How does the placement system work?

Who can undertake an academic placement?

Any student who is undertaking a Part 2 or Part 3 module in the Department of English Literature (this would usually be students in the second or third year of their degree). Those students taking time to study abroad are still eligible for an academic placement opportunity. Each student can take two academic placements whilst studying with us; students on the Communications at Work module can undertake three academic placements.

Is there a 'placement module'?

No. An academic placement is undertaken as part of a regular module which has already been chosen by the student. The module is studied in exactly the same way for placement students as for those not undertaking a placement except that a placement is also undertaken and the placement report is substituted for one part of the assessment for the module (usually the assessed essay).

How long is a placement?

A placement is usually two weeks long, but we are flexible in our approach to this. Students sometimes undertake placements which comprise one evening a week over a term, or several weekends. We have also had success in the past with students who undertake a week in each of two separate organisations.

Do students get paid?

Academic placements are not paid work, but there is no reason why students should not use their paid employment as the whole or part of an academic placement. If a student were working (part time or in a vacation) in an organisation the activities of which might suit the learning on a module, we would be happy to support an academic placement as part of this paid work. For those students undertaking an unpaid placement, we have noticed over the years that sometimes organisations will pay travel expenses and/or thank the student with book tokens and such like.

What type of things do students actually do on placement?

There are, in essence, three types of academic placement:

A shadowing placement, where a student would observe the activities of a professional and write a report on what has been observed and learnt as a result.

A participation placement, where a student carries out day to day activities and then reports on the learning which has resulted from this.

A project placement, where a student takes on a distinct, small project (or one part of a larger project) and reports on the project, whilst also reflecting on what has been learnt.

A shadowing placement, for example, might appeal to a student studying on a drama module. By observing how a director/theatre company puts together a performance, the student would learn much about the transfer of a work of literature from page to stage.

Viewing a charity in action by shadowing key staff might offer a valuable learning experience to a student with an interest in literacy and its impact on gender, or the impact of literature on individuals and/or society.

A participation placement, for example, might be of interest to a student on a module with a particularly strong socio-historical bias. Working alongside museum curators to prepare an exhibition would give a good insight into how history, and its relevance to literature, is portrayed for public consumption.

Helping in a classroom situation would offer the chance to see literature in a different way. Working with a publisher could help a student to gain a better grasp of literature in wider society.

Each project placement is unique. A student works with an organisation to investigate an aspect of its work. This has historically been the most popular type of placement as it allows a student to work with the module convenor, the department's placement tutor and an organisation to craft a project which is of interest to the student and of value to the organisation.

This type of placement can require a high level of support in the planning stages; our department prides itself on its ability to offer this type of support and creative thinking in finding just the right placement for each student.

Do students find their own placements?

We recognise that, whilst an academic placement is an exciting opportunity, it can also be rather daunting. The department does not simply provide placements: we believe that creating the right placement for a module is an important part of the learning process. However, we do everything we can to ensure that our students succeed in this endeavour, including regular drop-in sessions and one-to-one mentoring.

How does the timing work?

The timing is relatively simple. The academic placement will usually, but not necessarily, take place after the learning on the module. It must be approved by the convenor of the module by Week Five of the term in which the module is taught. All academic placements must always be approved by the module convenor, although this process is usually a formality because the module convenor and placement tutor will have been instrumental in helping to form and source the placement.

What about assessment?

On modules where there is an assessed essay and examination, the placement report would usually take the place of the assessed essay. Each module has been considered in the light of both assessment forms and their relative weighting to ensure that all students on the module are treated fairly.

One reason why some students feel an academic placement is beneficial is that it spreads the workload of their learning year. The placement report is not submitted until the second week of the Summer Term. Especially for those Autumn Term modules which carry a heavy reading requirement, an academic placement can help balance the workload.

How does this fit into the learning on a module?

Any academic placement must feed into the learning on the module. This gives our students a structure within which to frame their placement without being too restricted. It also results in the learning outcomes of students on modules being broadly similar but with placements students having a wider remit in some facets of the module. It is because of this academic element to our placements that we have a placement tutor in the department to guide students towards their ideal placement, and module convenors who are prepared to work with students to ensure that each placement enhances the learning on a module.

How does this fit into an English Degree programme?

A degree programme can be enlivened by an academic placement. Although the learning within the lecture theatres and seminar rooms will be the same, placement students have the chance to carry out an independent project away from the university. The placement report, like the dissertation, represents independent research and is something of which any student would be proud. Additionally, it offers a 'talking point' at a job interview.

However, an academic placement is also challenging. For some students the idea of working away from the university does not appeal at all. It is for this reason that no student is required to undertake a placement as part of their degree.

How does the 'Communications at Work' module fit into the system?

'Communications at Work' is an optional module in the English Department which is open to students in their second year. On the module we consider different aspects of communication, such as:

Language and its use in different academic, artistic and commercial settings.

Semiotics and the creation of meanings.

Print and broadcast media.

Publishing and its impact.

The effect of technology and other variables on language and communication.

Marketing and its reliance upon effective forms of communication.

An academic placement is an integral part of this module; however, students are not precluded from undertaking an academic placement linked to another module simply because they are Communications at Work students.

'Communications at Work' has been running for many years and it is our experience with this module that has built up our departmental expertise in this area and allowed us to move forward with confidence as we continue to pursue an even wider range of academic placements, used in ever more interesting ways.

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