A priority for many Australian universities is the incorporation of work-based, experiential learning opportunities into undergraduate programs so that graduates are flexible and ready for the workplace. Intentional, organised and accredited work experience can provide a powerful learning opportunity (Smigiel and Harris, 2007). Work integrated learning (WIL), when properly planned, ensures an easier student transition from study to employment and the development of skills and attributes that are difficult to foster with academic studies alone. This paper describes the implementation and evaluation of a course which embeds WIL in the Business undergraduate program at an Australian University. The course, Project in Business, was developed to give final year students the opportunity to complete curriculum aligned work integrated learning projects as an integral part of their academic program. The projects, relevant to students' discipline majors, were supplied by the local business community. Completing a project alongside professionals, students had the opportunity to not only gain industry experience and insight, but also establish links within the business community and a network that will advantage them when seeking future employment. Whilst student contribution to the workplace was important, the central focus of the course was on university level learning: grades were awarded based on written accounts of projects and evaluations of workplace experiences, not the time spent in the workplace or amount of work accomplished. Early indications suggest that students successfully completing the course have increased their skill and knowledge base, experienced the culture and ethics of the workplace and engaged with the professional identity of their discipline. However interviews with workplace supervisors and students identified several challenges which will need to be addressed if WIL is to be made available to a greater number of students. The key issues being the need to develop effective assessment methods; the challenge of making WIL available to low achieving students without disenfranchising local firms; conflicting expectations among stakeholders; and the increase in staff workload, and resultant resourcing issues.
Australian Collaborative Education Network National Conference 2010, Conference Proceedings. Work Integrated Learning (WIL): Responding to Challenges (Perth, WA 27 September - 01 October, 2010) p. 563-571