Work integrated learning in an online environment

As part of the unit Archives concepts and practice, offered as a co-taught unit for both PG and UG students, students were previously required to undertake a short placement project of up to 30 hours. The unit is offered internally only where there are sufficient students to undertake learning, and the majority of students are based are external or OUA enrolments.  In 2012, when I took over the unit, there was a sufficient class to run the unit internally, and my colleague had arranged a two week intensive session with the WA Museum, involving a substantial cohort of WA students, which she personally supervised. In 2013, two placements were arranged for students, one involving a transfer of significant material to the State Library of Western Australia, processed here at Curtin, taking a week in the semester break, and another placement at New Norcia, taking three days, and both supervised by me.  However, external students were unable to attend, which meant that they needed to be placed in a suitable organisation with professional supervision. The amount of time and supervision required for organising these placements was an exercise in ingenuity and faith which ate into teaching time and support for students. Ensuring equity of access was a key criterion (Patrick, et al, 2009).

The problem of the resource intensive nature of work integrated learning has been well recognised (Southern Cross University, 2015). The issue here was not that it was resource intensive, but rather the extent to which that affected other components.

One of the problems was that most students have very little contact or awareness of what an archival organisation is or does. In order for them to understand the profession which they were studying, some exposure to an archives was still required, and is a requirement of professional accreditation for the course overall. The unit had always included a site visit to a major archival site in each visit. Co-ordinating these visits took some time, but was a more effective way of spreading the administrative burden, and ensured that students had equal access to a professional and well run institution. Replacing the project placement with the site visit meant a more equitable allotment of both my time and that of the students, and ensured exposure to the profession. Ashford and Mills (2006) recommend that time for some sort of reflection be built into site visits. A site report, focusing on their observational skills, enabled me to introduce students to a major international standard, assess their English and work communication skills, and provided for a more equitable assessment across both internal and external cohorts. It also ensured that all students undertook a site visit. Subtle changes to the parameters of the report enabled the exercise to be tailored to meet UG and PG requirements.

An exercise in archival description, based on Australian and international standards, replaced the project component itself. To complete this second assessment, students are given the choice of identifying a group of records from a placement, work site or their own records, or to use a set of listings provided from a major institution which needed to be adapted and edited for online use. More recently, I have taken photographs of unprocessed material and placed them online in a resources folder in Blackboard, creating a ‘virtual archive box’, which students can then arrange and describe in accordance with Australian practice. This ensures that they get the feel of working with original materials, or with retrospective conversion projects, both extremely common in the industry.  Linking the description task to standardised templates provided by the Australian Society of Archivists, or through an online archival management demonstration system, not only gives students an opportunity to work with technology in learning (Sadik, 2008), but gives students an opportunity to work with tools which will become extremely familiar and to develop an understanding of the professional terminology required in the task.

Students have generally advised that the site visit as a practical component of their studies is appreciated, and the options for the visit are eagerly discussed on the discussion boards. “The site visit to the NAA was very good as it helped put theory into practice “ (Curtin, 2015). Further research needs to be undertaken into the effectiveness of the archival description ‘virtual project’ as a learning tool.


Ashford, P. and Mills, A. (2006). Evaluating the effectiveness of construction site visits as a learning experience for undergraduate students enrolled in a built environment course. In Experience of Learning. Proceedings of the 15th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 1-2 February 2006. Perth: The University of Western Australia. Retrieved from

Curtin (2015) eValuate full unit report for Archives Concepts and Practice.

Patrick, C-j., Peach, D., Pocknee, C., Webb, F., Fletcher, M., Pretto, G. (2008).

The WIL [Work Integrated Learning] report: A national scoping study [Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) Final report]. Brisbane: Queensland University of Technology. Retrieved from

Sadik, A (2008) ‘Digital storytelling: a meaningful technology-integrated approach for engaged student learning.’ Education Tech Research Dev, 56. Retrieved from

Southern Cross University (2015) Work integrated learning: models of WIL. Retrieved from