In many fields related to specialized disciplines, students pursuing higher education will be expected to complete a practicum. While this is similar to an internship, there are defined differences. Below, we’ll explore what this requirement entails, as well as discuss how it differs from the internship experience.
Up to the Elbows
The term is defined by Merriam-Webster as a course of study that involves actually working in the area of study using the skills and understandings that have been derived from a course of education. This definition is restricted to doctors, nurses, and teachers, but there are an increasing number of professional degrees that call for such coursework.
How might this differ from an internship, which almost all undergraduate degrees now include as a part of their requirements? First, you must consider the amount of independent operation that is respectively involved. An internship experience is also a hands-on use of skills and understandings obtained during study. However, the role of a mentor is typically that of a supervisor. The student is expected to exercise independent, critical assessment and perform many of the required tasks without assistance.
During a practicum, while students participate in real-time activities in a specific field setting, they are often present as observers. Their active assistance is limited, and almost always supervised and directed closely by their mentors. Students who complete this course of study are drawing conclusions, observing the real-time application of learned materials, and applying theory derived from class time in their seminars.
Back to the Books
The purpose of this is not strictly to offer work experience within a specific field. While an internship requires students to apply techniques and concepts drawn from study in an independent, functional way, practicum-based experience allows them to solidify their grasp of theory in a practical fashion. They are then required to draw conclusions and make assessments based on their field experience, which will be reviewed by a professor or scholastic committee.
This is typically satisfied with a structured course, in which the student enrolls for the period of a quarter or semester, although the enactment of the course differs based on institution and field of study. That means that there is class time or individual review sessions with a professor associated with it. Assignments intended to guide their observations of practices will be completed. Depending on the particular degree field, papers may also be written to demonstrate a complete grasp of practically applied theories.
The expectations of the student within the workplace will vary sharply based upon the field of study. While teaching practicums may require interaction with students in small-group learning activities, those in nursing may involve little or no interaction with patients, focusing on data recording or transcription. As well, while some internships may come with a small salary, practical learning experiences are never compensated with money. They are considered entirely scholastic, and eligible for course credits.
While an internship may also be a requirement of a particular course of study, this practically based course of study is infinitely rewarding. It allows you to closely observe the enactment of methods and theories you’ve studied in the classroom. It provides space and structure in which you can correlate observations and practices with a body of learned theory, drawing your own conclusions with the careful guidance of experts. Most of all, a practicum provides a taste of work in a chosen field, which can permit you further specialize or diversify your course of study and spend more study time on specific concepts or theories.
Related Reading: What is a Work-Study Program?