Cooperative education (co-op) is an educational model that alternates classroom learning with practical work experience. We have employed the co-op model to build up our student competencies with industrial partners and governmental agencies. The co-op placement generally lasts at least one semester, or 16 weeks, with the active participation of the job supervisor, the academic supervisor and the student who is assigned to work as a full-time employee during this time.
Usually, supervisors will visit students in their workplaces to check in on them face-to-face and monitor their progress, with a final evaluation held at the university or partner institute.
However, the travel restrictions and lockdown rules of the pandemic created a challenge for academic supervisors to maintain supervision levels. There were also questions around how to monitor and support students taking their co-op placement with international companies outside Thailand.
Key challenges and how to overcome them
The key concerns were:
providing close guidance to students remotely
setting up an effective system to monitor students from afar
enabling participation of multiple parties from different locations
ensuring regular communication with the job supervisor
collecting students’ feedback.
Providing close guidance and supervising students remotely
The job supervisor, the academic adviser and the student should discuss assigned goals or job responsibilities effectively, and on time. Students keep a daily diary that is reviewed at least once a week by the job supervisor.
An academic adviser needs to guide students towards achieving the learning goals set out by the university’s co-op guidelines, which include a regular review of their work placement activities, completing the daily diary, conducting research to provide recommendations to their employer based on their academic knowledge and, finally, providing a comprehensive report of the overall co-op work.
The student, the job supervisor and the academic adviser must come together discuss the student’s progress and gather feedback at least once a month. To manage and monitor the programme effectively, these three key parties should connect via one effective online system where records of all activities and feedback can be stored.
Monitoring students from afar
A effective toolkit for remote monitoring must be put in place. We used Learning Management System (LMS) Moodle, integrated with the web conferencing system BigBlueButton and the plagiarism checker Unicheck. This toolkit needs to:
enable easy communication, to support online discussions between students, job supervisors and academic teams
store and monitor feedback from all stakeholders involved in co-op activities
provide access to video recordings of previous meetings where students and job supervisors have shared comments and concerns
track the progress of assigned activities and ensure the integrity of the work leading up to the final co-op report.
Enabling participation of multiple parties in different locations
To enable the participation of multiple parties, anyone who has a login to the university learning management system can access all associated online teaching tools from any location. Students and their academic advisers can then arrange online meetings and access all documents related to co-op activities, such as feedback, guidelines, evaluation forms and the daily diary, whenever, from wherever, they need to.
Maintaining regular communication with job supervisors
Regular communication with the job supervisor is vital; so they must be added to the LMS, enabling them to use the same functions as academic advisers. A shared diary, detailing daily activities on a Google Sheet linked to the LMS, enables the student and their job supervisor to log records of their communication. With the LMS set to send automatic reminders, weekly discussions are ensured and recorded in the system so everyone can access feedback and guide students efficiently.
Gathering student feedback
To ensure that the programme is effective in guiding students towards the desired learning outcomes, it is vital to collect student feedback from day one; this enables you to refine and improve the co-op set-up, or target support where it is needed.
Invite ongoing comments from students via the LMS feedback function, so they can express any concerns quickly. This secure feedback channel is accessible only by the job supervisor and the academic adviser. The daily diary, created as a Google Sheet, can also offer a space for student feedback relating to their work placement.
Student feedback so far suggests that these online tools have enabled them to maintain the quality of their work while feeling connected and supported.
Duminda Jayaranjan is associate dean of the International College, and Maruj Limpawattana is assistant president and director of cooperative education, both at Siam University.