Why creative internships aren’t all that useful

hire me graduate

Today I spent some time thinking about work integrated learning (WIL) for students of creative disciplines (creative and performing arts, media and communications, and design). I started thinking about creative WIL in terms of the desired employment outcomes of students, their career configurations, and then how WIL works currently in most creative courses at universities.

Below are the beginnings of something that I think will become a position paper, once I have done some more research and reading and thinking about it.

Here’s a definition to start off with: WIL is any element of the university curriculum where learning is situated within the act of ‘working’, broadly defined, such as internships and placements with employers, service learning, project learning, and clinical education. The principal purpose of WIL is the nexus of work and learning – each informs and critiques the other (Cooper, Orell & Bowden, 2010). WIL is most often, although not always, located as a ‘capstone experience’ in degree programs; that is, it is designed to provide a bridge between classroom and the world of work that supports students to translate their skills into employment and other real world contexts, and also to learn more skills while on the job. The general idea of WIL is to make students as employment-ready as possible.

Creative internship programs tend to place students into ‘specialist’ work roles – that is, placements in firms or organisations for whom the core business aligns directly with the student’s major discipline of study. Architecture students tend to go into architecture firms, journalism students intern with newspapers and TV stations, and performing artists tend to intern at festivals or arts venues. In some ways this practice seems quite logical. Where better to apply skills one has learned at uni, add something relevant to the CV, and hopefully perform well enough to land a paid job at the end? However, the more I think about it, the less useful this ‘specialist role WIL’ actually is.

The reasons that your typical specialist WIL isn’t always the best approach are to do with the jobs creative graduates are likely to find, and the skills they’ll need in the workforce.

Creative careers

We know that students of creative courses tend to pursue portfolio careers. A portfolio career happens when a person maintains a ‘portfolio’ of concurrent and overlapping employment arrangements, such as their own business plus part-time employment in a related field, plus a casual ‘day job’. Actually, the portfolio career is increasingly common no matter what discipline you’re in. Recently there has been a lot of discussion about the ‘uberisation’ of the economy, but commentators (including me) have been talking about the decline of the organisational career and the rise of self-managed careers and contingent employment for a couple of decades now (see for instance Arthur, 1994).

Assorted creative workforce mapping and graduate tracking studies have shown that there is quite a bit of difference between different creative disciplines when it comes to the configurations of portfolio careers that they pursue. However, people in creative occupations are more likely than not to be ‘embedded’ into large non-creative organisations (think about a graphic designer in a government department). In these roles they will need to be intrapreneurial – that is, they will need to be enterprising to add creative value and innovate within the organisation. They will also need to be skilled at working with people who are not in creative roles and with business aims that are not creative-cultural.

Also, the real creative job opportunities are in creative services rather than cultural production. That is, the job growth in creative fields is in providing businesses with creative services – such as design, communications, and various kinds of digital services. Unfortunately, there is very little job growth in making and producing cultural artefacts such as art, music and film, apart from those cultural producers who work in or for digital services businesses (such as the videographer who makes corporate videos for a marketing firm). Often cultural producers will supplement their creative practices with other types of creative employment to pay the bills.

Finally, whatever types of jobs they do, most creative practitioners will also be self-employed to some extent. This means that they will need to be entrepreneurial, and identify / make the most of opportunities to add creative value and innovate outside organisations – typically in micro-businesses. Micro-business entrepreneurs need to be adept at multiple business and creative roles, and they need to be well networked and highly enterprising for survival.

So, going back to the typical model of internships – the specialist creative role in the creative organization – and thinking about the dominant modes of creative employment out there – we can see there is a mismatch. This mismatch is particularly concerning for students of cultural production degrees such as art, music or drama, where there are very few paid graduate roles with specialist firms and there is graduate oversaturation of the labour market, and particularly if it’s the only type of internship that they complete. The student will be focussing their skill development on one type of creative employment scenario and may well miss out on important entrepreneurial/intrapreneurial experiences. Also, we know that internships can have a profound impact on students’ professional identities (e.g., Trede, 2012). The specialist role internship by itself is also likely to narrow the student’s professional identity to exclude other sustainable and meaningful employment types that could form an important part of their portfolio career.

In my next post, I’ll talk about some other models of creative WIL that may be more fruitful than the traditional approach in isolation.

References

Arthur, M. B. (1994). The boundaryless career: A new perspective for organizational inquiry. Journal of organizational behavior.

Cooper, L., Orrell, J., & Bowden, M. (2010). Work integrated learning: A guide to effective practice. Routledge.

