«INTERNSHIPS AND THE ASSESSMENT OF STUDENT LEARNING William Templeton, Butler University Karel Updyke, Butler University Robert B. Bennett, Jr., ...»
BUSINESS EDUCATION & ACCREDITATION ♦ Volume 4 ♦ Number 2♦ 2012
INTERNSHIPS AND THE ASSESSMENT OF STUDENT
William Templeton, Butler University
Karel Updyke, Butler University
Robert B. Bennett, Jr., Butler University
The use of internships is a powerful learning tool that allow business students to make connections between their classroom experience and the world of work. If designed appropriately and positioned correctly in the curriculum, they can also be an ideal opportunity to conduct assurance of learning activities related to business school accreditation. This study reports on survey results relating to business schools’ use of internships in their assurance of learning efforts and describes one school’s successful attempt to use internships as the key platform for its well-developed assurance of learning program.
JEL: M10 KEYWORDS: assessment, internships, student learning, experiential learning, business education
In addition to being a relevant and effective educational practice, internships and their attendant academic assignments provide an effective platform on which to conduct assessment activities (called “assurance of learning” or “AOL” in business schools). Revisions to the Accreditation Standards for Business Accreditation from the AACSB International (AACSB) have generated unprecedented interest in AOL activities and nearly all business schools are seeking better methods for demonstrating that their students are, indeed, learning what they intend for them to learn. Students successfully drawing on concepts and skills learned in previous academic experiences and applying them to an actual work situation are more powerful indications of learning than AOL attached to the classroom course in which students first learn those concepts and skills. As outlined in the 1992 American Association for Higher Education Assessment Forum’s Nine Principles of Good Practice for Assessing Student Learning [American Association for Higher Education, 1992], schools need to assess not only what students learn at a particular time in a particular course, but also what they can do with what they know through later performance. In other words, AOL should involve evaluating the effects of an entire program on student learning and students’ ability to integrate and apply what they have learned. A well-developed AOL
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program entails a much broader view than evaluating what students learn in a particular course and assessment connected to internships are an ideal element of that sort of AOL program.
Since the mid-1980s, the Butler University College of Business (COB) has required all students to complete two internships. The faculty has always been adamant that a substantial proportion of the course grade must be based on academic papers and presentations, both of which reflect students’ connection of business concepts to their work experiences. The grading structure remains relatively unchanged since the program began, and calls for 30 percent of course grades to be based on supervisors’ evaluations, with 70 percent based on instructors’ evaluation of written and oral assignments.
While the faculty has always required students to demonstrate their learning through assignments for the purpose of determining their grades, it only recently began using the assignments to measure students’ learning across the business curriculum. Internship assignments now are a key component of the AOL program with respect to students’ accomplishment of four of the seven learning objectives for business majors: general business knowledge, global issues’ importance in business, problem-solving and thinking skills, and communications skills. The objectives of this paper include 1) to review the literature relative to internships and their use in assessing student learning, 2) to report the results of a survey designed to determine the extent to which business schools use internships and related assignments for assessment purposes, and 3) to report how one business school uses internships and connected student assignments for assessment of student learning.
Studies in a wide variety of disciplines emphasize the many advantages of internships and cooperative education experiences [e.g., Maskooki, Rama & Raghunandan, 1998, p. 75; Kelly, 2007, p. 10; Beard, 1998, p. 507-08]. Although cooperative education experiences have different characteristics than internship programs, they both involve a student actively working as a requirement of or a supplement to a program of business study, either with or without academic credit. For purposes of the discussion in this paper, we refer to both types of experiences as an “internship.” Internships provide many advantages to students, their business schools, and employers.
For example, internships introduce many students to the world of work and the necessary work habits and values that are necessary to succeed in the world of work. Moreover, they provide students the opportunity to gain valuable practical business experience and insights that might be otherwise absent from the business curriculum [e.g., Gabris & Mitchell, 1989, p. 485]. Internships also allow students to connect their practical experiences in the workplace with the theoretical constructs that they have explored in the classroom [e.g., Clark, 2003, p. 472-73; Young, Wright & Stein, 2006, p. 131]. In addition, students become more engaged in their classroom work and become better students when they are better able to understand the relevance of the theoretical models. Some studies have noted improved student classroom performance upon their return from internship experiences. [e.g., English & Koeppen, 1993; Clark, 2003, p. 473]. When properly monitored, many internships offer students significant educational benefits even when no formal effort is made to link the experience to classroom activities.
