How to Manage Project-Based Experiential Learning Engagements with Industry Partners
Recent graduates often refer to their industry-integrated experiential learning projects as one of the most formative experiences during their academic tenure. The opportunity to work with real third-party organizations on relevant challenges helps students bridge the gap between theory and practice, build professional networks, and practice using transferable and specialized skills to produce meaningful outcomes for real-world stakeholders. When these projects go well, students graduate career-ready with “reference worthy experience” making them undeniably more prepared for the workplace given their direct relevant experience working in teams using their own skills to solve real challenges for real organizations that have no correct answer.
But, when outside stakeholders are involved in the education process, managing the experience effectively can get rather complicated, particularly when that involves a synchronous experiential learning format where students engage industry partners in real time.
As increasingly more education programs shift their pedagogy from a content-based approach to a project-based approach, CapSource, as a leader in experiential learning technology and program development, offers a quick-reference guide for effectively managing industry-integrated student learning projects:
1. Setting the Stage for the Collaboration
Designing an Effective Engagement
Managing synchronous industry-integrated experiential learning projects begins long before students are even introduced to the project. Giving careful attention to the collaboration requirements, including industry partner size as well as project topics and modality are all key in achieving alignment on expectations.
Additional factors to consider when designing the project:
- What are the student interests and aptitudes?
- What is the program’s timeline? When does the project need to start and end?
- What course and program learning goals and objectives are you wanting students to achieve as the result of the participation? How do these intersect with project goals and milestones?
- What strategies and tools will be used to communicate and manage the project through its life cycle? How will stakeholders be kept informed on progress and project status?
- What technology will be used to share and store project data, including sensitive and confidential information provided by the company?
- What strategies and tools will be used to monitor project health and student performance and development?
When each of these is well thought through in advance, it is much easier to design a mutually beneficial collaboration and an effective learning experience for students. All of these factors should easily be documented in a Project Charter, which should be available to stakeholders and used as a guiding framework throughout the semester. CapSource also recommends that industry partners, educators, and students take time to align on the Rules of Engagement, including key implications of handling sensitive intellectual property
CapSource specializes in connecting universities, students, and industry partners by creating exciting, custom experiential learning engagements and providing a comprehensive *E*LMS: Experiential Learning Management System to manage synchronous industry-integrated experiential learning projects.
Setting the Stage for Students
Once the project charter and other project parameters have been established and agreed upon, begin setting the stage for students in preparation for the project kick-off. In the table below, we outline several strategies for preparing students for the engagement.
2. Hosting the Project Kick-off
The host company and students should have the opportunity to meet synchronously, either face-to-face or virtually, as the official work begins. If the company can host a site visit or send representatives to the class, that would be ideal. Otherwise, synchronous virtual meetings are a good alternative. The kick-off meeting is an opportunity for students to learn about the company and additional background information relevant to the project. It also gives all stakeholders a chance to and ask questions and clarify or gain consensus on any last-minute issues related to the project charter.
The kickoff meeting is also the place to set the expectations for communication including tone, cadence, and frequency with all parties. Who is the dedicated company mentor who will field student questions? Will there be subsequent face-to-face or virtual meetings? Use this time to determine the appropriate communication channels, like phone calls, web conferences, emails, or Slack. Likewise, if the Industry Partnerintends to release additional information to the students throughout the project, a similar protocol should be in place.
At the conclusion of the meeting, students should have a sense of excitement about the project and their roles in the process. All participants should leave the kickoff meeting with a clear understanding of the project charter, communication channels, and immediate next steps. For more information, check out the article on 5 Best Practices for Launching Student Projects with Industry Partners
3. Facilitating Stakeholder Engagement through the Project Life Cycle
Monitor, Feedback, and Support
Students look to faculty as project managers and mentors as they work through their unique challenges and encourage them to make their own decisions as they would in the real world. Faculty can act as a guide in helping them recognize the available options, but give them the opportunity to make their own decisions and learn from any resulting outcomes. Likewise, company mentors should refrain from telling students “what to do,” and instead make recommendations and answer questions students have related to the company in order to help them make informed choices for their project. For more information, refer to The Role of Faculty Mentorship in Project-Based Learning.
