Vocational teachers as researchers A didactic approach to action research in a curriculum development project in VET
At Oslo and Akershus University College, The Department of Vocational Teacher Education, we are running a research project aimed at answering this research question:
What principles and content are essential in vocationally relevant curriculum in VET, generally and in specific programs?
The background to this project is results from a previous research project that indicate considerable challenges for Norwegian Vocational Education and Training (VET) related to a lack of coherence between educational content and the need for qualifications in the actual vocations (Dahlbach et. al. 2011, Hiim 2015a). Norwegian VET is organized in a 2 + 2 model with two years at school in one of nine different vocational programs followed by two years of apprenticeship. The school-based part consists of general academic subjects, vocational subjects and practice in vocational work places. A lack of coherence between different subjects, different arenas for learning and between theory and practice is a great problem. Students as well as employers in vocational firms complain that the school based education content is not sufficiently relevant to the vocations in question. There are similar problems in other European and western countries, even if the structural models are different (Billet 2011, Smeby 2015). Results from the project indicate that vocationally relevant curricula can only be developed through close collaboration between vocational schools and firms where the vocational teachers play a key role (Hiim 2013).
The new project, ReCarol, can be regarded as an overall umbrella project that entails several sub projects. An important part is carried out in close collaboration between a group of university researchers and 30 vocational teachers enrolled in an in-service Master’s program in vocational pedagogy. The aim of this part of the project is to develop practice-based knowledge about which kind of curriculum is relevant for VET through research conducted by professional vocational teachers.
This presentation will focus on the following methodological questions: How can vocational teachers develop curricula that are relevant for VET using an action research approach? How can vocational teacher researchers and university researchers collaboratively develop knowledge about curriculum?
A main argument for involving vocational teachers as researchers in the project, inspired by pragmatic and critical epistemology, is that practical professional knowledge about curriculum can only be developed by practicing teachers. They are the professional experts in the various fields of vocational education, and must therefore be in charge of development- and research processes (Carr & Kemmis 1986, Elliott 1991, Hiim 2015b, McNiff 2014). Our role as university researchers is to lead the overall project, to assist the teachers to become researchers, and to collect, analyze and document results from the overall project (Kemmis 2002, 2012). The teachers are invited to conduct and document independent curriculum research projects in their own practices, in close cooperation with their teacher colleagues, vocational instructors and students. The idea is that each teacher will contribute with practice-based, professional knowledge about how a vocationally relevant curriculum can be developed, what it may consist of, and what are the essential conditions and obstacles for relevant curriculum in the actual program.
A didactic approach to action research is essential in the project (Hiim 2015b). A definition of didactics is: Practical theoretical planning, carrying out and critical analysis of education, teaching and learning (Hiim & Hippe 1992). It is argued that didactic knowledge is developed through systematic participation in, reflection on and analysis of concrete educational processes. It is further argued that all concerned, including students and colleagues must be involved in reflection and analysis through democratic processes where especially students have the opportunity to influence the curriculum.
A conceptual frame work of didactic analysis and reflection is essential in this approach to action research. The framework consists of the following six categories: 1. students’ learning resources, 2. pedagogical framework conditions and scope, 3. goals and objectives 4.educational content \ subject matter, 5. learning process \ teaching and learning methods, 6. evaluation \ assessment. A main idea is that these categories are essential in educational situations, and that they are all interrelated. (Hiim & Hippe 1989, Bjørndal og Lieberg (19xx).
Two core questions are:
How do the didactic relations in the educational situation work, seen through the eyes of different participants, especially the students?
How can the relations be improved?
Didactic challenges may for instance concern a bad relationship between students’ learning resources and the educational content or subject matter, or between goals and framework conditions. The model is based on a pragmatic, critical concept of knowledge and of didactic categories (Habermas 1999, Hiim 2007, Molander 1997, Wittgenstein 2001). It is used as a supportive conceptual framework in didactic action research conducted by the vocational teachers.
Data in the vocational teachers’ projects will consist of development plans worked out in close collaboration with teacher colleagues, students and instructors in vocational firms, observation notes and logs written by the vocational teacher researcher, colleagues, students and instructors, examples of students’ practical and theoretical assignments and work. A main principle concerning practical professional validity is that the data or the evidence show concretely how the work on vocationally relevant curriculum has been performed, and how students, teacher colleagues and instructors have experienced the development process. Another principle is that the data or evidence shows how students, colleagues and instructors have had the opportunity to play an active, democratic part in the development process (Habermas 1999). Each teacher research project will be documented as a Master’s thesis.
