Digital WIL – Live Industry Projects

Case Studies

Institution:

University of Southern Queensland

Discipline:

STEM

Model/s of WIL activity:

Industry/community-based projects

Level the activity is delivered:

Program-wide

Digital WIL – Live Industry Projects

Authentic industry experiences through industry sourced and engaged projects facilitated and supervised via digital platforms.

The Digital WIL – Live Industry Project initiative was developed and implemented by UniSQ Careers and Employability central unit to provide students with authentic industry experiences through industry-sourced and industry-engaged projects. Projects are co-designed with the industry and based on issues industry partners are currently experiencing. Undergraduate and postgraduate students in capstone courses from  all disciplines of Information Technology and Systems and Computing and Cyber Security programs participate in this initiative. Students collaborate on projects in teams that are facilitated and supervised via university-approved digital platforms to allow for equitable student participation across on-campus and online, with a mix of international and domestic students.

Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation

This activity has been operating for over two years from February 2020.

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

A significant percentage of UniSQ students are from regional and remote areas, from low socio-economic backgrounds, are first in their family to attend university or are geographically diverse online students with limited networks and abilities to source and access authentic WIL experiences. Unequitable access to WIL can impact students’ ability to develop strong employability capabilities. Furthermore, UniSQ’s campuses are in regional Queensland locations, whose industry profile mainly comprises small and medium enterprises with limited capacity to provide authentic WIL experiences (Collis, 2010).

The innovative design and approach of this initiative addressed the above barriers by:

  • Developing and implementing a fully digital WIL program for delivering WIL in the curriculum for capstone courses. This program’s innovative design provides an equitable team-based experience for all students in targeted disciplines who are geographically diverse and otherwise would have no access to an authentic WIL.
  • The Digital WIL – Live Industry projects’ designprovides students with flexible authentic WIL experiences without having impact on their personal finances or usual work arrangements. Each project comprises 10 online meetings (60 minutes) between industry partner, student team and academic supervisor over the ten weeks of a semester. Furthermore, each group of students (3 to 5 students) collaborate on the project as a team via the digital platform at their convenient time, in addition to 10 online meetings (90 minutes) between the students in the team over the ten weeks of a semester.
  • The Digital WIL – Live Industry Projectsprogram incorporates a unique structure where an academic supervisor as a subject matter expert is embedded in each project team to overcome any shortcomings and barriers of SMEs’ capacity/capability in providing a meaningful WIL experience and subsequently facilitating knowledge share. The digital channel of each team is supervised by an academic to provide the necessary oversight addressing the limited capacity of SMEs in the supervision/provision of authentic WIL. Each project team has 10 online meetings (30 minutes) with the academic supervisor over the ten weeks of a semester. 

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

Student:
Employability learning, digital employment learning and student graduate attributes development via establishing authentic WIL.
Students’ professional networks and linkages to industry and future employment opportunities.

Quotes from participating students:

  • It was an amazing experience (to) team work on the project.
  • The overall experience for this course is good. We gained a lot and improved interpersonal skills from this real-world project.
  • Strong support from our supervisors and improve our academic skills to finish the project.
  • This was a good course and it provided experience on what it will be like on real life work environment, this course is highly recommended for the future students.

Industry:
Regional and rural businesses and industries of the Southern Queensland region, located across approximately 700,000 Sq Km, benefit from knowledge sharing through students via WIL activities designed with and for industries and businesses; provides a catalyst in innovation and capabilities developments enabling resilient and globally competitive enterprises and communities.

