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ERIC Number: ED515616
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 277
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 0
ISBN: ISBN-978-1-1096-6121-7
Learning on the Job: Cooperative Education, Internships and Engineering Problem-Solving Skills
Yin, Alexander C.
ProQuest LLC, Ph.D. Dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University
Cooperative education (co-op) and internships are forms of experiential education that allow students to complement their classroom experiences with work experience. This study examines the influence of co-op and internships on engineering problem-solving skills by answering the following research questions: (1) Does experience in cooperative education or internship programs influence students' self-perceptions of their engineering problem-solving skills? (2) How do students with cooperative education or internship experience differ in their perception and understanding of their engineering problem-solving skills as compared to students with no experience? The design of this study included a quantitative and a qualitative component. I conducted a quantitative analysis to answer the first research question utilizing multivariate regression and multi-nominal logit models to examine whether significant differences existed between students with engineering work experience and students with no engineering work experience with regard to assessments of their (1) basic skills, (2) design and problem-solving skills, and (3) engineering thinking skills. The key variables came from a set of three scales and their respective items from the nationally representative "Engineering Change" (EC2000) dataset, which contains survey responses from 4,461 senior engineering students from the class of 2004 in seven engineering disciplines (aerospace, chemical, computer, electrical, industrial, and mechanical) from 39 accredited institutions. The second research question was addressed through qualitative data collection and analysis. I interviewed three groups of senior electrical engineering students at a single research I university: (1) students who completed three rotations in the co-op program, (2) students who completed at least one internship, and (3) students who completed neither co-op nor internship. In total, I interviewed 17 undergraduate engineering students, including (1) four students who completed at least three cooperative education rotations, (2) eight students who completed at least one internship, and (3) five students who completed neither cooperative education nor internship. The quantitative analysis indicates that students who spent more time in a cooperative education or internship program rate their understanding of engineering problem-solving more highly than those who have not participated in such programs. The more time spent in these work-related experiences, the more highly students rated their understanding of essential aspects of the engineering design process, and their abilities to apply systematic design procedure to open-ended problem; design solutions to meet desired needs; ensure that a process or product meets a variety of technical and practical criteria; and compare and judge alternative outcomes. The qualitative analysis suggested that students' classroom and work (co-op and internship) experiences differentially influenced three types of knowledge: theoretical, practical, and procedural knowledge. "Theoretical knowledge" refers to the theories, laws and principles of the field. The majority of the students reported that classroom experiences in solving textbook problems helped them develop this type of knowledge. Students with work experience described how their work assignments often required them to consider contextual factors as well as technical ones when solving problems on the job. This kind of "practical knowledge" encouraged students to address a variety of relevant factors when solving problems. They contended that these contextual factors were not always prominent in classroom assignments or homework problems. Finally, "procedural knowledge" can be defined as knowledge of how to solve problems. When comparing the groups, students with co-op and internship experiences were more likely to understand the importance of problem-solving processes (such as defining the problem or applying systematic procedures) than students without work experience. The findings from both the qualitative and quantitative components of the study are consistent. The quantitative analysis showed that time spent in a co-op or internship was significant for the majority of survey items related to procedural knowledge but not significant for items related to theoretical knowledge. This aligns with the findings from the interviews. Coop and internship students reported that their work experience taught them that in order to succeed on the job, they needed to develop both procedural knowledge and theoretical knowledge. Procedural knowledge gained through engagement in engineering practice at a co-op or internship increased students' confidence in their problem-solving ability. Understanding how cooperative education and internship program influences students' perception of their engineering problem-solving skills has practical implications. For curricular designers, knowing how individuals perceive their different types of knowledge necessary to solve problems allows for a more intentional design of curricular and co-curricular activities to develop students' competency within an academic domain. I recommend curricular designers focus on strengthening and enhancing students' theoretical knowledge, practical knowledge, procedural knowledge through classroom activities such as writing assignments that ask students to explain their problem-solving process. Program-level recommendations include incorporating more project-based or lab-like courses into the curriculum, so students have more opportunities to actively engage in solving real-world problems. Future research should examine the long-term effects of co-op and internship programs on students' perception of engineering problem-solving skills once they have graduated and worked in the profession. [The dissertation citations contained here are published with the permission of ProQuest LLC. Further reproduction is prohibited without permission. Copies of dissertations may be obtained by Telephone (800) 1-800-521-0600. Web page:]
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Publication Type: Dissertations/Theses - Doctoral Dissertations
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A