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You are reading: WiL Wellbeing: Exploring the impacts of unpaid practicum on student wellbeing

Work-integrated learning by way of field placements or practicums has been commonplace in creative, education and health professions for years now, however, is progressively being adopted in other disciplines. As a result, Australian universities are under increasing pressure to provide a range of work-integrated learning (WiL) experiences.

WiL opportunities lead to the development of the graduate skills and knowledge required to transition successfully from higher education into professional practice. However, despite its growing prevalence and popularity, there is a lack of research into the impact of WiL on students outside of the learning environment.

A new research project, led by Dr Deanna Grant-Smith and Dr Jenna Gillett-Swan from QUT, is looking to add to the literature focused on WiL and student well-being, with a focus on students who are struggling financially and those with carer responsibilities.

“To date, research focused on WiL has tended to centre on improving student learning outcomes or the ways in which graduate skills and employability might be enhanced,” said Dr Grant-Smith.

“And yet, students continue to report challenges associated with doing their practicums. For pre-service teachers, for instance, practicums are commonly rated as the most stressful experience of their professional preparation.”

“Despite knowing this, socio-emotional, physical and economic factors remain under-explored in the literature and, at the same time, we have universities looking to increase their enrolments of students from underrepresented backgrounds.”

“We don’t yet know enough about the impact that imposing WiL on these students will have on them.”

Dr Gillett-Swan and Dr Grant-Smith’s work will identify potential areas of inequity as a result of changes to both mandated and elective WiL experiences, as the ability to participate has the potential to affect future employment prospects.

“It’s important to understand the challenges students face balancing unpaid WiL with work, study and other commitments, like carer responsibilities. That way, universities and WiL-affiliated organisations will know what needs to be done to better support students during their practicum experience.”

Dr Grant-Smith and Dr Gillett-Swan’s project has been funded by the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education via the 2016 Student Equity in Higher Education Research Grants Program. The project will conclude in December 2016, after which time the reports and papers will be made available here on the NCSEHE website.

Dr Deanna Grant-Smith is a qualitative researcher whose research focuses on youth employment and engagement, education-to-employment transitions, and practices of social inclusion and social justice in policy making and planning. She has published in a range of journals including Journal of Youth Studies; Community Development Journal; and Urban Policy & Research. Recent funded research projects of direct relevance to this proposal include:

  • Enhancing employability and job stickiness in vulnerable job seekers
  • Building business student’s awareness of their employability
  • Linking self-perceived employability and professional identity in planning students
  • The formative and unpaid work experiences of young people.

With qualifications in education and psychology, Dr Jenna Gillett-Swan has been involved in delivering pre-service teacher education since 2009. Her research interests include rights, wellbeing and education. She has published in a range of journals on these topics including Social Indicators Research; Global Studies of Childhood; and European Educational Research Journal. She has experience with both qualitative and quantitative research approaches and is currently the school representative for the Faculty of Education Equity Committee. She has also formerly served on an University Human Research Ethics Committee. Recent funded research projects include:

  • Voice inclusive practice to engage children’s perspectives in wellbeing pedagogy
  • Exploring children’s rights in schools from the perspective of children and teachers
  • Investigating the impact of youth groups on the community.