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Key Publications

Here is a listing of our key publications that have appeared as book chapters, journal articles, conference proceedings, reports, and paper presentations. Click on the highlighted titles to see a brief overview of the publication.

Book Chapters

Workplace learning: Metacognitive strategies for learning in the knowledge economy

Munby, H., Hutchinson, N. L., & Chin, P. (in press). Workplace learning: Metacognitive strategies for learning in the knowledge economy. In R. MacLean & D. Wilson (Eds.). The international handbook of education for the changing world of work: Bridging academic and vocational learning. New York: Springer.

Drawing on research in secondary co-operative (co-op) education programs and work-based education, this chapter seeks to advance strategies for workplace learning by focusing on metacognitive instruction and its relationship to routines, science in the workplace, and learning for students with exceptionalities. The underpinning theme of the chapter is participation is not enough.

Secondary co-op education programs aim to prepare students, or “novice learners,” for careers. Since action (procedural) knowledge required in the workforce, and its curriculum, qualitatively differ from the propositional (declarative) knowledge used in schools, this chapter argues that approaches to workplace instruction must be based on workplace learning research. The instructional approaches outlined in the chapter are grounded in the empirical work of the research group, including case studies, focus group interviews, observations and interviews, in “science-rich” work environments.

Metacognition, higher order thinking that involves knowledge of one’s cognitive functioning and active control over one’s cognitive processes while engaged in a learning task, is critical to the development and use of strategies by inefficient learners. Conceptualizing the workplace as a learning environment, where connected routines can lead to personal mastery of skills needed to perform the work, facilitates the application of ideas about metacognition to the workplace. These routines, or clusters of routines, give structure to the workplace and help novice learners to organize their knowledge.

The two case studies presented in this chapter reveal that these students saw few relationships between school science and workplace science. In response to this finding, a theoretical framework to understand how workplace science differs from school science was developed, including recommendations on instructional interventions. For example, instruction should maximize co-participation to increase opportunities for learning; instructional strategies should be developed to help students understand and make sense of the workplace routines, and these strategies must recognize the differences in form and function between workplace science and school science. These strategies will help to increase students’ cognitive engagement, as they are able to see a connection between their school curriculum and their work, resulting from the opportunities that the students are given in the workplace. As students reflect on these linkages and their roles in the community of practice, they will experience deeper learning, allowing them to better understand their actions.

Organizing learners’ experiences; guiding the development and understanding of routines; development of self-regulated learning, and use of knowledge to respond to changing tasks and workplaces are strategies that will provide guidance for novice learners, helping to prepare them for employment in the knowledge economy.

An earlier version of this chapter was prepared for the 2002 UNEVOC-Canada Conference Developing Skills for the New Economy.

Principles for research on workplace learning: At the intersection of the individual and the context

Chin, P., Hutchinson, N. L., Versnel, J., & Munby, H. (in press). Principles for research on workplace learning: At the intersection of the individual and the context. In Van Woerkom & Poell (Eds.), Workplace Learning. Routledge.

Our twelve years of workplace learning (WPL) points to the complexity of action knowledge and of how it is acquired in the workplace.  In this chapter the basic assumptions are that workplace learning is interactional and that the interaction between the individual and the context that gives rise to WPL is deliberate.

This chapter explores six principles that the authors argue are central to research on WPL. They are broad focus, salience, commonplaces, inclusion, richness, and congruence. The authors explore each principle and use their program of research as a source of examples for each principle.

The first principle, broad focus, stresses the importance of including a range of workers from novice to expert. It highlights WPL experiences from introductory to intensive in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the learning that arises in the interaction between the individual and the context.  The second principle, salience, highlights the interaction and the learning when procedures are not executed automatically, when contexts are not understood, and when learners are developing competence.

Commonplaces of learning is the third principle which focuses on who is learning, who is teaching, what is learned, the milieu in which learning takes place as well as the different versions of learning on which researchers might focus to ensure thorough and informative accounts of WPL. Following the discussion on commonplaces is the fourth principle, inclusion.  Inclusion highlights the emphasis on equitable treatment of all and the ability to clarify the WPL experiences and needs of persons with disabilities as well as persons at risk for social exclusion.  The emphasis on inclusion is related to the last two principles which are richness and congruence.

Richness recognizes that WPL researchers must develop a rich collection of cases that allow one to consider each case and its lessons in an informed context.  Having a population of cases enriches interpretation because each case can be understood within the context of the others. The final principle is congruence in which the characteristics of the individual worker are considered critical.  The more vulnerable the worker is as a learner, the more important it is to recognize the learning needs of the individual which must be met by the context and structures that support learning.

Ignoring these principles will come at a cost to understanding the characteristics of workplaces that enable learning.  Principled studies are more likely to produce strong findings that guide practice because workplace learning is complex, deliberate, and interactive.

Workplace learning, work-based education, and the challenges to educational psychology

Munby, H, Hutchinson, N. L., & Chin, P. (2007). Workplace learning, work-based education, and the challenges to educational psychology. In J. Kinchloe & R. Horn, Jr. (Eds.), The Praeger handbook of education and psychology (pp. 540-547). Westport, CT: Praeger.

This chapter is from the research program “Linking school-based and work-based learning in the knowledge economy: Studies of appropriation, science, and equity” (Hugh Munby, Nancy L. Hutchinson, Peter Chin, investigators), which is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The chapter explores the differences between learning in schools and learning in workplaces, and it claims that an increased understanding of learning in the workplace can help challenge, and ultimately, improve the current approach to learning in schools.

Declarative knowledge, also referred to as theoretical knowledge, is knowledge that is easily put into words or declared (knowledge about “what”). This type of knowledge has dominated educational psychology and research in the past due to its high social status, and it is still the main focus of today’s schools and their subject disciplines. Declarative knowledge stands in contrast to knowledge of action, or procedural knowledge, which focuses on how we perform certain activities and which is not easily put into words (knowledge about “how”). This chapter focuses specifically on knowledge of action and how it should be understood and used in today’s school systems in order to help improve student learning. It describes the history of how researchers and philosophers have tried to challenge the high value placed on declarative knowledge from Dewey’s attempts in 1916 to include more “practical studies” in the school curriculum to Vygotsky’s research in 1978 on situated cognition that reinforces the importance of learning as a social and contextualized endeavour. Despite these efforts to challenge the traditional approach to school-based learning, this chapter conveys how it is only recently that research on knowledge of action has grown in significance in comparison to declarative knowledge.

Interest in understanding learning as a socially mediated and action-oriented approach has grown considerably in the latter part of the 20th century. Research on this type of knowledge has mainly taken place in workplaces and has helped to recognize the value of gaining knowledge through actions. Furthermore, this research has also revealed certain unique contributions to learning through authentic settings, such as workplaces. This chapter discusses the advantages and effectiveness of learning in the workplace, and how this effectiveness challenges the traditional assumptions behind school-based learning. In fact, learning through actions is very different from the theoretical approach to learning reflected in today’s schools, and learning in the workplace is considerably different from learning in a class room. Considering that schools are argued to prepare students for learning in the workplace, these differences between the schools and workplaces question the effectiveness of schools in preparing students for work. These differences in the learning cultures of school and work further question the traditional saying “theory first, then practice” that has evidently influenced educational psychology in the past. This chapter explores reasons that modern educational psychology should shift its focus from its traditional, theoretical learning approach toward a more action-oriented understanding of how students can learn and become better prepared for the dynamic world of work.

Where's the science?: Understanding the form and function of workplace science

Chin, P., Munby, H., Hutchinson, N. L., Taylor, J., & Clark, F. (2004). Where's the science?: Understanding the form and function of workplace science. In E. Scanlon, P. Murphy, J. Thomas, & E. Whitlegg (Eds.), Reconsidering science learning (pp. 118-134). London: RoutledgeFalmer.

This paper reports the findings of a study that focussed on the extent to which high school co-operative (co-op) education students recognised the science found in science-rich workplaces such as a medical laboratory, a veterinary clinic, and a dental office. The paper also explores how these high school co-op students conceptualised the science of the workplace and its relationship to the science they learned in school.

