Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Julie Hansen,
Greg Thorne,
Shari Walsh,
Queensland University of Technology,
Brisbane Australia


Undergraduate psychology programs in Australia typically provide little opportunity for work-integrated learning and community engagement. At the undergraduate level, psychology programs focus on providing a solid foundation in psychological science, with professional training and practicum reserved for postgraduate studies. The need for practical and workplace experience is the most common suggestion for improvement in undergraduate psychology education identified by 3-year psychology graduates at QUT. Work-integrated learning experiences offer many educational benefits for students, providing them with opportunities to explore the application of the theoretical knowledge and generic skills they have developed through their studies to real-world contexts and problems, to gain an understanding of work environments and workplace culture, and to develop greater clarity in understanding their strengths and limitations, and their personal and career goals. We report here on a project to develop work-integrated learning opportunities for undergraduate psychology students at QUT. The aims of the project were to develop curriculum resources to support a structured approach to work-integrated learning, to identify and form links with community agencies with workplace learning opportunities for undergraduate psychology students, and to conduct a pilot study to evaluate the effectiveness of the program with a group of final-year student volunteers. We adopted a career development focus in this program, encouraging students to actively explore their career interests and learning goals, and to identify relevant workplace opportunities in their diverse areas of interest. Twenty undergraduate psychology students completed two full day workshops in preparation for undertaking volunteer roles within community organisations. Workshops focused on career development and work-readiness, and on identifying learning goals and opportunities for workplace learning. Students were encouraged to explore the value of volunteering opportunities as contexts for applying their psychological knowledge and developing their generic skills, for gaining an understanding of working environments, and for developing networks to support their career development. Students subsequently undertook volunteering roles and training in a range of community settings. Results were overwhelmingly positive. Students described the preparatory workshops as ‘one of the best experiences of my course so far’. They reported that their experience in volunteer placements provided personal growth and insights, enabled them to see how theory is put into practice; to better appreciate what they already know; to use their research and writing skills; to relate to people from diverse backgrounds, and to better understand the complexity of ‘real world’ problems. They reported being inspired, energised, and enthused; more focused, with clearer direction for the future; and able to more clearly see the relevance and application of their coursework. Several students gained employment with their host organisation as a result of their volunteer work. This program has highlighted the mutual benefits of community engagement for both the university and the community. The pilot program has informed the development of two new units focusing on workplace learning, which are being offered for the first time in 2008. Opportunities to engage in career planning and workplace learning provide a powerful vehicle for students’ development and transition through their degree to the workplace.

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