Guidelines for Practices and Principles in the Design, Operation and Evaluation of Student Field Experiences



Experiential education means learning by experience in a professional work setting. This learning is a joint undertaking of the student, faculty advisor and work supervisor and is accomplished by their cooperative efforts. Although the primary responsibility for a given aspect of field experience may rest with the student, faculty member or work supervisor, all facets of the field experience from the initial development of learning objectives to the final evaluation are a shared responsibility.

A comprehensive plan is developed before the student begins the field work, and it consists of:

  • Defining specific learning objectives;

  • Determining work responsibilities and conditions of "employment" in the host agency;

  • Planning methods of monitoring the progress of the student;

  • Planning methods of evaluation to be used to assess the learning.

In addition to the items above, the following elements must be negotiated and included in the written agreement:

  • Whether the student is to be compensated and terms and conditions thereof;

  • Academic credit;

  • Hours, length of total field experience;

  • Outcomes, products;

  • Status of the student: legal and liability;

  • Specific responsibilities of the student, faculty advisor and work supervisor;

  • Evaluation criteria and who participates and how.

Roles and Responsibilities:

Not all of the following apply or are appropriate to every field experience situation. These guidelines cover a wide range of situations and it is assumed that they will be utilized along with a large measure of good judgement and common sense to insure that field experiences will contribute to the education of future information professionals.


Students have primary responsibility for deciding what they want to learn, investigating options for the best internship in which to learn, negotiating supervision by faculty, developing a learning plan, and documenting learning as it occurs. Specifically, the student is responsible for:

  • Defining learning objectives - The student must write clear, succinct, and measurable objectives.

  • Obtaining faculty supervision - The student must request supervision from a faculty member in the area of study related to the field work and discuss with the faculty member his/her role as faculty supervisor.

  • Selecting and interviewing for internship position - The amount and level of preparation for each application may vary.

  • Planning with the faculty and work supervisor for evaluation - Before beginning field work students should be sure to learn exactly what will be expected from the faculty for grading/evaluating the learning of the field work. Many faculty expect students to provide documentation of learning in the form of written papers, additional readings, journals, oral reports, etc. in addition to the evaluation provided by the work supervisor. Before beginning field work students should also be sure to learn exactly what will be expected from the work supervisor and how the work will be evaluated. It is essential to make sure that the faculty and supervisor expectations are complementary.

  • Registering for credit and submitting the learning agreement - It is the student's responsibility to submit a completed learning agreement (including signatures of the student, faculty supervisor, and work supervisor) and to register if appropriate.

  • Making a work contribution to the host organization - as well as gaining an educational experience.

  • Understanding that field work occurs in a variety of environments and that a variety of work norms (dress, etc.) may be appropriate.


The faculty member involved in a field experience has the ultimate responsibility for insuring that a student has fulfilled the terms of the learning agreement. The faculty member is specifically responsible for:

  • Approving the learning plan - The student submits a learning plan developed in consultation with the faculty advisor and the work supervisor. When the faculty advisor and the supervisor sign the agreement, they are agreeing that the field work is an acceptable learning experience and appropriate to the particular work environment; that the credit hours (if applicable) are appropriate; that the learning objectives are suitable and measurable; that the work expectations are clear; that the criteria for evaluation have been defined; and that meetings between student, faculty, and supervisor have been arranged.

  • Monitoring the student - The faculty member should meet with the student regularly in order to determine whether or not the student is meeting his/her learning objectives and to provide guidance to the student regarding his/her learning. A visit to the site is highly recommended, as well as periodic contact (by phone, in writing, or in person) with the agency supervisor. Each student supervised should be afforded individual attention. Faculty should not attempt to supervise more students than can be given appropriate attention.

  • Evaluating the student's performance - A shared responsibility with the work supervisor (See Evaluation Section).

Work Supervisor

Although the student is ultimately responsible for his/her own learning, the agency supervisor has the major responsibility for insuring that a "real-world" learning experience is provided for the student. The agency setting replaces the classroom as a laboratory and the supervisor acts as the coordinator of learning. The supervisor must:

  • Be one individual who has primary responsibility for the student;

  • Be a recognized information professional;

  • Have the authority to commit the organization to an agreement;

  • Understand that the student is there to learn as well as work.

The specific responsibilities of the work supervisor include:

  • Determining the role of the student - he supervisor should decide if the student is to function as a general employee with a variety of responsibilities, as a special assistant to a particular individual, as an observer to the overall operations, or as a project director concentrating on one specific task. A job description of some type should be prepared to make expectations clear.

