[Versió catalana]

Gerda Van der Molen

Coordinator Practical Placements and International Affairs
Department of Media and Information Management
School of Communication and Media
Hanzehogeschool Groningen University of Professional Education


Abstract [Resum] [Resumen]

The article describes the internship program of the Media and Information Management course at the School of Communication and Media (Groningen). It pays special attention to the program's importance in developing professional, general and personal competences. The placement takes place in the third year of the course and lasts a semester. It consists of a combination of participative tasks, a specific assignment and an environment analysis. On completion of the placement, students must submit a work placement report, a specific assignment report and an evaluation report. The roles of both the placement coach and the placement supervisor are described, as are the supervision appointments.  Finally, the school's policies regarding placements, the possibilities of internships abroad and the evaluation process are analysed.

1 Introduction

Practical experience is a vital component of our Library and Information Studies programme. Students of the four-year Media and Information Management course are brought in direct contact with the professional work environment at various moments and at various levels:

This article deals with the third year internship of the Bachelors programme. For the purposes of this text, the terms internship, work placement and practical training will all refer to an out-of-the-classroom experience. These take place in libraries, information units in companies or other information agencies prior to the awarding of the degree.

The work placement has always been an important part of our educational programme. The reasons for this are two-fold. One of the reasons is that prior to the development of formal post-secondary education, a person learned to be an LIS professional through on-the-job training at the work side. The other reason is that educators in LIS programmes are themselves often practitioners before starting their teaching positions. Naturally enough they learned to value practical experience and are promoting it in LIS programmes. Besides that it is generally agreed that successfully educated professionals in the core business of connecting knowledge organisation, information retrieval, information seeking behaviour and user oriented approaches, need real life experience. Many concepts are not truly understood until students can translate them into practice. The search is on for people who are not only good at their job, but who can also fit into a team and can adjust their attitude to any particular situation or set of circumstances. To put it into theoretical terms: companies seek competent professionals. It used to be that graduates should know a lot, but nowadays they are expected to be able to doa lot as well.

Our school –as well as the other LIS schools in the Netherlands– regards a work placement as an integrated part of the LIS programme. The school retains ultimate responsibility for the placement. It addresses this responsibility by:

2 Educational concepts

The general aim of the placement is to be described as “to develop professional, general and personal competences in an external learning environment”. Competences are understood as the behaviour crucial to obtaining a successful result. Competent behaviour comprises professional, general and personal competences.

A problem-oriented approach in teaching methods is important to develop competences as mentioned in the Dublin descriptors and Lisbon strategy for developing enterprise education including coping with change (see appendix for more information about the Bologna process and Dublin descriptors). The outcome of professional education is: competent professionals who are able to exercise the required expertise as well as adapt their behaviour to the surroundings. Of course these are changing and information professionals must be proactive in improving their level of expertise on an on-going basis. Due to the great diversity in organisations, professionals have to be extremely flexible. This implies also a shift in education from a traditional institutional focus to an information centred focus.

The Bologna perspective implies a vision of education as an active process in which the students to a degree are responsible for the learning process. The teaching methodologies are in harmony with the competences to be acquired. During an internship the emphasis is on problem-oriented learning with a clear emphasis on student-centred learning. Placement is a space of autonomous learning. Outside the university, the students have the main responsibility for their learning process. It will be up to them to realize the potential of the situation and to take advantage of it. The function of supervisors is always secondary. They must ensure the basic conditions. This methodological approach insures the development of general and personal competences. The student-oriented learning will further develop self-organisation capacities, autonomy, initiative and decision-making. The adaptation to a new environment entails the development of empathy, flexibility and sensitivity for detecting needs. The particular situations favour students’ adjusting their attitudes for fitting into a work team and improving their interpersonal communication abilities. The entrepreneurial and management attitudes and skills will have a greater significance for the graduates in getting a job. The employment market seeks people who are not only good at their job, but who are also self-motivated and flexible, who know how to make decisions and to communicate them to the work team, and who are creative in their proposals. Practical training and placement should support this flexibility as well as other competences mentioned in the Dublin descriptors.

3 Aims and objectives

Placements call upon a host of competences. In connection with specific professional competences, the third year placement provides an excellent context within which to learn and develop more general, personal and interpersonal competences. What these precisely are and the extent to which they are drawn upon depends upon the placement location, the nature of the assignments and the particular aspiration of the student.

