Online work integrated learning during the COVID pandemic: experiences of students from diverse backgrounds

Year: 2021

Author: Bell, Amani, Bartimote, Kathryn

Type of paper: Individual Paper

Work integrated learning (WIL) is a valuable opportunity for students to gain situated knowledge, skills and experience. However, students from equity backgrounds report that time pressures, financial responsibilities, caring commitments, and geographic location are barriers to their uptake of WIL. We investigated whether online WIL might be one way of overcoming these barriers by exploring:What are the benefits and challenges of online WIL as reported by students from equity groups?What are the benefits and challenges of online WIL as reported by educators?How might online WIL be enhanced and systematically supported to better meet the needs of equity students and educators?We conducted a questionnaire for students (n=289), and interviewed students (n=32) and educators (n=15), who had participated in online WIL in Australia or the US. Our research is informed and challenged by two key lenses: WIL for social justice (after McArthur, 2018), and the manifesto for teaching online (Bayne et al., 2020). Benefits of online WIL for students included employability skills, affordability, and flexibility when coping with physical and mental health issues. Challenges for students included missing out on workplace interactions, digital access and finding a private space in which to work. Our findings emphasise the importance of students doing meaningful work during online WIL. Relationships and mutual recognition are also key aspects of successful online WIL, where educators put in the effort to create connections, view student diversity as a strength, and also where students view educators as whole people. Context is also key - the background of the pandemic, students’ and educators’ life challenges, political unrest, and so on – must be considered in the design of online WIL. We need to take care not to transfer the barriers related to in-person WIL to online WIL. The COVID pandemic has very much focused attention on remote work and study, societal inequalities and what the future might look like. We hope that, through heeding the voices of the participants in our study, we might imagine a more equitable version of WIL in a ‘post-COVID’ world.ReferencesBayne, Sian, Peter Evans, Rory Ewins, Jeremy Knox, James Lamb, Hamish Macleod, Clara O’Shea, Jen Ross, Philipa Sheail, and Christine Sinclair (2020). The Manifesto for Teaching Online. MIT Press.McArthur, Jan (2018). Assessment for social justice: Perspectives and practices within higher education. Bloomsbury Publishing.