ERIC Identifier: ED376459
Publication Date: 1994-00-00
Author: Inkster, Robert
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Internships and Reflective Practice: Informing the Workplace,
Informing the Academy. ERIC Digest.
This Digest will outline an internship, created by a university English
department, designed to respond to the current need for an improvement in the
workplace literacy of many American workers.
The crucial value of internships has long been recognized in disciplines that
are explicitly pragmatic, but for "academic" majors such as English, there is an
inclination to devalue the internship experience, an inclination shared
certainly by many students and faculty and perhaps even by some employers.
However, our students are also engaged in a pragmatic course of study, and the
internship or an analogous experience is a crucial contributor to this praxis.
And, while its benefit to the student who does the internship is the most
important service of the internship, the internship program presents the same
kind of learning opportunity to both the department where it is housed and the
organization that hosts the intern. The experience of the interns, reflected
back to the department, provides an ongoing formative evaluation not only of the
internship but of the entire departmental curriculum, especially that part of
the curriculum that is concerned with literacy in the workplace. And the
internship illuminates the workplace as well, providing a conduit for informing
workplace practice through the intern and through consultation with the intern
supervisor as well as other faculty.
The internship component is a major facet of Saint Cloud (MN) State
University's proposed Workplace Literacy Program. With thoughtful planning and
coordination, the internship component will give worker/learners,
learner/workers, employers, and educators opportunities for powerful synergies
through the linkage they provide. Indeed, the internships and the concurrent
colloquia are the crucial link between theory and practice, enabling learners to
reflect critically and philosophically about their own and each other's
practice, as well as workplace literacy practices in general.
The model informing this process is that of Donald Schon's "Educating the
Reflective Practitioner" (1987), and it shares Schon's assumption that effective
workers, especially those who provide what Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls
"symbolic-analytic services," require a continual shifting between practice and
thoughtful reflection upon their practice. These internships, like most
internships, will be designed to encourage this kind of oscillation between
skilled doing and critical study of one's doing, and, in encouraging this
process, successfully put into practice the theory of developmentalists like
William Perry, Lawrence Kohlberg, Jane Loevinger, and David Kolb. The
fundamental goal and function of the internships, then, is to serve as an
effective mode of learning.
BENEFITS TO STUDENTS ON CAMPUS
The English major is widely
perceived, by the population at large and even by English majors and teachers
themselves, as a course of study that is not practical. In monitoring the course
of the careers of our graduates, in reviewing the literature in English studies
and in career placement, and in surveying employers in the greater Twin Cities
area, we find the following phenomena:
America's rediscovery of the liberal arts major in general and the English major
in particular, widely publicized about 8 years ago, is an illusion.
the other hand, respondents to our corporate survey unanimously agreed that the
skills one would expect of an English major--the ability to communicate well,
especially in writing, and the ability to read, not just text but complex
situation and character as well--are essential skills for effective
participation in any organization today.
A critical question for any university English department, then, is how to
make the practicality of these skills visible--to ourselves, to our students,
and to the community that needs these skills. And a further question is how to
make these skills more portable--how to achieve more effective links between
campus and community, between the classroom and the workplace.
In the project we propose, we see the opportunity to turn a question often
asked with a sneer--"You're an English major? What are you gonna do,
teach?"--into a question asked with awe, respect, and a recognition of the vital
relevance of expertise in the discourse of our culture. We propose, through
internships as apprentice literacy trainers, facilitators, and educators serving
the workplace, to turn the English major at Saint Cloud State University into a
vehicle for service in the organizational environment of the 21st century.
THE INTERNSHIP IN PRACTICE
The major assumption informing
the internship component is that successful interns will be equipped to move
into other organizational sites in the private sector or in public agencies and
become productive members of a workplace literacy team. This means that interns
will receive both theoretical instruction and practical experience in the
and Practice of Adult Education
and Informal Diagnostic Methods
Focus on Workplace Literacy Issues Relating to Learning Styles, History, Theory
and Practice, and Diagnostic Methods
Facilitation and Communication
Planning and Management
Methodologies and Ethics: Individual- and Program-Level
of Individual and Program Goals and Accomplishments
A vital part of the internship component will be a colloquium running
concurrently with the internship practicum. In the colloquium, interns will come
together to share their experiences, to define common problems and issues, to
brainstorm strategies, and to critique and support one another's work. The
colloquium will be a site of intensive reflection by the interns on their
practical experience and their historical and theoretical reading, and it will
offer occasions for evaluation, synthesis, and speculation about workplace
literacy both now and in the future--and the interns' possible contribution to
The internship component of the program serves valuable functions to two
extends the opportunity for participation to include potentially the entire
student population at Saint Cloud State University (so that more students than
the currently eligible students of color and students with ESL interest can
virtue of its 2-lane structure, the internship component provides an avenue for
worker/learners from the workplace site to contribute to the learning program on
offers a vehicle for reflective practice for all students who participate.
Further, the internship component highlights yet another strength of the
proposed program: a powerful multiplier effect. The program will not only
address current problems of literacy of the workplace, but it will also create a
new cohort of well-prepared workplace educators with practical experience in
organizational problem definition, problem solving, program planning and
management, androgogical and empowering methods of collegial learning and
facilitation, and program assessment. These interns will be well equipped to
articulate their experience in terms that make both theoretical and practical
sense and to replicate their success at new sites.
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