The whole set of competences for our curriculum is based on a national Dutch model laid out in a competence description profile of the Information Professional which is currently being revised jointly by LIS departments and the work field. Interviews with alumni about their present positions and competences needed in the job provided an inspiring start of the revision.

Clearly these generic competences need to be interpreted in relation to the specific settings and tasks. Students need to play an important part in the analysis of the competences they want or need to develop.

The main goals identified are:

To support reflection and learning “how-to-learn” from experience, academic assignments, including research, play an important role. Components built into the placement programme, depend on the diverse organisations. In addition to participating in the daily affairs of an organisation, specific projects can provide students with an in-depth experience which can broaden their capacity to understand the art of the information profession.

The competences that will definitely be exercised during the placement are:

4 Structure of the placement

The placement is situated in the third year and lasts a semester because:

Student-trainees are regarded as prospective employees. The placement is intended to develop along the lines of guided independence, where the trainee’s duties evolve from support tasks to fully independent work. This implies that the complete performance of the tasks of a full-fledged professional cannot generally be expected of the trainee. However, the trainee can certainly contribute to the work done within an organisation.

The placement lasts around 100 working days. The idea is to work a full working week within the organisation. In practice students will adhere to the existing company cooperative work agreement. Placements will take place in the September–January or February–June semester of the third year, depending on personal study planning and with latitude for exceptions.

5 Placement assignments

In order to give trainees the opportunity to develop professional and personal competences, the placement contains a combination of:

  1. Participative tasks at an operational and tactical level; work shadowing the daily tasks of an information professional.
  2. A somewhat more complex specific assignment, carried out according to a problem analysis methodology.
  3. An environment analysis.

5.1 Participative tasks

In light of the orientational purpose of the placement, it goes without saying that the trainee should participate in the daily affairs of the organisation or department he or she is assigned to. This provides an opportunity for the trainee to directly learn the work of an information expert. Participative activities and small assignments are also a good way of getting hands-on knowledge of the organisation or department from within.

Examples of participative tasks and small assignments are:

5.2 Specific assignment

One project within the placement is accorded special status as the specific assignment. It needs to be a more extensive and complex assignment where the student gains the opportunity to test and improve his or her problem-solving and planning skills.

The problems lying at the root of the assignment need to be analyzed according to a chosen methodology and to a level of detail appropriate to a third-year placement. It is a good way for students to prepare themselves for the systematic/methodical approach requirement that will form part of the graduation assignment.

This specific assignment will satisfy the following conditions:

Examples of appropriate specific assignments are:

5.3 Organisation and environment analysis

The programme places great importance on the trainees viewing their placements from a broad perspective. That way the students cannot limit themselves to the mere execution of participative and specific assignments but rather they need to be prepared to understand their assignment or project within a broader whole, within the totality of departmental activities and the management cycle. This more strategic view holds true for the place of the department within the whole organisation or even the place of the organisation within its sector or within society. The programme therefore requires the trainee to produce an overview that answers questions regarding the assignment’s context.

6 Report writing

Students must submit three documents to their placement coach on completion of their placement:

  1. Work placement report

    The work placement report (15 pages max., excluding appendices) contains:

    • A to-the-point description of the organisation and/or the department within which the placement was carried out, based on the ‘Organisation and environment analysis’.

    • A brief description of the participative tasks.

    The report is directed to the placement coach and placement supervisor.

  2. Specific Assignment Report

    This report (10 pages max., excluding appendices) is produced primarily for the client, usually the placement provider. This report contains an account of the method of approach, a description of findings and possible solutions and recommendations for implementation. The student should bear his target readers/users within the organisation in mind at all times in writing the report. The ‘Organisation and environment analysis’ from the work placement report also forms a part of this report. Students need to select the parts relevant to this specific project.

  3. Evaluation report

    This report (5 pages max.) contains:

    • A reflection of the placement process in relation to the student’s own competences. This reflection report culminates in an evaluation of the placement’s educational goals.

    • An evaluation of the work placement and the supervision provided by the placement coach and placement supervisor.

    The evaluation report should be submitted to the placement coach. The reflection report is included in the establishment of a new Personal Development Plan to be agreed upon with the academic counsellor.

Some other remarks are:

7 Supervision

The respective roles of the placement coach (a member of the teaching staff) and the placement supervisor (at the placement site) have been set out explicitly.

