Lindie Clark talks about what the new Learning and Teaching Strategic Framework might mean for the PACE program at Macquarie, and how we know that experiential learning really works.
What are your thoughts on the proposal for paid internships for all undergraduate students at Macquarie?
What the Green Paper talks about is creating a paid internship opportunity in all undergraduate programs. This is not saying that every student will get an internship, although I know many people will have misread it that way. We just want as many opportunities as possible for students to engage in this way. Students would have to meet prerequisites, and not all would want to participate anyway. Internships are one mode of engagement that currently happens through PACE in disciplines like Law, Business and Economics and Engineering. I’m really keen on expanding this mode to other disciplines because I know about the additional impacts it can have on enhancing student employability, but it’s only one of a variety of different ways of engaging through PACE.
What are some of those different ways of engaging?
All PACE activities need to meet a number of learning and teaching criteria and they must always serve a partner need. But that doesn’t mean that they are all an individual internship. It could be a field trip with a partnership component, it could be industry or community partners coming onto campus and engaging with groups of students, setting real world problems that they compete in groups to solve. We’ve got such a diversity of modes of engagement. You can really do a lot through embracing a broad church of possibilities, as long as you’re meeting those quality standards.
One of the things we hear about the expansion of PACE proposed by Green Paper is ‘how are we going to find all these partners?’
We’ve been able to build up to 1300 PACE partners, and it’s growing daily. We’ve got a number of partners who keep on coming back because in general our students are well-prepared and capable beyond their expectations. And we find that we can leverage and expand those relationships into other areas. For instance a placement might lead to a collaborative research project, which again might need research assistants and students might become involved with that. We’ve got quite a lot of examples of that happening.
We often see word of mouth referrals from other partners, which is terrific. We still have to do our share of cold calling, but often our students are such great ambassadors, and the partners enjoy the experience and recommend it to others. I remember going out for the first time to a couple of partners in the early days and hearing, ‘Undergraduate students? Give us Postgrads, but Undergraduates?’ I never hear that any more. It is really quite amazing what students are capable of, it even amazes students themselves.
Do you see any other challenges in the expansion of PACE in the future?
We always want to ensure we are delivering a quality learning experience. Work-integrated learning is about learning through work as much as it is about learning to work, if I can put it that way. So we’ve got to be careful with scale and expansion to make sure all our experiences continue to do that. The whole program is really built on developing long-term relationships with organisations that we know can provide students with really good, supportive learning environments. PACE is fundamentally about reciprocity, and if you really invest in relationships and make sure that all parties are getting what they need from it, I honestly don’t believe expansion is going to be a problem.
The whole message that Macquarie wants to be a more connected university is in our favour too. We’ve got a research strategy that is emphasizing collaborative research, we’ve got a Learning and Teaching Framework talking about connected learning communities, we’ve got a corporate engagement strategy building great relationships. We’ve got great partnerships especially with organisations in the Macquarie Park area. And we’ve got a Vice-Chancellor who wants us branded as a university as service and engagement. We’ve got such a powerful, compelling, collective message of ‘we want to be out there’. I’m really excited about where Macquarie is at.
What evidence do we have so far of the impact that PACE is already having?
The evidence from student, partner and employer testimonials is pretty persuasive. Through PACE, students are testing their knowledge and their skills in authentic workplace settings, and with that there are big impacts on employability. Quite regularly a placement can lead to an actual job, if not with that particular organisation, then with another – as employers hold practical, work-based experience in high regard. Sometimes a placement leads to a volunteering opportunity, sometimes it can turn into a research project. We’ve had PACE students working right here in the Hearing Hub with the National Acoustics Laboratories, and that led to an MRes project for one student, and he’s now doing a PhD.
PACE can be a really transformational learning experience because it involves students in connective, purposeful learning in authentic settings. Those settings are almost always more ambiguous and complex than how the textbook might make it sound, so we find the students become much more deeply engaged with their learning as a result.
I also hear of students for whom PACE has absolutely confirmed what they thought they wanted to do in terms of their careers, and sometimes completely the opposite. Both are incredibly valuable experiences. We’ve had law students set on the corporate law track who know that firms are looking for well-rounded people. So they do some community-based engagement through PACE for that reason, and it completely changes their mind about what sort of work they want to do.
Apart from the anecdotal evidence?
Impacts can be quite difficult to measure, as they can be quite diverse, and longitudinal too. We are planning to build a Theory of Change around PACE: thinking about what are we as a university trying to do with PACE, but also what do partners see as success in PACE, what do students see as success in PACE? We want to incorporate stakeholder views to build a much more inclusive vision of what we’re trying to achieve. A theory of change will in turn provide us with a good theoretical framework for evaluation of the impact of PACE.
Lindie Clark is Academic and Program Director of Macquarie’s PACE (Professional and Community Engagement) program.