Students commonly give feedback that they would like ‘real-life’ opportunities to use their degree during study. Placements allow this but are quite challenging to resource. Volunteering opportunities can be hugely valuable and offer similar experience, especially when related to the degree discipline.
Our students feel under pressure to get involved in volunteering. However offsetting this against the demands of studying, and often working, can be demanding. Certainly the university acknowledges this and has a mechanism to formally recognise this student effort though the Edinburgh Award.
On the BSc Applied Sport Science degree we have for some time promoted degree-related volunteering (in physical activity, sport or exercise). We have now extended this by connecting volunteering to a 20-credit ‘Workplace Attachment’ option course in year 3 – this may help address an unmet need among students.
This is not a placement as such. Students simply drop into and assist as a volunteer, with real-world delivery of sport, exercise or physical activity for health by organisations outside the university. One strength of this is pre-planned, sanitised experiences are avoided. Instead the assessment is an unadulterated ‘fly on the wall’ exposure to how underpinning scientific evidence is being implemented. Seeing the imperfections, assumptions and short-cuts needed to implement research into practice is revelatory to students. Students keep a blog (≥10 weeks) and write a reflective report of their experiences. The blogs give enlightening insights into the attachments as they unfold and develop.
The blogs are an effective way of recording and reflecting on the challenges, insights and innovations students encounter. This material provides a source of rich examples when making job/postgraduate study applications in the future.
Minimum burden – maximum benefits
There is no added burden on the attachment provider – they simply have a volunteer at their disposal. There is also no burden on staff to find placements as it is the student’s role on this course to initiate and maintain a link with an external organisation. This surely fosters a proactive and creative approach among students to find suitable opportunities. This autonomy develops a skillful approach which graduates can use when job hunting and throughout their working life.
The careers service is directly involved in this course delivery with our school’s Careers Consultant providing valuable input during the initial stages. This aims to help students see the value of the attachment experience post-graduation and understand how to maximise the experience for their future career.
Uncertainties arising from external stakeholders?
This course runs for a full year but the 20 credits are essentially located in Semester 2. This means students can make progress during semester 1 and if we feel an attachment is ‘at risk’ or have too many uncertainties by the Christmas break, students can simply ‘jump ship’ onto an alternative semester 2 course without any disadvantage.
Students and stakeholders have been very positive about this arrangement and the approach is widely applicable for student learning. There is a lot going on within the City of Edinburgh and this is a great resource for the university and our students to tap into.
For more information on employability and careers at the University of Edinburgh see these Teaching Matters blogs: