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Experiential Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic


As the situation with COVID-19 continues to change, the CSU and Cal Poly are adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic while trying to keep the education and health of our students at the forefront of our planning. Student internships and other forms of experiential learning (e.g., student teaching, clinicals, practicums, service learning, field placements, etc.) are an important component of Learn by Doing, yet they can also put students at risk of contracting the virus.

Cal Poly already has an existing policy for credit-bearing internships. This policy requires the signed Release of Liability and a learning agreement, as well as the signed Internship Site Self-Assessment and Student Acknowledgement of Risks (one form). In addition, mandatory procedures were instituted in Spring 2020 during the stay-at-home order. These procedures required an additional memo justifying the internship by addressing a set of guiding questions.



The CSU has instituted a new policy for on-site, credit-bearing forms of experiential learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The basic principles of the CSU policy are incorporated into the following new guidelines for Cal Poly:

  1. Students enrolled in experiential learning programs should be given a virtual option. If possible, such programs should be performed in a sheltered place under the remote supervision of a professional or disciplinary expert.
  2. Students who choose to participate in on-site experiential learning programs must receive COVID-19 safety training as part of their orientation and prior to participation. This training will be provided by Cal Poly in the form of an online course that is available in Skillsoft. The training is available here.
  3. As a part of their required paperwork, students must submit a PDF of their Learning Transcript page, which can be accessed on the Skillsoft site by pulling down the My Profile menu and clicking on Learning History.
  4. Students engaged in on-site experiential learning must sign an acknowledgement that they have been informed of and that they understand the risks to their own health presented by COVID-19. Such students will also continue to sign the Release of Liability agreement, in addition to other forms listed below.
  5. If a student will be receiving a higher-risk placement, please consult with Cal Poly's Risk Management Office regarding the need for obtaining a COVID-19-specific waiver from the student. A higher-risk placement is defined as one in which it is known that a student will be working or coming into contact with individuals who are known to have been infected with COVID-19.
  6. Guidelines issued by public health agencies as well as federal, state, and local governments must be followed. These guidelines may change as the pandemic develops.
  7. All required paperwork must be completed and signed by the student, the site representative, and the on-campus internship coordinator. It should then be submitted at least seven days before the student begins the experience, or no later than the add/drop date.
  8. In addition, all other requirements of Cal Poly’s existing policies on internships and other forms of experiential learning must be met.

As a reminder, these guidelines only apply to on-site, credit-bearing forms of experiential learning; they do not apply if the experience is entirely virtual and/or it is not being completed for academic credit.

Note: International students may not begin paid or unpaid off-campus employment without work authorization. F-1 visa students must have Curricular Practical Training (CPT) authorized by an International Student Advisor prior to the start date of an internship. Information about how to qualify and apply for CPT can be found on the International Center’s CPT webpage. Questions about CPT can be directed to



The required paperwork for each student will consist of the following:

  1. A pdf of the Skillsoft Learning Transcript page verifying that the student has completed the required COVID-19 safety training.
  2. The Release of Liability, signed by the student. In the case of a higher-risk placement, the student will sign a COVID-19-specific waiver.
  3. The Site Self-Assessment and Student Acknowledgement of Risks, signed by the student, the site representative, and the on-campus internship coordinator.
  4. The COVID-19 Health and Safety Guidelines, signed by the student.
  5. The COVID-19 Experiential Learning Questionnaire, answered and signed by the student and on-campus internship coordinator.
  6. Any other paperwork otherwise required for the specific experience, e.g., an internship learning agreement as prepared by the college or department for all internships, or an affiliation agreement for certain types of field work.

For a link to forms outlined above (e.g., steps 2, 3, 4, and 5), click here. It is important that all old forms should be discarded as only the newest versions will be accepted.



Since the goal of this policy is to make the process clear, concise, and streamlined, each department and college is asked to follow these procedures:

  1. The student, the site representative, and the on-campus internship coordinator will complete the required paperwork.
  2. The completed paperwork will be sent to the appropriate department staff, who will verify that nothing is missing before the student is allowed to enroll in the appropriate course.
  3. The paperwork will then be forwarded as a single PDF per student to the appropriate college staff, who will upload the student packets into the APP OneDrive folder designated for the college, and then notify Academic Programs and Planning staff that the documents have been uploaded.
  4. Academic Programs and Planning staff will review the documents for completeness, and then distribute them for review to the Risk Management Office and the appropriate college associate dean.

In the case of an on-site, credit-bearing experience that is taking place in a location subject to a stay-at-home order, the question remains as to whether a student can ever be considered an essential critical infrastructure worker and thus exempt from the order. While completing such an experience to satisfy a graduation requirement would not make the student an essential worker, it is possible that the student would be supporting the activity of a professional who is considered an essential worker (see Essential Workforce). The experience might thus be considered to be taking place at a critical worksite and the student an essential worker.


Source: "California State University Experiential Learning during the COVID-19 pandemic" (CSU website). 31 July 2020.


last updated December 14, 2020

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