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Practicum Policies & Procedures

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Course Title and Description

IS 599: Practicum (3 hrs.) Opportunity to translate theory into practice under guidance of qualified information professionals. Prerequisite: completion of required and pertinent advanced courses relevant to student's practicum design. Minimum 3.0 GPA. Written permission of advisor and approval of practicum coordinator. May be repeated with written permission. Maximum 6 hours. S/NC only. Fall, Spring, Summer.

Introduction and Rationale

The practicum is an elective curriculum option available to any student who wants field experience as a part of his or her specific program of study. It is available to those who:

  1. Meet the necessary prerequisites (in course description, above),
  2. Identify a career goal or information work area outside the scope of available courses, or 
  3. Want  to gain work experience, expand his/her knowledge base, and/or enhance a portfolio with a work product (e.g., student-created websites, system documentation, training materials, computer programs, etc).

While normally a useful and stimulating experience, the practicum should not be considered a substitute for work experience.

Each practicum is an individualized case-by-case experience, requiring approval by the student's advisor, supervising information professional, and, possibly, his/her institution. For that reason, more time and effort is required to set up a practicum than merely signing up for an existing course. This is the reason why work to develop the practicum must begin early in the term preceding that in which the student wants to do the practicum. Typically, though not exclusively, students plan practicums for their final semester. See Practicum Calendar for deadlines.

As identified by the student and his/her advisor, the practicum may emphasize a particular aspect or functional service area (e.g., cataloging, serials, reference, maps/GIS, database design, web page development, manuscript or archival processing, records appraisal, materials preservation). There are many options, of which the preceding are but a sample.

In considering a practicum experience, students are urged to identify first their long term career interests and, secondly, a practicum which supports those needs and interests. Once he understands the student’s interest, the practicum coordinator attempts to identify a practicum site that will meet the student's needs. Practicums are often done outside the Knoxville area. Students are always welcome to suggest sites for a practicum. Students in the distance-education (DE) contingent of the program should seek sites and supervisors on their own.

The practicum provides directed and supervised experience within the framework of a particular type of information organization (e.g., library, archives, information center, records management unit, internet service provider, information analysis center). In rare circumstances, the practicum may include experience in more than one information organization if (1) this is available and (2) is needed to satisfy the requirements of the student's curricular needs. Not recommended is a practicum in which there are so many goals and objectives that the student winds up with little sense of focus or accomplishment.

Explanation of Participant Terminology and Relationships

Because practicum students, their advisors, their practicum supervisors, and the practicum coordinator do not meet together in a classroom format, the discussion provided below is necessarily specific and detailed.

In addition to the student, there are four persons with roles in the practicum experience; they are:

  1. Advisor: the student's assigned advisor reviews and approves the proposed practicum as being relevant to the student's program and career interests. The advisor must also endorse the student's affective suitability as well as his/her cognitive ability for a given practicum experience. (The student should feel free to consult with others, including the practicum coordinator, about the concepts or benefits of a practicum, but the advisor submits his/her approval for the practicum objectives.)
  2. Practicum Coordinator:  Diane Kelly, Ph.D, SIS Director,  865-974-2148; (sispracticum@utk.edu) responsible for supervision of the practicum experience once the advisor and supervisor have approved the general concept and basic objectives for a given practicum. The coordinator attempts to balance interests of the student, the practicum supervisor in the host organization, and SIS.
  3. Practicum Supervisor: this is the seasoned information professional in the field who provides the educational experience and supervision which are at the heart of the practicum experience. Practicum supervisors are unpaid and are motivated to host practicum experiences from a sense of professional commitment to help students achieve professional skills and status. For the purposes of the practicum, a “qualified information professional” is broadly defined and may include archivists, museum curators/registrars, record managers, webmasters, database administrators, information technologists, museum professionals, prospect researchers, information architects, usability engineers, etc. It is not necessary, then, that a supervisor have a library-science degree, only that the supervisor operate effectively at a professional level in his/her field.
  4. The SIS Director has ultimate oversight over all activities. He/she may be consulted by the coordinator or by the student as described below and is the final arbiter of any issues needing appeal beyond the coordinator.

Credit Hours Options

Typically, a practicum experience is three hours of academic credit (150 clock hours), which translates to an average of 10 hours per week of on-site practicum activity (e.g., instruction, work, consultation, supervision, review, evaluation) for one 15-week semester during the regular academic year (i.e., fall and spring semesters). This is equivalent to a quarter-time job. As noted above, however, scheduling is somewhat flexible.

During the summer term, only 10 weeks long, the 150-hour requirement also applies, though with the practicum supervisor's consent and availability, the practicum may begin during the break between spring and summer terms.

