Live collaborations with companies can be as exciting as they are daunting for students and faculty, especially if it’s your first time using this type of learning format. If you’re a student or faculty working with a third-party host company through an experiential learning engagement, congratulations! This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for students to foster new connections and gain valuable work experience while still receiving the support from friends, colleagues, and teachers in the academic environment. These types of projects will provide perspectives on teamwork, collaboration, technical business areas, and project management, which are all “real-world” 21st century professional skills that will remain with students throughout their careers.
Whether you are a faculty member facilitating the learning engagement or a student just starting your project, keep in mind these top four tips for preparing students for any project-based experiential learning engagement with a live host company partner.
Start by fostering the right attitude and motivation. This is no ordinary school project! An experiential learning engagement is a fantastic opportunity for students to gain professional experience and exposure to real business decision-makers. These companies are as interested in learning from students as students are in learning from them. There may be a lot of work ahead, but students should be excited about the benefits of an experiential learning engagement, including:
- The host company is staffed with well-accomplished folks who are great mentors and could be incredible professional references in the future.
- A project-based learning engagement is something students can talk about in the future on job interviews.
- This is an opportunity to “test drive” an industry, company, role, or type of career.
- Some students who undertake learning engagements with host companies go on to work for these companies as interns or full-time employees in the future.
The sky’s the limit, so get excited to see how your experiential learning engagement can positively impact everyone on your team!
An experiential learning engagement is much different from a normal class where final results are graded and thrown in a drawer or the garbage after the semester is over. These are “live ammunition” projects that deal with real challenges and real stakeholders, expecting real outcomes. Real business leaders are offering their time to provide students with a meaningful, hands-on learning experience. Their organization stands to benefit from student insights developed throughout the semester. Host companies are engaged because they want to help students learn and they’re expecting valuable outcomes in return for their time and mentorship. With great power comes great responsibility. Students must take the project seriously and understand key expectations from the beginning, such as:
- Maintain professional conduct at all times.
- Adhere to any rules established by the project charter, especially confidentiality.
- Ensure all work is thorough and deliverables are submitted on-time.
- Follow established communication cadence when interacting with the host company (for example, use of channels like Slack, email, or video calls, and frequency of communication).
- Understand not only the host company’s expectations, but also the grading rubric. These learning engagements are typically facilitated by faculty members after all!
Class expectations should be laid out in the syllabus, while project-specific expectations should be established with the company directly and/or through official documents like the formal Project Charter and Rules of Engagement. Students should have access to both of these documents throughout the learning engagement.
THINK LIKE A PROFESSIONAL
A classroom setting tends to be less formal than a business setting. Students should adjust their mindset when working with a host company and exhibit levels of professionalism they have not needed previously for traditional-style classes. When working on a learning engagement, students should follow these commandments of professional conduct:
- Ask a lot of great questions! This is designed to be a learning experience for students. The more engaged and inquisitive you are, the better.
- Work as a team and try to operate as lean and seamless as possible.
- Communicate regularly as a team to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
- Use team collaboration time wisely and prepare for all meetings in advance.
- Ensure teammates understand their role and the allocation of responsibilities within the group.
- Use technology tools that ensure the best outcomes for your group and the host company.
- Remember that all interactions are expected to be professional in nature (both internal and external).
- Be respectful of time and access to mentors.
- Be appropriately dressed and ready for meetings (whether live or remote engagements).
- Be on time, stay engaged, and have fun!
Faculty members and company mentors should ideally be as open as possible with feedback and inform students when they’re slacking in certain areas. These learning engagements are designed to feel as if there are “training wheels” on so students can learn and grow as they prepare for higher-stakes jobs upon graduation.
ESTABLISH MILESTONES & DELIVERABLES
In the professional world, the process is just as important as the final deliverables. As such, these project-based learning engagements will most likely culminate in a final report and/or presentation to representatives from the host company. Students must keep an eye on the overarching project goals and final deliverables throughout the whole project duration in order to ensure they’re on-task to deliver valuable outcomes. Students should remember:
- It helps to break down the larger deliverables into smaller tasks and milestones in order to stay on track.
- Mentors and faculty members should be updated with student progress at various intervals, even if the progress is underwhelming.
- Every deliverable counts. Iterative milestones help avoid procrastination; they are there to help, not hinder!
- Ensure final deliverables are at the highest level of quality possible, they look visually appealing, and they don’t contain any spelling or grammatical errors.
Most importantly, students should be proud of their work at the end. Since these company representatives could be crucial professional references in the future, it always helps to go the extra mile!
Whether this is the first time you or your class has partnered with a host company or you’ve been down this road before, preparing in advance and adjusting expectations along the way are great tactics that can help lead to successful experiential learning engagements.
If you have questions or would like more information about preparing students for success in project-based experiential learning engagements, please feel free to reach out to the CapSource team!