11 In Search of the Big Picture: Exploring Perspectives of Work Integrated Education


Cristina Eftenaru, SFU
Natasha Mrkic-Subotic, SFU
The purpose of this session is to present attendees with an overview of existing co-op research in terms of what co-op education represents and how it fits within overall student education. In this session, presenters will first describe the history of co-op, followed by issues associated with co-op conceptualization and theoretical considerations, as well as empirical research related to the multifaceted process of learning in co-op and other work integrated programs. The second part of the session will focus on types of student work experience options, and specifically how international students and employers benefit from these as drawn from the presenters’ experience from two different institutions.

  • Co-operative Education
  • Work Integrated Education
  • Research trends
  • CWIE definitions
  • Student learning
  • Assessment
  • Benefits of Work Integrated Education
  • Career Development



Cristina Eftenaru

Natasha Mrkic-Subotic



Cristina Eftenaru, Simon Fraser University
Cristina is a Coordinator, Co-operative Education, Graduate Programs in the Faculty of Applied Sciences at Simon Fraser University and EdD Candidate in Educational Leadership, Post-Secondary at SFU. Cristina has conducted and presented research on topics related to Co-operative Education/Work Integrated Learning, skilled immigrant integration into the BC Labour Market, and Higher Education Leadership. She is currently serving as a member of ACE Research Committee and WACE International Research Group.

Natasha Mrkic-Subotic, Langara College
Natasha is an Instructor & Post Degree Diploma Coordinator at Langara College, as well as Educational Leadership Doctoral Candidate at Simon Fraser University. At Langara College, Natasha is focused on helping students, especially international students, explore their passions, prepare them for the local work context, and ultimately find an according work placement, in hopes of creating a right fit between the student and employer. In her research, she explores the effects of corporatization on higher education, and is currently working on research on a single institution which explores the effects of new patterns of work due to an emphasis on career development in the post-secondary context at a time of change.



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Cristina Eftenaru, Simon Fraser University
Natasha Mrkic-Subotic, Langara College


This session integrates findings from two separate research projects conducted by the presenters as part of their doctoral studies. The purpose of the session is to present an overview of the existing Co-operative and Work Integrated Education (CWIE) research and theory, highlighting some of the existing models of CWIE in post-secondary institutions. The session illustrates the evolution of CWIE research and identifies some issues associated with CWIE conceptualization and terminology, along with a synopsis of theoretical approaches suitable to CWIE. Empirical research on student learning and assessment in experiential learning programs are also presented. The session includes numerous examples from practice, identifying various CWIE options available to students, with focus on how international students and employers benefit from these. In the second part of this presentation, there is a focus on an explicit example of a post-secondary institution implementing work integrated education throughout their curriculum to help students better understand career development options and specific outcomes following their academic completion.

Key Messaging

Some of the topics discussed during the session are presented next. A chronological review of CWIE research shows that early research was limited and narrow in scope, with few opportunities for dissemination of findings. A stronger research is found in recent years, with an emphasis on theory development, issues related to terminology and delivery models, and stakeholders’ collaboration.

Some examples of theoretical approaches deemed suitable for CWIE are: experiential learning theory, reflective practice, transformative learning, authentic learning, and lifelong learning. Learning in CWIE programs is a multifaceted process connected to the development of employability, self-efficacy, and other career-related skills. Research shows that assessment of work integrated learning is a cumbersome task and most of the assessment models are developed at the program or discipline level and are in line with institutional requirements. Some assessment models found in research are briefly described. The talk demonstrates five perspectives of work integrated education, which are important to consider when developing a work integrated experience. These five perspectives were: (1) Educational Institution Administrator, (2) Educational Institution Faculty, (3) Student, (4) Employer, and (5) Government. Based on theory and research, we can conclude that it is important to consider the perspectives of all five stakeholders in developing work integrated education. As we come together as a community and work together to provide opportunities for students, we are enabling these connections to be successful and all sides see the benefits.

Next Steps

The presenters share their own career narratives and stories from their experience as practitioners working with international students who participate in work integrated education programs at two different institutions.

The following discussion questions from the session are meant to spark discussions and reflection:

  • How can your own career development inform your guiding students on their career journey?
  • How knowing more about what the research says could help practitioners better understand and improve their practice?
  • What are some types of CWIE available at your institution? What are some advantages and disadvantages that you can identify for each?

Implications to Career Education

Despite CWIE research being a growing field, with more practitioners engaging in research initiatives, there is still work to be done to overcome the reality that “research findings have been ignored by researchers, practitioners and pretty much everyone else” (Rowe, 2015, p. 106). With the new mandate of professional associations to work collaboratively and integrate the different forms of experiential learning in a more cohesive model, this presentation is timely. We see value in building partnerships with stakeholders—students, educators, institutions, industry, and government—and support one another. We hope that attendees were motivated to become more involved in research and continue to disseminate findings to the research community. A practice with strong roots in theory and research will aid Co-op and Career Educators to better support students develop their employability skills and professional practice.

Selected References

Chisholm, C. U., Harris, M. S. G., Northwood, D. O., & Johrendt, J. L. (2009). The characterisation of work-based learning by consideration of the theories of experiential learning. European Journal of Education, 44(3), 319-337. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3435.2009.01394.x

Coll, R., Eames, C., Paku, L., Lay, M., Hodges, D., Bhat, R., . . . Martin, A. (2009). An exploration of the pedagogies employed to integrate knowledge in work-integrated learning. Journal of Cooperative Education & Internships, 43(1), 14-35. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com

Coll, R., & Zegwaard, K. (2011). International Handbook for Cooperative and Work-Integrated EducationInternational Perspectives of Theory, Research and Practice (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: World Association for Cooperative Education.

Crichton, A. (2009). From impossibility to reality: Documenting the history of CAFCE in Canada. Retrieved from http://www.cafce.ca/_Library/_documents/2009-CAFCEHistory-AC.pdf

Fleming, J. (2015). Exploring stakeholders’ perspectives of the influences on student learning in cooperative education. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 16(2), 109-119. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com

Gardner, P., & Bartkus, K. R. 2. (2014). What’s in a name? A reference guide to work-education experiences. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 15(1), 37-54. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com

Hodges, D., Eames, C., & Coll, R. K. 3. (2014). Theoretical perspectives on assessment in cooperative education placements. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 15(3), 189-207. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com

McRae, N. (2015). Exploring conditions for transformative learning in work-integrated education. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 16(2), 137-144. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com

Rowe, P. M. (2015). Researchers’ reflections on what is missing from work-integrated learning research. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 16(2), 101-107. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com

Von Treuer, K., Sturre, V., Keele, S., McLeod, J. (2011). An integrated model for the evaluation of work placements. Journal of Cooperative Education & Internships, 12(3), 196-204

Zegwaard, K. E. (2015). Building an excellent foundation for research: Challenges and current research needs. Asia-Pacific Journal of Cooperative Education, 16(2), 89-99. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com


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