Regular performance reviews with individual students and full groups help students understand how and where they can improve. CapSource’s Multi-Source Project Feedback System Kick-off and Post Engagement Self-evaluations, Industry Mentor Survey, Peer Evaluation and provides a framework for engaging students in self-reflection and discussion around career-related competencies and outcomes of their engagement in the project. The system also incorporates project Temperature Check Surveys to facilitate monitoring and intervention at key points in the project lifecycle.
CapSource recommends holding bi-weekly check-ins with the full team present in order to review feedback, note project progress and the status of deliverables, and resolve disputes as needed. By proactively resolving internal conflicts or misunderstandings, students will have a better opportunity to succeed in the overall engagement. Faculty can offer supplemental readings and discussions surrounding conflict resolution, teamwork, and problem-solving to emphasize certain points when necessary.
Additional suggestions for managing projects include:
- Play an active role in reviewing client-facing communication with the project team. CapSource Tech Resource Guide of curated technology tools to facilitate communication and project success.
- Play a managerial role by checking in with students and industry partners regularly and helping students successfully navigate team issues.
- Monitor project health using tools like CapSource Temperature Check, which provides critical information for identifying and addressing problems like social loafing, disengagement, marginalization, and other unproductive behaviors and dynamics. It also provides information on students’ perspectives on the project and their relationship with the client/company.
- Include short lessons, self-assessment, forum discussions, and other processes to orient students to effective strategies for conflict resolution, teamwork, and problem solving. Encourage students to experiment with and reflect on these tools throughout the engagement
- Approach conflict without bias and with an open mind while listening to the arguments and helping students understand how they maintain professionalism and move on without escalating to the company.
4. Use Grading to Manage Expectations & Improve Performance
Before the engagement begins, students should understand how these engagements will be different from other courses and how their performance will be assessed. The Project Charter is a great tool for communicating standards for student performance in terms of project activities and deliverables.
Using standards-based grading practices in the context of project-based learning can be a challenge. How can teachers incorporate fair, personalized grading practices based on individual achievement on our critical learning targets into project-based learning? Suggested practices include:
- Designing and including assessments that are grounded in content area standards and corresponding learning scales.
- Mapping the correlation between assessments and the project goals and milestones.
- Separating individual assessment scores from group deliverables.
- Holding students accountable for group deliverables through peer evaluation and feedback from the audience.
In the context of synchronous industry-integrated experiential learning projects, there are multiple sources of feedback teachers can use to assess and grade student learning and performance. Below we discuss how feedback from the company and peers along with performance outcomes on the final deliverable can offer useful insights and data for evaluation.
The industry partner should fill out an online form, short survey, or email with honest feedback, touching on areas like professionalism, timeliness, confidence in the team’s effectiveness, and overall quality of work. CapSource’s Multi-Source Project Feedback System, introduced in the previous section, offers tools for gathering input from industry partners at key points in the life cycle of the project. Faculty should expect to check-in with companies at least 2-3 times throughout the engagement to solicit additional qualitative feedback and ensure everything is going smoothly.
Team members should have the chance to share how each individual is contributing to the project. This might take the form of a survey, face-to-face meeting with a faculty member, or formal write-up detailing each team member. CapSource’s Multi-Source Project Feedback System offers solutions to gathering peer feedback, as well as student self-report data. Peer evaluations can help to ensure that students are getting the grade they deserve, especially if not everyone contributed to the project equally.
Quality of the Ultimate Deliverable
Often, the final deliverable will be a report such as a marketing plan or business strategy presentation. This deliverable must be comprehensive and organized, while answering the “big questions” posed in the Project Charter. There should also be a presentation or pitch component. Students can be assessed based on their presentation skills as well as the formal written document they create.
Thank you for taking the time to review these best practices we’ve established to help you deliver more engaging and relevant learning experiences to your students. If you have any questions or want to learn more about how CapSource can help, please feel free to email [email protected] or call us via 1 (631) 729-0745.