Work-Integrated Learning (WIL) at UNSW enables students to engage in authentic, purposeful, partnered, supervised and assessed work-based learning experiences that integrate academic learning with its application in the workplace as part of their program of study. At UNSW, WIL is defined as the integration of theory with the practice of work within a purposefully designed curriculum. It is offered within an academic framework as part of coursework programs, and a work environment is provided in partnership with an organisation for the practical application of learning.
WIL provides the means to "do in context", rather than developing practical skills isolated from the situations in which the student will be expected to use them. It enables students to develop work-readiness skills to industry standards and enhances employability. This realises the UNSW 2025 Strategy to enable students to "...obtain a holistic education, securing the real-world practical skills needed for a rapidly evolving workplace". Done well, WIL can help students achieve whatever they decide to do in their immediate and long-term futures. It is also important to the community that WIL can also be used to develop student capabilities in citizenship, as well as cultural and social literacy.
At UNSW, WIL can be:
- embedded in a course where the work learning is the central component and all other activity in the course supports the student’s WIL experience, and has an assigned unit of credit (UOC) value;
- embedded across a program, where a range of WIL activities are split across more than one course;
- a program requirement for those professions that require a minimum level of work experience to receive accreditation.
A variety of contexts can be used for WIL, including: on or off campus, face-to-face or online; office-based, clinic-based or field work; and paid or unpaid.
WIL must be:
- designed to integrate theory with practice and involve authentic engagement with partner organisations;
- purposefully aligned to and assessed against program and course learning outcomes;
- undertaken with a partner organisation, with the partner involved in the delivery of the WIL activity; and
- supervised in a work learning context with the active engagement of the partner organisation.
WIL activities vary, and might include:
- placements (internships, clinicals) where a student performs course-related work while embedded within a partner organisation;
- projects requiring students to complete specific deliverables for a partner organisation, with that organisation acting as a mentor and/or client to student, providing input to the design of the project and feedback to the students on their deliverables.
Below are examples of UNSW WIL activity:
- Internship (paid or unpaid) that forms the primary activity of a course with associated assessment. Internships might take place off-campus or on campus where the University is the host employer;
- Virtual placement during which students are actively engaged in authentic WIL activities;
- Field experience where authentic work activities are supervised by a subject-matter expert or industry professional;
- Entrepreneurship or enterprise activities embedded and assessed within a course and supervised by an academic in collaboration with a partner organisation that has contributed to the design of the WIL activity and provides feedback to the students on their output;
- Industry project designed or commissioned by a partner organisation and outcomes delivered to the partner, but work is completed in a classroom environment on campus and project deliverables form part of the course assessment;
- Research internship, where the research project is sourced from a partner organisation that provides mentoring and direct feedback to the student and the research deliverable forms part of the course assessment;
- Placement sourced by a student whereby the WIL activity is embedded in a WIL course that counts for credit, and is aligned with and assessed in relation to course or program learning outcomes. The partner organisation is integrally involved in the WIL activity design and provides appropriate supervision.
WIL activities differ by duration, location and student cohort, although all WIL opportunities must satisfy the same criteria (authentic, partnered, purposeful, supervised and assessed).
The UNSW Work Integrated Learning Procedure sets out the requirements and processes for the design and delivery of WIL offered as part of coursework programs and courses to ensure that all WIL:
- Is of high quality and mitigates risks to students, UNSW, and partner organisations; and
- Complies with relevant legislation and the requirements of professional registration and accrediting bodies.
What is not WIL at UNSW
While there are many excellent co-curricular and extra-curricular activities available for students at UNSW, these are not WIL activities, because WIL at UNSW is offered within an academic framework as part of a for-credit course or program accreditation requirement. Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities include:
- Professional-development programs, volunteer experiences, and internships that are not part of a for-credit course or program accreditation;
- AHEGS accredited programs;
- Non-authentic work experiences that are completed as part of a class activity where a partner organisation has not designed or commissioned the work, and/or is not involved in the supervision/mentoring of students or providing direct feedback;
- Creating a start-up company that is not an assessed part of a for-credit course;
- Work experiences supervised by non-partner organisations (e.g. family, friends, other students);
- Research-based internships that are part of a research-based course and not sourced from a partner organisation and/or do not include direct feedback from a partner organisation;
- Independent full- or part-time work undertaken by a student while studying that does not meet the requirements of a WIL activity as set out in the WIL Procedure.
