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Understanding How Co-op Students View their Learning

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


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Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Cooperative and Experiential Education Division Technical Session 1 - Skill and Competency Development through the Co-op Experience

Tagged Division

Cooperative and Experiential Education

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Paper Authors


Katherine M. Ehlert Clemson University

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Katherine M. Ehlert is a doctoral student in the Engineering and Science Education department in the College of Engineering, Computing, and Applied Sciences at Clemson University. She earned her BS in Mechanical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and her MS in Mechanical Engineering focusing on Biomechanics from Cornell University. Prior to her enrollment at Clemson, Katherine worked as a Biomedical Engineering consultant in Philadelphia, PA. Her research interests include identity development through research experiences for engineering students, student pathways to engineering degree completion, and documenting the influence of co-op experiences on academic performance.

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Marisa K. Orr Clemson University Orcid 16x16

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Marisa K. Orr is an Assistant Professor in Engineering and Science Education with a joint appointment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Clemson University. Her research interests include student persistence and pathways in engineering, gender equity, diversity, and academic policy. Dr. Orr is a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award for her research entitled, “Empowering Students to be Adaptive Decision-Makers.”

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This research paper will discuss student perspectives on learning while on co-op and suggest ways to improve co-op experiences for students. Successful outcomes of co-op, like graduating with higher GPAs, having an easier time transitioning into full-time work, or beginning with higher starting salaries have been discussed in the past, however, little is formally documented on the ways in which co-op provides these benefits. Researchers have postulated that it is through different pathways including improving technical and/or professional skills, refining their identity, increasing their self-efficacy, among others. The purpose of this embedded mixed-methods study is to document student perceptions of learning while on co-op and provide student-centered language for these learning experiences. Student perceptions of learning were documented using the Q-Methodology which systematically groups participants based on their viewpoints using an exploratory factor analysis technique. Twenty-eight students sorted a set of statements related to learning on co-op and then were interviewed to better understand their view. Participants were then grouped based on their views using the Q-Methodology technique. The interview data was used to develop descriptions of each group.

Preliminary quantitative results indicate that there are three to seven groups of students with varying and unique viewpoints related to learning on co-op. Whereas qualitatively, student views on learning were heavily influenced by one of three types of co-op experiences: manufacturing, software development, and construction management. Students within each group described their learning experiences in qualitatively different ways, stating that different types of actions lead to different learning experiences. We anticipate that the further mixed-method analysis will better differentiate manufacturing co-op students into unique subgroups therefore better aligning the quantitative and qualitative results. This process will identify student-driven language centered around learning in co-ops, which can help researchers and administrators build better instruments that measure learning on co-op or other types of work-integrated learning.

Ehlert, K. M., & Orr, M. K. (2020, June), Understanding How Co-op Students View their Learning Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35421

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