Facilitating students’ capabilities to maximise their career prospects

Case study

Researchers in Sydney, Australia, are teaching students creative techniques to boost their learning and professional development during placement.

Dr Kim Snepvangers Dr Kim Snepvangers, Adjunct Associate Professor, the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture, School of Art &
Design, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Dr Arianne Rourke Dr Arianne Rourke, Adjunct Associate Professor,the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture, School of Art &
Design, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Literati award won Highly commended paper 2017
Winning research Ecologies of practice in tertiary art & design: a review of two cases

The problem

Some higher education learning institutions see industry placements and work-integrated learning (WIL) courses as a ‘box ticking’ exercise. Vocational knowledge, placements, and coursework can take a back seat in favour of traditional exams. In addition, partnerships within industry rarely include the student voice. As a result, students have less opportunity to gain the maximum value that these programmes have to offer.

So how can students gain the most out of these practical aspects of their course? Dr Kim Snepvangers, Adjunct Associate Professor and Dr Arianne Rourke, Adjunct Associate Professor, both at the Faculty of Art, Design & Architecture, University of New South Wales, Australia, argue that creative techniques can help students engage and collaborate with relevant industries. Their research shows greater professional engagement improves student satisfaction and development of soft skills, and helps them build their professional identity over time.

We value the input of marginalised groups of students and staff whose voice is often invisible. Our purpose aligns with and promotes digital systems at scale that are non-hierarchical

Dr Kim Snepvangers and Dr Arianne Rourke


The research

The team’s initial research explores the important role that ecologies of practice and connectedness have to offer. Their award-winning paper, ‘Ecologies of practice in tertiary art & design: A review of two cases’, published in 2016, aims to improve tertiary art, design, and media students’ professional engagement in work integrated learning. They found that students who use reflective digital diaries and fieldwork e-portfolios, feel more engaged and equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge to develop a professional identity. The research also offers critical guidelines for how to support online feedback in higher education learning environments.

Since the research was published, the team has launched two enterprises. In 2016, the Professional Experience Project (PEP) was established – an online system that allowed them to analyse digital assessment and communications, taking into account personal reflection, experiences and stories. This was followed by the Teaching International Students (TIS) project in 2018-2020 that encouraged co-authoring, co-researching, co-designing and collaborating, as well as provided a platform for marginalised groups to voice their opinions.

Dr Snepvangers and Dr Rourke’s research into digital feedback, self, and peer learning has been especially significant during COVID-19 and the team has gone on to make a personalised online system using a scaffold coursework design. The system focuses on dilemmas and self-regulatory tasks. This allows for the focus to move beyond the course, enabling a broader learning experience.


The impact towards quality education for all

Since the initial research was published, Dr Snepvangers and Dr Rourke have developed sustainable living digital ecosystems. These improve students’ lives by increasing their digital literacy skills, confidence, and resilience in virtual and onsite project-based learning. Staff are also increasingly engaged in the professional development opportunities. They are encouraged to reflect on their teaching of international students and work on integrated learning through mentoring, workshops, and staff presentations.

By developing meaningful industry links, students have an increasing number of opportunities presented to them, such as the opportunity to co-present at international academic conferences and high-profile public events. Students have also been shortlisted in major competitions and have presented artwork at international exhibitions such as the International Society for Education Through Art (InSEA) World Congress in Vancouver.

The impact of the co-researching approach is seen across the university and internationally. Authors receive invitations to present at university wide lectures and workshops, along with the opportunity to engage in personalised discussions with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor. Impact with other universities include invitations to present keynote addresses at the International Academic Forum in Japan, University of Southern Queensland, and Trade Investment Queensland’s International Education and Training Summit.

In the future, Dr Snepvangers and Dr Rourke plan to continue case-based research where they focus on professional knowledge, connectivity, collaboration, and developing ecologies of practice as integral to student’s career futures. This is particularly relevant in the transient COVID-19 world of changed futures and workplaces.