Virtual internships in open and distance learning contexts: Improving access, participation, and success for underrepresented students

Butler, Diane; Reid, Kristen; Comfort, Catherine and Potter, Andrew (2023). Virtual internships in open and distance learning contexts: Improving access, participation, and success for underrepresented students. Distance Education (Early Access).

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2023.2209029

Abstract

This study at The Open University in the United Kingdom examined the effectiveness of specifying internship opportunities for underrepresented student groups in two faculties. Our data, gathered through intern focus groups and supervisor interviews, demonstrate that the virtual internship scheme has been successful from both intern and supervisor perspectives, providing flexible and supportive opportunities which help interns to develop transferable skills and confidence. The virtual internship approach therefore provides opportunities for large-scale distance learning institutions to routinely offer work experience to their students, supported by the further development of effective remote working practices. Unexpected benefits of this program emerged through the staff-student partnerships developed in university-based internships. Future research will focus on mechanisms to further improve and scale up the virtual internship program to enhance access for underrepresented students and to explore how virtuality contributes to new perspectives of employability.

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