The flexibility of the practicum affords the student a range of possible options. Under circumstances agreed to by the student's advisor and the practicum coordinator, a student may engage in:

  1. One additional 3-credit-hour practicum experience (i.e., a total of two separate three-hour practicums in two separate semesters), or
  2. Two 3-hour practicums (six credit-hours) in different areas/sites during a single semester, or
  3. One 6-hour practicum in one semester–in special circumstances.

The time format for the practicum also affords some flexibility. As needed and agreed to by the supervisor, a practicum can begin before the beginning of that term in which the student wishes to receive credit for the practicum. Also, with the supervisor’s concurrence, the student could fulfill the practicum’s clock-hour requirements for a three-hour practicum by working 8 hours per day for 18.75 workdays.

IS 591 vs. IS 599

Occasionally, there is some confusion about IS 591 and IS 599. The focus of IS 599 is on learning from and working directly with a skilled, experienced information professional; the focus of IS 591, Independent Project or Research, may be on a project or applying preexisting skills on a project with little supervision and/or instruction. The practicum experience requires a teacher and learner; 591 does not.

School Library Information Specialist Licensure

Students in the School Library Information Specialist Licensure should consult that concentration's advisor(s) and the documentation for that concentration as to practicum requirements. If done under the 599 course number, the practicum must meet the expectations of both the concentration specifically and the Policies/Procedures of IS 599 generally.

Practicum Requirements

The following requirements apply:

  1. All required courses relevant to the practicum will have been completed.
  2. The student must not be on Academic Probation during the semester prior to the beginning of the practicum.
  3. Because students cannot do practicum work identical to that for which they are paid, a student does not normally do a practicum in an information organization where he/she is employed. With consent of the practicum coordinator, however, a student may undertake a practicum in a department/unit within the organization other than the one in which he/she normally works. But this should be done only (1) when there is real need—not merely for convenience--and (2) does not violate federal or state wage and hour guidelines.
  4. A student may not take a practicum for more than three credit hours of IS 599 if employed more than 20 hours per week.
  5. It is very important that the nature and quality of the practicum experience as desired by the student and SIS (for the student) be understood in general terms by both the student and the practicum supervisor. The practicum should approximate a range of professional-level activity within the student's ability. For that reason, practicums of a "project" type are frequently discouraged as too often they are clerical-level activity that provides little by way of genuine learning. Thus, they may not be appropriate to a Masters-level practicum experience. Exceptions are made, however, in the case of project-driven environments (e.g., systems departments, library development campaigns, planning a library move, etc.) or where the project is meaningful feature of the practicum.

While every reasonable effort will be made to facilitate provision of a practicum experience for a student meeting all qualifications and following all necessary procedures, availability of a practicum cannot be guaranteed.

Expectations

It is important that each practicum be a success for the student and for the host/supervisor and for SIS. To that end, there are three major expectations of the practicum student:

  1. The student will have the learning, speaking, writing and social skills appropriate to a particular practicum environment.
  2. Demeanor and work habits during the practicum experience are consistently appropriate to the policies/rules/culture of the host institution. The student is an ambassador of the School to the professional community and should represent SIS in a positive manner.
  3. The student submits an un-graded typed report of 6-10 pages describing and evaluating the nature, progress, and value of the practicum in terms of meeting the original educational objectives endorsed prior to undertaking the practicum (see the "Practicum Procedures," below). This report provides the student's view and assessment of the perceived value of the practicum experience as it relates to his/her practicum objectives, total program of study, and future professional goals. Students should keep weekly activity logs, diaries, or similar documentation with comments to track progress toward completion of the number of clock hours for the practicum and to help prepare this report. In addition to the student’s insight about the experience, the report must reference the practicum textbook (Donald Schon. The Reflective Practitioner) as it relates to how professionals think in action. More detailed information on this part of the report is found on the Online@UT (Canvas) course site under "Practicum Textbook". Finally, students should use the discussion board on the Online@UT (Canvas) site to post observations, experiences and insights concerning their practicum that may be of interest to other students in the course. See Practicum Calendar for construction of due date for practicum report.

