The Work Integrated and Service-learning Management System (WISL)

The NWU had in 2016 already been seeking for a system to be developed to address the implementation of an integrated solution for management of and reporting on activities within the work integrated and service-learning environment (WIL and SL).

This integrated system had as main purpose to automate and effectively manage the placement process of students with different contextual service providers as applicable to their field of study, where they are required to get hands-on practical/ work experience. Most often the WIL and SL activities of these students are evaluated by appointed mentors, also allocated or placed via the system.

Background of the request

Certain academic programmes require of students to complete a number of practical hours during the course of their studies. Often these practical hours must be completed at different service providers at different year levels in order to assist these students in their preparation for the world of work. Engaging in and being evaluated for WIL especially, must be tracked and reported on to Statutory Bodies and stand as requirement for a student to complete a qualification.

In 2019 the Faculty of Education submitted an urgent request for a WIL system, as it had already at that time become an all but impossible task to place 10000+ students for practical teaching by hand, twice annually, at different schools in different subjects and phases, across the country.

Discussions revealed that placements and/or assessments of the practical work of Nursing and Pharmacy students may also benefit from such an integrated system. Following discussions amongst role players such as the DVC TL, CTL, DVC Community Engagement, the DVC responsible for IT, the Registrar, IT development teams and faculty representatives, the need for a system was recognised, and the NWU went out on tender.

Development process and strategy

The NWU awarded the tender to Matogen and development of the WISL system started in October 2019. It was decided that the WISL system would be a cloud-based system – a first for NWU.

A project team was put together consisting of role players from:

  • the different schools or faculties who had been identified to be working with the system daily – initially people from the Faculty of Education, School of Nursing and the School of Pharmacy;
  • role players from SALA, taking care of the registration and assessment component;
  • IT looking after the development process with Matogen, and
  • Matogen being the external provider developing the system.

It was decided to follow a phased deliverance of the system.

Dr Gerhard du Plessis (Centre of Teaching and Learning) was designated to head up a project team to assist in determining the specific needs of the NWU faculties. Two consultants were appointed, Prof Mariëtte Lowes and Ms Engela van der Walt, to assist with the latter. Mr Paul Grobler as representative of the IT Business System Development, formed part of the project team.

The team consists of Dr Gerhard du Plessis (project leader), Dr Franciska Bothma (Executive Advisor to the DVC-TL), Ms Anna-Marie Bell and Mr Paul Grobler (IT Business System Development) Ms Santie Pieterse (office of Dr Du Plessis), and the two appointed consultants.
The Operational Team was tasked to determine the specific needs of the various schools and faculties in terms of the WISL system, which assisted the development team in defining design requirements for the WISL system. The immediate needs of the Faculty of Education were dealt with first, with representation from the School of Nursing, School of Pharmacy and the Faculty of Engineering to keep an eye on developments and to make known their specific needs. On completion of this phase, the consultants followed through with similar investigations in other faculties and schools. The progress has been remarkable, and the demonstrations offered to showcase the WISL system have been applauded for its functional design and the professional appearance and usability.

Progress already made

  • For the Faculty of Education:
    Placement of students, mentor travel plans, as well as communication with schools, students and lecturers were previously done by hand by staff of the WIL offices. The WISL system now makes it possible for a student to register for placement at a school of choice while the system accounts for capacities at schools and number of openings in subjects per education phase. The mentors that must travel to evaluate students, can also be placed through the system. The mentor (lecturer) can even see the days or period planning on the mobile screen of the WISL app. Communication of placements can also be done through the system. The WISL system is seen as pioneering work for the NWU going forward with systems development and integration.
  • For the Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Nursing:
    WIL is an integral part of the Bachelor of Nursing programme. This programme is regulated by the South African Nursing Council (SANC). SANC prescribes the number of WIL hours student nurses must have in accredited clinical facilities during the course of their study, to qualify as a registered professional nurse.
    Two lecturers, Ms Theresa du Toit and Ms Ansie du Plooy are contributing to the development and testing of the Nursing student application of the program. Great progress has been made to adapt the WISL system to Nursing WIL requirements and specifications. The system was tested recently on the part that has been completed and the School of Nursing Science is very excited to see the progress. The contribution this system will make to improving the capturing of the WIL hours of the nursing students on the NWU campuses, has already been acknowledged.
  • For the Faculty of Health Sciences, School of Pharmacy:
    Workplace learning of 400 hours are compulsory for all pharmacy students according to the South African Pharmacy Council. The School of Pharmacy had until recently utilized a paper-based system in order to manage the hours worked and consider it poignant to be part of the development of the new electronic and integrated WISL program. The School of Pharmacy is part of the development team of the WISL program since the inception thereof. Two lecturers, Mr Willem Basson and Mr Henrico Heystek are contributing to the development and testing of the Pharmacy student application of the program, even during the lockdown period.

In a short space of time and with many challenges the team endured, focused on what needed to be achieved, knowing that this system will unfold and serve participating faculties with WIL or SL modules in the long run.