Internship Best Practices
Spring semester 2020 has been a stressful one for educators, students, and parents. In a CFLE Academic Program Review (APR) context, Dawn Cassidy and I know this has indeed been true for the faculty, administrators, and students working and learning within postsecondary academic programs. Many course adjustments and adaptations have had to be undertaken, including to internships and practicums. Further, there remains considerable uncertainty about the nature of academic offerings for upcoming summer, fall, and perhaps even spring semesters.
After receiving many phone calls and email messages from faculty and administrators connected to our numerous APR-approved academic programs, some policy decisions were made regarding credit/no credit or pass/fail grading for internships and practicums. Dawn and I also offered suggestions about ways students could complete their internships and practicums in meaningful ways without having to be present in-person at their sites. Each decision and suggestion aimed to keep flexibility, as well as rigor, in mind. Of course, we remained cognizant of the needs and worries of students, some of whom were nearing the graduation milestone.
As some readers may—or may not—know, June 30 was my last day in this position. Over the 9 years I have served as Liaison, I have written more than 30 columns for CFLE Network. If my memory is correct, I never wrote a column pertaining to internships and practicums, which are the focus of the last row of course listings that appear on every approved program’s official checklist of required courses. That is perhaps an oversight on my part, and thus one I aim to correct with this column.
The NCFR APR Application Process Directions and Guidelines document is a key place to turn to read about various APR related procedures, policies, requirements, expectations, and best practices. See https://www.ncfr.org/sites/default/files/2020-01/APR%20Directions%20and%20Guidelines%202020%20Final.pdf. Appendix D, found on what is now page 18 of the document, addresses these matters with regard to internships/practicums.
The first section of Appendix D deals with minimum credit hour requirements. The exact verbiage is as follows.
Field experience must be documented in a minimum of 120 hours of direct contact focusing on Family Life Education practice. This is typically met by a 3-credit course called Internship or Practicum but may also involve other courses in the curriculum
When APR Committee Reviewers and I read a program’s syllabus and/or handbook or manual for an internship or practicum, we search for such information and hope it clearly appears in a prominent location.
In the second section of Appendix D, the expectation that students pursuing the CFLE designation must engage in ample opportunities to observe, design, develop, deliver, assess, and/or evaluate some kind of Family Life Education programming is stated. The exact wording of this section is as follows:
The internship is in addition to academic preparation centering on adult education methods and program development. Thus, it is addressed as separate from Content Area #10. The internship should focus on Family Life Education and prevention rather than therapy, counseling, social work, early childhood education, etc.
When APR Committee Reviewers and I read a program’s syllabus or handbook/manual for an internship or practicum, we search for a statement of similar wording in a prominent location for students to read but also for other possible readers such as faculty supervisors and site supervisors. When everyone involved in a given internship or practicum experience fully knows and understands this expectation, it is more likely it will be abided by.
The third and last section of Appendix D speaks to the need for a syllabus or handbook/manual for the internship/practicum experience to be submitted for review by the APR Liaison and select committee members. These documents are subsequently filed away for later reference by various NCFR staff members. Required elements of an internship syllabus or handbook/manual include the following: instructor or coordinator contact information; objectives/student learning outcomes; requirements and assignments related to Family Life Education; and a list of any required and recommended readings, which have been fully and properly cited. Descriptions of and instructions for assignments and learning activities should be detailed enough that reviewers can truly get a sense of what students are to do to satisfactorily complete them. If a course calendar has been developed, it is good to also have that included in a syllabus.
As a result of reviewing numerous internship/practicum syllabi and related handbooks or manuals, APR Committee reviewers and I have observed what we believe are some best practices. One such practice is to devote ample attention to separately listing the responsibilities, duties, tasks, and expected behaviors for students, faculty supervisors, and site supervisors or mentors. It is wise to devise some means of ensuring that site supervisors are aware of what is expected of them. Considering the recent explosion in popularity and use of Zoom as a meeting tool, it could be used to host one or more orientation gatherings with small groups of site supervisors. During such an orientation, the need for students to have sufficient opportunities to undertake varying forms of Family Life Education programming can be reinforced.
Another best practice reviewers and I suggest implementing is calling for students to develop a written plan of action for their internship/practicum experience. This action plan could include goals and objectives; site-specific responsibilities, duties, and tasks; proposed FLE projects and intended outcomes; projected methods of self-assessment; and a mechanism by which it can be shown the plan has been agreed on by both the student and site supervisor. As the term unfolds, students should be encouraged to adjust and revise their plan if need be.
An extremely valuable best practice is to have students keep weekly journals or logs in which they describe and reflect on their internship, practicum, or fieldwork experiences. Although we have seen journal or log assignment instructions that do not provide students with much in the way of “prompts,” we think prompts are indeed helpful. A good prompt would be to ask students to apply and reflect on the usefulness of past coursework, especially the coursework that is connected to the APR Checklist, when writing about each week’s activities and events. Another worthy prompt would be to ask students to speak to any ethical dilemmas they saw coworkers grapple with—or that they themselves grappled with—during the preceding week.
No doubt there are other best practices for internships, practicums, and field experiences that can be identified. I encourage interested readers to initiate some dialogue related to best practices on the CFLE, APR, and/or Advancing Family Science Section discussion boards, most notably the new Online Community focused specifically on Teaching Online in an Academic Setting (https://www.ncfr.org/ncfr-discussion-groups). Among the resources I have noted in various CFLE-approved academic programs listing in internship/practicum syllabi are the three I have placed in the references. More suggestions can surely come from participants on the discussion boards mentioned above.
Baird, B. N., & Mollen, D. (2018). Internship, practicum, and field placement handbook: A guide for the helping professions (8th ed.). Routledge.
Kiser, P. M. (2016). The human services internship: Getting the most from your experience (4th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Sweitzer, H. F., & King, M. A. (2014). The successful internship: Personal, professional, and civic development in experiential learning (4th ed.). Brooks/Cole.