In this episode, Nancy Johnston, the new President of WACE (World Association of Cooperative Education) talks with us about her personal development, the WACE organization, and recent accomplishments of WACE. In the second half of the interview, we talk with her about the value of experiential education as an important complement to a course-based classical academic education. She makes a important points about the value of cooperative education (co-op) and other forms of experiential education beyond the critical value for employment including the importance of study abroad experiences in an increasingly borderless world.
Topics discussed in this episode include:
Resources Discussed in this Episode:
Music Credits: C’est La Vie by Derek Clegg
ExperiencED Season 1, Episode 3
Jim Stellar: [00:00:00] Welcome to the ExperiencED podcast. I am Jim stellar.
[00:00:12] Mary Churchill: [00:00:12] I am Mary Churchill
[00:00:13] Adrienne Dooley: [00:00:13] and I am Adrienne Dooley.
[00:00:15] Jim Stellar: [00:00:15] We bring you this podcast on experiential education
[00:00:18] Mary Churchill: [00:00:18] with educators and thought leaders
[00:00:20] Adrienne Dooley: [00:00:20] from around the country and the world.
[00:00:24] Jim Stellar: [00:00:24] It is our pleasure to have with us today, Nancy Johnston, who received her BSC co-op degree from the University of Waterloo in Kinesiology and her PhD in Education, Curriculum Design and Implementation from Simon Fraser University or SFU.
[00:00:40] She spent 34 years at SFU working in cooperative education (co-op), 14 years of that as executive director of student affairs, and since 2017 as vice provost for students and international. Her research is in the area of experiential education with particular interest in work, integrated learning, and international student success, both areas in which she has published. In 2018 she was chosen to be the president of the World Association of Cooperative Education (WACE), an organization to which she had belonged for many years, first as a representative of SFU and then also as a faculty member at WACE's teaching institute. As president of WACE, she oversees a global organization of about 50 universities and industry partners in more than 20 countries with over 4,000 individual members. For full transparency, I am also a member of the WACE organization. First. Nancy, please tell us a little bit about yourself in the run up to you, assuming the position as the president of the World Association of Cooperative Education or WACE.
[00:01:48] Nancy Johnston: [00:01:48] Great. Thanks Jim. And thanks for the opportunity to join you today on this podcast talking about the, interest and growing interest, I guess, in experiential education, experiential learning. So my background really comes, like a lot of people, I was a cooperative education student at one of the largest programs in the world, the University of Waterloo, just outside of Toronto, in Canada.
[00:02:12] And got an interest in the model of education as a learner, essentially, and like yourselves have developed a great interest in it. It suited the way I like to learn and it gave me opportunities to sort of become a little more job ready by practicing what I was learning in school concurrent with when I was learning it.
[00:02:34] And so when I graduated, I actually became a co-op employer. And, in that capacity, I began to operate with the universities out here in Vancouver, Canada, where I currently work and where I moved to upon graduation. And in those interactions was invited to apply for a co-op. coordinator position many, many years ago, and I have had a 33-year career with Simon Fraser University (SFU) here in Vancouver ever since.
[00:03:03] Jim Stellar: [00:03:03] Impressive.
[00:03:04] Nancy Johnston: [00:03:04] Yeah, always with some handle in a cooperative and work integrated education and through my work where I finished as Vice Provost for Students and International here at SFU, I had a long history with the World Association for Co-op and work integrated Education or WACE and so when the opportunity to retire from SFU presented itself concurrent with an opportunity to take on the presidency of WACE, I jumped at the opportunity because I was now able to explore my interests on an international level, which had always been something that I was involved with, concurrent with my research in experiential. So that's sort of what brought me here from my very initial roots as a participant in this model of education through to a senior administrator.
[00:03:56] Adrienne Dooley: [00:03:56] It's a very cool journey. Some of our listeners may not know about WACE. Could you give us a brief history, as the president?
[00:04:04] Nancy Johnston: [00:04:04] Sure. So the association itself has been around for 30 or 40 years in various forms, and it likes to see itself as the premier, I guess you would say, international organization that brings together the world's higher education institutions with employers and other public authorities who have a concerted, shared commitment and passion for really developing the next generation of learner-workers in this particular model of education. Originally it was really focused on one model of education, cooperative education, which is probably the best known single model in postsecondary in the world, but it has extended to all kinds and all forms of work-integrated education.
