2019 CEED Research

Researcher: Katherine M. Ehlert, MS (she/her/hers)
Affiliation: Clemson University
email:  kehlert@clemson.edu


Katherine M. Ehlert is a doctoral candidate in Engineering and Science Education at Clemson University, with an anticipated graduation date of May 2020. She earned her BS in Mechanical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and her MS in Mechanical Engineering focusing on Biomechanics from Cornell University. Prior to her enrollment at Clemson, Katherine worked as a Biomedical Engineering consultant in Philadelphia, PA. Her research interests include documenting the influence of co-op experiences on student perceptions of learning, engineering student pathways through college and into their early career, and student conceptualizations of mechanical engineering fundamentals.  Katherine was selected as one of the Engineering and Science Education Department’s first Instructional Scholars to teach Machine Design, a junior-level Mechanical Engineering course.


Research Abstract:  When you ask a student about their co-op experience, they will often reply "I learned so much", but that "much" means different things to different students. By understanding and unpacking what that phrase means to each student, researchers can improve informal learning experiences both in academia and industry. The purpose of this embedded mixed-methods study was to document student perceptions of learning while on co-op and provide student-centered language for these learning experiences. Student perceptions of learning were documented using the Q-Methodology which systematically groups participants based on their viewpoints using a technique similar to exploratory factor analysis. Twenty-eight students were asked to sort and prioritize a set of statements related to learning on co-op and then were interviewed to better understand the reasoning behind their decisions.

Preliminary quantitative results indicate that there are three to six groups of students with varying and unique viewpoints related to learning on co-op. Qualitatively, student views on learning were heavily influenced by one of three types of co-op experiences: construction management, software development, and manufacturingStudents within each group described their learning experiences in qualitatively different ways, stating that different types of actions lead to different learning experiences. For example, students in construction management emphasized they learned communication skills a number of ways (watching the engineers, gaining more responsibilities, their own successes and failures, etc.); however, students with software development co-ops described learning a variety of things (technical skills, professional skills, more about themselves, etc.) but mostly through their own successes and failures. We anticipate that the further mixed-method analysis will better differentiate manufacturing co-op students into unique subgroups therefore better aligning the quantitative and qualitative results. This process will identify student-driven language centered around learning in co-ops, which can help researchers and administrators build better instruments that measure learning on co-op or other types of work-integrated learning.

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