Workplace Learning: Engagement before Placement

Engagement before placement

A successful placement experience depends on numerous factors – many of them arising prior to the placement itself. Adequate preparation on the part of the university, the student, the workplace student supervisor and the workplace can mean the difference between a successful placement and one that has negative repercussions for all parties involved. For this reason, you will find that the BEFORE Placement section of this module is far larger than the During  Placement and After Placement sections. As the famous Sun Tzu saying goes ‘time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’.

Watch the video below which makes the point that good engagement before placements promises for a better workplace learning experience for all involved. Where in this video did things go wrong and what can you learn from them to better engage with students, university and colleagues in your workplace?

Engagement with students

For students, WPL placement can be a very nerve-racking and overwhelming experience. Learning more about the student, including their expectations and requirements and what their roles and responsibilities are, and providing the student with information about you and your workplace, prior to the placement will help all to be well prepared with shared understanding about expectations and responsibilities.

There are a number of ways you can clarify this information with students prior to them arriving in your workplace. You may want to set up a meeting with the student prior to them starting the placement. This meeting could be in-person, via Skype or telephone. The aim of this meeting would be a reciprocal sharing of information – for you to learn more about the student, but for the student to also gain a better understanding of you and your workplace.

Some things you might want to consider discussing include:

  • What course the student is involved in;
  • What the student’s expectations, concerns and hopes for the placement are;
  • The requirements for effectively engaging in your workplace;
  • Your expectations of the student;
  • Your workplace policy regarding mobile phone and personal device use.

In telling the student information about yourself and your workplace remember, some students may not have been on placement or in a workplace before, and even if they have, they may not have been on placement in YOUR workplace previously. It may be important for you to outline what is expected of the student prior to them starting. Workplaces have specific cultures – ways of doing things, and while this may seem like common sense and routine to you, this is not so for students. They are entering into a new workplace culture. For this reason, you may consider telling the student information including: what time they are expected to start, your office dress code and whether they should bring their lunch to work. Knowing these things in advance contribute to the student starting off their placement on the right foot.

You may also consider sending the student a welcome letter, to introduce them to yourself and to provide pertinent information about your workplace. While a letter doesn’t invite open conversation, it does allow the student to have pertinent information about their placement in hard copy.

Here is an example of a welcome letter that a host organisation, the Media Federation of Australia, emails to students prior to the WPL placement. If you don’t already have one, you may want to consider creating a similar resource for your own workplace.

Here is an internship placement planner provided by the School of Communication and Creative Industries at CSU to workplace student supervisors. When the student initially arrives on placement, you may ask them to sit down and fill out this planner and then discuss what they wrote with you. This is a good way to clarify both the student’s, and your own, expectations, hopes and concerns for the placement.

With the increasing prevalence of mobile technologies it may be important for you to discuss your workplace’s policies around mobile phone, personal device and social media use with students prior to them starting placement. Questions you might want to consider include, are students allowed to use their smart phones during placement? Is adding a work colleague as a friend on Facebook permitted? For more information about these issues please explore the Enhancing Workplace Learning Through Mobile Technology

Occasionally, you may be asked to supervise a student who identifies as having a disability. The university will contact you prior to placement to discuss this with you and you will remain in close contact with the university’s disability office throughout the placement. It is important that you understand the student’s rights and responsibilities as well as your own in this situation. For example, you may be able to request specialised equipment be purchased by the university for your workplace to support the student during placement.

Here is an example Workplace Learning Disability Policy from Charles Sturt University. If you don’t already have access to a similar policy from the university that you are partnering with, be sure to obtain a copy.

Communicate with the university

You may be working with a single university in your workplace student supervisor role, or you may be working with a number of universities. Regardless, it is important that you know who the contact liaison officer for the university is. This is the main person who you will contact if you need to talk to the university throughout the placement. Remember that the student remains the university’s responsibility even while they are on placement in your workplace. This means that if you have any queries or concerns before, during or after placement you should not hesitate to contact your university contact liaison.

Take a minute now to ensure that you have up-to-date contact details and information about your university contact liaison.

Here is a worksheet you might want to fill in about strategies to improve partnership and engagement between yourself/your workplace and the university. After filling out this worksheet, you might want to discuss your answers with your university contact liaison to ensure that you are both on the same page regarding WPL.

Check out the course curriculum your student is doing

Prior to the placement experience beginning, you may find it useful to learn more about the course that the student is enrolled in. You could ask your university contact liaison officer for information about what year the student is enrolled in, whether this is their first placement experience, or their final placement before graduating, what key learning outcomes and objectives the student is expected to achieve in this placement experience, what prior knowledge the student is expected to have and the assessment requirements. You may even find it helpful to ask for a copy of the course or subject outline. Here is an example of a course brochure outlining the Bachelor of Communication (Advertising) course at CSU. Finding out this information may help you to orient yourself to the student’s needs – what you can expect of them in the placement. For example, what you expect from a student who is in their first year of study and undertaking their first placement experience is very different to the expectations you would have for a final year student who is about to graduate. It is important that you are aware of this information prior to the student arriving in your workplace, so that from the very start you can tailor the placement so that it fits the student’s level of experience.