Building upon some previous research, we discriminate three versions of science: Bench Science, School Science, and Workplace Science. These distinctions are driven by our commitment to developing instruction that will help students learn in the workplace. To match our instructional interests, we find it useful to draw out the features of versions of science on three dimensions: purpose, accountability, and substance. We articulate how science learning in the formal context of schools is different from the science found in the informal context of a science-rich workplace. The meshing of our understanding of the different versions of science with our understanding of cognitive engagement (with its access, procedural, and declarative components) results in the creation of our theoretical framework that allows us to understand workplace learning from an instructional perspective.  In this way, the framework provides us with possibilities for designing instruction that can enhance the quality of students’ co-op experiences, and of the students’ understanding of the relationships between school science and workplace science.

The data for the paper are drawn from three case studies of students participating in co-op education in a mid-sized city in Canada. The data collection involved a set of ethnographic observations as well as formal and informal interviews with the co-op students and their workplace supervisors.

The data analysis brought evidence that the science found in the workplace was in a form that met the purpose and accountability of the workplace and, thus, differed significantly from the science learned in schools. First, the access to the science within the workplace was limited. Second, we found a lack of cognitive engagement within the declarative knowledge component of the co-op students’ workplace learning. And finally, the co-op students were able to assume successfully many of the duties associated with the role of a laboratory technician, veterinary technician, and dental assistant, but they saw few relationships between workplace science and school science.  

We identified the three areas in which instructional strategies must be developed. First, instructional strategies can be developed for co-op students, co-op teachers, and workplace supervisors that overtly attend to the issue of co-participation so students can maximise their access to opportunities for learning. Second, instructional strategies for co-op students and workplace supervisors can be developed to help students understand the metacognitive function of routines (practices) and to identify and understand the declarative knowledge (meaning) that is imbedded within typical workplace routines and within the “machinery” of the workplace. Third, instructional strategies for co-op students, workplace supervisors, and co-op teachers can be developed to help students recognise the differences between the form and function of workplace science and school science. Students need to be encouraged to understand the science behind their procedural knowledge, and to recognise that the scope of the workplace science underlying those procedures is limited solely to the purpose of the workplace in question.

Co-operative education, the curriculum, and working knowledge

Munby, H., Chin, P., & Hutchinson, N. L. (2003).  Co-operative education, the curriculum, and working knowledge. In D. Trueit, W. Doll, H. Wang, & W. Pinar (Eds.), The internationalization of curriculum (pp. 205-218). New York:  Peter Lang.

This book chapter is based on a paper presented at the 1st Internalization of Curriculum Conference, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA.

Part of a series of studies on work-based programs for high school students, this paper seeks to identify curriculum issues that arise in the practice of co-operative education or co-op.  The history of meanings of vocational education is traced from Dewey’s design as transformative and liberal through low academic and socio-economic status designs.  Recent Canadian models are seen as reflecting a return to the Deweyan view.  Although vocational education has historically occupied a low status, the new vocationalism is beginning to reflect liberal education goals.  Thus, Co-op in Canada serves general education goals as it is neither restricted to career/vocational education nor confined to less-academically oriented students.  In Canada, especially in Ontario, co-op is seen as a mode of delivery for academic subjects that is relevant to all students, including those who are destined for the professions.  This paper explored the social intervention of adolescence.  Society has effectively removed youth from the adult world and the once seamless transition from childhood to adulthood is no more.  School has left little opportunity for understanding of the world of work through immediate contact.  Programs like co-op allow adolescents to earn high school credits while learning in the work world of adults. 

Co-op education is its own curriculum.  Differences between school curriculum and the workplace curriculum are identified in three areas: organization, purpose, and knowledge.  Unlike the sequential instruction of school, the organization of workplace learning is centred on clusters of tasks or routines and taught early in the placement.  These routines are reinforced through repetition.  The purpose of school is learning, while the purpose of routines learned in the workplace setting is to serve the authentic goals of the workplace.  “Working knowledge” is knowledge encountered in the workplace and acquired through workplace learning.  It is qualitatively different from the knowledge encountered in school.  Typically, knowing that in the workplace is always in the service of knowing how.  Adolescents in the workplace learn that adult knowledge is in the service of action.  When co-op students are observing routines in the workplace, they are engaging in more than legitimate peripheral participation.  They witness how routines are related to the purposes and goals of the workplace.

Important differences in structure, form, and content of the curricula of school and work are explored and the promise of understanding co-op education as curriculum is illustrated.  Co-op invites a rethinking of vocationalism and an exploring of the appropriate place of teaching about the world of work.

“I know how to do it”:  Research priorities for co-operative and career education in Canada’s secondary schools

Munby, H., Hutchinson, N., & Chin, P. (2000).  “I know how to do it”:  Research priorities for co-operative and career education in Canada’s secondary schools. In Y. Lenoir, W. Hunter, D. Hodgkinson, P. de Broucker, & A. Dolbec (Eds.), A Pan-Canadian education research agenda (pp. 37-54). Ottawa, ON: Canadian Society for the Study of Education.

The article is part of a collection of pieces commissioned by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). The task for each of the research groups represented was to identify five major questions on existing and emerging policy issues in Education within each of seven areas of specialization: the link between education and the labour market, learning outcomes, teacher education, citizenship and social cohesion, diversity and equity, and special needs programming. The five questions raised by these authors appear under the first category of links between education and the labour market. These questions can also serve as a summary of the three-year SSHRC-funded research agenda of the Co-op Education and Workplace Learning (CEWL) research group at Queen’s University.

The introductory sections provide an overview of co-op and career education policies in Canada. Data were collected from policy documents and research reports on co-op and career education. In addition, informal surveys were sent to provincial and territorial ministries to obtain information on enrolment in co-op education in Canada. Major findings were that there was a range of intents for co-op across Canada. For example, some provinces treat workplace experiences for secondary students as ways to enhance academic courses, while others view secondary co-op workplace experiences as opportunities for learning about work, occupations, and careers.

The rest of the paper is divided into four sections, each of which reflects the theoretical perspective of the CEWL group: co-operative education is a course of study that has a curriculum, even in the workplace itself; workplace experience involves constructivist and situated forms of learning; issues of including exceptional students and aboriginal students in co-op placements need to be addressed; and assessment practices require reform. Each of the four “perspective” sections ends with a unifying rhetorical device by elaborating on one important research question.

The five questions that are summarized at the end of the paper are also part of the 1999-2002 research agenda of the CEWL group. The questions are:

  1. What types of goals may be realistically achieved by co-operative education (or by other forms of work experience), and to what extent are these goals context-specific?
  2. What are the essential features of learning within experience that can be used to significantly enhance workplace learning during co-operative education and other work experiences provided by schools?
  3. What features of co-operative education enhance the inclusion of and meet the learning needs of exceptional students?
  4. What features of co-operative education enhance the inclusion of and meet the learning needs of First Nations students and students from under-represented groups?
  5. How can the objectives of co-operative education best be assessed, and how can co-operative education programs be evaluated for their overall effectiveness?

Articles in Refereed Journals

Obligation and irony in workplace accommodations

Chin, P., Hutchinson, N. L., Versnel, J., Munby, H., & Stockley, D. (2008). Obligation and irony in workplace accommodations: A case study in a large corporate office. Canadian Review of Social Policy, 61, 109-128.

A multiple-perspective case study of an adult worker with a severe visual impairment and the accommodations that she received and made in her workplace are described in this paper. Also offered is a rare window into the obligations and ironies that characterize the working life of a highly capable employee in a large corporation considered to be a leader in hiring and accommodating workers with disabilities. The study begins by reviewing relevant federal and provincial Canadian social policies on workplace accommodations and introducing the research on negotiating such accommodations.  Although the workplace has a duty to accommodate, it is clear that onus still rests with the most vulnerable individuals, those with disabilities, to adjust to the needs of the workplace.

The critical process of negotiation that occurs between a worker with a disability and the individuals in her place of work is documented. Data was collected through observations in the offices of the large corporation, as well as interviews with the focal individual, her supervisor, a colleague, and a human resources professional. Standard qualitative analyses were guided by six facets of negotiating accommodations, derived from an extensive review of literature across a number of disciplines. The six facets are: (a) access and disclosure; (b) structural affordances; (c) social context; (d) motivation; (e) understanding of social policy; (f) cognitive problem solving.

The first of the six facets is access and disclosure. Until an employee discloses a disability, an employer is not required to take any action to accommodate. Recent research indicates that only 40% of Canadians disclosed their learning disabilities to employers (Gerber, Price, Mulligan, & Shessel, 2004). The research participant, ‘Mary’, willingly self-identified as having a visual disability on her application for employment. She also self-identified to colleagues during a large staff meeting.