University:

  • Partnerships with industry and wider communities, enabling UniSQ to play a critical role in supporting innovation in regions and regional industries aligned with UniSQ’s Strategic Plan.
  • Enhancing connection with Alumni as they are regularly engaged as project sponsors or mentors.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

In 2019, as part of enhancing employability in the curriculum, 82 students of an ICT capstone course were provided with an industry placements option, as a substitute tothe existing simulated projects model. Of these, 79 students opted for simulation projects rather than authentic WIL placement. Through evaluation, it was identified that some students, despite lacking industry experience, there was preference toward  the simulation. This approach was preferred particularly for students from low SES backgrounds who were required to manage work commitments, study and placement.
The Careers and Employability central unit regularly gathers feedback from students, industry partners and academic staff during and after the projects. This includes conducting of surveys with all participating students and industry at mid-term and post-experience to inform continuous improvement. Significantly, our data shows that 28% of students who participated in these projects found employment with industry partners or identified the experience to significantly supported their employability.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?

So far, over 300 undergraduate and postgraduate students have participated in 80 projects with over 60 local industry partners delivering outcomes that have made a positive impact on rural and regional Queensland.
The following long-term impacts are expected:
• To improve UniSQ students’ industry linkages and graduate employment by facilitating students’ roles in the development of regions and communities.
• To foster long-term collaboration and partnerships, creating a symbiosis between UniSQ, students, and industries, leading to a sustainable collaborative model, addressing the demand and supply of job-ready graduates.
• To assist regional industries and businesses to play an active role in preparing and retaining their future workforce.

How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula? Include how it incorporates the preparation, implementation and reflection/debriefing phases of WIL.

The Digital WIL – Live Industry Projects is embedded into capstone units (core courses) across various disciplines. Careers and Employability central unit plays a pivotal role in managing student, industry and academic staff expectations and engagement prior to, during and after the project completions. This includes supporting industry partners to play a key role in students’ learning experience and assessing students’ teams. Furthermore, the debriefing is conducted by surveying all stakeholders and providing students with the opportunity to reflect on their employability, learning and experience.
Careers & Employability central unit has developed a series of digital WIL Step-by-Step Handbooks for Industry Partners, Students and Academic Supervisors to support all stakeholders across these stages of learning through the projects. Digital handbooks provide content in weekly segments, accurately mapped with steps necessary to progress on the projects for each of the 10 weeks duration of the project. Furthermore, each segment includes a Supporting Material and Services Section, as hyperlinks to materials and services available at the university, such as Learning Advisors, Report Writing workshop, Team-Work Webinars etc. relevant to the content of each segment.

Describe how the case study is informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship.

Experiential learning provides valuable employability skills and learning that significantly reduces the barriers to transition to work and improves the transition experience for students and employers. However, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) as the significant cohort of employers have limited or no capacity to provide meaningful WIL experiences and experiential learning opportunities despite their significant workforce attraction and retention issue (Collis, 2010). This issue has led to our regional industries having high employment vulnerability and requiring innovation and knowledge sharing to identify and implement modernisation activities to be resilient and competitive in the global market (Regional Australia Institute, 2016). The Digital WIL – Live Industry Projects program  embedded an academic supervisor as a subject matter expert in each project, taking part in all stages of the program, from co-designing of the projects to attending virtual meetings and monitoring the communications of students to students and students to the industry partner in the designated digital channel, to overcome any shortcomings of SMEs’ capacity/capability in providing a meaningful WIL experience. Furthermore, this innovative design facilitates knowledge sharing beyond the project scope and encourages further industry-university collaborations.

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

Due to the success of this initiative, from 2022 to 2024, the Digital WIL – Live Industry Projects initiative aims to expand into other disciplines such as Data Science, Mathematics, Statistics, Environmental Science, Physics, Agricultural Sciences, Wine Sciences, Animal Sciences, Biology and Human Physiology.

References

Collis, C. (2010). Developing work-integrated learning curricula for the creative industries: Embedding stakeholder perspectives. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (LATHE), 4(1) pp. 3-19.
Regional Australia Institute. (2016). Tapping into the Potential of Toowoomba and the Surat Basin: Practical Actions that Make a Difference. Draft Future Factors Report, pp.9-28.

Case Study Leader

Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

Mr Rouz Fard

Associate Director (Industry and Community Partnerships), University of Southern Queensland