1 Digital Internships: Bridging the Conceptual and Experiential Divide Dan DeNeui, Assistant Professor of Psychology and Students Alyssa Couture, Amber Fisher, Emily Goodman, Maggie Houts, Jonathan Stuhl and Shana Witman
2 Bridging the Conceptual and Experiential Divide 2 Introduction Internships have become an increasingly valuable resource for today's college students. According to the Elon College Career Center, almost a third of today's college students participate in a formal internship or co-op program. However, here at Elon College, three quarters of the May 2000 graduates participated in either a co-op or internship prior to graduation. The reasons for participating in internships are myriad. One of the most important of which is that internships provide students with opportunities to gain practical experience in their chosen field. Quite frequently, the internship is seen as a way to bridge the gap between coursework and application (Eyler, 1995; Katula and Threnhauser, 1999). As noted by Eyler, (1992) internships afford students the opportunity to deal with real world problems while analyzing those problems in an academic context. Moreover, students have the opportunity to actually try out the theories, concepts, solutions, and techniques that they learned about in the classroom in situations where there is more than just their grade at stake. Internships may also help students grow interpersonally, develop value structures, and become more responsible citizens. Many of these potential outcomes match very closely with the goals of higher education. In addition to the intellectual benefits, internships provide many tangible benefits to students. For example, students often use internships to explore potential career options or in some cases find out which jobs won t work for them. Internships also provide students with valuable networks and networking skills, skills that are difficult to teach within classroom walls. Finally, in addition to the benefits the internship experience provides for those students who wish to begin careers after graduation, many graduate schools look favorably at students who have participated in formal internship programs. Although intuitively it s easy to generate a list of benefits that internships provide, very little empirical research exists to support these claims. Furthermore, no research exists that explores the potential downside of these experiences. For example, although many internships are designed to give students a wide range of experience and provide them with the benefits
3 Bridging the Conceptual and Experiential Divide 3 discussed above, many internships fall well short of this ideal. Even in the best planned internships students can end up serving as inexpensive labor performing menial duties often unrelated to the field or career path they seek to explore. A second possible downside of internships, one reflected by many faculty, is that of rigor. Gore and Nelson (1984) found that many faculty members were skeptical of field experiences in general and that they were unwilling to accept that those experiences were adequate substitutes for actual coursework. Also, although we'd like to believe that students leave for internship and automatically make the connections between the concepts they've learned in their coursework and their experiences in applied settings, it's quite possible that these links are never made. Moreover, students often return from internships not knowing quite how to synthesize their experiences. They're disconnected from the academic resources and contacts that they would typically use to understand these applied experiences and once they return to school, they're disconnected from the internship itself. The following project seeks to address the issues mentioned above. Specifically, one of the main goals of this project is to work collaboratively to create an online course that will augment the positive aspects of students' internship experience at Industrial Organizational 1 (I/O) internship sites, while at the same time offsetting some of the potential drawbacks of internships. A second goal of the project is to gather empirical data on the effectiveness of the course. Third, we hope to develop a program that benefits not only students interested in the field of I/O psychology, but one that could easily benefit students across many disciplines. Finally, by focusing on collaborative intellectual engagement, we hope that the project will provide further insight into the teaching-learning endeavor at Elon and beyond. 1 Very generally, I/O psychology applies psychological theories to the workplace. I/O psychologists typically study such topics as job satisfaction, motivation, personality and group dynamics. Although I/O interns typically work in human resources departments, they frequently gain experience in many of the areas mentioned above.