Examination of the second facet, structural affordances,  indicates that the most common structural affordances are assistive technology (e.g., computer assisted software and ergonomic devices) which often costs much less than many employers expect while having the benefit of making tasks easier for other employees as well. In this case study the company contracted the Canadian Council of Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) to assess Mary’s structural needs which included computer software, specialized machines and furniture.

Social context provides the third facet of investigation, in which the importance of social supports required for employee self-evaluation is highlighted (e.g., emotional support, instrumental aid, information, and appraisal). Mary felt she received significant support from her supervisor even though it was left up to her to negotiate solutions with her co-workers. Co-workers acknowledged Mary’s disability, but made few adjustments such as adapting printed material distributed during meetings and/or changing lighting that created glare on Mary’s computer. Provision of structural accommodations appears to have affected teamwork and camaraderie in our participant’s department.

Motivation research has found that the best predictors of workplace success and satisfaction for adults with disabilities are goal-setting, self-regulatory strategies and accommodations (Madaus, Ruban, Foley, & McGuire, 2003; Raskind et al., 1999; Spekman, Goldberg, & Herman, 1992). Mary was very determined and accomplished in terms of education level and competence. She had no aspirations however, to ‘move up’ “because I want to do what I do well, get satisfaction from that, and have some sort of life outside of work.” It is possible however that she did not wish to renegotiate her workplace accommodations.

After a review of research on individual interpretation and understanding of social policy, by employers, supervisors, workers with disabilities and their coworkers, it is clear that each of these players act upon their own interpretations. At times, these interpretations are in conflict. The workplace culture surrounding Mary expected her disability to have minimal impact on anyone but her. Mary had excellent knowledge and familiarity of social policy on duty to accommodate. Yet Mary also decided often ‘to pass’ rather than insist on what she was entitled to, perhaps fearing that her work relationships would be adversely affected. Policy did not have any effect on how individuals with and without disabilities worked together or negotiated working relationships.

While examining cognitive problem solving, research shows that the worker with the disability, the supervisor, and coworkers engage in a collaborative process to negotiate supports and interventions for the creation of a social environment that compensates for the functional disability. However, it is often the person with the disability who must define the cognitive and physical problems and communicate these during the problem-solving process (Walls & Batiste, 1996). It is clear in this case study that the onus was on Mary to initiate and negotiate problem solving. Her supervisor and human resources representative repeatedly referred to Mary needing to ‘work things out’ as if she worked in isolation and not with them, or that they needed to work out things together.

Through review of social policies and examination of the case through these six facets, we demonstrate the ironies that abound in workplaces that emphasize providing accommodations, primarily structural, while ignoring the power of technology, to educate coworkers and supervisors about social policy, and to enable ongoing collaborative and cognitive problem-solving, as a way of negotiating accommodations.  Findings revealed that the worker participant accommodated the workplace and her colleagues, rather than the workplace and her colleagues accommodating her. Perhaps social policy should promote duty to negotiate as well as duty to accommodate.

Learning in the workplace: Fostering resilience in disengaged youth

DeLuca, C., Nancy L. Hutchinson, N.L., de Lugt, J., Beyer, W., Thornton, A., Versnel, J., Chin, P., & Munby, H. (in press).  Learning in the workplace: Fostering resilience in disengaged youth. WORK: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment & Rehabilitation.

This multiple-perspective case study describes and compares the experiences of two at-risk youth enrolled in two distinct work-based education (WBE) programs. The study finds that WBE can serve as a protective factor and encourages resilience in at-risk youth.

It highlights how supportive adults and at-risk youth engage in interactions that facilitate the emergence of resilience in the workplace. In these two cases, risk and resilience are context specific, suggesting that at-risk youth may require tailored workplace programs to meet their career development needs.

International reports on school-to-work transition make it clear that youth are three times more likely to be unemployed as their adult counterparts. WBE is one of the most frequently recommended solutions for youth disengagement as it can reengage youth in meaningful learning and productive occupation. Here in Canada, many provinces have developed initiatives with emphasis on WBE to deal with data that show that many of the unemployed and underemployed are individuals who have left school early.

Two exemplary WBE programs in Ontario were chosen for this study. One program was a school-based enterprise, an upholstery shop, run by a classroom teacher. The other was a traditional co-operative education program where half of the day is spent on academic courses and the other half-day is spent in a hair and esthetic salon in the community. The educators in each program were asked to identify a youth who they thought was overcoming adversity and thriving in a workplace learning context to participate in the study. Tim was chosen for the upholstery shop and Ashley was chosen for the salon. Both students were 18 years of age. Data were gathered through ethnographic observations and interviews over a six week period by two researchers. Five 90 minute workplace observations were conducted and 45 minute interviews with each at-risk youth, WBE teacher, and workplace supervisor took place. Follow-up interviews were conducted with each adolescent participant one year later to assess the impacts and effects of their experiences in WBE.

The qualitative analysis and findings for both individual cases are documented in the study. The interviews one year later found: (a) Tim had made a seamless transition into the workplace and remained employed at the same automotive shop where respectful, guided supervision and the right fit in terms of Tim’s goals were important factors in his success; (b) Ashley was enrolled for a second time in the same co-operative placement but with different contextual factors. Ashley now had formulated goals for herself and taken initiative in the workplace. The new owners had provided Ashley with more responsibility and authentic tasks which resulted in her motivation and engagement in her new program. Cross-case analysis suggests that WBE must meet the needs of individual students in the areas of planning for learning, communication, and social support. When WBE accomplishes this, youth can transform themselves from disengaged or timid observers to confident participants assuming increasing responsibilities.

The two cases examined for this study comprise the first step in a program of research that includes assembling a population of cases of at-risk youth in varying WBE programs. The expectation is that meaningful patterns will emerge overcoming the limitations associated with single, complex, situated cases.

Work-based learning for adolescents with learning disabilities: Creating a context for success

Versnel, J., Hutchinson, N. L., Munby, H., & Chin, P. (2008). Work-based learning for adolescents with learning disabilities: Creating a context for success. Exceptionality Education Canada, 18(1), 113-134.

This paper describes the cases of two adolescents with learning disabilities who were unsuccessful in their co-operative education placements at automotive repair shops. Observations and interviews with students and supervisors were used to gain insight from multiple perspectives and to explore constructs central to success in work-based learning. This qualitative study is part of a program of research examining school-to-work transitions in at-risk youth and youth with disabilities.

Work-based learning experiences, like co-operative education, provide students with disabilities with work experience and are intended to make explicit links between school learning and workplace learning (Ontario Ministry of Education, 1999). Disclosure of student learning needs is required to receive accommodations that enable students to engage productively in the work experience. Negotiating accommodations during these work experiences has been shown to contribute to significant growth for the adolescent (Hutchinson, Versnel, Chin & Munby, 2008). A review of research on self-determination, workplace learning, and negotiating accommodations informed the analysis of the data in this study. This review identified a number of elements including competency, autonomy, and relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000), implicit knowledge of routines (Munby, Versnel, Hutchinson, Chin & Berg, 2001), and the ability to mobilize natural supports (Williams, Barclay & Schmeid, 2004) as contributing to successful workplace experiences.

In the two case studies reported neither repair shop was aware that the student had learning needs that might require accommodations. Both students were in workplaces that demanded high efficiency and offered few opportunities for conversation. Four themes emerged from the analysis of the interview and observation data. The first theme was negotiating accommodations. Despite struggling with assigned responsibilities neither student was observed to seek guidance or to ask questions. Shop managers reported they would have provided additional explanations and more guidance had they been aware of the students’ learning disabilities. Routines were a second theme as each shop had its own routines that students were expected to learn to navigate the workday. The students struggled to recognize the importance of these routines and as the placements progressed a lack of mastery of routines left them feeling frustrated and bored. Students were described by their supervisors as wandering aimlessly and lacking purpose. A third theme was expectations. Transitioning from school learning to workplace learning was difficult for the students as they did not fully grasp the expectations of their respective work environments. This was perceived by shop employees as lack of initiative and poor work ethic. One student identified a disconnect in her belief that she was there to learn and the shop manager’s expectation that she was there to work. The final theme drawn from the data was preparation of stakeholders. The students were not adept at preparing their employers to help them and the schools did not inform employers or advocate on behalf of the students. Without knowledge of the learning difficulties of the students neither workplace was able to plan for the challenges that presented during the work-based program.

