Online, Interdisciplinary Work Integrated Learning

Case Studies | Online WIL


University of South Australia


PhD candidate Fae Heaselgrave, Dr Sally Lewis, Dr Jane Andrew

Online, interdisciplinary work integrated learning: future focused learning and teaching

University of South Australia students working with industry on social media solutions for real-world challenges.


Creative industries

Model/s of WIL activity

Industry/community based projects

Description of WIL activity

Dr Sally Lewis, Dr Jane Andrew and Lecturer-PhD candidate Fae Heaselgrave from the University of South Australia developed and taught a fully online, interdisciplinary work integrated learning course bringing together 3rd year students from communication, marketing and digital media to develop a social media campaign for an industry client. The result is UniSA’s first fully online, interdisciplinary project-based work integrated learning course. The importance of providing online WIL for final year students became apparent in the first half of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way teaching and learning was conducted in Australia.

How long has it been operating?

2019 (one year)

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

This WIL activity demonstrates good practice and innovation through the incorporation of online delivery, group work and multidisciplinary participation. One of the challenges overcome was creating interpersonal engagement in the online environment. The students did not know each other before being placed into groups and required opportunities to develop and support group dynamics and build rapport. Online tools were adopted and underpinned by a mentoring approach from the online tutor. Individual team discussion forums were incorporated to connect students and enable task related steps, while creative development spaces were used to encourage collaboration and concept discussions. The teaching team used ‘chat prompts’ to assist students in considering resources, timelines and progress. By stimulating action through a task requirement, the students had the imprimatur to assign elements of the task to each other without, in their view, being perceived as autocratic by the other team members. The online tools were applied as needed by student groups with student feedback indicating support for the prompting and scaffolding so they could then work in their groups in a self-directed manner. Another element of this course, directly linked to the successful online delivery, was the focus on a clear and tangible outcome. In this case students were required to develop an industry standard communication plan. Students could see there was both a clear end point in terms of what they needed to produce while also appreciating they were developing a document that would assist with their graduate employment opportunities. The course is also embedded in three degrees ensuring its sustainability.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

Students felt focused and invested in the WIL activity and provided feedback stating they could see how the course prepared them for the world of work. The industry partner benefited in the provision of new concepts to support the roll out of a campaign to increase apprenticeship numbers. UniSA benefited through the provision of an interdisciplinary WIL course that can now be offered in a fully online format. This has appeal to students who find attending on campus challenging: students living in regional areas or working work full-time now have access to a WIL course to enhance their graduate learning outcomes.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

As this was the first online interdisciplinary WIL course offered by UniSA, several evaluation measures were put in place. Student feedback was obtained via five one-hour sessions and a focus group held at the end of the course. This data confirmed the value of interdisciplinary learning for professional practice and was supported by feedback collected from anonymous student evaluation of teaching: I enjoyed learning how to apply communication plan skills to a real-world scenario for an actual client. I also liked working in a group with other students as this helped me understand the course concepts and gain skills in collaboration.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders?

Future student cohorts will benefit from this WIL activity as the initial offering has now been further developed and will be provided on an ongoing basis as a core course in multiple degrees. Importantly an interdisciplinary WIL course offered in an online format supports diversity and non-traditional students through the provision of an important learning experience for people who find on campus study problematic. The benefits gained by the industry partner have ensured the provision of project-based, work integrated learning tasks to address real-world challenges will continue in the future.

How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula?

Prior to the course commencing previous student feedback, the WIL materials and the industry partner are reviewed to ensure the currency and relevance of the student task. The students address a real-world problem and are provided with engagement opportunities with the industry partner during the course. In 2019 students addressed the challenge of increasing apprenticeship numbers and were provided with feedback from the Department of Innovation and Skills. At the completion of each offering the teaching team reviews the student learning outcomes. The WIL activity will be continuously reviewed against the required student graduate outcomes.

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

Recent turbulent events resulting in societal and economic upheaval remind us of our increasingly connected and globalised world. Looking forward it is widely accepted the demand for skill sets that can tackle complex problems through innovative idea generation will be in high demand (World Economic Forum 2018). This WIL activity strives to provide students with the skills they need for their future of work through the adoption of a socio-constructivist informed teaching approach (Bednar, 1992) based on real-world problem solving.

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

Recognising the importance of WIL for final year students, this course is embedded in the UniSA Communication, Marketing and Communication and Digital Media undergraduate degrees. The industry partner and student task will be reviewed annually to ensure the course remains meaningful and aligned with complex, real-world challenges that require interdisciplinary solutions. This WIL activity will be continually evaluated by students and academic staff to ensure the course learning outcomes are being met and are providing a unique and future focused, work integrated learning experience.


Bednar, A. K., Cunningham, D., Duffy, T. M., & Perry, J. D. (1992). Theory and practice: How do we link? In T. M. Duffy & D. H. Jonassen (Eds.), Constructivism and the technology of instruction: A conversation (pp. 17–34). Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kay, J., Ferns, S., Russell, L., & Smith, J. (2018). Expanding Work Integrated Learning (WIL) possibilities: enhancing student employability through innovative WIL models. Final report: ATN funded project.

Lim, L., Andrew, J., Lewis, S. & Gao, J. (2018). Interdisciplinary teamwork in an authentic project-based learning environment. Refereed paper HERDSA (Re)Valuing Higher Education​ Conference, Adelaide July 2018

Rowe, A., & Zegwaard, K. (2017). Developing graduate employability skills and attributes: Curriculum enhancement through work-integrated learning. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, Special Issue, 2017, 18(2), 87-99

World Economic Forum. (2018). The Future of Jobs Report

Examples of student work.

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