High Impact Practices in Internships

TOH Tai Chong
College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT)

Tai Chong discusses the high impact practices in student internships and how they can be readily implemented

Image coutesy of NUS Image Bank

Internships are widely recognised as one of the high impact practices in tertiary education (Kuh, 2008), that can enhance student learning through the curation of purposeful and engaging learning environments (Freudenberg et al. 2010). Within the National University of Singapore (NUS), internships are an ubiquitous feature across all faculties, and a variety of modules have been developed to suit our students’ diverse needs. These modules, such as Industrial Attachments (IA) and Work Experiences Internships have been instrumental in improving student learning and enhancing employability.

In the College of Alice & Peter Tan (CAPT), we recently introduced a new internship module, UTC2501 “Community Internship”, which provides our students with an opportunity to engage and work with registered Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) during the summer break. Operating in interdisciplinary teams and supported by supervision from an academic staff and internship supervisor, this module allows students to gain a deeper understanding of the community partner as they connect their academic knowledge to practice.

In developing this module, I came across a list of high impact practices in internships consolidated by Elon University’s Centre for Engaged Learning. The summary, along with addition of feedback given by NUS colleagues, can be found in the table below.

Table 1:

List of high impact practices in internships adapted from Elon University’s Centre for Engaged Learning, including inputs on administrative considerations from colleagues in other NUS units.

Design considerations

High-impact practices to support learning


Curriculum (C1)

Align the scope of work to module learning outcomes 

Elyer (2009); O’Neill (2012)

Curriculum (C2)

Expose students to different people and ways of thinking 

O’Neill (2012)

Curriculum (C3)

Leverage on experience to clarify students’ values, interests, personal goals and careers 

O’Neill (2012)

Curriculum (C4)

Connect internship experience to students/ undergraduate education.

O’Neill (2012)

Curriculum (C5)

Distinguish between learning goals and career development goals and include both.

O’Neill (2012)

Instructional (I1)

Provide important responsibility for students 

Elyer (2009)

Instructional (I2)

Establish students’ mentoring relationships with supervisors, faculty, and peers 

O’Neill (2012)

Instructional (I3)

Facilitate understanding of learning outcomes among students, academic staff and internship supervisor 

Elyer (2009)

Assessment (A1)

Develop assessments that are aligned to academic objectives 

Elyer (2009)

Assessment (A2)

Provide continuous monitoring and feedback on students’ work

Elyer (2009); O’Neill (2012)

Assessment (A3)

Pay attention to students’ challenges 

Elyer 2009

Assessment (A4)

Promote continuous and structured reflection before, during and after the internship

Elyer (2009); O’Neill (2012)

Administrative (Ad1)

Adhere to safety and legal obligations 

Input by NUS Centre for Future-ready Graduates

Administrative (Ad2)

Develop of clear guidance and evaluation documents 

Input by NUS Department of Social Work

How then can we translate this list of theoretical elements and put them into practice into our internships? What other best practices are needed to ensure a safe working environment for our students?

Here are some practical suggestions derived from the first run of Community Internship, which educators can consider incorporating into their internship modules.

Table 2 

Pedagogical features of the first run of Community Internship

Pedagogical features

Design considerations mapped

Guidance documents for supervisors and students to inform academic and safety requirements 

Ad1, Ad2

Provision of internship evaluation documents to supervisors and students to appreciate assessment criteria and deadlines

Ad1, Ad2

Development of internship contract to align learning goals between supervisor and students

C1, C2, C3, C4, C5, I3

Scoping meaningful projects for students that are supported by diverse work environment and/or opportunities

I1, I2

Regular meetings between supervisors and students to promote reflection and feedback

A2, A3

Include regular reflective writing as part of the assessment

A1, A2, A3, A4,

Include an academic report to consolidate learning and connect theory to practice 

A1, A4

While the theoretical elements in Table 1 can be readily operationalised, my main worry is whether the pedagogical features in Table 2 could be counterproductive, since they could pile on more workload for the supervisors and students. Fortunately, in the post-module feedback conducted for the first run of UTC2501, students perceived regular internship meetings as highly important during their internship journey, and supervisors who “valued input” and were “quick in taking in suggestions” greatly enhanced their learning experience. The students also noted that the reflective writing and academic report strongly supported their learning. Internship supervisors, on the other hand, unanimously rated full marks for the administration, support and satisfaction of module.

From the academic supervisor’s perspective, I found that the regular meetings and students’ reflective writing were crucial in ensuring my students’ safety and well-being. These features were intended to be an additional safeguard to the internship agreement prepared at the start of the internship such stints, in view of the recent spat of internship incidents. This allowed supervisors to be in regular communication regularly communicate with our students to pick up any irregularities, and this which was especially important last year, since our students were entirely working entirely from home due to the pandemic. I could fondly remember how one student mentioned in his reflective writing reflection about how he “lost track of time and the lines between work and non-work hours were blurred” and because I was meeting him fortnightly, I could intervene promptly with more frequent check-ins to guide him back on track.

Figure 1. Screenshot of student interns meeting online while working from home. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, student interns worked from home to assist the partner organisation through research, strategic analysis, drafting of business proposals, interviews and fundraising.
Figure 2. Screenshot of student interns meeting their supervisors online while working from home. To support the student interns with their learning, guest industry practitioners were also roped in to provide guidance on students’ projects.

Ultimately, the success of internships hinges on how conducive and meaningful the working environment is. The students’ reflections indicated that they appreciated the “intentional training” and “opportunities to explore”, and such an environment was not possible without the close partnership between the academic and internship supervisors, to continuously gather feedback from the students and adapt throughout the journey. Underpinning this, pedagogical features such as regularised meetings and reflective writings help to ensure a safe and inclusive workplace for our students.

Tai Chong TOH is a Senior Lecturer at the College of Alice & Peter Tan, where he is also the Associate Director of Studies and Academic Director of CAPSTONE programme. Tai Chong’s interests in education include reflective writing, Students-as-Partners, community-based learning, environmental and inter-disciplinary education.

Tai Chong can be reached at taichong.toh@nus.edu.sg .



Internships. Centre for Engaged Learning, Elon University. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/resources/internships/#impact-practices (Accessed 3 Feburary 2021)

Eyler, J. (2009). The power of experiential education. Liberal Education, 95, 24-31.

Kuh, G. D. (2008). Excerpt from high-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Association of American Colleges and Universities, 14(3), 28-29.

Freudenberg, B., Brimble, M., & Cameron, C. (2010). Where there is a WIL there is a way. Higher Education Research and Development, 29, 575-588.

O’Neill, N. (2010). Internships as a high-impact practice: Some reflections on quality. Peer Review: Emerging Trends and Key Debates in Undergraduate Education, 12, 4-8.