Virtual Placement Project (VPP)

Queensland University of Technology - Faculty of Law

Melinda Shirley

Iyla Davies

Tina Cockburn

Ms Melinda Shirley
Assistant Dean,
Teaching and Learning
Telephone: 07 38641600
Facsimile: 07 313 82121
Email: m.shirley@qut.edu.au

Ms Iyla Davies
Assistant Dean,
International, Commercial & Community Engagement
Telephone: 07 313 82834
Facsimile: 07 313 84253
Email: i.davies@qut.edu.au

Ms Tina Cockburn
Senior Lecturer
Telephone: 07 38642003
Facsimile: 07 313 82121
Email: t.cockburn@qut.edu.au

Vignette title and details

Virtual Placement Project (VPP)
Full time, Part Time, External
Undergraduate
Semester two and Summer semester
Pilot to be implemented semester two 2008, full scale implementation from semester two 2009.

Discipline

Law

Employment sector

Multi-sector law placements reflecting the diverse employment opportunities now available to law graduates such as private law firms, the bar, the public sector, community legal centres, social justice organisations, private legal counsel, government, not-for-profit organisations, industry, law reform bodies, the business sector and Dispute Resolution Agencies.

Pilot to involve three project partners, namely:
Mallesons Stephen Jaques
www.mallesons.com
Australian Lawyers Alliance
www.lawyersalliance.com.au

Bridges Across Borders

www.babsea.org

www.sea-clinictalk.org

Student numbers

During pilot 40 students, eventually it is intended that the unit will accommodate 550+ students

Optional/compulsory

Optional.

Credit bearing

Students receive credit recognition for their participation in the Virtual Law Placement (VLP) project on their final academic transcript.

Assessment

Job application weight 10% (individual mark)
Online discussion forum entries and Executive Summary weight 15% (individual mark)
Project Outline weight 15% (team mark)
Completed project and Individual Assignment weight 40% (team mark 10%; individual mark 30%)
Student e-portfolio entry weight 20% (individual mark)

Payment

During the pilot there is no expectation that students will receive payment for their work, although this is a matter for individual workplaces. If placed with a social justice organisation, students may be encouraged to participate in relevant fund-raising activities to support project implementation.

Number of staff involved

During the pilot academic staff involved will be Tina Cockburn (with support from Melinda Shirley and Iyla Davies), together with one paid workplace supervisor from each of the three pilot partners, who will also be appointed as sessional staff members (to be paid at the hourly tutorial rate for two hours per week per semester one original hour plus one repeat tutorial) and receive training and support from the full time members of the academic staff.

Weblink

http://law.qut.edu.au/about/wil/

Key Words

Virtual placement; work-integrated learning; e-portfolio; team work; international; community engagement; e-learning; collaborative education; co-operative education; authentic learning


Overview
From semester two 2008 QUT law students will be offered the opportunity to participate in its Virtual Law Placement unit (VLP). Given that advances in technology have resulted in radical changes to the nature of workplaces and work practices, the QUT Law Faculty is applying the available technology to offer virtual work placements for undergraduate QUT law students. The VLP will provide mutually beneficial opportunities for both employers and students, particularly in cases where a physical placement is not possible or practical, though it will not be limited to those circumstances. Students will apply legal knowledge and skills to complete a real world workplace project in a team, using online communication technologies to enable students to be virtually, rather than physically, present at the workplace and to engage with the other participants in the workplace, including the workplace supervisor of the virtual placement. The technological platform will provide an appropriate mix of online communication, such as video, skype, discussion forum, online chat, and email, with opportunities for face to face communication where possible and desirable. It is anticipated that the range of virtual employers will extend across the spectrum of law firms, government, industry, and community organisations, reflecting the wide variety of employment opportunities which are open to todays law graduates. At the conclusion of the unit (where the nature of the task allows) students will also have the opportunity to see the impact of their work in the real world.
In addition to the Virtual Law Placement, the QUT Law Faculty offers a number of other work integrated learning (WIL) subjects see http://law.qut.edu.au/about/wil/

