On 12th December, we held a Placements Workshop at the University of Nottingham, involving primarily University staff, and a representative from Rate My Placement.
The Workshop was designed to disseminate outputs from ESCAPES, and to explore current practice and potential improvements in placement processes.
Discussions arose around the themes of engaging the parties involved with placements. These are summarised below:
- Students would value a single communication channel to find out about placement opportunities, rather than via multiple emails and sources
- Through social media, but using bite size pieces of information, tailored to the student’s interest
- Placement information could be broken down course-by-course, but tagged in such a way that a placement could be associated with multiple courses.
- Amazon-style suggestions for placement companies (already implemented at Rate My Placement www.ratemyplacement.co.uk)
- Students need to actively engage with the process, academics and placement coordinators are key to this
- Placements require support from senior academic staff but peer group networks also an important and effective way of recruiting students to placements
Most of these points relate to the proliferation of information available to students, and how institutions could potentially break down this into a manageable channel. This is an issue for HE institutions in other areas. Using common standards and protocols to manage data feeds, and, planning the information infrastructure and data models from an institutional perspective would help to provide comprehensive yet targeted information.
- Access to University Resources, including the technical expertise of tutors is a key incentive for employers
Note, this wasn’t an area much discussed as it was an internal forum. However, we have been doing further work identifying business engagement incentives, and in particular SMEs, via our SHED project, which is providing some interesting requirements for information and knowledge exchange with HEIs. More information will appear on this soon…
Engaging academic staff
- Some academics actively discourage students from taking up placements because they are concerned that it will have a detrimental impact on their degree courses
This really depends on the academic and the individual situation, however, it is a valid point that where placements are not integral to the course, there may be tensions between academic study, and employability.
Role/responsibilities of those involved in placements
- A Placement Administrator is a key role, and knowing the exact status of the students on placement is a major requirement
- Sending the right students onto placements is important. An unsatisfactory placement experience can affect the relationship the University has with a company.
- Where possible, placements/placement support should be personalised. Some students require more structure and guidance than others and need to be placed with employers that match their requirements
- It is important to manage student expectations, and that they are unlikely to e.g. ‘find a cure for cancer’ whilst on their placement.
- Every year a student will do something that astounds the placement administrator (e.g. turning up to work in their pyjamas!)
These echo what we have been finding more widely. The Placement Coordinator/administrator role should not be underestimated, for helping the student to choose suitable companies, support with their application, through to communication for both academic and pastoral purposes. All of these activities can be counted towards the learning of professionalism amongst placement students. We are using ePortfolios in ESCAPES to support these processes.
Institutional Change and embedding ESCAPES outputs
A challenge for all JISC projects is how to ensure outputs are taken up and developed within the funded institution. HEIs are large and diverse, and change can be slow to implement. A great advantage with the ESCAPES project is that it follows on from our previous SAMSON project, which has enabled change to occur at a more natural rate, and not facing the abrupt ‘end of project’ which can restrict the benefits gained. We are also undertaking work to represent the demand institutionally for ePortfolios, and both SAMSON and ESCAPES have enabled this to take place.
ESCAPES is also surfacing a need for a more thorough business requirements analysis, involving those undertaking non-course or ad-hoc placements. There is an opportunity to provide a reference set of core technology based on what we have now, to eventually provide a set of integrated and service-based technology to deliver best-fit and efficient administration and learning services to placement students