The findings provide a robust account of missed opportunities as two adolescents with learning disabilities tried to cope in contexts where co-workers did not know that the students might require accommodations. As a result opportunities to build self-determination, optimize workplace learning, and negotiate accommodations were limited or absent, essentially removing the elements that enable a successful experience. It is a reminder that for youth with disabilities, participation is not enough to ensure work-based learning. Disclosure by students and better preparation of workplaces to include strategies such as observation, structured guidance, explicit instruction, and negotiated accommodations are essential to facilitate successful work-based experiences.

Negotiating accommodations so that work-based education facilitates career development for youth with disabilities

Hutchinson, N. L., Versnel, J., Chin, P., & Munby, H. (2008). Negotiating accommodations so that work-based education facilitates career development for youth with disabilities. Work: A Journal of Prevention, Assessment, and Rehabilitation, 30(2), 123-136.

This paper reports the findings of two case studies in which employers had agreed to accommodate the needs of adolescents with disabilities participating in work-based education. Framed by Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) led by Lent, Hackett, and Brown, this paper provides an analysis of the important role that work-based education plays in the career development of disabled youth.

The Canadian Human Rights Act dictates that workers with disabilities are entitled to workplace accommodations. Furthermore, these accommodations need to be respectful of the workers’ dignity and need to sufficiently enable them to perform the essential duties of their jobs, without undue hardship to the relevant organization. However, an exploration of the literature shows that despite the importance given to employment equity in Canadian legislations, Canadians with disabilities are significantly less likely to be employed compared to Canadians without disabilities.

Although workplaces are providing more access and opportunities for accommodations for individuals with disabilities, research implies that this does not necessarily translate into continuous and meaningful participation in the workplace. Similarly, in the case of adolescents with disabilities in work-based education, research conveys that the majority of these students receive no accommodations. This unfortunate finding seems related to the high percentage of students with invisible disabilities as well as the low rate of students who actually disclose their disabilities in the workplace. Since workers are not entitled to accommodations without disclosure, it is vital that students are better prepared regarding their rights and responsibilities in disclosing and requiring accommodations in the workplace.

Consequently, educators are in search of workplaces that negotiate accommodations for adolescents with disabilities so that these adolescents will be well prepared to negotiate accommodations on their own behalf as adults.

The data for this paper are drawn from two case studies of adolescents with disabilities experiencing work-based education with employers willing to negotiate accommodations. The first case reports on a young woman in a wheelchair due to spastic cerebral palsy, who worked in a travel agency. The second case reports on an adolescent male with moderate developmental disabilities who worked in a lumber and hardware store. The data collection involved observations as well as formal and informal interviews with the adolescents and their workplace supervisors. SCCT provided a framework for understanding career development and work-based education of adolescents with disabilities due to its focus on goals and assumptions of humans as agentic.

Specifically, SCCT includes six developmentally linked processes that occur throughout the school years and contribute to positive transition experiences for adolescents with disabilities. These processes include: (a) acquisition of positive yet realistic self-efficacy and outcome expectations; (b) development of academic and career interests; (c) formation of linkages between interests and career-related goals; (d) translation of goals into action; (e) facilitation of academic and work skills and remediation of performance related problems; and (f) negotiation of social supports and barriers that affect development of self and occupational beliefs and the pursuit of preferred academic and career options.

Based on the SCCT, this paper provides an analysis that highlights the critical role of accommodations in enabling youth with disabilities to fully participate in work-based education that enhances career development. Specifically, this analysis emphasizes the importance of adolescents with disabilities learning to negotiate accommodations, rather than simply experiencing accommodations. In conclusion, this paper indicates the great potential of SCCT in helping adolescents with disabilities to develop their careers through work-based education in the future.

Enhancing workplace learning for adolescents: The use of metacognitive instruction

Munby, H., Zanibbi, M., Poth, C., Hutchinson, N. L., Chin, P., & Thornton, A. (2007). Enhancing workplace learning for adolescents: The use of metacognitive instruction. Education + Training, 49(1), 8-24.

This paper describes a study of the feasibility of metacognitive instruction for workplace learning. At issue is helping high school students prepare themselves so that they can optimize their learning in their work-based education (WBE) programs. Metacognitive instruction is designed to help students to activate metacognitive processes while learning or solving problems, usually by asking themselves a series of questions (e.g. Hutchinson, 1993; Kramarski & Mevarech, 2003).

We asked what might be common about work and workplace knowledge across widely different contexts. Our search began with the concept of routines, developed through the literature on routines and studies of routines in varied workplaces (Munby et al., 2003). The metacognitive theory of routines begins with recognizing the power of teaching students that they can understand their activities in a workplace in terms of routines, which have generalizable properties. Analysis of our empirical studies led us to list four further concepts with similar power for cutting across workplace settings: purpose, next steps, hiddenness (which became “Hidden Page”), and community (or belonging). We then translated these five concepts into five instructional pages that would be brief, easy to read, and accessible to co-op students, co-op teachers, and workplace supervisors.

Focusing on the experiences of high school students with the instructional materials, we conducted three case studies: a high achieving co-op student at a flying school, a medium achieving student at a long-term care facility, and a low achieving student at a logistics business. Data collection consisted of observations and interviews before, after and during the placements. In each case the high school student, the co-op teachers, and the placement supervisor were involved in the research. Metacognitive instruction was given to the three students and shared with their teachers and workplace supervisors.

Student perspectives on the usefulness of the instructional materials were evident through the students’ recognition of each of the concepts in the workplace and the application of each of the concepts to their work. During the case studies, it became clear that the students were not familiar with the instructional materials. Although the teachers reported teaching the ideas in the materials, the students denied having received such instruction. A further contrast was observed where the workplace supervisors expressed enthusiasm about the materials, while the teachers were unconvinced of their usefulness. The teachers did not appreciate the importance of students asking themselves the questions.

Our ten years of case study research suggest that supervisors and students, in the workplace together day after day, recognize when students falter and together find ways to overcome these difficulties. Co-op teachers, by comparison, visit the workplace only occasionally and may never see the faltering or the need for students to develop a metacognitive stance. If students and supervisors saw the instructional pages as giving permission for students to ask questions and as cues to the questions to ask, it might remove a communication gap apparent in some of our case studies.

Student assessment in exemplary work-based education programs

Berg, D., Taylor , J., Hutchinson, N. L., Munby, H., Versnel, J., & Chin, P. (2007). Student assessment in exemplary work-based education programs: Insights from educators and employers. Journal of Workplace Learning, 19 (4), 209-221.

Current research on work-based education (WBE) programs focuses on describing student engagement within the workplace and on understanding the nature of learning and instruction in WBE programs. Yet, there is little information about the methods used to assess student learning in WBE programs. This paper supplements existing research by describing the assessment practices reported by educators and workplace supervisors involved in exemplary WBE programs for high school students.

Literature on workplace learning and assessment highlights challenges to using traditional assessment in WBE programs including the mismatch of such assessment practices to current conceptions of workplace learning and the influence of assessment on pedagogy and learning. Research demonstrates how traditional pencil-and-paper assessments, designed to tap isolated skills, do not correspond with constructivist conceptions of learning or recognize the complex nature of learning in WBE. However, surveys of assessment practices have reported that while non-traditional methods like portfolio assessment are beginning to be used, most WBE programs still rely on traditional assessments. This paper considers the importance of understanding the form and process of assessment used in WBE programs, and describes the assessment practices reported in a series of focus groups conducted with educators and workplace supervisors of exemplary WBE programs across Canada.

Data for this study were from six focus group interviews conducted across Canada; four with school teachers and school coordinators of exemplary WBE high school programs, and two with workplace supervisors. The same focus group protocol was used for each group and consisted of questions that asked participants to describe how they viewed their programs as distinctive. Questions centered on four areas: features, preparation, connecting school to work, and accommodations.

Although no questions centered on assessment, an initial analysis of the focus group data suggested that assessment was an essential component of exemplary programs from the pre-placement stage through to the final evaluation of students’ participation. Subsequent analysis revealed six themes that reflect the characteristics of assessments implemented throughout a students’ participation in exemplary WBE programs: identification of students’ interests and abilities, student self-assessment, communication of expectations and responsibilities, contextualized assessment, collaboration between school and workplace, and connections between assessment and instruction. From our analysis we conclude that teachers and workplace supervisors, in exemplary WBE programs, view assessment as an essential component of students’ WBE experiences. Moreover, these practitioners demonstrate an exceptional awareness of and consistency with recent theory and research on workplace learning.