7.1 Guidance by the placement supervisor on-site

Day-to-day coaching is the responsibility of the placement supervisor. Guidelines for the coaching can be found in the ‘Instructions for placement supervisors for third year placements’ manual. Trainees are entitled to timely and regular evaluation of their work and the quality of their placement activities. The placement supervisor should therefore regularly – at least once every fortnight – discuss the progress of the placement with the student. In the first few weeks of the placement the placement supervisor and the trainee should agree on which competences to work on in particular. Their starting point should be the student’s own personal development goals with relation to the expected activities. The trainee’s personal performance should be central to the evaluations.

Midway through the placement and at its end the placement supervisor is expected to complete a ‘Third year work placement competence progress assessment form’ and discuss this with the trainee.

7.2 Guidance by the placement coach

The coach is expected mainly to supervise the on-going process. Trainees are required to agree with their coaches in advance on their placements’ specific learning goals and on the coaching and manner in which they intend to remain in touch. Trainees should be in regular contact (at least once every three weeks) with their placement coaches. Students are expected to take the initiative in maintaining contact with their coaches.

Each coach makes two visits in the course of the placement, once in its first phase and once in its final phase. Once the placement report – including the student’s specific assignment report and the placement supervisor’s completed competences progress form – has been submitted to the coach at the end of the placement, the coach and trainee should arrange an evaluation meeting.

7.3 Blackboard Course

A course is available on Blackboard to accompany the placement. Instructions and other documents can also be found there. Announcements will also be made using the course, including the programme for the Return day. Trainees can use the Discussion Board to exchange experiences, pose questions, point out interesting publications, etc. The placement coordinator and coaches should play an active role in stimulating discussions.

8 Organisation of the supervision

The internship contains a number of fixed supervision appointments:

In addition to these scheduled appointments trainees may contact their coaches or the placement coordinator at any point during their placement in order to discuss problems.

8.1 Placement preparation meetings

The student-trainee should prepare a set of learning goals, geared to the possibilities the placement can offer and based on the Personal Development Plan. These selected competences must be discussed with the placement coach.

8.2 The placement coach’s first visit

After about 4 weeks the coach will meet with the placement supervisor and the trainee. The parties can also arrange an additional meeting with the coach on an individual basis, should they so desire.

Trainees should produce an agenda for the main meetings, and write up a report on:

8.3 Return day

A return day is arranged midway through the placement. The return day is a compulsory component of the placement. Central themes for the return day are:

Attention should also be paid to the interim evaluation and the students’ personal learning goals:

The above is being supported by a copy of the ‘Third year work placement competence progress assessment’ form, with the interim assessment completed by the placement supervisor and discussed with the trainee.

8.4 The placement coach’s second visit

The second site visit takes place once the assignments are in an advanced stage of completion, usually around 2 weeks before the end of the placement. The meeting is thus also ideal for a reflective appraisal of the placement, for which the draft specific assignment report can be used as a convenient springboard.

Trainees are also responsible for this meeting’s agenda.

The most important subjects for discussion are:

8.5 Completing the placement

By the end of the placement the following will need to have been done and be in preparation in time for the coach’s visit:

9 Formal requirements

9.1 Entrance requirements

Students may commence with their placements once a number of entry requirements have been met. These are:

9.2 Assessment and resits

The assessment criteria for the placement are the extent to which the students achieve their placement objectives. These can be divided into two categories within the assessment:

The placement coach is responsible for the ultimate assessment of the placement.

Students may resit an unsatisfactory placement. In order to resit a placement a number of criteria must be met. These include a requirement that the placement coach and the placement coordinator are satisfied that the resit will be attempted with a reasonable chance of a satisfactory result being achieved. Students must agree to an effective preparation plan for the resit period at this meeting. To that end, students must prepare a detailed study plan.

10 Policy and criteria for placements

The school stimulates students to organize their practical placement themselves because it believes that self-reliance is a key skill the students should master. In addition to this, the school runs a database in which students can find placements that have been collected and approved by the school.

A number of host organisations offer a placement, recognising the added values such as:

10.1 Criteria

A practical placement should take place in approved situations. Therefore the main requirements for host institutions are:

10.2 Some practical components

A placement agreement has to be signed for every placement. The Hanzehogeschool Groningen has a standard placement contract that has to be signed by all three parties: the host company, the student-trainee and the school. A company may also use its own contract, should it wish to do so. However, the school will have to check whether there are any conflicts with the Hanze contract.

