Using Digital Technology to Enhance a Century Old Partnership between University and Cooperative Education Employers

Using Digital Technology to Enhance a Century Old Partnership between University and Cooperative Education Employers

Cheryl Cates (University of Cincinnati, USA), Kettil Cedercreutz (University of Cincinnati, USA), Anton C. Harfmann (University of Cincinnati, USA), Marianne W. Lewis (University of Cincinnati, USA) and Richard Miller (University of Cincinnati, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-623-7.ch032


Cooperative Education (the systematic alternation of school and work) creates ongoing partnerships between institutions of higher education and their corporate partners. The beauty of co-op is that it allows feedback on student work performance while the student is enrolled in an academic program. The objective of this project was to use emerging digital technologies to capture partnership information and channel it back to faculty in charge of curriculum development for summative and formative purposes. The project was funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) through the grant Developing a Corporate Feedback System for Use in Curricular Reform. The project resulted in a system that captures the level and uniformity of student work performance and reports the data both numerically and graphically both separately and in combination. Performance uniformity as a measure is important, as it illustrates how well all students in a group absorb the instruction.
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The research project is set in an environment of Cooperative Education (co-op) at the University of Cincinnati. The co-op model was pioneered by Dean Herman Schneider in 1906 at the university (Park, 1943). This educational initiative has transcended time, disciplines, and programs. Schneider’s cooperative system of education introduced the concept of linking theory with practice through the alternation of time spent in classroom instruction with time spent in work-based practical experience in the students’ chosen fields. A century later (Cates & Cedercreutz, 2008), the design of the corporate feedback system sought to re-examine and build upon the original core principles of the cooperative system of education through the use of digital technology.

The University of Cincinnati combines high-impact research ($378 million research budget) (University of Cincinnati, 2009) with a strong professional profile (approximately 5,000 student placements per year) (Cedercreutz, 2007). The structure of the UC co-op program is based upon full-time, alternating quarters of study and co-op work experience beginning in the sophomore year and extending over three years. Figure 1 shows a typical alternating University of Cincinnati co-op curriculum. This alternation paces the development of the student frame of reference with the progression of the curriculum. Every co-op work quarter is evaluated through a three-party online assessment process: by the student, by the employer, and by the faculty member (Cates & Jones, 1999). Analyzing the employer assessment data while a student cohort is still enrolled allows the university to react swiftly to changes in the environment.

Figure 1.

Typical UC co-op curriculum

Co-op students are assigned to a Professional Practice (co-op) faculty adviser by discipline area. This faculty adviser is responsible for all aspects of the cooperative education program for their assigned disciplines (Cates & Jones, 1999). Faculty members in the academic departments provide classroom training that enables students to effectively work in industry prior to graduation (Cedercreutz et al., 2002).

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