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Case study 16: Master's Internship Module, Coventry University Business School

Overview

This case study looks at how subject mastery and employability skills are embedded within a range of Master’s business and management programmes. During the internship module (worth 60 of a total 180 CATS) students spend 8-12 weeks completing a real business project identified by a host organisation. The project deliverables are assessed in 3 ways; a 9000 word report on the outcomes and recommendations of the project, an employer’s assessment on student performance, and a 2500 word reflection on their learning and development. These 3 pieces of work provide evidence of the development of both academic mastersness and employability skills.

Keywords

Assessment, autonomy, business, capstone, challenge, employers, employability skills, enquiry led learning, internships, management practice, placements, planning, problem solving, professionalism, projects, reflection, theory into practice.

Describe briefly, the activity/initiative/practice

The internship, taken in place of the traditional dissertation, is a capstone module in which students work independently within a host company in the UK or overseas on a business project identified by the organisation. Project support is provided through a workplace mentor and a university academic supervisor. The module aims to provide students with opportunities to: apply theory into practice, work independently, develop both hard and soft personal skills, and enhance employability skills and prospects. Students reflect on their experience and learning as part of their personal development. It also offers the potential for UK and overseas work experience. The module provides students with an opportunity to develop their skills and to demonstrate and evidence these to prospective employers. Entry onto the internship module is optional but selective, the recruitment process being designed to replicate that typically used by employers with short-listing from curriculum vitae, followed by a presentation and panel interview.

The assessment of the management report follows the conventional structure to the Master’s dissertation with the exception of a greater emphasis on the project’s contribution to the business.  Students are expected to identify recommendations, which are realistic and achievable in relation to the strategy, operations and resources of the organisation. For the reflective piece, students write 2500 words on the critical learning episodes that occur during their internship. Guidance is provided through a reflective writing workshop and students have an opportunity to submit a short piece for formative assessment. The objective of this element of the module is for students to develop the skills to become reflective practitioners in their eventual chosen career paths.

What is the background /context to the activity/initiative practice?

This module was initiated by the need for postgraduate students to develop and demonstrate mastersness by applying theory into practice; the traditional dissertation was thought to be deficient in this respect. Postgraduate students should be able to address complex problems to which a solution is not immediately obvious. Theories taught in the classroom are only simplistic tools that act as guidelines in tacking such complex problems.

“I noticed the huge gap between theory and practice. When we browse different books and theories or attend lectures, we might think that the business world is as regular as clockwork... not at all! All the theories developed by the biggest thinkers of the world are just an insight to the real conditions”.

This case study illustrates one of the initiatives being taken by Coventry University to enhance the mastersness and employability of its postgraduate students.

What made/makes it “Master's” level?

There are number of characteristics of the internship module that distinguish it from undergraduate study. The work is for real, and credit bearing; consequently quite different from many of the work placements typically found at undergraduate level. As a consequence, it requires a higher level of autonomy, initiative and confidence. The research is more critical in its evaluation and the reflection element requires a greater sense of self-awareness. The module takes students out of their comfort zone into the messy nature of the real world.

What challenges were encountered/overcome - in terms of mastersness - and what lessons were learned that would be helpful to others?

Start small – but start. The initial challenge was finding discrete projects which allowed students to undertaken a masters’ level piece of work rather than just completing a work experience placement. In addition the projects needed to be across the different functions within business. However, as time went on our database of employers and project case studies grew. Also, organisations having had a successful experience with one internship student came back for more. The challenge eventually became one of not having enough students of the right calibre. How could we develop the skills of our students so that we could be certain that they were equipped to successfully undertake the internship project?

Where to next – in terms of mastersness – and what lessons were learned that would be helpful to others?

The internship module enables students to evidence mastery through applying theory into practice, and through developing a range of employability skills including the ability to reflect on their practice. Comments from students include:

‘…..this was the real world and the comfort of university was suddenly gone’.

 ‘….. it gave me the opportunity to apply everything I had learnt in the classroom’.

 ‘If I was going to turn down every opportunity I get, when would I learn? How would I prove to myself that I have a “can do” spirit’; the internship started with an idea, but I later realised that this turned out to be a huge step forward in my life’.

‘……the internship was the most important module of my study.’

The impact of the experience is evidenced through the student’s words and through the module academic success. To date in the order of 400 students have undertaken an internship with a 100% pass rate with marks in excess of 80% of the final marks at merit and distinction level. What is the next step; finding other ways of offering this type of learning experience to the students who do not make it through the selection process.   

References

  • Bennis, W. and O’Toole, J. (2005) ‘How business schools lost their way.’ Harvard Business Review 83, 96–104
  • Branine, M. (2008) 'Graduate recruitment and selection in the UK: A study of the recent changes in methods and expectations', Career Development International, Vol. 13 No. 6, pp.497 – 513
  • CBI (2010) ‘Ready to Grow: business priorities for education and skills’, Education and skills survey, CBI, London
  • Schon, D. (1983) The reflective practitioner. Aldershot, UK: Arena
  • Yorke, M. (2006) Employability in higher education: what it is – what it is not. York: The Higher Education Academy
  • Yorke, M., and Knight, P. (2007) ‘Evidence-informed pedagogy and the enhancement of student employability.’ Teaching in Higher Education 12, (2) 157-170 

Contact

Marie Hardie and Steve Jewell, Coventry Business School, Coventry University.