New research: Virtual internships diversify workplace opportunities
University of Sydney research has found online work placements benefit students from disadvantaged backgrounds if their diversity and strengths are recognised through meaningful work and professional connections.
The project, led by Associate Professor Amani Bell and funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), identified key benefits and challenges of online Work Integrated Learning (WIL) for students, workplaces, and supervisors.
In collaboration with the Virtual Student Federal Service, US Department of State, the project team interviewed and surveyed over 300 students and educators across Australia and the USA who participated in online WIL.
“Equity students’ capacity to participate in traditional WIL can be compromised by time pressures, financial responsibilities, caring commitments, and geographical location,” Associate Professor Bell said.
“Our research showed students benefitted from online WIL through preparation for remote work, job opportunities, networking, mentoring, and the satisfaction of producing work of value.”
The report notes the increased necessity for online delivery of WIL, due to COVID-19, has presented logistical, financial, and personal challenges for some students, so opportunities must be inclusive and equitable.
“It is important to ensure diversity is considered in the selection process of online WIL, with consideration and accommodation for barriers that students might face,” Associate Professor Bell said.
“All participants in online WIL should be encouraged to share and celebrate workplace diversity, with particular attention to fostering personal connections and providing meaningful work.”
While educators reported challenges in providing feedback and replicating aspects of in-person workplaces, they generally found supervising and mentoring online WIL students to be a rewarding experience.
“Several students saw that their diverse skills and experiences, such as fluency in a language other than English, were of value during their online WIL experiences,” Associate Professor Bell said.
“This aligns with a movement of intentionally viewing diversity as a strength.”
NCSEHE Director, Professor Sarah O’Shea highlighted the importance of this research in understanding and ensuring equitable online WIL policy and practice.
“This research provides recommendations to shape inclusive programs where more students are able to experience the advantages of WIL,” Professor O’Shea said.
“It is important for universities to explore co-designed WIL that places value in inclusivity and diversity.”
Read the full report, Exploring benefits and challenges of online Work Integrated Learning for equity students.
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