Co-op Best Practices > Focusing on the Education in Co-operative

Focusing on the Education in Co-operative

posted on March 1, 2001

Helping students transfer their learning

The Bridging Curriculum was designed as a framework for the educational components of college and university co-operative education programs. It is based upon contemporary understandings of human learning and uses these principles to help students learn how to make the often difficult transfers of knowledge and skills from school to the workplace, and work to school. Its purpose is to enhance the already valuable co-op experience with special attention to helping students mobilize their learning more effectively. It is built around three themes: (1) developing self-directed learners who increasingly take personal responsibility for their learning and work, (2) helping students learn to transfer skills from one context to the other, and (3) assembling portfolios to help students plan and monitor their personal achievements.

Here are some tips that can help you become more aware of your own learning and thinking as you work with your students to develop theirs:

  • Keep education at the forefront of your co-op program. Is it truly at the heart of what you do every day in co-op? Does it drive your decision-making or do you take for granted it will be addressed through the process? Ask yourself, is my primary focus on improving student learning through co-op? If not, why not? Most of us assume we are doing this, but how often do we take the time to do a critical analysis of our programs, practices and tools in terms of their learning value?
  • Make sure your practice reflects this primary purpose all the way through the co-op process. Critically review your application forms, seminar materials, student and employer handbooks, intake interviews, site visits, employer and student evaluations, and return-to-school meetings. Are they centred on learning or based on ease of administration? They may need to address both outcomes; just make sure there is a thoughtful balance between the two. Explore your own notions of co-op learning and practice, and your role as a facilitator of self-regulated learners. Ask yourself some tough questions about your current way of doing business: is what (and how) you are asking students to do in your co-op program promoting self-direction and learning? If not, how could it?
  • Help students see the educational value in your methods. Research on transfer of learning suggests that we need to be more explicit about learning when helping students. Explain why we use assessment, reflective techniques and tools, and how that will help them with career planning and lifelong learning. Examine your current site visit practice and ask your students how to make it more beneficial for them. Discuss the purpose of the work report with employers and students and focus on how it can help students achieve their learning objectives. Take a look at all the elements of co-op and ask yourself how they tie together in terms of student learning; then tell the students. And, most critically, be open, flexible and adaptable to their suggestions for change if it will truly enhance their learning.
  • Use assessment tools that are easy to understand and complete. Apply them regularly and repeatedly throughout your students' co-op career. This will provide a baseline measurement and allow your students to see their progress. For example, using the Employability Skills Profile from the Conference Board of Canada (or similar list) have your students rate their current knowledge and skill level when they are accepted into your co-op program. Have them self-test again when they return from each co-op work term and at the end of their co-op career to monitor their progress. They can use it for gap analysis, career planning, resume development and interview preparation. There are a number of excellent assessment tools available for career planning; find the ones that work for you and your students, then use them consistently.
  • Encourage your students to develop their metacognition. Metacognition refers to the "executive" function of thinking. It involves thinking about your thinking through such processes as review, reflection, deliberation and projection. To be outstanding performers, students need to develop metacognitive skills to self-monitor, critique, and apply their learning. For example, after assessing their knowledge and skills, you might encourage students to consider when they have used these skills, why they used them, how successful they were, and in what other contexts they could use them.
  • Educate thyself. Many of us working as co-op practitioners are discipline-experts. We got these jobs because of what we know about our specific industry and business, but may not have formal training in Adult Education. If you don't have the background and knowledge you would like to have, where can you get it? Consult with colleagues, take a coffee break with someone from the Faculty of Education or the Teaching and Learning Centre or equivalent in your institution, join on-line chat groups that focus on adult learning, make your bedtime reading about Adult Education and Educational Psychology. At the very least, you'll have a cure for your insomnia!

For more information on the Co-op Bridging Curriculum, contact Donna Carswell, Camosun College ( or Nancy Johnston, Simon Fraser University (). To order copies of the Co-op Bridging Curriculum Practitioner Handbook, Student Handbook, and Workshop Resources, contact:

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