Implications of this research include the need to emphasize practical assessment procedures, for teachers and workplace supervisors, that promote the meaningful participation and learning of students in WBE programs and of workers in the workplace.

Teaching science for the workplace? An analysis of Canadian science curriculum documents

Chin, P., Zanibbi, M., Dalgarno, N., Poth, C., Ayala, G., Hutchinson, N. L., & Munby, H. (2007). Teaching science for the workplace? An analysis of Canadian science curriculum documents. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education, 7(2/3), 107-132.

This study examines the extent to which the contemporary Canadian provincial and territorial science curriculum documents represent objectives and goals that relate to science in the workplace. Our analysis reveals disappointing results: There are few explicit references to the world of work in the majority of science curriculum documents.

Our analysis framework was informed by the literature on the New Economy. The prevalence of knowledge-based economies, coupled with the unpredictability and instability of the workplace in the New Economy, demands both the development of new skills and learning opportunities for the next generation and a different form of curriculum thinking.  Based on the position that education is principally about preparing for life after school, this study describes the relationship between the imperatives of the New Economy and the opportunities for learning necessary skills as indicated in current provincial and territorial science curriculum documents.

A document analysis of 108 Canadian science curriculum documents suggests that curriculum policy makers are generally inattentive to the world of work and, in particular, to the demands of the New Economy.  The overall number of coded statements resulting from the document analysis revealed that explicit references to issues of school science and its relationship to students’ futures in science careers or science-rich workplaces averaged only 8 statements per curriculum guide. Moreover, the statements about work uncovered in our curriculum document analysis conceal the complexity of the relationship between science in schools and science in the workplace, just as they seem to ignore the New Economy as an emerging context for the employment of high school leavers. From our analysis, we concluded that policy makers are less concerned about the match between curriculum and work than they might be about using school science to gauge students’ suitability for post secondary education.

The data supported seven themes which pointed to a lack of attention to the following areas in the Canadian science curriculum: The workplace in the New Economy, life-long learning, preparing for the future, careers, skills for the workplace, application of scientific principles to the workplace, and curriculum specific to regional economies.  These deficiencies characterized the Canadian science curriculum documents and identified the need for an increased emphasis on (a) overall statements about the future, (b) science and the workplace, and (c) application of science to the workplace.

Implications of the research include the need to review the purposes of science education in Canada. Questions we might ask include “To what extent might school science attempt to bridge the worlds of school and work?” and “How might the bridge be built to this large part of life after school?”

Co-op students’ access to shared knowledge in science-rich workplaces

Munby, H., Taylor, J., Chin, P., & Hutchinson, N. L. (2007). Co-op students’ access to shared knowledge in science-rich workplaces. Science Education 91(1), 115-132.

Wenger’s (1998) concepts “community of practice,” “brokering,” and “transfer” explain the challenges co-operative (co-op) education students face in relating the knowledge learned in school with what they learn while participating as members of a workplace. Both schools and workplaces are communities of practice, although very different ones. Co-op education students are in the unique position of belonging to both communities of practice simultaneously. The research for this paper is set within the contexts of the knowledge economy and increased collaboration in the workplace. The paper draws on several qualitative case studies of work-based education to examine the similarities and differences between learning in the workplace and learning in school, with a focus on science education and science-rich workplaces. The paper addresses two questions:

  1. What kinds of shared knowledge do students have access to, and to what degree?
  2. To what extent does the knowledge of the community of practice in the workplace resemble the knowledge shared within the community of school?

Barriers to connecting school knowledge and workplace knowledge include the nature of science (its purpose, accountability, and substance), the structure of knowledge in each setting, the form content knowledge takes, the sequence that the curriculum is presented in, and the gatekeeping that occurs when knowledge is accessed.

In order to understand how science is accessed in different contexts, we classify science into three ‘versions’ as described in Chin, Munby, Hutchinson, Taylor, and Clark (2004). The structure of school is intended to provide students with access to the content of the curriculum. While this does not guarantee students easy access, they have supports, in the form of teachers and peer tutors whose job it is to help them gain access. Conversely, workplaces are not set up for accessing academic knowledge—yet co-op education programs use them as learning sites for the reinforcement of academic knowledge learned in the classroom. Co-op students may not be given the opportunity to work through problems. Therefore, students may have no incentive to attempt to access workplace knowledge which is often hidden behind simple practices and routines.

In the workplace, students can learn the procedural knowledge necessary to complete routine without having to access the declarative knowledge. In the science classroom, the emphasis is on declarative knowledge without attention to helping students to access declarative knowledge from procedural activities in the workplace.

At the workplace, students are given more opportunities to learn (access to more shared knowledge) if they are able to show competence in current tasks. They generally move from tasks requiring less responsibility to those requiring more responsibility as they prove themselves. Within a course at school, it seems that students are exposed to new information and tasks regardless of how they perform. However, students who do not do well in one science course may find themselves moved into a non-academic stream for their next science course where they are exposed to less doing of science.

In answer to our first research question, our review of the literature and our analysis of data collected in workplaces suggest that students have sufficient support for accessing procedural knowledge, but are not able to access declarative knowledge. In response to the second research question, we have shown that there are qualitative differences between workplace science and school science: there are differences in sequencing and there are differences in the purpose of knowledge. And we have suggested that these differences may limit the success students have in accessing the science knowledge of the workplace. Also the kinds of shared knowledge accessible to co-op students in the workplace vary. The quality of access seems related to the level of cognitive involvement: The more access one has, then the more one is involved in synthesizing, judging, and analyzing. The paper concludes by addressing implications for interventions in school and the workplace, with attention to the transition from school to work, and points to profound obstacles to connecting school knowledge with workplace knowledge.

Exemplary practice in work-based education: a validation study

Zanibbi, M., Munby, H., Hutchinson, N. L., Versnel, J., & Chin, P. (2006). Exemplary practice in work-based education: a validation study. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 58(1), 65-81.

The purpose of this study is to validate the concepts of exemplary practice for Work Based Education (WBE) programs using two theoretical perspectives; Social Cognitive Career Training (SCCT) related to career development and Billett’s (2001) research on workplace learning. The literature suggests the following characterized exemplary WBE; strong communication, effective and meaningful evaluation, liking school learning with workplace learning, and creating a pathway between school and workplace. However, the major emphasis is on programs and policy issues and does not describe how the workplace itself can be structured to provide effective learning for students. We use the framework of two theoretical perspectives so we can validate the concepts of exemplary practice for WBE.

SCCT is a framework used to explain the processes through which individuals develop academic and occupational choices and achieve success in school and work. SCCT examines a person’s attributes and how workplace experiences influence a person’s occupational choices whereas Billett’s theory examines workplace learning. His theory states the workplace environment and experiences can be structured to promote effective learning. The model he developed emphasizes giving the learner access to indirect guidance which enables movement from low to high accountability work. These theoretical perspectives support one another by emphasizing the effectiveness of exemplary practices from both an individual and environmental perspective.

We selected case studies of two adolescents, one working in a fitness center and the other in a water treatment plant, to form the empirical base for the validation reported in this paper.

Two cases were selected because they present numerous contrasts which were an important feature to demonstrate key characteristic of exemplary programs. Data collection for both cases included field notes of observations and informal and formal interviews of students and workplace supervisors.

The data was interpreted by using the two theories of workplace learning and career development. The analysis revealed both accountability and task complexity fostered the development and achievement of personal learning goals. Without a gradation of steps toward more complex tasks, a WBE placement does not offer a clear pathway of learning activities. In terms of career development, the structured learning environment provided opportunities for the individual to develop mastery in a number of tasks. The successful experience in performing expected task affirmed the student’s career choice and the development of future career goals. The findings provided empirical support of exemplary WBE.

Together, SCCT and Billett’s research on workplace learning define distinctive characteristics that can be used to validate exemplary WBE practices at a high school level. When the two theories are applied to contrasting case studies, they reveal a high level of convergence with WBE research literature necessary components for exemplary WBE practices. Career development and workplace learning are important frameworks of WBE programs. The two theories perspectives used in our research, contributes to enhancing the validity of exemplary WBE practices.

Epistemological appropriation in one high school student's learning in cooperative education

Chin, P., Steiner Bell, K., Munby, H., & Hutchinson, N. L. (2004). Epistemological appropriation in one high school student's learning in cooperative education. American Educational Research Journal, 41, 401-417.

