Developing an Online Professional Development Curriculum for Students on Internship

Developing an Online Professional Development Curriculum for Students on Internship

Robyn Paul

Year-long engineering work terms (internships) provide students with an opportunity to apply their knowledge in real world settings. Internship students also gain firsthand insight to the value of developing their personal and interpersonal skills. This integrated learning experience is an important element of CDIO. And since interns typically maintain a full-time student status, their home University should have the responsibility to ensure the successful acquisition of learning outcomes. This paper describes the development and implementation of an engineering professional development internship course.

At the University of XX, approximately 400 students (about 75% participation rate) partake in a year-long internship between their third and fourth year of studies. Previously, students were required to write three increasingly complex reports while on internship. However, students received limited feedback on the reports and saw little value in them. In addition, feedback from faculty was mixed about the reports, in particular the linkage to meaningful learning outcomes. For this reason, the academic internship curriculum was redeveloped in Spring 2015.

The first step in the internship curriculum redevelopment process was to collect a list of skills beneficial to cultivate in engineering internship students. This list contained a wide variety of ideas including technical writing, engineering systems, social media image, and work-life balance. Next, the skills were ordered based on when in the internship year they would be most beneficial. For example, a student early in their year-long internship may have had little interaction with leaders in their organization, therefore leadership would be a topic appropriate for later. After this analysis process was completed, a curriculum was developed and is presented in the paper.

The environment of an internship course is different than traditional academic courses. Internship students have a wide variety of experiences including different locations (local, national, international), different situations (office work, field work), different skillsets required (technical design, project management, operations), and different levels of responsibility (small companies compared to large companies). For this reason, the course had to be adaptable and flexible to each student’s personal experience. An online format with qualitative assignments was chosen to provide flexibility for the students. An additional objective of the new internship course was to provide students with high value feedback. Teaching assistants were hired to mark assignments and provide personalized feedback and career insight for each student.

The first year of students using this new format is halfway through their internship experience and the initial response is positive. Students enjoy the module content, and appreciate the personalized feedback which helps them to progress in their personal career development. Areas of improvement include having more effective methods to mark qualitative assignments, more continuity across the modules, and more adaptable content that can be applied to students in a wide variety of situations.

The results discussed in this paper will be useful to institutions looking to develop or improve their engineering work term programs. The curriculum design has been modeled to ensure an integrated learning experience while students apply their disciplinary knowledge during a professional work experience.

Proceedings of the 12th International CDIO Conference, Turku, Finland, June 12-16 2016

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