[00:04:55] And so we have members, about 4,000 strong, from between 30 and 40 countries, and eight national associations that work on behalf of this model of education, around the world. And we kind of do our work through international conferences- one focused on research, one more on practice every other year - and through a variety of institutions, recognition programs, scholarship programs, et cetera.
[00:05:25] Jim Stellar: [00:05:25] And that's great. So this summer, you had the first world conference under you as president. I was privileged to attend and it was awesome. Could you tell us just a little bit about the conference and while you're at it, talk about this idea that you had to have a WACE charter to sort of galvanize our work.
[00:05:45] Nancy Johnston: [00:05:45] Sure. Thanks, Jim. Yeah, it was a great conference. It's one of the two events that I had talked about in my earlier response that we do, and we bring together between 300 and 500 depending on the year and the venue people from around the world. This year we had over 22 countries represented to come and share best practices, to share experiences, to share research that helps ameliorate and enhance the model around the world.
[00:06:15] This year we did something a little special, which you mentioned. We felt there was a need to reinvigorate interest at the highest level of the academic system of the university, college, polytechnic level and re-engage our presidents and CEOs and rectors in this model of education because it was becoming more and more prevalent all around the world, called on particularly by governments. We wanted to make sure that the education system continued to take the lead on this. It is, first and foremost, a model of learning, an educational model. Yes, it is designed for employability and to enhance transfers, and effective transfers, of our graduates to the workforce, but we want to make sure that the educational leaders remained at the forefront.
[00:07:06] So we hosted what we called the president's summit. And the president, of our host university, Dr. Neville Pinto, from U of Cincinnati, where by the way, co-op was born in 1905, hosted this bringing together of over 30 presidents from around the world. As I mentioned, 12 different countries were represented, eight different national associations.
[00:07:28] And we signed on to something we called the global charter for co-op and work-integrated education. And it really is just a recommitment in the current context of what's happening in work-integrated education around the world to using this form or this model of education to address what we determined were four internationally agreed upon challenges to educating for work, and those four challenges, I can share them with you in a bit. They were agreed upon at through a process and an interactive survey process by participants from around the world as being relevant to them as well. So these are not just North American based issues, but issues that people from all of our constituent universities, colleges from around the world said were things they were dealing with.
[00:08:23] And in the charter, we enumerate the four challenges and then we respond with three calls to action that we believe will help address these large issues. And the entire charter was actually laddering up to a UNESCO and United Nations world goals around education, but we just took a more narrow focus on a particular role that work-integrated education could play in addressing these world challenges and the more local challenges of employability for graduates.
[00:09:03] Adrienne Dooley: [00:09:03] So we're lucky to have your unique vantage point. Could you discuss with us what those important challenges are to higher education?
[00:09:12] Nancy Johnston: [00:09:12] You bet. I'd be happy to. Actually, I'll reference, in case someone's really keen on this, a book that I wrote, a chapter in which, which actually served as a bit of an impetus for the, for the raising up the charter. It's a 2017 book called Work-Integrated Learning in the 21st Century: Global Perspectives on the Future and in it, I wrote a, a chapter basically on the challenges of navigating continuous change, which I think all of us can relate to on a daily basis.
[00:09:43] Adrienne Dooley: [00:09:43] Absolutely,
[00:09:45] Nancy Johnston: [00:09:45] And from that chapter sprung these four challenges that I talk about. And then they were vetted, like, does this make sense to you in Abu Dabi? Does this make sense to you in Bangkok? Is this what you're experiencing in Melbourne, Australia? Is it just Vancouver, Canada or is Boston also feeling this same way?
[00:10:03] So the challenges were not, these aren't going to be surprising to you, but the first one we call the significant skill and knowledge gap. We always hear about this that, Oh my gosh, there's a gap between what the tertiary system is developing people for, and then what they actually find when they graduate from our institutions out in the world of work.
[00:10:25] Now, whether that gap is real or not is almost irrelevant because it is absolutely a perceived gap and it's a complaint that we hear both from industry, business, and the students that have to transition into those places. So we have to pay attention to that. And we've heard, without question, that is a universal comment and complaint heard around the world.
