Between 2020 and 2022, the University of Waterloo rapidly hired and trained over 1000 undergraduate co-operative education (co-op) students as part of the Online Learning Assistant (OLA) Program, to support faculty (i.e., course instructors) in the transition to online teaching. Our research findings suggest that these co-op hires were incredibly beneficial to many faculty, with their efforts ultimately leading to improvements in teaching and learning.

Key findings

  • Co-op students offer a unique on-the-ground perspective to student-faculty partnerships in higher education. This perspective, combined with their academic skills, plays an important role in positively impacting teaching and learning.
  • The full-time, paid structure of the co-op model contributed to the establishment and success of student-faculty partnerships within the OLA program. 

Does this matter to post-secondary institutions? YES!

These findings are relevant to post-secondary institutions (PSI) who may be considering new ways to enhance course design and engage co-op students. Co-op students’ on-the-ground perspectives were valuable in enhancing teaching practices (e.g. content, delivery, curriculum) and understanding student needs (e.g. technology preferences, class engagement strategies). Both faculty and co-op students benefitted from the OLA program, and we recommend faculty to consider such partnerships with students as an opportunity for mutual learning and growth. PSIs may also consider offering training programs for faculty to supervise and mentor co-op students effectively. 

Does this matter to government? YES!

These findings are significant for government and related funding bodies who endeavor to support and invest in work-integrated learning experiences. The OLA program structure meant co-op roles were full-time and paid, resulting in equitable, mutually beneficial partnerships between students and faculty. The OLA program was deemed successful with positive impacts on teaching and learning for all involved parties.  Future funding opportunities may consider targeting co-op as an avenue for student-faculty partnership development and offering support to PSIs to create such opportunities.  

What can PSIs and government do with this information? 

  • PSIs and the government can consider co-op students as a potential resource for partnership with faculty to positively impact teaching and learning.  

  • PSIs and the government can continue to provide support and resources (e.g., training, budget) to co-op students and faculty so they can develop and excel in student-faculty partnerships.


Our findings suggest that full-time, paid co-op student positions offer an ideal program structure for the development of student-faculty partnerships in PSIs. This study emphasized that such relationships between students and faculty are mutually beneficial: students are given the opportunity to learn more about the ‘other side’ of their post-secondary learning experience, and faculty are given the opportunity to learn from the student’s on-the-ground perspective. The results of this study demonstrate that such an arrangement can ultimately benefit teaching and learning. 

How we came to these conclusions

  • Eighteen faculty members who supervised a co-op student assisting in the transition to online teaching participated in interviews conducted between December 2021 and January 2022.  

  • Semi-structured interviews were completed using a series of open-ended questions allowing for a detailed discussion of faculty’s experiences working with the co-op students.  

  • Data analysis focused on interview transcripts and was guided by a constructivist grounded theory approach.  

This research has been accepted for publication in the International Journal for Students as Partners. Stay tuned for the full publication coming Fall 2024!