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Report advocates for national protocols in high-impact world of work-integrated learning

As reported by the University of Calgary

As someone on a university campus, you’ve probably heard about it, but you may not even know it. Work-integrated learning (WIL) goes by many terms in the academic world — such as work-based learning, practice-based learning, co-operative education and internship, to name a few — but they are all a part of a fundamental aspect of high-quality education that readies students for their future.

A new report from the Business/Higher Education Roundtable (BHER) advocates for a common definition for post-secondary institutions to consider in their program development, outlines best practices and brings forward recommendations for WIL’s future.

At its core, WIL is about giving students experiential opportunities that provide practical learning in both educational and practice settings. The report suggests that all work-integrated learning has seven common attributes: purpose, context, nature of the integration, curriculum issues, learning, partnerships outside of the institution, and support provided to the student or partnering group.

Hands-on learning and research have a big impact on university career

“Work-integrated learning is important for higher education and for our university’s Eyes High vision in particular. We strive to provide our students with many different opportunities to engage in hands-on learning and research because these experiences can have such a positive impact on their university career,” says Elizabeth Cannon, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Calgary.

Education through apprenticeships, co-ops, internships, mandatory professional practice, field experience, applied research projects, service learning, incubators and accelerators, and bootcamps and hackathons are all considered work-integrated learning under the proposed definition.

However, there is an absence of national data on the number of students who are involved in school-to-work programs, in part because the definition has been so diverse. Many programs offer work-integrated learning but may not be aware of it due to the multiple terms used interchangeably. Further, the programs can be missing an evaluation framework that is essential for the success of the program in the future.

Lack of uniform definitions makes evaluation difficult

“The report highlights some of the best practices from across Canada — including aspects we consider when developing our own work-integrated learning — as well as recommendations to strengthen our programs for everyone involved, from students to community partners,” says Cannon.

At the University of Calgary, the Faculty of Environmental Design’s Age-in-Place Laneway Project is a community-based applied research program that brings students together with researchers, municipal leaders, industry partners and the community-at-large — and is a great example of WIL in action.

“These are moments of real experience and growth for students, where they can take abstract ideas and put them into reality,” says Cannon. “We want our students to graduate with the skills they need to participate in an increasingly diverse economy and make a meaningful impact on Canadian society.”

Roundtable group supports young Canadians in transition to workplace

The BHER is composed of leaders from the private sector, universities, colleges and polytechnics, and works to support young Canadians as they transition from education to the workplace, strengthen research collaboration between industry and institutions, and help Canadian employers as they adapt to the economy of the future.

The University of Calgary is one of the members of the roundtable, which is co-chaired by President Cannon, Tom Jenkins (chairman of the board of OpenText Corporation) and Anne Sado (president of George Brown College and past chair of Polytechnics Canada).

If your faculty, department or program is currently offering work-integrated learning opportunities for students, we want to hear from you! Contact Gillian Edwards to share your stories by Nov. 18, 2016.

To see the full report from the Business/Higher Education Roundtable, please refer to their website.