  • Selecting the student - Whether the agency selects from a pool of applicants or when only one student applies, an agency makes the decision as to suitability of the applicant for the position. Agencies use their own application forms, resumes, transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc. in the selection process.

  • Orienting the student - The supervisor should introduce the student to the general functions of the agency, the goals of the agency, the rules and guidelines the student should follow, the method for students to follow in asking questions, and any other information a new person should know in beginning with an agency.

  • Setting the student's schedule - The supervisor should provide the intern with a regular schedule in order to provide the student with a "real-world" appreciation of time management. It is important to the student's learning that the supervisor provide some work hours during the peak production hours of an agency. Some supervisors plan extended hours over a few days, while others utilize interns a few hours every day. The schedule often needs to be developed around the student's classes.

  • Providing assignments - The supervisor is responsible for assigning projects or tasks for students, and it is important not to over- or underestimate the student's capabilities. A student will not achieve his/her learning objectives if not stimulated enough or if too much work is relegated to him/her. Demanding tasks within the realm of a student's expertise provide the student with a feeling of being important to the agency and usually stimulate a desire to do more.

  • Providing guidance and interpretation - The supervisor should have regular conferences with the student to assess the progress and to provide help in understanding the agency and his/her role in it.

  • Conferring with the student's faculty member - On campus the student will be under the supervision of a faculty member. Good communication between the agency supervisor and the faculty supervisor enhances the field program for everyone involved. The faculty can share insights into the student's academic preparation for tasks and can provide feedback on the reports and conferences required of the student. The supervisor's evaluation of the student's performance may establish the basis for the student's grade. Therefore, it is important that some form of communication with the faculty member be established early in the field experience. Supervisors should receive a copy of the learning agreement developed between the student, faculty member and the supervisor.

  • Evaluating the student's performance - A shared responsibility with the faculty advisor (see Evaluation section).

  • Determining liability - A supervisor should check with the agency's personnel department regarding insurance. If an agency has no means for covering a student, a supervisor may require that a student signs a waiver of liability and/or require the student to purchase volunteer's insurance.


There are numerous methods of evaluating a student's performance in a field experience. Any combination of the following can be utilized. In any case, all assessment techniques should be noted on the learning/work agreement before the student begins the field experience. Evaluation should be based, at least in part, on the accomplishment of the learning objectives.

  • Journal - A student may be required to keep a daily account of activities, learning accomplished, questions generated, problems solved, organizational systems learned, etc. The structure of the journal should be clearly defined before the student begins, so that the journal/log is more than a collection of unrelated facts or impressions.

  • Paper(s) - A student may be expected to write periodic reports to the faculty and/or a final paper may be used in combination with another form of evaluation. The focus of the paper(s) and criteria for acceptability should be stipulated at the beginning of the term.

  • Site Visit - A very effective evaluation technique is a visit to the agency to observe the student working. This method also affords the faculty member an opportunity to talk with the student's supervisor to determine the quality of performance.

  • Supervisor's Evaluation - Faculty can base some portion of the grade on the evaluation of the agency supervisor. The emphasis, however, should be on learning acquired rather than on performance, since the student may be rated in comparison to professionals in the agency who may have had more experience.

  • Oral Reports - uring the regular meetings with a student, a faculty member can assess learning achievement. Also, a final oral presentation may be substituted for a written paper if the faculty member feels this method will be more effective in measuring learning.

  • Reading Lists - A student may be expected to read selected journal articles or books. The faculty member should note on the learning contract which readings are required. Lists may be shared with the agency supervisor and may be prepared by the supervisor, faculty member and/or the student working together.

  • Portfolio - In some field work students produce drawings, plans, products, or written examples of their work. Faculty can evaluate a portfolio of the student's work samples for grading purposes.

  • Simulation - A method which can provide faculty with evidence of a student's learning is to give the student a hypothetical work situation and have the student either discuss how he/she would approach it or role-play a response.

  • Other - Faculty and/or supervisors may develop other methods of assessment not described above.

In addition to evaluating an individual student's performance, it is essential to obtain evaluative information from students, faculty and field supervisors about the field experience itself.

Developed by the Information Organization Heads Task Force on Internships and Field Experiences: Jane Robbins-Carter (Wisconsin-Madison); Evelyn Daniel (Syracuse); Margot McBurney (Queens University); Mary Frances Hoban (Special Libraries Association); and Timothy W. Sineath (Kentucky).

Adopted June 1983
Reaffirmed October 14, 1990