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Project-based learning as preparation for work integrated learning
Work Integrated Learning (WIL) has become recognised internationally as a powerful learning tool to develop professional practice capabilities in students and ultimately graduates. The success of WIL is dependant on the ability of the graduate to ‘hit the ground running’. This is true from both an employer and graduate perspective, both during the WIL experience(s) and after graduation on entering the workforce. Many WIL programs worldwide have traditionally focused on the work placement or internship itself, and assumed that the parent academic program of study has effectively prepared the student to achieve this. Anecdotal evidence has indicated that this is not necessarily the case and study programs need to be explicitly structured to specifically prepare students for the WIL experience if the value of the experience is to be optimised. As these placements are putting students in a professional practice environment, the academic preparation needs to focus on introducing students to professional practice itself. This means developing professional practice skills. Project Based learning (PBL) by its underlying philosophy puts students in a real, or virtual, professional practice environment. It stands to reason then, that PBL should be an ideal preparation for WIL. Central Queensland University introduced a WIL engineering program in 1994 in the form of their Co-operative Education program. Soon thereafter, the faculty recognised that the needs of the employers and students were disconnected from the traditional content focused delivery of the existing engineering program. This paper recounts the issues involved and the development of the PBL paradigm introduced to support and enhance the engineering programs’ WIL activities, and reports on the progress in investigating the effectiveness of this approach.