[00:10:51] The second one was just that there's a growing global economy no longer, you know, is Northeastern producing graduates only for Boston, or is London producing - School of Economics - producing graduates that are only going to work in the UK. We know that we need to produce folks who are capable of mobilizing themselves physically, culturally, academically around the world. And so what are we in work-integrated learning doing to develop cultural and intercultural fluency and competency in our graduates so that they can navigate, not just across disciplines and industries, but actually across cultures, countries, and languages.
[00:11:35] So that was the second goal, excuse me, challenge. The third one was really a goal that all of us I think have been recommitted to and that is around equity, diversity and to access and looking at participation, early participation, by as many people as possible and work-integrated learning provides a kind of evening out of the playground when people go to transition to work. So the students from lower socioeconomic groups that maybe don't have the same kind of access to networks and, and folks in various industries can get that access through work integrated early they will have a step up and, and be equally able to transition to work as those students who maybe have a broader set of networks that have been brought to them through the privileges of birth that they enjoy. So that was challenge four, and the fourth challenge, challenge three, excuse me. And the fourth challenge is just the sheer rapidity of change with which we're all dealing in the world and the not so rapid, sometimes response rates of large systems or institutions to that change. So this kind of gap in timeliness. And the question is, what can we who are involved in work-integrated education. How can we use that model of education to kind of bridge that gap and to, to allow students to experience things in more real time than something that happens uniquely in four years.
[00:13:14] And then four years later they emerge onto a scene that they'd been disconnected from and have missed a whole lot of both content and processes because they've been sequestered and secluded in their little academic silo. So those are the four challenges that we talked about.
[00:13:32] Adrienne Dooley: [00:13:32] You know, I have to say the challenge that stands out to me the most, that has recently become relevant many years after I graduated from Northeastern university is the challenge of learning in one place and then having to translate that and using that material in another place.
[00:13:48] I've just accepted a job to go work in the us Virgin islands and they have different accents, accents, and as a speech and language pathologist, I have to figure out where the gap was in my learning to translate all my skills to a place that doesn't speak Boston's version of English,
[00:14:08] Jim Stellar: [00:14:08] If that is in fact English, but of course we do love it.
[00:14:09] Adrienne Dooley: [00:14:09] It's questionable,
[00:14:10] Nancy Johnston: [00:14:10] A unique version of English. You know, you have hit on an absolute sweet spot of mine, Adrienne, and my actual research interests in my PhD work was in the area of skill and knowledge transfer, and it is something that has become expected of our graduates to call to respond to, to the changes that we've just been talking about and absolutely poorly understood and rarely explicitly taught in universities.
[00:14:39] So. Yes.
[00:14:41] Adrienne Dooley: [00:14:41] I couldn't agree more.
[00:14:42] Nancy Johnston: [00:14:42] Yeah, and so in response to these challenges, we thought maybe there's three things that we could focus on that would help. One would be let's just get more students working in quality work-integrated education placements all around the world so that they have a chance to do this transfer multiple times in multiple environments so that they have an opportunity to have lived experience as they develop their cultural competency and fluency.
[00:15:11] So that was number one. Number two, a call to action to actually develop some resources for these students at the university level or college level, so that when they're sent out to these experiences around the world, they actually have some background information about this, some insight and some preparation so that they don't go and hit these places and get a terrible culture shock and get spiraled down into kind of a place of non-success or even failure, uh, and not able to bounce back.
[00:15:47] So we know we can do some stuff in preparation during those visits and when they return and re-enter the university, that will help, um, make those experiences even more rich. And the third call to action was pure and simple, a development of co-op and work-integrated education, global quality standards, so that we can have students that can articulate across countries, much less across systems.
[00:16:15] And also to ensure that as, as we grow beyond what has been a more accredited type of model of co-op education as we broaden the tent and bring in internships and sandwich education and service learning and, uh, exchanges of various forms as we do that, that we retain quality so that we have a list of attributes that we know are critical to quality, high impact work-integrated education. So we want to get a global quality framework developed so that we don't lose that. Yeah. So those are our three calls to action and response to the core challenges.
[00:16:59] Jim Stellar: [00:16:59] That's awesome. You've addressed some of this already, but let me drill deeper on to cooperative education, which both you and Adrienne went through.
[00:17:09] I didn't, I had to try to invent it for myself.
[00:17:12] Nancy Johnston: [00:17:12] There's still time, Jim.