In this article we describe and explain the learning that occurs during one student’s workplace experience in co-op education using Hung’s (1999) theory of epistemological appropriation. Detailed observations and interviews from a high school student’s semester-long cooperative (co-op) placement in a dental practice are used to exemplify Hung’s theoretical approach to understanding situated learning. Using Hung’s theory of epistemological appropriation in an analysis of the co-op supervisor’s regulatory behaviours and of the novice’s corresponding regulatory behaviours helped to explain the developments in this student’s learning, actions, and beliefs.

In Hung’s framework, novices become part of the community of practice via a series of self-regulatory experiences of dependency. Hung described the learner as sequentially (a) submitting to the authority of the experienced practitioner, (b) mirroring the practitioner, and (c) constructing independently patterns of actions and beliefs inherent in the community. The shifts in the thinking of the novice co-occur within a dynamic with a teacher/mentor who offers access to the community of practice by engaging in the parallel regulatory processes of scaffolding, modeling, and coaching.

The supervisory regulatory behaviours of scaffolding, modeling, and coaching, and the corresponding novice regulatory behaviours of submitting, mirroring, and constructing acted as conceptual lenses with which to view the student’s co-op placement as it unfolded. The focus on regulatory behaviours allowed us to identify some of the factors that enhance or constrain student learning in the workplace, and to attend to temporal issues where the nature of the regulatory behaviours revealed a shift from dependency into more self-regulation by the student. We also realized that unlike the uniform sequential progression suggested by Hung’s theory, the supervisor’s and novice’s regulatory behaviours continued for the duration of the term, and that even during one day, there would be examples of all regulatory behaviours. This finding suggests that the sequential progression occurs for each instance of significant new learning, and that new learning is constantly being introduced.

This case study informed us about a pattern of learning that featured the student’s gradual inclusion in the community of practice in the workplace. Our understanding of learning and teaching in the workplace is revealed in detail when the case is viewed through the theoretical lens afforded by Hung (1999). And these details suggest that the process is sequential, as Hung suggested, and integrative in complex ways that are not yet addressed in his description of epistemological appropriation.

Educational research as disciplined inquiry: Examining the facets of rigor in our work

Munby, H. (2003). Educational research as disciplined inquiry: Examining the facets of rigor in our work. Science Education, 87, 153-160.

This guest editorial addresses the need to disengage from the paradigm wars that have characterized educational research. The author asks that we extend our thinking beyond questions of reliability and validity that traditionally accompany discussions of quality in educational research. These concepts are positioned within the context of rigor and are suggested to offer a more faithful criterion for weighing the substance of inquiry in education.

While weighing questions surrounding the procedural and conceptual characteristics of reliability and validity, a discussion is offered that attempts to displace arguments around these relative to specific research paradigms―quantitative and qualitative―and asks researchers to be more attentive to the purpose of research. Procedurally, research at its core is an exercise in argument, a process that flows from a purpose, related literature, data, and analysis to suggested conclusions. Conceptually, validity and reliability mold together to form inquiry of rigor. With rigor conceptualized, consideration is drawn to the utility of research. With due consideration for the bonds between the process of rigor and the application of research, issues such as ethics and rhetoric which inform rigor are discussed.

The author argues that reliability and validity are not adequate to consider fully the quality and utility of research and do not readily address the nature of research as a human endeavour. These concepts, it is argued, “tend to conceal the humanness of our work.” With a focus on the quality of research, we are urged to move beyond conveying information explaining the reliability and the validity of the research we conduct. Rigor is considered as a useful concept to extend our understanding regarding decisions of appropriate research methods adopted by researchers. Rigor lays within the purpose of engaging research beyond the concepts of reliability and validity, on the value and trustworthiness of our research, and to attend to a focus on the quality of research in education. Attention to quality does not rest upon a strictly descriptive sense, but the more pragmatic notion of “what we think research that we do is for: What is its point?” Research benefits from being attentive to the questions which inform the “human side” of the research we conduct.

It follows that discussions flowing from the notion of rigor are informed by issues related to ethics, professionalism, and rhetoric. Attention to ethics enlightens the rationale for the work we engage, which in turn, informs the value judgments that we place upon that work. Rigor embedded within a context of professionalism helps bridge theoretical and practical arguments that do not always span across research purposes and professional knowledge and practice: arguments which often times are idiosyncratic to the researcher and the educator. Rhetoric helps position rigor outside the contexts of strict adherence to notions of reliability and validity which are traditionally supported by conceptual checklists and statistical indices. Rhetoric underscores the human side of research by situating rigor within a process that calls upon argumentation and persuasion.

Workplace learning and the metacognitive functions of routines

Munby, H., Versnel, J., Hutchinson, N. L., Chin, P., & Berg, D. H. (2003). Workplace learning and the metacognitive functions of routines.  Journal of Workplace Learning, 15, 94-104.

We believe that there are commonalities in workplace knowledge that can be taught. This paper explores the potential of metacognitive instruction for workplace learning. Specifically, the concept of routines is used to develop an instructional theory derived from the inherent metacognitive functions of routines themselves. The paper reports what we have come to recognize as the “metacognitive functions of routines.” By highlighting what constitutes mindful engagement in routines, it clearly shows that there are skills that are transferable from one context to another, and that these skills are higher order, metacognitive ones.

In this paper, we argue that teaching about the character of routines can serve as metacognitive instruction for novices in work sites. The theory is grounded on two assumptions: (1) that work can be conceptualized as routines; and (2) that the concept of routines can be thought. The metacognitive functions of routines give structure to learning in the workplace. The first step in an instructional theory about routines is to recognize that power of teaching students that they can understand their activities in a workplace in terms of routines. Added power comes from understanding that routines have generalized properties. For example, the following are characteristics of routines: something initiates them, they proceed until some definable point is reached, and then they repeat. Also, as we all know, sometimes routines do not work, for example, they get off track. The concepts of routines invites students to attend in general terms to what goes wrong, to identify specific failures within their own routines and then to learn within their workplaces how to respond.

The theory of the metacognitive functions of routines for workplace instruction developed in this paper is consistent with our findings about the curriculum of the workplace: “working knowledge” is the mastery of routines, and routines represent the organization of this knowledge (Munby et al., 2003). Manifestation of routines may be unique from workplace to workplace, but functions of routines (something that initiates them, etc.) are general and are not context-dependent. We developed this unit of analysis, the routines, from two sets of empirical studies. The first set is of detailed case studies of high school students in co-op education workplace settings (e.g. dental office, veterinary hospital). The second set of studies included observing employers and employees in widely differing settings (retail outlets, opticians). Billett’s (2001) work has shown that the use of guided strategies embedded in everyday work activities can enhance the development of knowledge needed for successful workplace performance.

For our research, the implications of the theory of the metacognitive functions of routines are theoretical and instructional. At the theoretical level, we are interested in exploring how our theoretical work on routines leads to convergence between metacognitive theory about workplace learning and the community-of-practice theoretical work. At the instructional level, we are committed to investigating ways to enhance workplace learning for students in co-op education and similar work-based learning programs.

Multiple perspectives on the purposes of high school cooperative education

Hutchinson, N. L., Steiner-Bell, K., Munby, H., Chin, P., Versnel, J., & Chapman, C. (2001). Multiple perspectives on the purposes of high school cooperative education: A qualitative study . Journal of Cooperative Education, 36, 73-85.

There has been a significant increase in education programs that incorporate work-based learning. We looked at previous research findings on the perspectives of cooperative (co-op) education articulated by university, college and high school students. There is limited research on employer or parental perspectives of work-based learning at the secondary level. In addition, there are conflicting views amongst curriculum developers and policy-makers about the objectives and intentions of co-op education. Very little is known about the impact these programs have on learning, but studies have shown that educators agree that co-op education is beneficial. We concur, and through this study describe the perceptions of several stakeholders in Canadian co-op education and the learning it enables.

Our qualitative study explores the perceptions of work-based learning held by four co-op students, their parents, their workplace supervisors, and their co-op teachers. We wanted to know what stakeholders thought was learned in high school co-op education, and what stakeholders’ perceptions of co-op education were. These individual interviews were supplemented with an additional focus group of seven co-op students.

