Expectations must be clear in university student volunteering

September 28, 2015

Murdoch University student volunteers (from left to right) Katie Mclellan, Devan Purdie, Brian Ho, Joanne Wong, Chantal Ng, Nicole Donovan, Victoria Doll, Emma Nicoletti and Anna Harbach

The Volunteering to Learn project has resulted in the production of a number of Good Practice Guides for those engaged in volunteering

The volunteering experience for university students and the organisations they help can be improved if expectations are clear before the volunteer activity begins, a Murdoch University-led study has found.

The Volunteering To Learn project, led by Dr Megan Paull from the School of Management and Governance, discovered the best outcomes resulted from good communications at the beginning of any volunteer activity.

“When a student and an organisation are matched, there needs to be a clear understanding by all stakeholders of what the student will be expected to do and for how long,” said Dr Paull who guided a team of researchers from Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, The University of Western Australia and Macquarie University in the two year project.

“From a student’s point of view, their volunteering experience is often motivated by the desire to develop skills or enhance their CV and can only be for a certain period of time because of the various demands placed on their schedules. Disappointment can be avoided if the expectations of organisations, which are often looking to inject a youthful perspective into their volunteer workforce, can be managed and facilitated by the university organisations arranging activities.

“This often results in students having a great volunteering and learning experience which they are more likely to return to at a later date. The host organisation gets the benefit of an engaged student for the period of their volunteering.”

Dr Paull’s study was funded by a $250,000 grant from the Federal Government’s Office for Learning and Teaching and was partnered and supported by Volunteering Western Australia and Volunteering Australia.

It has produced a number of Good Practice Guides for all stakeholders involved in university student volunteering, including students, host organisations, potential employers and university staff. These are all available to download from the project website – http://www.murdoch.edu.au/projects/volunteeringtolearn/.

Dr Paull’s team have also produced Concept Guides on Learning from Volunteering and on the terminology associated with university student volunteering.

“As well as clarifying expectations, learning on volunteer placements can be enhanced by having organised volunteering activities, improving student choice of volunteering experiences and by host organisations providing feedback to students,” said Dr Paull.

“If students can be supported to reflect on what they are doing and why, then the learning experience for them is likely to be more worthwhile.”

The project identified eight different models of student volunteering, including student-driven programs, faculty-based programs linked to specific disciplines and centrally-administered programs with no input from students.

The guides were based on data collected from interviews with key stakeholders from within the volunteer sector as well as in universities. The project team refined the guides at a number of roadshow workshops across Australia earlier this year.

Volunteering Australia CEO, Brett Williamson OAM, said the project’s research findings and resources would assist universities, students and host organisations to work together to enable successful outcomes for all parties and should result in more university students volunteering.

“Volunteering Australia commends the Volunteering to Learn project for helping to engage young people in meaningful volunteer work, a key priority for the volunteering sector.”

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