Patrick, C. J., Peach, D., Pocknee, C., Webb, F., Fletcher, M., & Pretto, G. (2008). The WIL (Work Integrated Learning) report: a national scoping study [Final Report]. Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

Ross, J. E., & Unwalla, D. (1986). Who is an Intrapreneur? Personnel, 63(12), 45-49.

Trede, F. (2012). Role of work-integrated learning in developing professionalism and professional identity. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 13(3), 159-167.

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Teaching philosophy

A couple of weeks ago I was tasked with writing a one-page philosophy statement as part of my Higher Education Academy Senior Fellowship* application. Oddly, given that I’ve been researching and teaching in HE for quite a while now, I’ve never had to create one of these before, and I didnt actually know what it should contain. I used my Google-fu and found some instructions (e.g., this), some templates, lists of things to avoid, and some exemplars (this one was a lovely visual representation, I thought). Me being me, I even looked at the academic literature for instructions. I found some variation in requirements by country and discipline, and of course there was also a huge degree of variation by individual (compare the visual one up above to these ones).

In the end I just started writing, hoping to work it all out as I was going. After a couple of drafts I now have a one-page learning and teaching philosophy that I am reasonably happy with (I say ‘reasonably’, because it doesn’t quite get there for me around my core beliefs relating to learning for self actualisation and the humanistic side of things – human potential and so forth). Through the writing process, I realised that I do know exactly what my teaching philosphy is, and it’s actually reflected very consistently in my work.

Phew.

Anyhow, here it is: my learning and teaching philosophy.

I believe that in the 21st century knowledge society, higher education is vitally important to both social and economic well-being and growth. Universities are responsible for teaching high level capabilities that are needed for leadership, innovation and problem solving, all of which are integral to navigating a successful global future. Given this mandate, contemporary university programs must be orientated towards ‘real world’ relevance and application – that is, they must be of use – as well as continuing to support learners to develop disciplinary depth and high level critical capabilities grounded in history, theory and context. Education for relevance and application includes the development of ‘21st century’ skills, including disciplinary agility, enterprise and entrepreneneurship, digital literacies, social network capability, and career/learning self-management, all of which are often sorely lacking in university graduate capability lists and curricula (Bridgstock, 2009; 2014).

It is also incumbent upon us as educators to engage in pedagogic practices that (i) make the most of what we know about ways to maximise student learning; and (ii) to employ the best tools possible (digital or otherwise) to support this learning process. It is not sufficient to excuse poorly thought out transmissive ‘sage on the stage’ (King, 1993) teaching approaches by saying that this is the way we were taught at university, or to cite time and resourcing constraints. Many studies have shown that the best educators are committed to their own ongoing professional learning, and they manage to work within institutional constraints to produce creative and highly effective learning experiences (e.g., Philip, 2015). As a teacher, I aim to embody these characteristics and also to facilitate their development in other teachers.

I believe that the most fundamental task of any teacher in any classroom is to foster the ability and propensity in learners to keep learning for themselves. As such, I am a vocal skeptic of lectures, textbooks and exams, and a staunch advocate for authentic and situated learning, peer learning, problem-based learning, mentoring, enquiry-based learning, and informal learning. These are the ways that people prefer to learn at work and in other places out in the world beyond the university. These strategies enhance productivity, stimulate curiosity and increase depth of engagement (Bridgstock, 2014; Billett, 2009). Employing these strategies in a considered way at university not only fuels joy in learning – it hones students’ abilities to use and keep using these preferred strategies.

Finally, I believe in personalisation of the learning experience, which encompasses recognition of the existing knowledge and capabilities of learners (including knowledge and capabilities acquired through informal learning); accommodating their preferences and needs relating to curriculum, pedagogy and delivery; respecting the diversity in their backgrounds; and providing individualised learning support where needed. Further, education should never be something that is ‘done to’ a learner. Higher education should be an empowering experience for students; they can and should expect to be co-architects and co-constructors of their learning journeys.

Billett, S. (2009). Realising the educational worth of integrating work experiences in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 34(7), 827-843.

Bridgstock, R. (2009). The graduate attributes we’ve overlooked: Enhancing graduate employability through career management skills. Higher Education Research and Development, 28(1), 27-39.

Bridgstock, R. (2014, in press). Educating for digital futures: What the learning strategies of digital media professionals can teach higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International.

King, A. (1993). From sage on the stage to guide on the side. College Teaching, 41(1), 30-35.

Philip, R. L. (2015). Caught in the headlights: Designing for creative learning and teaching in higher education. PhD Thesis, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.

*the HEA fellowships scheme is a professional development and recognition scheme for higher ed teachers in the UK, but is starting to be used in Australian HE as well. It’s quite a lot of work to put an application together, but I think it’s really worth it, both for recognition of teaching capability and as a developmental process. If you’re interested in the scheme, more information can be found on their website.

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