Structure of program
The VLP operates from a commercial learning management system, the Blackboard Academic Suite, from the platform of the QUT website, supplemented by the SharePoint software.
Students apply for their work placement position by answering an advertisement after having the benefit of learning support and instruction from QUT Careers and Employment. In preparing their applications, students are referred to the websites of their potential employers to explore the public profile and market niche of the particular organisation. Potential workplace supervisors will see the applications of students who nominate their organisation as a first preference and assist (to be managed by the Careers and Employment section of the University) with the selection process. In addition, we are investigating the possibility of having virtual interviews.
Students are then allocated to their virtual workplace according to expressed preferences and the merit of their application according to the job advertisement and selection criteria (where appropriate depending on the nature of the placement). The employer may choose to invite students to participate in their employers virtual workplace, and give those students a level of access to its technological infrastructure, including the organisations intranet, online research tools, group emails and continuing education and professional development services.
Students will receive learning support in the form of a package of practical, interesting and engaging online resources, such as audio visual materials, tip sheets, FAQ, short articles, factsheets, worksheets and short learning modules including quizzes on a range of topics for example:

Workplace supervisors will also receive online support in a range of areas, such as:

Students will generally work in teams for the duration of a teaching semester (maximum 13 weeks) on tasks set by workplace mentors in each employer organisation.
Workplace mentors will provide feedback to the student team on their project outline highlighting practical considerations that may have been overlooked in their initial response, as well as comments on the ethical, political and social dimensions of the task which may not have been readily apparent to the students.
The workplace mentors will evaluate the students' performance on the final project report and give detailed feedback on the strengths, weaknesses and practical utility of the work produced. Students are assessed on the various aspects of their work in the unit according to specified criteria.
Participating students will be advised that this is a non-paid program, though some employers may choose to offer a stipend.

Special features
The Virtual Law Placement project is an innovative model for work-integrated learning using a virtual paradigm. It is grounded in the literature on work integrated learning, community engagement, the changing nature of the modern workplace and the learning preferences of twenty-first century law students. The project also aims to strengthen partnerships with the wider community, simultaneously serving the teaching and learning and international and community engagement agendas of the University, by enabling students to engage meaningfully with local, national and international community partners. The unit content, structure and IT platform have been designed working closely in partnership with the industry partners so as to make participation in the project mutually beneficial, worthwhile and authentic.

Future work
The unit is one of a suite of work integrated learning units offered by the Faculty and aims to supplement those programs, which have traditionally been limited by constraints such as finding sufficient physical placements to accommodate the large student numbers, the cost to the Faculty of resourcing the delivery of WIL units and meeting the needs of a diverse range of students, particularly the flexibility required by external and part time students.

During the pilot, a key goal is to investigate ways of ensuring that the project is authentic and sustainable.

Future work will relate to continuing to build relationships with industry, including international partners, and maintaining and managing existing relationships.

From a faculty perspective, sufficient resources and fund-raising will need to continue to be committed to expand the project and enable staff development of existing personnel as well as to identify and build capability and capacity through additional full time and sessional academic and professional staff. To maximise our avenues for this support, the project team has deliberately attempted to ensure that the concept addresses a broader range of University imperatives in addition to the traditional teaching and learning objectives. To this end the concept for this project has been evaluated from the added perspectives of effective community engagement and internationalisation of the undergraduate law curriculum.

As the pilot is yet to be implemented the major difficulties faced by the project team to date have been in the conceptualisation of the project given the traditional physical nature of work-integrated learning subjects in Australia. An initial stumbling block was the reaction that it was preposterous to attempt to achieve workplace enculturation through a virtual interaction; however the emerging body of literature on the changing nature of the workplace and the learning preferences of Gen Y students has been of assistance in managing those perceptions. It has also been necessary to ensure that the virtual concept added value wherever possible to the learning experience available through the traditional physical placement model, and this has been possible through the expanded focus to include the internationalisation perspective.

Additional Insights
This project has been funded by the award of a 2007 QUT Engagement Innovation Grant for the project Community engagement through a model of Virtual Work integrated Learning. The maximum funding of $30,000 was awarded to the project team comprised of Iyla Davies, Melinda Shirley and Tina Cockburn.

The project has been profiled in Brisbane Legal Virtual Law Placement a Reality June 14, 2007, page 16. The project team have published the following refereed journal articles relating to the project:

The project team have delivered the following conference papers relevant to the project:

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