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. Nationally, academics are being challenged to bridge the gap between students’ university learning experience and experience beyond university, to better prepare them to competently contribute to ever-evolving communities of practice. This paper reports on a curriculum development that integrates business education and the business world. It describes the implementation, and evaluation, of a project-based course designed to bridge the theory-practice gap. 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 work integrated learning (WIL) opportunities are extended to a greater number of students. The challenges include: the need to develop effective assessment methods; the dilemma 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.
|Keywords:||Theory-practice Gap, Work Integrated Learning, Business Course, Workplace Projects|
University Lecturer, Newcastle Business School, The University of Newcastle, Callaghan, New South Wales, Australia
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