4 Bridging the Conceptual and Experiential Divide 4 Topic for Study The current proposal outlines the goals of a collaborative, online, learning project focused on providing Elon students with the opportunity to help develop, implement and assess a unique, online learning model. Including myself, a faculty member in the Psychology Department, the Collaborative Online Learning Project (COLP) team will consist of students who have had or will have internships in the field of Industrial Organizational (I/O) Psychology. Over the course of spring semester COLP participants will work collaboratively to: Design a course that utilizes online technologies to help bridge the gap between the theoretical concepts students learn in the classroom and the work and interpersonal experiences they gain in the workplace. Design an instrument to assess previous interns' quantitative and qualitative internship experiences. Participate in the online course (for those who haven't yet been on internship) that they actually developed. Assess the internship experience and compare the results to previous interns' experiences. One of the main benefits of this project is that students will have the opportunity to work collaboratively on a project with other students and faculty. Participants will benefit from seeing the entire project from start to finish and, as research suggests, having students co-create the project will give them ownership and increase their level of commitment to the project. Another main benefit of the project is that team members will gain valuable hands-on experience in a number of areas. First, by working collaboratively with a faculty member, team members will have the opportunity to co-create a course in which many of them will actually participate. In doing so, participants will gain insight into the processes and techniques involved in course design. Moreover, because of the unique nature of the course itself, participants will have the
5 Bridging the Conceptual and Experiential Divide 5 opportunity to develop, implement and assess learning in the relatively new and largely untested medium of online learning. By participating in this project, students will gain valuable insight into the existing research as well as the quantitative evidence on the successes and failures of the course itself. A second benefit of the project is that team members will participate in the assessment of the project. Based on existing empirical research, participants, under my guidance, have begun developing an assessment instrument that will measure the outcomes of past and future internships. By measuring previous interns experiences, team members will be able to identify potential problem areas that could then be addressed in the actual design of the course. The second aspect of the evaluative portion of the project will allow team members to assess the successes and failures of the project. This will allow us to make adjustments to the course and enhance the internship experience for future students. Furthermore, by formally assessing the benefits and drawbacks of the online course, we will hopefully add to existing research on internship assessment and online teaching methods. Online Course The current project focuses on students interested in pursuing a career in Industrial/Organizational Psychology. Specifically, the 400-level Organizational Psychology course will link together students working on internships at different organizations. The course will be designed to provide participants with the conceptual and research foundations of the field that they can use to explore in their respective internships and with each other. One of the potential problems with internships is that students often end up drifting for the duration of the internship, failing to make the connection between concepts they learn in the classroom and the actual work experiences. The course will be designed to alleviate this problem by allowing participants to take the concrete, applied experiences they gain in the workplace and relate them, in real-time, back to the concepts and research they would normally learn before or after those actual experiences happen. Furthermore, another benefit of taking the course in an
6 Bridging the Conceptual and Experiential Divide 6 online environment is that students can examine and discuss topics with other students who will be participating at internships in a variety of organizational contexts. The online environment will provide students with the resources to ask questions of the professor and/or other students when they arise. Also, they will have the opportunity gain a better understanding of how certain course topics and concepts fit into their respective organizations. In contrast to the typical internship, this course will essentially give each student access to a multitude of organizations and experiences they would not have had access to otherwise. The COLP Team The COLP team will consist of seven psychology students and myself. Three of the team members, Alyssa Couture, Maggie Houts, and Jonathan Stuhl have prior internship experience. The remaining four students; Todd Ebba, Jennifer Garvin, Emily Goodman, and Shana Witman, will be participating in an internship during summer Timeline The proposed timeline for the COLP project is as follows: Fall 2000: Spring 2001: Summer 2001: Summer/Fall 2001: Formulate team Development of assessment instrument for past and future internships Completion of assessment instrument Assessment of previous internships Develop guidelines for internship sites Find internship sites for course participants Design course to coincide with internship Team members participate in internships and online course Assessment phase of current project Compilation and analysis of assessment data Presentation of research findings
7 Bridging the Conceptual and Experiential Divide 7 Proposed Budget Summary Stipends for seven student team members ($400 each) $ Stipend for faculty member $ Travel fund to offset cost of travel to conferences and/or Internship site visits $ Project materials $ Total $ In summary, the essence of the project is consistent with the goals of the Elon College Initiative. Giving participants the opportunity to collaborate on a project to build a course in which they themselves are the end-user, will hopefully lend significantly to the scholarship of teaching and learning at Elon and beyond. Furthermore, building a course that utilizes technology to enhance experiential learning accomplishes two goals. First, it not only brings new discovery into the classroom, it also helps participants apply those new discoveries in tangible and meaningful situations. Second, by bridging the gap between the conceptual and experiential, this project helps accomplish the second objective of the Initiative, applying learning to life. Third, although the unique nature and flexibility of an online course will provide ample opportunities for reflective integration, one of the foundations of the project is to encourage this type of learning. As mentioned, internships are beneficial to students because they allow them to build up professional networks. For this same reason, the current project is beneficial to both the Psychology Department as well as Elon College in general. The project shows that we are interested in working innovatively with organizations both locally and nationally. Lastly, although the project focuses on internships for students interested in I/O psychology, we hope to create a model that could easily carry over to other disciplines. I am personally very interested and excited by the prospect of collaborating with students to develop
8 Bridging the Conceptual and Experiential Divide 8 this project. Consequently, I intend to pursue the project even if it is not selected for funding by the committee.
9 Bridging the Conceptual and Experiential Divide 9 References Eyler, J. S. (1995) Graduates assessment of the impact of a full-time college internship on their personal and professional lives. College Student Journal, 29(2), Eyler, J. S. (1992) From pedagogy to andragogy: the role of an internship in the transition to adult learning. Experiential Education,17(4,5 & 22). Gore, J. S. & Nelson, H. Y. (1984). How experiential education relates to college goals and objectives. Evaluation and Program Planning, 7, Katula, R. A., & Threnhauser, E. (1999). Experiential education in the undergraduate curriculum. Communication Education, 48(3)