A Systems Approach to Examining Co-operative Education: A Case Study
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Co-operative education (co-op) is a model of learning where students alternate between academic and work terms. Co-op offers potential benefits for three key stakeholder groups: students, employers and academic institutions. While the literature reveals a number of outcomes of co-op for each of the stakeholder groups, it has not examined how outcomes for multiple stakeholders are achieved simultaneously. That is, can students’ and employers’ goals for participation be balanced in such a way that they both benefit, and if so, how? This research was based primarily on two theoretical contributions: Ashby’s Law of Requisite Variety (1957) and Katz and Kahn’s role-taking model (1978). The goal of this research was to examine the two key phases of co-op, the recruitment phase and the work term phase, to understand how variety is managed by students, employers and academic institutions. A mixed methods case study approach was used to examine a co-op system in depth using both qualitative and quantitative analysis. Data was captured from multiple sources and analyzed using thematic analysis as well as statistical techniques to understand how the objectives and actions of each of the stakeholder groups affected the others. The findings revealed numerous ways that variety is managed in the co-op system. In the recruitment phase, variety was reduced for students and employers by providing an opportunity to assess one another for ‘fit’ and to set expectations for the role and the organization. In the work term phase, variety was balanced through the 1) assignment of tasks whose difficulty level matched the students’ capabilities and 2) the provision of support to students aligned with the difficulty and importance of the task. The difficulty level of the task and the support provided to the student were found to be positively associated with students’ reports of learning. The use of a systems approach in examining co-operative education revealed a task classification model which can be leveraged by employers and academic institutions in balancing task assignment with intended outcomes. Through this research, a systems model for co-operative education was developed which captures the key processes within the co-op system and the association between those processes outcomes for both students and employers.
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Tracey Judene Pretti (2019). A Systems Approach to Examining Co-operative Education: A Case Study. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/14966