Discuss your own roles and responsibilities

Alongside your regular professional commitments, as a workplace student supervisor you provide your valuable experience, insight and time to mentor students in your workplace. Understanding more about the intricacies and expectations of the workplace student supervisor role can help to inform and enhance the relationship between yourself, the student and the university.
Your responsibilities as a workplace student supervisor include:

  • Meeting with the student prior to the placement to define their learning objectives.
  • Scheduling the student’s work responsibilities and overseeing all activities.
  • Orientating the student to your organisation and clients.
  • Exposing the student to a variety of learning experiences, and ensuring that the student engages with constructive rather than menial tasks.
  • Allowing the student the opportunity to grow professionally and to accept appropriate responsibilities in the workplace.
  • Provide the student with constructive criticism, ongoing feedback, guidance and instruction – discuss with the student their performance on a regular basis, including regularly scheduled meetings.
  • Thoroughly review the student’s performance (based on objectives agreed in the placement proposal) with the student at regular intervals of the placement and again at the end of the placement.
  • Complete and submit assessment forms as required.
  • Contact the university supervisor about the student’s performance in your workplace, particularly if any issues or concerns cannot be resolved with the student.

The Innovative Research Universities (IRU) Network has developed a range of resources specific to workplace learning that you may find useful. These include:
Checklist for WIL Supervision
Participating in WIL
WIL in the Creative Arts
WIL in the field of Business
WIL in the field of Law
WIL in the field of Information Technology

Murdoch University has also put together a guide on how to make the most of WIL for workplace supervisors

Occupational Health and Safety

Prior to the student arriving on placement, it is important that you (along with your work colleagues) undertake a risk assessment to ensure that your workplace is a safe place for the student to work. Remember that the student may have a rudimentary knowledge of workplace health and safety, and therefore it is important that any potential risks are minimised. Here is an example of a workplace risk assessment provided to supervising workplaces by the Faculty of Science at Charles Sturt University. If your workplace has not conducted a recent, thorough risk assessment, you may want to consider doing so before the placement begins.

Talk with managers and colleagues in your workplace

Workplace learning isn’t a solitary undertaking, you work with a number of other people to ensure the best possible outcomes for both the student and yourself; of course this also includes your organisation and the university. It is important that you know how your workplace can support and assist you throughout the placement. Consider what questions you may want to ask prior to the WPL placement experience:

  • Does my workplace have a HR representative/department who can provide me with support in my supervisor role during the placement?
  • Does my workplace have pre-existing resources available (information sheets/ welcome packs/ instruction sheets) that I could use?
  • Is there a mentor in my workplace, someone who has acted as a workplace student supervisor previously, who could provide me with advice and support?
  • Am I expected to continue with all of my normal work responsibilities in addition to acting as a workplace student supervisor?

It is important to remember that it is your workplace, and not just you, that plays an important role in ensuring that the student becomes competent. Responsibilities of your workplace include:

  • Providing relevant and suitable projects for the student the focus on.
  • Providing adequate workplace health and safety information and reinforcing safety procedures.
  • Providing a suitable induction process for introducing the student to the workplace.
  • Providing enabling opportunities for the student, but recognising that it is the student’s responsibility to learn.

Find out about the assessment process

As we have discussed, workplace learning is a core part of the academic university curriculum, and as such it is important that students are assessed and evaluated on their WPL experience. Getting your head around assessment prior to the arrival of students is good practice. Important considerations include your role as assessor, the purposes of assessment and good assessment practices. Prior to the student arriving in your workplace, here is a list of actions items relating to assessment that you may want to spending some time thinking about and reflecting on:

  • To start, liaise with university liaison staff and familiarise yourself with placement objects, assessment requirements and expectations.
  • Clarify the  purpose of the placement and the student’s level of study, including any prior experiences they may have undertaken, with the university.
  • Reflect critically on your readiness to undertake student assessment by considering your skills, confidence, time-availability and motivation. Think about what you need to support your assessor role. It is a good idea to learn from colleagues who are experienced in student assessment and to ask the university for training and support.

And just remember, assessment is a shared responsibility between the student, the university and you/your workplace. Assessment can be complex and challenging, but it is not a task that you have to undertake alone. Involving others in the workplace, can improve the assessment process,  lighten the load and responsibility and makes assessment fairer. Collaborative relationships with colleagues that permit shared assessment and feedback processes will enhance the quality of student learning and assessment.

If you would like to learn more about WPL assessment, be sure to  access the module all about assessing students on placement..

Download your reflective diary  to start consolidating your thoughts about WPL supervision and how you can communicate your supervision role with students and colleagues in your workplace.