How can we best activate the thinking that reshapes what we are doing while we are doing it? This is the question posed by David Williamson Shaffer (educational psychologist and game scientist).

Shaffer advocates for the strategic use of role plays (epistemic games)  – a.k.a. virtual internships – to improve student skills, confidence, identity, and practitioner competence.

Virtual Internships are web-based simulations that help students learn to think like scientists, scholars, artists, and workers in the real world do. They simulate not only the content that students are supposed to learn but also the ways of thinking—the epistemologies—that some groups of people use to solve problems.
Games And Professional Simulations

In part, this solution is a response to the scarcity of real-world experiences available prior to graduation. When these are available, however, there is no guarantee that authentic workplaces will be fruitful learning environments – with feedback and mentoring.

The Virtual Internship framework presented by Shaffer and co works to normalise and habitualise “reflection–in–action” – rather than expect students to step out of the moment to internally reflect – or worse, wait till a mentor prompts this metacognition!

How To

Shaffer provides the following prompts to create your own virtual internship (see table below).

The examples here (see table below) were inspired by a conversation I had with the incredible Claire Layfield about Speech Pathology practitioners and clinicians education:

Prompt Example
What do you want students to be able to do? e.g. practitioner / clinician in x field
What problem do you want students to be able to solve? e.g. understand x concept, link to diagnosis, create a treatment or care plan, communicate with multiple stakeholders (colleague, parent / partner, patient / client, science journalist / media, employers, educators or care givers, etc.)
What task(s) do you want them to be able to accomplish? e.g. use x equipment, interpret results, and create a customised treatment plan
What group of people in the world do this? If there are multiple groups, pick one.
Identify from who’s perspective.
What is one concrete problem students could solve (or things they could answer) that your chosen group of people would do?

What are the steps people in that group would take to accomplish this?

Make a flowchart of the ‘rooms’ (i.e. steps) in your virtual internship.


  1. Appraise referral from GP / teacher
  2. Compose follow-up questions, identify scans/tests, formulate possible hypotheses
  3. Update patient history
  4. Consultation: how to do x, y, and z with a, b, c
  5. Draw conclusion from results and recommend treatment / care plan
  6. Translate care plan for multiple stakeholders, forecast anticipated questions, support and resources
  7. Inform patient/client, parents/partners, health care professionals / educators
What will you call this virtual internship? e.g. Brainspeak Clinic


Learn more about the Virtual Internship Authoring tool and see examples from Engineering and Urban Planning:

(i) Nephrotex (Engineering)

Virtual internships help students to learn by simulating authentic, realistic problems in an environment that combines instruction, learning, and assessment.
Virtual Internships
National Science Foundation & University of Wisconsin–Madison

(ii) Land Science (Urban Planning)

Posted by Beverley Miles

Beverley is a Senior Learning Designer in the Academy of Continuing Professional Development in Education, Faculty of Arts. She is the founder of the Macquarie Undergraduate Research Internship (MURI), co-director of the Telemachus Ancient History Mentor Program (Tele's Angels), and member of the Archaeology of Death and Burial TV team led by A/Prof Ronika Power – bringing digital multimodal text types to assessment with Adobe Education.

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