Using internship placements to road test threshold learning outcomes for environment and sustainability

Michael Barry Whelan, Amanda Reichelt-Brushett


In 2015 the threshold learning outcomes (TLOs) for Australian bachelor degree graduates in the discipline of Environment and Sustainability were released.  This study road tested the Environment and Sustainability TLOs in the workplace via environmental science students’ internship placement. The study, which incorporated surveys of host-supervisors, students and teaching staff, was conducted over four years. The surveys enabled comparisons between the performance expected of a new graduate by employers with the level of performance students achieved while on placement. Overall, hosts expect new graduates to be ‘Capable’ performers (2.8 on a 5 point scale). Host-supervisors also rated the overall performance of interns as ‘Capable’ (3.4/5). Expected performance of a new graduate for individual TLOs was compared with the performance of interns. Students exceeded the expectations of host-supervisors for all TLOs. In contrast, teaching staff rated the performance of students lower than students themselves and host-supervisors. Fundamental differences in the way students are assessed in the workplace and the classroom may account for the difference in perceived student performance. The results of the surveys can be used as evidence that the degree is meeting the needs of industry and for graduates to undertake professional work in the Environment and Sustainability discipline. The methodology has the potential to be used in any discipline that has published TLOs. The authors recommend that the Australian Qualifications Framework is reviewed and a rubric that describes student behaviour is used rather than vague terms such as ‘well developed’.


WIL; employability; environment and sustainability; threshold learning outcomes; graduate employer expectations.

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