Recurring themes were found through case study analysis and cross-case analyses of four co-op students. All four students identified co-op as an opportunity to explore future career options. This particular study suggests that the objectives of co-op education are rooted in the experiences of the focal adolescent. A cross-case analysis identified co-op program purposes as exploring various careers, obtaining work experience, and gaining admission to postsecondary program options.

The findings show general agreement that co-op education broadens the curriculum, although meanings of this were not necessarily shared by all stakeholders. Students viewed co-op as an opportunity for alternative and experiential learning in career education. Educators viewed co-op as the broadening of academic curriculum, while parents saw co-op as a route for personal growth and for experiencing the real-world. Workplace supervisors identified mutual gains for the co-op and the workplace.

Our research on multiple perspectives reaffirms the importance and validity of focus group research. Students were open and frank in the group interview session. Additional issues were raised by the students, such as fairness in co-op, differences in perceptions between co-op education and part-time work, parental reservations about co-op, and the relationship of classroom learning to workplace learning. These findings point to sensitive issues in work-based education.

The intended curriculum in co-operative education in Ontario secondary schools

Hutchinson, N. L., Munby, H., Chin, P., Edwards, K. L., Steiner-Bell, K., Chapman, C., Ho, K., &  Mills de España, W. (2001).  The intended curriculum in co-operative education in Ontario secondary schools: An analysis of school district documents. Journal of Vocational Educational Research, 26, 103-140.

Student enrolment in co-operative education is increasing even though there is disagreement on the goals of work-based learning.  Co-operative education has been conceptualized as an alternate mode of delivery for academic courses in many educational jurisdictions in Canada.  The argument for conceptualizing co-operative education as curriculum rather than a mode of delivery permits the analysis of policy from a theoretical perspective and additionally, allows the examination of the true link to academic subject matter.

This paper reports the results of analyses of curriculum policy associated with co-operative education in nine school districts in Ontario.  Specifically, the co-operative education policy documents in these districts were analyzed using a framework developed to examine the intended curriculum as reflected in curriculum guides and policy documents.  The analysis framework developed by the research team includes 16 topics within 4 categories: description of the policy document used in the analysis; kinds of learning; issues related to equity and diversity in participants and workplaces; and qualifications of participants in co-operative education including students, teachers, and workplace supervisors.

The analysis revealed that there are some consistencies regarding issues related to attendance, safety, and legal issues.  There is also wide variability in policy documents regarding teaching/learning processes, specific preparation for unique workplaces, equity issues, and qualifications of co-operative education teachers.  Evaluation of co-operative education experiences is also an area of wide variation.  Policy drift appears in all documents in that the Ontario Ministry of Education policy document specifically stated that co-operative education is an alternate mode of delivery for academic courses in secondary schools.  Yet, at the level of district policy, the link to academic learning is not emphasized.  Evaluation tools used in co-operative education reflect a ‘hidden’ curriculum focused more on career and workplace preparation, and the difficulties experienced by most students in co-operative education have little to do with academic subject matter, and much to do with attendance and lack of initiative, etc.

There is little doubt that co-operative education has social value.  This appears to be reflected in recent curriculum reform and policy documents from organizations such as the Conference Board of Canada.  However, curriculum policy documents examined in this study reveal that much of policy related to co-operative education deals with form rather than content.  More research is needed to examine other documents that do address co-operative education content as well as how the curriculum is enacted in the co-operative education classroom and workplace.

Post-secondary students’ intentions for participating in high school co-operative education programs

Chin, P., Munby, H., Hutchinson, N. L., & Steiner-Bell, K. (2000). Post-secondary students’ intentions for participating in high school co-operative education programs: A descriptive study . Journal of Vocational Educational Research, 25 , 126-154.

Large numbers of adolescents participate in co-op education and in other forms of workplace learning in Canada and the United States.  In Canada’s reformed secondary curricula in Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, some combination of co-op and career education has assumed the role of curriculum with required credits and course descriptions.  In spite of increasing enrolments in and enthusiasm for co-op education, agreement on the educational goals they are to serve is lacking.  The school-to-work literature lists potential purposes of work-based learning such as: (a) acquiring knowledge and skills in particular occupations, (b) providing career exploration, (c) learning all aspects of an industry, (d) improving personal social competence related to work in general, and (e) enhancing students’ academic achievement and motivation through contextual learning.  It is vital that we clarify the purposes of such programs and ascertain the extent to which these purposes are met.  The aim of this study was to determine if students currently enrolled in post-secondary programs who took co-op in high school ascribe intentions to those co-op experiences and if so, what are those intentions are.

Analyses of provincial and a sample of Ontario district curriculum documents in co-operative education have identified the intents of policy makers and educators.  However, little emphasis in research has been on what students themselves expect from co-op education.  This study merges lines of research in co-operative education and career development utilizing a constructivist framework which suggests that career development refers to a process of linked actions in which people intentionally engage that includes manifest behaviour, conscious cognitions, and social meaning.  Within this framework, we asked university and community college students to report retrospectively on their reasons for participating (or not participating) in secondary school co-op education.  We also asked a series of related questions about the role of co-op education in career development.

We surveyed 782 college and university students enrolled in education and nursing programs about their high school co-op education experiences.  Analysis of the students’ responses showed that the most frequently cited reasons for participating in co-op education were: to try out a chosen career, to gain general workplace experience, or to explore possible careers.  Gaining experiences that would enhance their application to a specific post-secondary program was another reason that students took co-op education.  Overall, career goals were dominant, rather than goals like academic enhancement or psycho-social development.  Frequently, students were not aware of the academic credit they had earned for co-op education suggesting that neither their intents nor their experiences were focused on enhancing learning in secondary courses.  Their intentions and actions tended to be future-oriented.

These findings are consistent with the results of current American studies on workplace learning and academic skill as well as with the results of our multiple perspective case studies.  However, such findings are in contrast to many provincial policy documents that emphasize academic learning in the workplace.  Knowing more about students’ intentions for participating in (or not participating in) co-op education can support both policy and instructional development in the growing area of secondary programming in co-op.

How inclusive is co-operative education in Canada?

Hutchinson, N. L., Chin, P., Munby, H., Mills de España, W., Young, J., & Edwards, K. L. (1999).  How inclusive is co-operative education in Canada? Getting the story and the numbers . Exceptionality Education Canada, 8(3), 15-43.

Since 1982, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has stated that every Canadian is equal before the law and has the right to equal benefit of the law “without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.”  Since that time, legislation and policies in many areas of Canadian life have focused on the rights of four groups—women, people with disabilities, members of ethnocultural minorities, and Aboriginal peoples.  Changes have been made in the policies and procedures of the departments and ministries of education across the country to ensure that all students receive equitable treatment in schools.

In the past thirty years all the provinces and territories in Canada have developed programs in co-operative (co-op) education. Typically co-op education involves students in extended periods of time at a workplace while enrolled in full-time studies. An article by researchers with the Co-operative Education and Workplace Learning Group reports on how the curriculum documents in co-op education, of the provinces and territories, attend to issues of equity. The research group focused on the four groups named above--women, people with disabilities, members of ethnocultural minorities, and Aboriginal peoples.

The analysis showed that the recently revised curriculum documents of British Columbia and Ontario contained the most references to equitable inclusion of all four groups. The documents from Alberta contained many references to equitable treatment in co-op education of students with disabilities. The following recommendations were made in this research:

  1. Ministries of Education make clear statements of commitment to equity in provincial and territorial co-op education and career education documents.
  2. Ministries of Education collect, and make available to researchers, data that enables them to judge the success of their equity initiatives in co-op education.
  3. Co-op education and career education documents include recommendations to teachers and co-op supervisors about how to adapt their programs to meet the needs of members of the four equity groups.
  4. Where existing programs are not meeting the needs of all students, educators be encouraged to tailor programs specifically to meet the needs of women, exceptional students, Aboriginal students, ESL students, and students from culturally diverse groups.  When appropriate, members of these groups provide instruction and supervision in such tailored programs.
  5. Web sites be used to provide teachers and supervisors with current and responsive curricula in co-op and career education.

Papers in Published Conference Proceedings

Workplace learning from a curriculum perspective

Chin, P., Munby, H., & Hutchinson, N. (2000). Workplace learning from a curriculum perspective. In C. Symes (Ed.), Working knowledge: Conference proceedings (pp. 317-323). Sydney, Australia: The University of Technology.