Through their professional work experience, students receive an “inside track” in finding post-college employment, which is becoming an increasingly significant factor in a depressed job market for recent, inexperienced college graduates. [e.g., Knemeyer & Murphy, 2001, p. 17; Knouse & Fontenot, 2008]. An internship, even if it is unsuccessful for the student, can help students discern career direction. Finally, although an increasing proportion of internships are unpaid in a down economy, students are often able to earn some money to help offset their educational experiences [Hall, Stiles, Kuzma & Elliott, 1995, p. 43Internship programs also provide numerous benefits for business schools and employers. For example, they can provide regular points of contact between businesses and business schools and their faculty [Maskooki, Rama & Raghunandan, 1998, p. 74]. Internship programs allow employers to
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evaluate potential employees over an extended period without any formal commitment to hire the students permanently [e.g., Knechel & Snowball, 1987, p. 800; Hall, Stiles, Kuzma & Elliott, 1995, p. 43-44;
Employers Rate Internship Programs as Most Effective Recruiting Tool, 2004]. Finally, subject to the requirements and limitations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and appropriate norms of business ethics, internship programs can serve as a source of inexpensive, educated, highly motivated labor for employers [Bell, 1994, p. 481].
These advantages have led many business schools to institute internship programs and provide academic credit for the programs [e.g., English & Koeppen, 1993, p. 292; Lipka, 2010]. However, few business schools have made internships a universal requirement. In an earlier survey of AACSB institutions, Updyke and Sander  found that of 133 respondents, 114 offered internship programs. Of those 114, only 12 required internships for all business majors, while another 16 required it for some programs.
Beard  reported comparable findings.
In its standards for accreditation, the AACSB establishes detailed standards for the acquisition and maintenance of accredited business programs. Many business schools view AACSB accreditation as representing a signal of quality to their prospective students and other stakeholders and aspire to either achieve or maintain accreditation. AACSB touts its standards as being “mission driven,” allowing for a variety of different types of educational institutions to respond to various types of missions and markets, rather than a “one size fits all” method of evaluation modeled on premier research institutions. The standards emphasize quality delivery of the institution’s stated mission, assurance of student learning, and continuous improvement—all goals which should resonate with business faculty. However, the standards
convey some relevant general mission expectations:
In general, appropriateness for higher education for management implies learning experiences and career preparation that goes well beyond skill training. It conveys an expectation of education about the context within which management careers develop, as well as capacities for direct applications of functional skills. Students should comprehend the “why” of business activity as well as the “how.” [AACSB International, Eligibility Procedures…, 2010, p. 18] Moreover, the Standards emphasize that “…students also are responsible to take an active role in their learning experiences. Passive learning should not be the sole, or primary, model for collegiate business education.” [AACSB International, Eligibility Procedures…, 2010, p. 30] As the advantages of internships cited above make clear, a well-managed internship program could integrally contribute to the achievement of these expectations.
Likewise, internship programs provide the opportunity to measure student learning in an academic program and “to assist the school and faculty members to improve programs and courses. By measuring learning, the school can evaluate its students’ success at achieving learning goals, can use the measures to plan improvement efforts, and (depending on the type of measures) can provide feedback and guidance for individual students.” [AACSB International, Eligibility Procedures…, 2010, p. 58] The AACSB standards require that schools establish programmatic learning goals, that they monitor student performance to make sure that these goals are met, and that they use these measures of achievement as a continuous improvement tool to make programmatic changes, i.e., “close the loop.” [See generally, e.g., Martell, 2007; Interview/Kathryn Martell, 2007]. The standards note that these goals could include general knowledge and skills, such as communication skills, problem-solving ability, critical thinking, etc., as well as management-specific skills, ethical and legal responsibilities, financial theories, etc. The AACSB accepts that schools may assure learning outcomes by selection (which arguably does not assure any learning at the particular institution at all), course-embedded measurement
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tools, or by stand-alone testing or performance. The standards make it clear that indirect measures of student learning, such as surveys of employers or alumni, can supplement but not supplant direct measures of learning. Although many schools seem to be using a stand-alone test, such as the Educational Testing Service (ETS) Major Field Test, to assess overall business knowledge [Kelley, Tong & Choi, 2010, p. 300], such a measurement provides virtually no information to assess many specific programmatic goals [e.g., Pritchard, Saccucci, & Potter, 2010], particularly those related to general knowledge and skills. The standards indicate that a capstone course, such as a “capstone business-strategy course” might be an appropriate place to imbed the measurement of achievement of more integrative goals. We suggest that an alternative place to assess achievement of student learning and accomplishment of programmatic goals is in an internship course, which, by definition, is tied to a student’s experience in the messiness and ambiguity of the business world. In fact, for this reason, we argue that internships provide a superior context in which to assess accomplishment of programmatic goals compared to the capstone business strategy course. Although universities are experimenting with a wide variety of educational approaches and measurement techniques [e.g., Weldy & Turnipseed, 2010, p. 268-69; Pringle & Michel, 2007], we have found no previous published reports of attempts to use internships for formal programmatic assessment for AACSB.
SURVEY DATA AND METHODOLOGY