Practicum Procedures

The practicum is an elective. The student initiates the practicum process during the semester before the one in which the practicum will take place, through the following steps: 

  • Students should first read all of the information available on the SIS Practicum website, particularly the Policies and Procedures and the Practicum Calendar
  • The student may contact the practicum coordinator at any time during the Application process or practicum experience. It is recommended that the student contact the Coordinator early in the application process for current information about potential practicum settings in the area of interest, if the student does not already have a type of or particular setting in mind. Students are encouraged to identify potential practicum settings and establish contact with potential Supervisors. However, the Practicum Coordinator will assist the student with identifying and placing the practicum, as needed, for both Knoxville-based students and distance students.
  • The student should discuss the proposed practicum experience with his/her academic Advisor, to collectively develop a list of practicum objectives that is acceptable to the Advisor.  See Examples of Practicum Objectives
  • The student should then contact and meet with the potential Practicum Supervisor, to discuss and continue to develop the list of practicum objectives.  During this meeting, the student may also discuss the specific tasks or responsibilities that the practicum will entail. Students may also make arrangements with the Supervisor about a schedule for completing the 150 required work hours for the practicum. Scheduling is flexible, and is to be negotiated between the student and Supervisor. The exact tasks and responsibilities, and the work schedule, can be altered later as needed, with the mutual agreement of the student and Supervisor.
  • At this stage, the student should apply for the practicum using the online Practicum Application form. The approved list of practicum objectives should be included in the Practicum Application.
  • The application form will automatically send an email copy of the application contents to the Advisor, Supervisor, Coordinator, and student. The copy includes the instructions for the Advisor and Supervisor to follow, to indicate their individual responses to the application's contents, particularly the Practicum Objectives. The Advisor and Supervisor will each reply to the application email, to indicate their acceptance, conditional acceptance, or rejection of the practicum objectives as stated in the application. If the acceptance is conditional, the Advisor or Supervisor should include the desired changes in the text of the reply email. The reply emails from the Advisor and Supervisor are sent directly to the Coordinator, who will then follow up with the student. If the acceptance is conditional, the Coordinator will direct the student to make the changes, and confirm the change. If the objectives are rejected, the Coordinator will direct the student to contact the Advisor to begin the application process again.
  • If the Practicum Coordinator receives the approval of the objectives from both the Advisor and the Supervisor, the coordinator will submit the online Practicum Coordinator Approval form, which automatically notifies by email the student, the Advisor, and the Practicum Supervisor that the practicum has been approved. 
  • Once the student receives the Coordinator Approval form, the student should register for 3 units of IS 599. When the semester of the practicum begins, the student will be able to access the IS 599 Canvas course site at Online@UT .
  • The student arranges with the Supervisor the exact starting date for the practicum, and schedules the work hours during the practicum semester—subject to change as needed and mutually agreed upon. The student and supervisor negotiate the schedule based on the student's classes, supervisor's schedule, etc. By mutual agreement, the practicum can begin during a break prior to the beginning of the practicum semester.

During the course of the practicum, there are additional deadlines or actions that are required. The student is responsible for completing, or initiating others to complete, these steps:

  • The student will write and submit the student report--as discussed above--to the practicum coordinator (See Practicum Calendar for due date). Including copies of other relevant documentation, such as correspondence or deliverables (e.g., manuals developed, marketing materials designed, software documentation, URLs, etc), is also encouraged. Students should keep a chronological log of times worked and activities performed, to facilitate the report's creation.  This report is confidential as are the supervisor’s two evaluations of the student's work. The report is a reflection upon the experience, and some topics that may be included are: 

  • The original purpose of the practicum – and how well the completed practicum met that purpose.
  • How completely did the actual activities of the practicum fulfill the original objectives developed by the student, Advisor, and Supervisor? 
  • Characterize the level and the quality of the support given to the student's needs and activities by the practicum Supervisor (or other involved staff).
  • List the tasks, processes, and activities of the practicum and how much each helped you to meet your objectives or personal goals. What did you learn that was especially valuable? How will you apply it in other settings? 
  • Assess the effectiveness of communication, instruction, supervision, feedback, and evaluation you received from the supervisor.
  • Provide a sense of your overall satisfaction/dissatisfaction with the experience. Would you recommend it to other students or not, and why? 
  • The student will anonymously evaluate the role of the SIS Practicum Coordinator by submitting the online Student Feedback for SIS Practicum Coordinator form, by the end of the practicum semester. 
  • Each practicum student will have a brief discussion of his/her experience with the practicum coordinator at the practicum's mid-point. (See Practicum Calendar). This can be done in a meeting with the coordinator, by phone, or through e-mail.
  • By university regulation, only the practicum coordinator (or the faculty member of record for the practicum program) may assign and submit grades. The supervisor's recommendation is the primary determinant of the grade. Supervisors will be asked at both mid-term and at term's end (See Practicum Calendar) to provide brief evaluations using online forms  (see Mid-Point Practicum Evaluation and Final Practicum Evaluation), but the supervisor may choose to also provide the student with a direct oral assessment of the work.
  • Students, Advisors, or Supervisors who have any questions about how to proceed prior to or during the practicum, please contact the Practicum Coordinator.