The purpose of this paper is to show that, by conceptualizing workplace learning as curriculum, we can identify aspects of the experience that can be made more explicit for learners.  Although co-operative education credits are taken by a large number of secondary-school students, there is little research on co-op education from a curricular or cognitive perspective. From a curriculum perspective, with its emphasis on knowledge, learning, and experience, our attention in data analysis was focused on what the students were learning in these workplace settings, how they were learning, and how the workplace staff assessed the co-op students’ learning.

This paper draws on research that developed case studies of four co-op students in their placements at a veterinary clinic specializing in small animal work. Data collection involved regular ethnographic observations at the clinic, and interviews with the co-op students, with the veterinarian, and with the clinic staff. Analysis of the data revealed several significant differences between workplace learning and school learning:

  1. The purposes of the institution. While classrooms are devoted to students’ learning, veterinary clinics are devoted to patient health and recovery, and to attracting customers willing to pay for the service. Students received instruction only at times when patient care was not compromised. They started with simple but essential tasks and were gradually given more interesting and complex tasks as they demonstrated their proficiency.
  2. The organization of subject matter. Unlike a school setting, where learning in a course occurs each day during the term in manageable “conceptual chunks,” students at the clinic experienced intensive learning during the first few weeks. The information became meaningful when the researcher and co-op students came to see that knowledge was all part of the clinic’s routines.
  3. The role of knowledge and skills. In the veterinary clinic, declarative knowledge is learned to serve procedural knowledge rather than for its own sake, which is how it is learned in school. In the workplace, knowing how to perform a skill comes before knowing about the scientific facts and explanations behind it.
  4. The nature of assessment. In the co-op setting, greater opportunities for learning and increasing responsibilities are dependent on positive workplace performance assessments of knowledge, skills, and attitudes by the workplace personnel. In school, the teacher presents new material each week, regardless of whether or not the students are achieving.
  5. The variety of ways of learning. First, clinic staff communicated workplace knowledge through direct questioning, direct instruction, direction with reason, demonstration, and think-alouds. Second, experience itself acted as the “teacher” in the cop-op students’ learning through skill learning, cues embedded within the routine itself, and through incongruities in routines that catalyze reflection.

Non-Refereed Publications and Technical Reports

Co-operative education and the Canadian curriculum

Munby, H., Hutchinson, N. L., & Chin, P. (2000). Co-operative education and the Canadian curriculum. Education Canada,40(2), 20-23.

This article provided an overview of the CEWL research agenda for the 1999-2000 year and provides details about our two document analysis studies, our survey study, and our multiple-perspectives case studies. The article also highlights our earlier research on provincial and national background research papers.

Co-operative education plays a significant role in the high school career of countless Canadian adolescents because it helps set the direction for their destinations after high school.  We also believe that  co-op education is socially valued, but it is not well understood as an educational phenomenon. It is even difficult to obtain accurate enrolment information about secondary school co-op education. In a previous study, we estimated that about 10% of Canada’s over 1.55 million secondary-school students enrol in co-op education each academic year (Munby, Cunningham, & Chin, 1998).

Our first explorations into understanding co-op education began in 1997 when we entered a veterinary clinic and observed students learning in the workplace, and how the clinic staff arranged learning opportunities and taught the students.  We also interviewed clinic staff and the students.  While we were learning about co-op education in these studies, we were engaged in preparing two background research papers.

The first of these (Hutchinson, Munby, & Chin, 1997), in the area of counselling, co-operative and career education, was prepared for the Ontario Secondary School Reform.  Our research for this paper made it clear to us that co-op education in Ontario was not getting the research attention it deserved, and that current policy did not recognize the power of co-op education as a vehicle for work-based career education.  In the second background research paper (Munby, Hutchinson, & Chin, 1998), for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), we posed five research questions that fell directly from our commitment to viewing co-op education as part of the secondary curriculum.  Our questions included what the goals of co-op education should be, how learning might be enhanced, and how co-op placements might accommodate the learning needs of exceptional students and students from under-represented groups.

We developed the curriculum perspective underlying these questions into our own program of research, currently funded by the Social Science and Research Council of Canada.  In the first year of this research program, 1999-2000, we studied the purposes or intentions of co-op education.  We completed two document studies, one survey study, and are currently completing analysis of multiple-perspective case studies (i.e., where each of these studies involves interviews with one co-op student, the co-op teacher and co-op supervisor for that student, and a parent/guardian of the student).

The first document study reported that co-op education policies across Canada lacked consistency or direction for how co-op programs addressed equity issues for the four groups named in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (i.e., women, people with disabilities, members of ethnocultural minorities, and Aboriginal peoples).  The second document study analyzed the intended curriculum in a sample of policies and procedures documents from nine school districts in Ontario.  Our analysis showed that while co-op education is described at the provincial level as an alternate mode of delivery for subject knowledge, as well as a means of career preparation, the emphasis at the district level is on career preparation and personal growth of adolescents.  The survey study examined university and college students in similar career preparation programs (education and nursing) to explore the relationships between post-secondary education and high school co-op enrolment.  We found that approximately one-third of the students surveyed had participated in high school co-op, and approximately 40% of those students cited career preparation as the main reason they participated in it.

Co-operative education: Challenges of qualitative research on learning in the workplace

Chin, P., Munby, H., & Hutchinson, N. L. (1999, April). Co-operative education: Challenges of qualitative research on learning in the workplace. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Montreal. ERIC #TM 029 736

It is estimated that 10% of Canada’s secondary school population participate in co-operative education programs. The purpose of these placements is to provide a practical setting for classroom experience. Yet, the increased emphasis within schools placed upon such programs has not been matched with a research focus to understand the nature of learning and knowledge within co-operative workplace settings. Little attention has been directed toward key principles which inform pedagogical and cognitive aspects of learning in these environments.

The present study contributes to an ongoing body of work that seeks to understand the nature of learning and knowledge in co-operative workplace settings. Of particular interest is what and how secondary-school students are learning in workplace settings. Concomitant to this purpose was the desire to uncover contextual and experiential elements that prove informative in framing appropriate research methodologies for use in co-operative education settings.

Researchers followed four female high school students throughout a term co-op placement in a veterinary clinic. Participant observations and interviews with the co-op students and their supervisors were the principal means of data collection. Data analysis indicated that learning takes places within complex sets of relationships between students’ experiences and observations. Learning seemed to arise from interactions between experience and curriculum that emphasizes, workplace experience as curriculum, the special character of experiential learning, and a cognitive perspective on learning from experience.  Three components highlight complexity of the learning reported by the students and observed by the researchers.

  • First, students learned through a combination of verbal instruction and direct demonstration. This model of instruction used several different practices: direct questioning, direction through instruction, direction with reason, and think-alouds. The process and level of learning for each student was dependent upon their abilities and willingness to learn.
  • Second, learning occurred outside of the structured model utilized by the clinic staff. That is, student learning also took place through observing other co-op students and clinic staff.
  • Third, experience seemed to move beyond a process of learning specific tasks to become a method of learning, “experience appeared to have an expanded role in the veterinary clinic: it seemed to function much as a teacher might.”

The learning experiences of the co-op students in the present study suggest important implications for research on co-operative education. In practical terms, to understand the complexities of learning in co-op placements, learning must be considered as a product of experience; experience as a process and experience as a model instruction. A theoretical framework for exploring learning in co-op placements would benefit from an appreciation of the interaction between the pedagogical and cognitive processes through which learning and instruction are filtered.

Guidance and career education curriculum background research

Hutchinson, N., Munby, H., & Chin, P. (1997). Guidance and career education curriculum background research. Toronto, ON: Ministry of Education and Training for the Province of Ontario.

As part of the reform of education in Ontario schools, the Ministry of Education and Training called for background papers to stimulate discussion about secondary curriculum development.  This paper highlights the issues that need to be considered for guidance, career education, co-operative education, and work experience curriculum development. Examples of current practices in Ontario are included to show how schools and school boards have begun to redesign guidance and career education to better serve all students.

The following sources have been included to address the issues:

  • A review of research on guidance, career education, co-operative education and work experience;
  • An examination of a variety of related curriculum documents from Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta;
  • Consultation with subject association representatives for current opinions;
  • Discussion with educators working in these fields.

The issues have been developed in the paper through the following questions:

  1. What should be taught and learned in Guidance and Career Education?
  2. Who should take guidance and career education?
  3. What teaching approaches in guidance and career education are most beneficial to students?
  4. Who should teach the guidance and career education curriculum?
  5. How should the teaching and learning of guidance and career education be assessed?