It seems to me that a co-op report is like any other kind of
assignment--it's relevance lies in the way in which it is integrated into
the educational experience, and the way the audience for it is constructed.
I'm the co-op rep for communications studies, and I run into this
relevance problem a lot. I haven't exactly solved it, but here's what I
have done to try to ameliorate it.
Students are discouraged from writing purely informative
what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation reports. Rather, they are encouraged to
find areas of the organization that they can investigate and recommend
on. Sometimes it's their own co-op experience: they recommend ways to
make their own job better for the next person.
Sometimes they get at things that are not directly part of their jobs but
which they see hapening at work. That is, they undertake an original
investigation of some aspect of the workplace and write a report with
recommendations and conclusions. Sometimes these sit on the shelf, but
there is the chance that by seeing things with a totally fresh gaze they
can say things that will be genuinely of interest to the company.
Sometimes they write informative reports that are essentially manuals for
their successors. They try to get at what they wish they had known at
the beginning but took four months to find out, and write that down in
Sometimes their work term _is_ essentially a report. They produce
something in the norml course of events. In this event, they repackage
it so that an outsider (me) can get a grip on what they've been doing.
This gets to be quite an exercise in rhetorical audience adaptation.
I articulate the purpose of the report as being to learn how to write
professional prose. Most of them turn in a thinly disguised academic
essay as their first report--long blocks of prose, discovery structure,
little understanding of what goes in an executive summary, an implied
assumption that the reader will read right through from the beginning to
the end, etc. By the time they write their fourth report these
assumptions have been replaced with professional-reader assumptions.
And of course, the important thing is to do exactly what we do in
composition classes: treat the report as a process, not an add-on that's
tacked on the end. They submit a proposal part way through, and we talk
about it. When things go the way I want them to, they submit their
proposals a month before I have to have my marks in, I read them right
away _as drafts_, and get back to them with requests for changes. It's
an integrated learning process. (When things aren't going the way I
want, I get busy, mark them at the last minute and don't give them time
for redrafting, but that's another story. Let's stick to the way things
are _supposed_ to go.)
In short, the reports are a way of teaching the students how to enter a
discourse community by learning to work with prose that embodies the
assumptions of that community (now where have we heard talk like that
Some still complain about irrelevance, but we can't win 'em all.
I'll send you privately my handout for students that explains some of
this. I wrote it a long time ago, and as I read what I just said, I see
ways that I could rewrite to embody some of that more clearly, but here
it is anyway.
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