[00:17:13] Adrienne Dooley: [00:17:13] Yeah.
[00:17:14] Jim Stellar: [00:17:14] There is always time to learn. So, many of us think that that the alternating period of fulltime paid employment with full time study is really the gold standard for experiential learning. And you mentioned it earlier, so if you could just talk briefly about why you think that is and then what comes close, in your mind, to co-op?
[00:17:39] Nancy Johnston: [00:17:39] Sure. So, I mean, I get asked this an awful lot in and including the question, but co-op is so expensive and you know, it's the Cadillac version of work-integrated education. So first and foremost, let me say I'm a huge fan of the cooperative education model, and I think it has proven history a hundred years plus of being effective in what it sets out to do and what it sets out to do is actually the important piece.
[00:18:08] Is it the best model? And my answer is it depends what you're trying to do. If you are trying to prepare students with as authentic an experience as possible to be the most employable and have the most smooth and effective transitions when they graduate, it's hard to beat the coop model in its most accredited, you know, most, quality format. And we have the evidence, we have the research that says that. So is it expensive? Well, I don't think so because it delivers. Is, is a wet lab in biology expensive? Yes. But we know it's also one of the, the best learning models to get the learning outcomes that we've assigned to it.
[00:18:50] If though our goal is to develop a global intercultural competency, it may be that an exchange program or a field school of some type that has that at its core in terms of the learning content will be equally or more effective. And so I guess the answer to your question is it a gold standard is what are you trying to do?
[00:19:17] What is the primary drive if it's around community development and social engagement, service learning may be a perfect model to compliment your whatever course you're teaching. So the answer really is take a look at what the purpose and the outcomes of whatever it is your trying to bring an outside classroom experience towards, and then you can refine and see which model might be most appropriate for employability, preparation of the new workforce, transitions to work, applications of theory, particularly in the professions. And conversely, where they, there isn't a natural linearity for those purposes. Co-op has proven itself, I think, to be a very competent model.
[00:20:06] Jim Stellar: [00:20:06] That's very wise and I can see why you're the president.
[00:20:09] Nancy Johnston: [00:20:09] All right. Thank you.
[00:20:13] Adrienne Dooley: [00:20:13] Your home country of Canada has made a national and provincial government of industry to produce work-ready skills competent graduates. How is that working and what lessons do you see for your neighbors down South.
[00:20:28] Nancy Johnston: [00:20:28] Yeah. So our national, in particular, our a national government has made a commitment that every Canadian student would have an opportunity to have a work integrated learning experience from between their K to 16 experience, if you will.
[00:20:44] So this stretches, interestingly down into the kindergarten to grade 12 sectors which, I think is brilliant. And in my province, British Columbia, we have a new K to 12 curriculum, which has a lot of focus on some of the underlying principles around learning in experiential ways. So, that's very hopeful.
[00:21:07] Of course, there's always a double-edge sword to everything. The challenge of that is that, and this is a challenge actually, that's deeply ingrained in a lot of elements of work, integrated education. The challenge is nobody has really clearly defined what is meant by work, integrated learning opportunity.
[00:21:30] And so when you step out with bold statements about every youth in your country has an opportunity. In order to, to be able to say that you've met those, those visionary quotas, uh, you know, the definition sometimes can be stretched and that can be worrisome to those people that have a long history in this game that understand the tenants of quality experiences and that can link those to the kinds of outcomes they're looking for.
[00:22:03] So there is a, a concurrent interest in defining what quality experiences look like and enumerating that while a hackathon in a computing hackathon can be extremely educative, can meet certain learning goals, it will do different things than a student being immersed for four months in a paid position at Google in the Silicon Valley.
[00:22:31] So are they both experiential education experiences, absolutely. Will learning result from both. It can, but it's a different kind of learning. So we're working now in Canada to kind of, if you will, uh, describe that, that scale of experiential reality and how it can look and ensure whether you're doing a hackathon or a fully immersive year-long job somewhere that at least the quality attributes that we know underlying any experiential opportunity are embedded in each and then to understand they're different.
[00:23:10]Adrienne Dooley: [00:23:10] As a public school employee down here in the States, I applaud you guys because I know, I see my students would benefit from that. So even starting the process and trying to figure out what works best for each kind of student at any level in different grades is a huge step in the right direction.
