Summer break is almost upon us, but how can we encourage students to continue using the skills, methodologies, and critical frameworks they have learned throughout the school year? Internships are a key solution to this question, in addition to being valuable assets to students’ professionalization and preparation for entering the workforce.
Yet, not all internships are created equal. News media and educational magazines alike are rife with horror stories of unpaid internships that equate to little more than exploitation and glorified slave labor, all under the guise of gaining course credits and networking opportunities. This has never been more true than in the media, communications, and journalism fields—areas of specialty that often highlight the value of mentoring and apprenticeship.
These days it seems that every small company or radio station is hiring “social media” or “production assistant” interns whose chief responsibility is to fetch coffee—or, equally as frightening, they are offering internships that will plunge students into the deep end, making them solely responsible for a company’s social media and blogging platforms without guidance, supervision, or communication of broader strategy. Both ends of the spectrum can be damaging to students, prompting confusion and burn out.
Admittedly, a certain amount of grunt work is par for the course with most internships. Many employers will argue that menial or repetitive tasks are an essential element to professionalizing young workers, building “grit” while also teaching them the value of hard work. There is some merit to this “wax on, wax off,” Mr. Miyagi-esque philosophy, but for students to gain true value from their experience, their internships must also engage their higher faculties while building real world job skills.
To help educators advise students who are applying to digital media internships, we’ve outlined three essential rules and criteria that will highlight the potential educational and professional value of each position they consider.
1. It needs to keep your student’s critical thinking skills fresh and build upon knowledge gained throughout the school year.
From an educator’s perspective, one of the biggest advantages of students taking summer internships is the opportunity to keep students mentally active and engaged with their studies, even when away from the classroom. All too easily, students can fall into the idleness of summer doldrums while their hard-earned knowledge and skills lay dormant for months at a time. This idleness is felt equally by educators and students alike as it can take weeks for students to settle back into the rhythm of regular critical inquiry while meeting project and assignment deadlines.
More than just keeping their knowledge “fresh,” summer internships also provide students focusing on fields in media with important opportunities to put what they’ve learned in their courses into practice. While classrooms are ideal for introducing students to digital tools and strategic frameworks, internships give students the perfect chance to hone their skills with editing software or to implement strategy, allowing them to reap the gains of their knowledge in a real and tangible way.
2. It ought to widen their perspectives and expose them to new ideas and digital tools.
Good internships should always be “value added” for students, whether this means learning important professionalization skillsets—such as reporting in team meetings or branching out during networking events—or training in new tools and resources. Internships without these vital learning opportunities become purely transactional, paying students in credit hours for tasks or chores that do little to further advance their careers.
These new ideas and tools will also ultimately inform their future studies as they bring their experiences back with them to the classroom. One of the of the chief concerns of many educators is the frequent naivety and complacency exhibited by their students—a trait not all that surprising considering the youth and average age of most college students. Internships hold the potential to challenge students’ world view, broadening their understanding of their field while also challenging any preconceived notions they might hold. This can be especially important in communications and journalism, which depend on students’ ability to perceive and filter the world around them before synthesizing key insights for their projects. In turn, students will bring these new perspectives with them when classes begin, influencing their own work and—hopefully—also enhancing discourse in the classroom.
3. It should spark their curiosity to learn more while building confidence in their existing knowledge and media skillsets.
As easily as internships can burn students out in their area of study, they can also kindle an even deeper passion for the field. With hands on knowledge and the chance to implement skillsets or methodologies that remained only theoretical in the classroom, students will often uncover their own enthusiasm for their future careers. The experiences students gain while working in their internships—from editing digital business promos to covering local news beats—can engender new questions or paths for inquiry.
Perhaps even more importantly, internships also help students build confidence in what they have already learned. Current cynicism regarding Millennial generational stereotypes and their need for “participation trophies” aside, it is essential for students to develop confidence in their fields’ core competencies. In digital media fields this is particularly true as students are also often walking the journeyman’s path towards a mastery of a particular creative craft or medium.
To learn more about the how educators can use media resources to enhance digital literacy and prepare their students for the future, download our 2016 State of Digital Media in Higher Education Report.
To learn more about bringing premium media resources to your classroom or campus, please visit U-Curate.com or Download the U-Curate Product Overview.