Linked Academic Placements: solving a problem by Dr. Cindy Becker

In the Department of English Literature all of our Parts 2 and 3 modules are available as placement modules, allowing a student to identify (with our help) a suitable placement provider and work with the module convenor and me to craft a placement project or activity which links to the learning on their chosen module. The placement report then replaces one element of the assessment (usually the assessed essay) for the module. This seemed to us to be a neat way to embed placement learning within our curriculum and to ensure that students were offered the widest possible range of placement experiences.

We had, however, overlooked one factor: students vary. Whilst the system works for many, some students are hugely ambitious and so try for placements with highly prestigious providers, who can take weeks to reply to every query; others are late bloomers and only think of a placement several weeks into a module. This caused some nasty glitches in the system. We require students to confirm their placement by Week Five of the term in which the module is taught, but we found that some students were missing that deadline and so could not carry out an embedded placement as part of the module assessment (indeed, some were unable to confirm a placement until several weeks after the module had completed). We also realised that students who were keen in the first week or so of term would assume that they had ‘missed the boat’ by Week Four and so simply gave up.

We found one solution to the problem earlier this year, when we relaxed our rules to allow students to undertake placements before a module has begun: working with convenors, they could then arrange a placement in the vacation before the module was taught. This allowed students to begin thinking about a placement months before they would undertake it, solving the problem of students starting to plan a placement too late. What it did not solve was the problem of placements which, sometimes unexpectedly, take an age to arrange.

That is why we came up with the idea of linked placements. In scope and activity they are identical to a standard academic placement, but the placement report does not count towards the credit-bearing assessment on the module. Instead, the student writes the report as usual at the end of the placement and receives ‘academic comment’ on it from the convenor of the module. The idea of linked placements is proving popular so far, with students telling us that they enjoy extending their knowledge in a field, or that they are using the placement as a way of bridging the gap between Part 2 and their dissertation. They are also, of course, aware of the impact that an academic placement can have on their CV.

We sometimes take the easy route of assuming that students will only put in the effort if an activity is credit bearing. I have been interested to see how linked placements can confound this assumption.

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