The Disaster Response Project: A remote placement alternative during the COVID-19 pandemic
Associate Professor Michele Ruyters, RMIT University
Alasdair Henry, RMIT University
Monique Moffa, RMIT University
Dr Lucy Maxwell, RMIT University
Dr Marietta Martinovic, RMIT University
Tell us about your program and discipline
Criminology and Justice Studies (CJS) at RMIT is a large discipline offering a number of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programs: the Bachelor of Criminal Justice; the Bachelor of Legal and Dispute Studies; the Bachelor of Criminology and Psychology; the Bachelor of Justice and Criminology (Hons); the Graduate Certificate of Domestic and Family Violence; the Master of Justice and Criminology; and the Master of Public Policy. CJS students exit to diverse careers in the courts, policing, prosecutions, home affairs, corrections, youth justice, government departments, and non-government organisations.
WIL has been deeply embedded in CJS programs for many years building on long-standing industry recognition and engagement. The majority of CJS students complete a compulsory 50-day supervised industry placement in their final year with opportunities to complete elective 20-day internships and WIL projects throughout their degrees. CJS also run three campus workplaces for students.
How did your WIL program respond during the COVID-19 emergency?
In response to COVID-19, many justice organisations deferred their internship programs, potentially impacting the graduation plans of several hundred CJS students. In response, the CJS WIL team created the Disaster Response Project (DRP) as an alternative to face-to-face placements. The DRP requires students to join a virtual ‘taskforce’ representing a specific justice sector organisation and to collaborate in the design of organisational responses to topical scenarios presented by the pandemic.
DRP receives input from relevant industry partners whom students can contact about their organisation’s response to COVID-19 and receive feedback on their work. Key deliverables include: a written report to the organisation’s decision-makers; participation in an online video conference with members of the taskforce representing other justice sector organisations; and a final report outlining recommendations for the organisation about future responses to pandemic scenarios.
DRP has transformed CJS WIL practice from almost exclusively face-to-face to a remote placement activity.
What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?
For the immediate future, the Disaster Response Project will be offered as an alternative to face-to-face placements for CJS students in semester 2 of 2020, and throughout summer 2020/2021. As the project design is adaptable to any disaster or emergency scenario, the CJS WIL team intends to develop and offer differently themed virtual disaster projects alongside face to face placements from 2021.
The CJS WIL team is also considering potential adaptions across relevant disciplines. For example, the scenario could be changed from students representing organisations from the justice sector to any range of areas including, but not limited to, business, nursing, social work, engineering and more. Further, the project model does not have to only apply to disaster scenarios and is valuable where multiple justice agencies are able to present project briefs to large groups of students in a model that encourages inter-university collaboration.