The benefits to students are myriad, and include:
- enhancing student learning of discipline-specific knowledge and technical skills, professional skills, and integration of academic theory and practice;
- providing practical experience in a work environment;
- understanding expectations of work and employment;
- providing opportunities to apply learning to the "real world";
- enhancing skills in critical thinking and problem solving skills, as well as interpersonal skills such as communication, teamwork and leadership;
- clarifying career goals;
- providing networking possibilities and potential advantages in the job market; and
- developing cultural literacy and social responsibility, and clarifying contemporary ethical dilemmas.
- Universities view WIL as a way to assist students to develop employability skills and set them up for successful futures of their own choosing. WIL also enhances students' academic experience by giving them opportunities to connect classroom theory with practical work.
- Universities may use WIL to develop an institutional brand to assist in attracting students.
- WIL courses and programs assist in developing and strengthening relationships with community and industry partners, from which WIL academic and professional staff gain benefits for research and curriculum development.
- WIL provides networking opportunities for staff through engaging with partners as well as with other WIL practitioners locally, nationally and internationally.
WIL cannot happen without the support and active participation of partner organisations. However, this is not a one-way street, as partners gain many benefits from hosting students. These include:
- access to students from multiple disciplines who bring different insights and skills to problems that might not be otherwise resourced by the organisation;
- tapping into fresh ideas and enthusiasm that students bring to an organisation;
- accessing new research and practice brought by students;
- linking with UNSW staff and potentially accessing emerging research and technologies;
- observing the workplace skills of students who might be a good fit for future employment;
- enhancing brand awareness among students in the program as well as the wider UNSW cohort;
- providing professional-development opportunities for their staff, especially in mentoring and managing students;
- "giving back" to the industry or profession.
Assessment in WIL raises many additional challenges to those encountered in classroom-based education. This is due largely to the unique and highly variable characteristics of WIL activities. Many traditional methods such as examinations and tests fail to account for these characteristics. WIL is particularly difficult to assess for a number of reasons:
- The learning is holistic in nature, and resists simple modes of assessment.
- The process involves four parties: student, partner supervisor, teacher and university.
- Assessment needs to measure the so-called "softer skills" or "wicked competencies".
- There are many aspects of "situatedness" of learning – that is, WIL occurs (is situated) in a complex context in which many social, personal, and professional factors interact; this makes each WIL activity unique.
- WIL entails the management of practical issues such as the degree of student contact, autonomy and control over the actual work that students do.
Assessment strategies for WIL need to consider both pedagogical and practical issues.
Pedagogical issues that influence assessment design include:
- the key aspects of learning that are to be assessed;
- what is considered valid and reliable evidence of learning;
- what role the partner supervisor will play (or wish to play, or be qualified to play);
- the individual variations between WIL activities such as placements or projects;
- what is fair, reliable, and consistent assessment of what are very different WIL experiences; and
- what is the role of reflection in the course.
Practical issues that influence assessment design include:
- type of WIL activity (e.g. placement, project, virtual);
- length of WIL activity;
- block or intensive mode versus serial (e.g. day per week);
- location of WIL activity – local versus those more distant; domestic versus international;
- individual versus student team;
- degree of student preparation;
- ease and regularity of communication with the academic supervisor;
- amount of ongoing academic support available to student;
- early stage of degree versus late stage;
- degree of student or teacher input into the design of the activity;
- degree of student control over the execution of the activity;
- degree of partnet supervisor's interest, experience and available time.
Strategies to address these issues include extensive advance planning and collaboration between the university and the partner to ensure a safe workplace environment that helps students meet their learning goals; comprehensive consultation between the student, teacher, and partner to ensure clear expectations in terms of learning outcomes, task description, and standards of professionalism; meticulous documentation of these expectations and of the student's WIL-related learning activities; and fair and transparent assessment against a clear, agreed rubric that explicitly articulates the behaviours that a student must show to demonstrate that they have achieved the learning outcomes.
- Australian Collaborative Education Network (ACEN) website
- World Association for Cooperative Education website
Ajjawi, R., Tai, J., Nghia, T. L. H., Boud, D., Johnson, L., & Patrick, C-J. (2020) Aligning assessment with the needs of work-integrated learning: The challenges of authentic assessment in a complex context. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45(2), 304-316. https://doi.org/10.1080/02602938.2019.1639613
Boud, D., Ajjawi, R. & Tai, J. (2020), Assessing work-integrated learning programs: A guide to effective assessment design. Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.12580736
Boud, D., Costley, C., Cranfield, S., Desai, J., Nikolou-Walker, E., Nottingham, P., & Wilson, D. (2022). The pivotal role of student assessment in work-integrated learning. Higher Education Research & Development. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2022.2152981