32 SES 14 A, Organizational Education for a Sustainable Future
A sustainable future demands education that can handle the challenges of the future, both short- and long-term. In order to make academic study programs more relevant to current and future needs, some universities have started work placement courses also for more academic programs. However, compared to the more traditional study programs for professions, it can be challenging to define learning outcomes and knowledge development of work placement courses within social sciences. Nevertheless, the quality and relevance of a course design is typically measured through its ability to “deliver” upon the knowledge development and learning outcome.
The aim of the paper is to give insight in the challenges of making a clear link between abstract and general learning outcomes and knowledge development described in course and program descriptions, and the concrete and diverse experiences in work placement courses. Further, how the supervision in work placement as an arena for developing understandings of what work placement within academic programs actually are about.
Embedded in a pragmatist approach to reality (Mead, 1932, 1934, Dewey, 1938, Lorino, 2018, Elkjaer and Simpson, 2011) work placement is here understood as a meaning-making process where the development of events fosters and are fostered by (re-)interpretations of the past and expectations towards the future. More concretely, it gives insight in the abductive process of exploring possible ways of making meaningful connections between structured education programs and the unstructured emergence of events. Through making these connections, both students and lecturers get to explore what kind of understandings and expectations they have to the education programs and insight in the social process of translating theoretical curriculum into practical use ( Taylor and Bovill, 2018, Elkjaer, 2004).
The context and case
The work placement course in question, was an eligible 20 ECT course in a Change Management master program. It was the first time the course ran, and the structure for the course was copied from a similar course in the bachelor program in Sociology and in Political Science. As students in social sciences to some extent have had challenges finding relevant work after graduation, the work placement courses were expected to demonstrate what their knowledge and competence could be used for. In the change management program, students often expressed expectations of the education giving competence in leading major change processes, and where their role could be as formal leader or as leadership consultant.
The faculty in the change management program had a relatively unified understanding of the program as not seeing change as an extraordinary situation, but as a constant and natural part of any situation. When the program was called change management, the purpose was to separate it from more ordinary management programs that are frequently focused on substance, such as focusing on the leader or what kind of tools and strategies that could work in various situations. Our focus was on leadership as a process, and where leadership is exercised in collaboration between participants. However, for students such an explanation did not necessarily clarify future work opportunities. The work placement program could possibly help to exemplify the work areas and tasks. Leaders within the potential work placement organizations were on their part sometimes unsure if they had anything relevant for students to do. However, the experiences from the work placements showed that the student got a very realistic insight in the work situations in the different organizations. However, it was not necessarily straightforward to make sense of the learning outcome and knowledge development.
The empirical material for this paper stems from the group supervisions I had with four master students during their work placement course in the change management program. As part of the course curriculum, the students were to hand in a written report where they both presented and discussed the research problem or task they had been given in the work placement organization as well as their reflections over own role and learning during the course. The supervisions were initially planned as individual. However, this was reconfigured into group supervisions in order to give the students opportunities to learn from each other’s experiences. Common experiences that emerged from the supervisions included shared inquiries between the students and me regarding not just how to write the report, but also what their master program actually was about and how they could use it in their work placement. The supervisions for the work placement and the work placement itself became arenas for discussing and exploring the deeper knowledge we had aimed to give the students through the management program; reflection they had had fewer opportunities for in their ordinary courses. Through the conversations in the supervisions, I gained greater insight and understanding into how the students actually understood the teaching and their expectations to how they would use this in work situations. The work placements in outside organizations gave opportunities for exercising their skills and applying their knowledge to concrete situations. However, the students needed to become aware of what their education was about. The supervisions became an arena for developing this awareness. Hence, the discussions in the supervisions were not only about getting feedback on the drafts for course reports. It was more about developing an understanding of what the education was about and how it could be useful in work contexts. The supervision conversations, my notes and feedback on the report drafts and reflections in hindsight, form the basis for the analysis and discussion about how the curriculum in the work placement course developed through gestural conversations.
Three main lessons learned developed through the group supervisions: Students expected predictability in the work placement and found it surprising and stressful that situations, tasks and expectations in the work placement organizations changed during the course. Their roles as work placement students were in most cases new to the organizations and the students had to shape their role and tasks through transactions with colleagues and leaders. Hence, they needed to conduct leadership in relation to themselves in transactions with others, but also conduct leadership in relation to others, by pointing out possible ways forward and what they needed acceptance and help from others to do. The students had little conscious understanding of - and training in - this way of conducting leadership. In most cases, the project the students were expected to report on had to be constructed. They had to figure out how to frame their experiences into something that looked like a complete project, while they often did parts of tasks related to numerous processes. In situations where their initial project fell through og proved to be less relevant, they had to identify and construct a project out of what was often less pronounced and delineated in the work situation. The result of the work placement course was that the students both got more insight in what we tried to teach them through the program, and possibilities for trying this out. Hence, the curriculum of the course was largely developed through the social process of becoming, where both students and lecturer shaped and were shaped by the development of events that happened through the work placement organizations, the supervision situations and the writing processes.
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