With regards to the tasks carried out under the guidance of the placement provider, trainees come under the cover of the providers’ liability insurance, called primary cover. The Hanzehogeschool Groningen takes out liability insurance on behalf of trainees. This insurance covers liability for damage done to persons and property by trainees to third parties and thus amounts to secondary cover.

Placement pay should be negotiated in consultation between the trainee and the placement provider. More and more organisations pay a decent wage. The School cannot involve itself in these negotiations. The normal stipend continues during the internship.

11 Internships abroad

Internationalization has become a permanent feature of our education. The importance of international work placements is becoming more widely recognized and our university actively encourages students to go for a placement abroad.

International placements enable students to develop specific competences which they would not have been able to acquire in any other way. An international work placement should be seen as an educational experience, an integrated part of the course. The aim for any placement for students is first, to apply in practice, knowledge acquired in study programmes and second, to enhance professional competences. This applies just as much to international as to domestic placements. The added value of an international placement lies in its international character. It is essential to combine the specific educational aims of the LIS course with the more general aims relating to internationalization. These general aims can be formulated in more concrete terms such as:

Students get the opportunity to put information needs and organisational structure in an intercultural perspective.

The success of an international placement depends very much on the preparation. In addition to preparing for the educational objectives of an internship, students also need cultural and social preparations for a stay abroad. Students have:

LIS schools can help each other to find interesting placements for students, take over (part of) the supervision and be of help in overcoming some other problematic matters. Insufficient knowledge of the institutional framework and structure of the information services can hamper the student’s work. Students will get less support from the home institution when abroad compared to students staying home. It would help to place the student in the care of a local partner school. Parallel internships would offer the student from abroad the chance to meet other students to work with and to socialize with. Over the years our school has built up a good relationship based on the exchange of students for study and internships with our partner institution in Barcelona. Dutch students get excellent supervision from staff members of the LIS department.

12 Evaluation

In addition to the evaluation of the progress of the student by the host institution and the assessment of the student’s report by a staff member to verify the quality of the work, an overall evaluation is carried out. Therefore students, host institutions and coaches evaluate on an annual basis:

This structured approach is needed to improve and maintain the added value of internships for the parties involved.

13 Conclusion

The main characteristics of the Dutch third year internship have been presented here. They include, as we have seen, the educational philosophy, an identification of goals and objectives, the nature and structure of assignments. The role of supervision and the pro-active role of the internship have been especially highlighted. Finally the institutional requirements have been mentioned briefly. The profile demonstrates the strong focus the Dutch place on the on-going enhancement of the potential of the individual student through practical experience linked to professional products and attention to reflections on processes.

Using the Dutch springboard we can conclude that internships have a positive influence on a healthy relationship between the educational institution and the LIS field. Taking the perspective of the LIS schools and of the academic staff involved in internships organisation and students surveillance, the regular contacts with libraries and information units provide useful information in identifying the professional competences required by the changes implemented in organisations, in selecting which methods, models and theories would be more suitable for facing the present challenges, and also in finding examples to illustrate concepts and categories in the classroom. Thus placements strengthen the links with the professional world and it becomes a good means to keep up-to-date and to avoid the danger of losing contact with reality. And above all it provides a meaningful experience for students in the context of a LIS programme and helps foster successful professional development for the LIS field and its institutions.


Espelt, Constança; Južnič, Primož; Molen, Gerda van der (2005) “Practice and theory: placement as part of the curriculum” En: Kajberg. Leif; Lorring, Leif, eds. European curriculum reflections on Library and Information Science education. Copenhagen: Royal School of Library and Information Science, p. 199-215.

A guide to the third year internship. Groningen: School of Communication and Media. 2006.


Dublin descriptors

The Bologna process aim is to achieve transparency in higher education programmes. The identification of first cycle programmes (Bachelors), second cycle programmes (Masters) and Doctoral studies is a step towards an over-arching qualifications framework for the European Higher Education Area.

The Dublin descriptors offer generic statements of typical expectations of achievements and abilities associated with awards that represent the end of each of a Bologna circle. The Dublin descriptors focus the concept of competences. The word competence is used in its broadest sense, allowing for gradation of abilities and skills.

The competences include:

Knowledge and understanding

Applying knowledge and understanding

Making judgements


Learning skills

Received: 24/05/2007. Accepted: 01/07/2007.