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Learning on Co-op

Posted on January 11, 2021
This Is Co-op

During our 2020 pandemic spring and summer, I had the pleasure of working with a phenomenal Drexel research co-op, Liz Rosa. Liz worked with me on a number of projects related to learning more about—well, learning on co-op. And there was much to explore.

My interest in this larger topic blossomed in 2019 when I was awarded a Fulbright to Cape Peninsula University of Technology working with colleagues who see co-op partly as a tool for social justice in post-apartheid South Africa. Internationally, what we call co-op, or cooperative education, goes by the broader name of work-integrated learning. In some places, this looks like our six-month co-op; in others, students work a shorter period, or are in class part of the week and at work part of the week.

Liz and I had a lot to explore together about best practices internationally for learning on the job as well as some concrete questions to answer about Drexel student experiences on co-op. After Liz had done a literature review of best practices for integrating learning on the job with learning in the classroom, she researched the reflective practice that I had asked her to employ each day. I knew from decades working with reflective practice how useful it is to help to cement and help transfer learning between situations (for instance, if you learn how to measure in math class but can’t transfer this skill to measuring your table to see if it will fit through the door, you haven’t transferred the skill). Our research showed that the largest common denominator in successful work-learning practices internationally is the use of intentional reflection.

So while Liz used a social science coding tool to analyze what employers said Drexel students did well and poorly in the spring of 2019 (we cohorted results by gender, college, international status, and co-op cycle and will compare pre-COVID spring 2019 to COVID spring 2020 to see if the switch to remote work changed what skills employers valued), she was also reflecting on her work each day. Here is what Liz had to say about that experience: “I question if I would have learned as much without it. My structured reflections forced me to think about what I had learned each day. I never wanted to leave this blank so I often spent time thinking on it and realized that I really was learning all the time, even when I was doing seemingly the same task over and over.”

Liz presented her research about the use of reflective practice and our work analyzing the skills that employers value at the 2020 College of Arts and Sciences research day. She sees her research co-op and the freedom she had to create her own work schedule and figure out how to answer questions as they arose as important to her future goal of obtaining a Ph.D. in psychology.

Fun fact: I've found more time to hike in this crazy 2020 life.

Dr. Karen Nulton

Teaching Professor, Director of Writing Assessment

Fun Fact: I am a cheerleader for Drexel and enjoy singing.

Liz Rosa

BS/MS Psychology Student