIL activity and how do they link to graduate attributes?
There was a significant increase in the self-reported perceptions of employability of the WIL cohort. There was a significant increase in the average rating comparing ratings before and after completing the module. Their confidence increased in their ability to look for suitable roles, be successful in obtaining work, and to contribute positively in the workplace. The outcomes were equally good in the two consecutive years the course has been offered. The gap in self-reported work readiness between the students completing placements and those completed the WIL module was overcome.
What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?
The plans for the WIL activity are to continue in the current format with fine tuning aspects as identified by students/lecturer. Students were provided a number of opportunities that were facilitated by the lecturer to meet and connect with industry. In addition, upon completion of their study, they conducted a presentation with their recommendations seeking input/feedback prior to finalisation. Top presenting groups were selected and provided a prize. This enhanced the drive to succeed by the students in front of their peers and industry.