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Is co-op education a source of increased motivation for learning?
University West, Department of Engineering Science, Division of Mechanical Engineering. (LINA)
2012 (English)In: The European Conference on Educational Research, ECER 2012: 18-21 sept, 2012, Cádiz, 2012Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Many universities across the world offer a model for course delivery which combines academic study with a placement in industry. This educational model originated in the U.S., where the automobile industry wanted to ensure a supply of skilled engineers. This educational process has been described in different ways, for example in America it is known as 'cooperative education', or co-op, while in the UK it adopted the name of 'sandwich courses'.

There is a vast amount of literature which assesses the role of work practice in the development of competences and skills of future professionals, the effect it has on the transition of graduates into the work environment, how it shapes their career aspirations etc. At the same time there are studies which look into the effect of placements on students' motivation in their academic performance.  The research results demonstrate that students who have chosen a co-op model are more motivated in their studies than those students who have chosen not to go on placements [e.g. 1, 2]. The main reasons for the increased motivation of students who chose the co-op route were that their work experience provided them with evidence that the theoretical knowledge they learn at the university is relevant to their work.

Despite of the benefits that co-op model can bring into students' learning experience, the success of this model across different countries varies. For example, in Sweden the co-op model is very popular among students. However, in the UK the number of students entering this route is decreasing [3].

In this paper we address the success of the co-op model, especially in relation to students' motivation for their academic study using the co-op programme offered by the Engineering department, University West, Sweden as an example. The aim of this study is to investigate which aspects of academic knowledge students find useful for their practical placements and how their experience of applying this knowledge can be put into practice to increase to motivation for learning of the other students who choose the traditional educational route.

The main two objectives of educators are: first, to contribute to students' subject knowledge; second, to motivate students to learn. We assume that students coming into higher education have a so-called intrinsic motivation when they begin their studies although it is not always the case in practice. Our task as educators is to stimulate individuals, offer them external motivation to improve their skills and to ensure that they do not lose interest in their selected topics [4].

To achieve this goal a university teacher can build on positive students' attitudes by creating an open and imaginative atmosphere at lectures and tutorials, for example through the use of alternative teaching methods, such as problem-based learning or project-based learning.

The study was carried out at the University West in 2010/11. The students who participated in the study opted for the co-op model and the participating tutor taught a module on Solid Mechanics on both co-op and traditional routes.

MethodFor this study, a mixed-methods approach was used comprising open-ended questionnaires and observations. The students who went on placements were asked to complete a questionnaire at the end of each placement period. The questionnaire was designed to capture the students' experience during their practice focusing on the effect of the placements on their motivation in their further academic study. As part of the existing curriculum the students who went on placements had also to give a presentation to their peers at the end of each placement period where they summarised their work, the responsibilities they had, the engineering problems they were solving, and reflected on their experience. These presentations were observed by the tutor. The data from the questionnaires and presentations were later analysed for students' opinions about the opportunities that they received during their placements for deepening their academic knowledge. Based on the results of this analysis, new engineering problems adapted from the students' practice were introduced into the Solid Mechanics course delivery together with new teaching methods, such as problem-based learning and project-based learning, to achieve higher motivation in students who have not opted for a co-op model [5, 6].

Expected OutcomesThe collected data showed that the students gave very positive feedback about their practice and the analysis demonstrated that this practical experience supports and inspires further study. In their reports students suggested using new practical-based problems in relevant courses. Using real-life problems can make learning richer and more rewarding for all students.The co-op students can share their work experience with their non-co-op peers by giving presentations regarding the relevance of the academic course content to their job, the problems they were solving while on the placements, the opportunities for challenging future jobs as well as increased confidence and self-esteem. The tutor observed that problem-based learning and project-based learning based on working in groups as well as the use of the real-life problems increased motivation in non-co-op students. They became more responsible, active, and knowledge-seeking and improved their communication with peers. The tutor also observed that having a mix of students who had placements and those who did not in the groups formed a stimulating learning environment. In conclusion, suggestions were made in relation to what can be incorporated into a range of engineering programmes to increase students' motivation and enhance their engagement with the learning process.

References1. Gomez S., Lush D., and Clements M. (2004), Work Placements Enhance the Academic Performance of Bioscience Undergraduates, J. Voc. Ed. Training, V 56, 3, 363-386. 2. Duignan, J. (2003) Placement and Adding Value to the Academic Performance of Undergraduates:  J. Voc. Ed. Training, Volume 55, 3, 335-350. 3. Sandwich Courses in Higher Education (UK), A report on current provision and analysis of barriers to increasing participation, July 2011, Education for Engineering. 4. Eklann, A, Kjellen, B & Svensson, L.(2010). " Learning using case studies" (in Swedish). Studentlitteratur: Lund. 5. Sergiovanni, T. J. (1991). "The principals a reflective practice perspective" (2nd Ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon. 6. Norman G.R., Schmidt H.G. (1992)."The Psychologial Basic of Problem-Based Learning: A Review of the Evidence." Academic Medicine 67: 557-565.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2012.
National Category
Other Natural Sciences
Research subject
SOCIAL SCIENCE, Pedagogics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:hv:diva-4904OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hv-4904DiVA, id: diva2:581654
Conference
The European Conference on Educational Research, ECER 2012
Available from: 2013-01-02 Created: 2012-12-18 Last updated: 2015-03-13Bibliographically approved

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