4 Research component of internships and graduation projects
In higher professional education, research has a crucial role. A consensus is gradually being reached when it comes to the position and form of research. The research component within the HBO-ICT programmes is positioned and executed as practice-oriented research. This can be defined as “the methodical answering of questions which will result in the relevant knowledge for the manufacture of professional products” (Andriessen, 2014).
Practice-oriented research aims at supplying an immediate contribution to professional practice. Such a process results in useful, new knowledge for the project. This is different from the more traditional academic research. That type of research often formulates critical business issues at a higher, more abstract level.
Practice-oriented research is aimed at addressing practical issues and realisation of professional products. It is directly related to the internship or graduation project assignment. After all, we want to train professionals to be capable of working methodically and from a research-oriented perspective to make and be accountable for new relevant products for professional practice. Our goal is also to instil a methodical manner of working in our students in such a way that they no longer speak of performing practice-oriented research but instead have a thoroughly developed investigative approach. All of the higher professional education internships and graduation projects are consistent with this.
What does this mean in specific terms for the internship or graduation project?
We consider the graduation project as a live performance in which the student strives for a relevant result in professional practice by way of methodical work and an investigative approach in the form of an implementation, realisation or advisory, for which he or she can also provide argumentation. It is therefore vital that a graduation project has cause for practice-oriented research or a reason for the student to apply his her investigative approach.
Basically, this means that a graduation project should be based on a question, opportunity, a challenge or a critical issue in the practices of the company that provides the internship. That question, or the cluster of correlating questions, is of such scale and complexity that it merits that graduation project. This graduation merit is instilled, secured and monitored during the first three phases of the graduation project which involves the graduation project coordinator, the student, the company and the instructor-supervisor.
After the assignment has been registered via the Fontys website, the graduation project coordinator is up first. Besides assessing whether the assignment is of sufficient size, complexity and at the right academic level for the student, the graduation project coordinator will also assess whether the assignment gives rise to practice-oriented research within the domain of ICT (and more specifically, the student’s chosen main study programme or specialisation) which can be carried out within the company context. The graduation project coordinator assesses, in fact, whether the assignment can grow to become a full-fledged final graduation project. It’s then the student’s turn to enter into discussion with the company about the detailed content and definitive form of the assignment. This will result in drafting of a discussion form in which the student further clarifies the assignment in consultation with the company. The discussion form is then offered to the graduation project coordinator who will assess it together with an instructor who is an expert in the field and they, in turn, will provide the student with feedback. In most cases, after consultation with the company, the student will revise the form and be given approval. The student can then begin with the orientation phase of the project. In this phase, the approved assignment is developed in detail to form a project plan. This project plan is then reviewed by the student supervisor, and, if necessary, also discussed at the first visit to the company (around week 4 or 5). The research and the investigative approach that the student adopts during his/her internship is not limited to just one stage but shall cover the entire course of graduation project/internship. The student has, by this time, become familiar with this methodology because he/she has already completed a number of workshops in this area of research. For this, we utilise the research framework (Turnhout, et al., 2013) in which the following research strategies are defined:
- Workplace: Something new is being developed (a prototype, for example) to explore new ways or to validate a solution
- Field: Information is gathered from the “field” surrounding the application domain. This is usually done at the company where the research takes place. Methods applied may include interviews and surveys.
- Lab: In this strategy, an aspact of the solution is being tested. This will always involve measurements to ensure the appropriateness of the chosen solution
- Showroom: Aim of this strategy is to position your own solution against other solutions. An example is, to put your own solution next to other existing solutions and have your client decide to choose your proposed solution.
- Library: In this strategy we are looking for available work (i.e. research in literature), that can be the base for an innovative solution.