Date of Award

August 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Engineering and Science Education

Committee Member

Marisa K Orr

Committee Member

Lisa Benson

Committee Member

Karen High

Committee Member

William Bridges


Calls for improved educational practices within the field of engineering are focusing on content delivery, suggesting that authentic engineering tasks will better prepare students for engineering in the 21st century. Co-operative education (co-op) can provide such experiences. Studies indicate students who have participated in co-op programs typically graduate with higher GPAs, have an easier time transitioning into full-time work, and begin working at higher starting salaries. Although successful outcomes of co-op have been documented, little is documented on the ways in which co-op provides these benefits. The purpose of this embedded mixed-methods study is to document student perceptions of what and how they learn while on co-op. This was achieved using an analysis approach that was designed to systematically measure and document perspectives or viewpoints known as the Q-methodology. Twenty-eight students sorted 42 statements related to learning on co-op and were interviewed to better understand their perspective and interpretation of the statements. Results of this study indicate four unique views about learning on co-op. Twenty-two of the participants factored into one of the following groups: The Problem Solvers, The Apprentices, The Doers, and The Deciders. The remaining six participants expressed views that aligned with more than one of the four groups. This process identified student-driven language centered around learning in co-ops, which can help researchers build better instruments that measure aspects of learning on co-op or other experiential learning opportunities. Additionally, this work can provide co-op administrators a language for students and mentors to utilize when discussing roles, expectations, and responsibilities.



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