[00:23:27] Nancy Johnston: [00:23:27] Yeah. And it's those connections that are missing. Right? We talked earlier about, you know, the, the disconnect in the learner themselves between what they know and can do and what they think they know and can do. You know, they typically, even though people complain about graduates being cocky and thinking they know everything, they typically actually understate what they know and what they can do and fail to mobilize what they know and what they can do in new environments because we haven't given enough practice to that. And that interspersed model of a co-op term and then back at a school term and then another co-op term and back in school term provides, in addition to this perfect model for transfer and raising up to a de-contextualized level, to a non-discipline level, the kinds of transferable skills that we can move across very different contexts, but still see how what we already know and can do is useful in those contexts. That's something we do not do well in, in, uh, in our school writ large right through to grad school.
[00:24:33] Jim Stellar: [00:24:33] So I think you've actually anticipated one of the last questions we had, but let me, let me ask it anyway. Uh, we think, uh, in some cases that the co op program study abroad, experiential education creates a maturity and a passion in the students that you can see while they're still in school. Would you talk just a little bit more about that maturity and passion, if you believe that it exists and how it can be leveraged by the school while the students are still in college?
[00:25:04] Nancy Johnston: [00:25:04] Sure. I'm not sure about the maturity, but the maturity comes with adversity. And so I think what the kinds of experiences that we're talking about afford are a ton of opportunities to be put in uncomfortable situations to be put in situations that we're not familiar with, but to be supported just enough by the university still and by the employers in most cases, or the host agencies in most cases who understand that these are still students after all, be supported enough to succeed and to have enough iterations of that to gain that confidence and we hope that maturity to understand ourselves as learners. And so we know from Kuh's work, George Kuh's work on engagement. That engagement breeds engagement. So anything that gets a student more actively involved at the institution, in learning, in different places and in different ways will actually get them more passionate about taking that step out.
[00:26:08] We know in Canada, in the U S we have very, very small percentages of our students that take advantage of international opportunities through field schools, through student exchanges and so forth, even through co-op exchanges. and we know that ultimately that's to their detriment in a world that's increasingly borderless in terms of working, and so, yeah, anything that increases engagement will breed more engagement.
[00:26:37] That means more opportunities for students to kind of challenge themselves to do things they're not quite sure they can do, but still within this supportive environment of the model, which has the institution and the employer understanding that they're dealing with the learner. The more the opportunities for that, the better our students will be able to transition and the more effectively they'll speak about what they know and can do and feel actually they did learn something at university that was useful as opposed to the counter narrative that we hear around. Oh, I didn't learn anything at school that was useful to me and
[00:27:11] Jim Stellar: [00:27:11] I wish I'd gone to a coop school with you guys.
[00:27:13] Adrienne Dooley: [00:27:13] Yeah. I mean, it was the best thing I ever did, but truly, Nancy, it's been fascinating to talk to you and I can't thank you enough for spending your afternoon chatting with us.
[00:27:23] Is there anything else you'd like to say before we sign off?
[00:27:26] Nancy Johnston: [00:27:26] No, just a thank you, Adrienne and Jim for the opportunity and um, to say that I think there's a big space for institutions to step up right now as more work integrated learning as being called for and help to ensure that more is also better.
[00:27:46] And that what we do in this area and as we grow it and develop this space that we do so quite conscious of the underpinnings of good practice. And so that's my challenge to all the WACE partners that we have, institutions, members, our research partners, and our employer partners. And I know that with just a little bit more effort, we can have tremendous impact on, on the outcomes for our students and ultimately on their ability to transition to productive and fulfilling work after they leave our campuses.
[00:28:19] Jim Stellar: [00:28:19] Well, that is terrific, and that is a movement that I think many of us, including me, can get behind. Thank you again for spending some time with us and, uh, uh, we appreciate your thoughts and wisdom.
[00:28:32] Nancy Johnston: [00:28:32] Great, thanks.
[00:28:33] Jim Stellar: [00:28:33] Thank you.
[00:28:35] Mary Churchill: [00:28:35] Thank you for listening. We hope you will come back soon for the next installation of ExperiencED
[00:28:41]Adrienne Dooley: [00:28:41] As we continue to talk about the neuroscience and sociology of enhancing higher education
[00:28:46] Jim Stellar: [00:28:46] by combining direct experience with classical academic learning.