Our tasks as university researchers is to organize the overall project for the teachers involved, and to assist them in their education as action researchers through facilitating the sharing of experiences and through theoretical and methodological input and tutoring during the process. We will collect data during the process on how this works in a parallel way as our Master’s students. We will also analyze and compare results from all the Master’s theses and document results from the overall Master’s project.
The vocational teachers in the project represent different vocational programs and come from different schools and regions. Each of their projects is expected to contribute with important practice-based professional teacher knowledge on vocationally relevant education. The projects will show examples, possibilities, obstacles and principles concerning relevant curriculum in VET from different professional angles and focuses. The results will show how vocational schools and work enterprises can collaborate on curriculum development, and what some important stimulating factors and obstacles might be in this kind of collaboration. The results are expected to show what can come out of the collaboration with regards to vocationally relevant educational goals, content and subject matter, methods of teaching, instruction and learning, forms of evaluation and assessment, and an overall coherence between learning arenas.
Results from the overall Master’s project are expected to identify important didactic features and principles of vocationally relevant curriculum, generally and in specific programs. These results may help develop the national curriculum and the formal structures in VET in new directions based on professional knowledge developed by vocational teachers in collaboration with vocational instructors.
We also hope to develop deeper insights about the methodological approach in the project, regarding how vocational teachers and university researchers can collaborate in curriculum research.
Bjørndal, B. & Lieberg, S. (1978). Nye veier i didaktikken. (New ways in Didactics)Oslo: Aschehoug Press.
Billet, S. (2011). Vocational Education. Purposes, Traditions and Prospects . Dordrecht: Springer.
Carr, Wilfred & Kemmis, Stephen (1986). Becoming Critical: Educational Knowledge and Action Research. London: Falmer Press.
Dahlback, Jorunn, Hansen, Kari, Haaland, Grete & Sylte, Ann-Lisa (2011). Yrkesdidaktisk kunnskapsutvikling og implementering av nye læreplaner. (KIP). (The development of new didactic knowledge and the implementation of a new curriculum) Report, RU.1/2011, Oslo & Akershus University College, the Department of Vocational Teacher Education.
Elliott, J. 1991. Action Research for Educational Change. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Habermas, Jurgen (1999). Kommunikativ handling, lov og rett.(The Theory of Communicative Action) Oslo: Tano Aschehoug.
Hiim, H. and Hippe, E. 1989. (rev. ed.1998, 2009) Undervisningsplanlegging for yrkesfaglærere. (Didactics for Vocational Teachers) Oslo: The University Press.
Hiim, H. and Hippe, E. 1992. (rev.ed 1998). Læring gjennom opplevelse, forståelse og handling. En studiebok i didaktikk. (Learning Through Experience, Understanding and Action) Oslo: The University Press.
Hiim, H. (2007). A Strategy for Practice Based Education and Research, built on experience from educating vocational teachers. The Quality of Practitioner Research, red. Petra Ponte and Ben Smith. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Hiim, H. 2013. Praksisbasert yrkesutdanning. Hvordan utvikle relevant yrkesutdanning for elever og arbeidsliv. (Practice based vocational education). Oslo: Gyldendal academic press.
Hiim, H. 2015b. Educational Action Research and the Development of Professional Teacher Knowledge. Action Research for Democracy. Gunnarsson, E., Hansen, H. P., Nielsen, B. Steen (Eds.). Pp 147-161. London: Routledge.
Hiim H. 2015a. Kvalitet i yrkesutdanningen. Resultater fra et aksjonsforskningsprosjekt om yrkesutdanningens innhold og struktur (The quality of curriculum in VET. Results from an action research project on content and structure in VET) Norsk Pedagogisk Tidsskrift (The Norwegian Journal of Pedagogy) Nr. 2\3 2015 s. 136-148. .
Kemmis, S. (2002). Exploring the Relevance of Critical Theory for Action Research: Emancipatory Action Research in the footsteps of Jurgen Habermas. Handbook of Action Research, ed. P. Reason, & H. Bradbury (s. 91-102). London: Sage.
Kemmis, Stephen (2012). Researching Educational Praxis: Spectator and Participant Perspectives. British Educational Research Journal 38(6), 885-905.
McNiff, J. (2014) Writing and Doing Action Research. London: Sage.
Molander, Bengt. (1997). Arbetets Kunskapsteori.(The epistemology of work). Stockholm: Gotab.
Smeby, Jens-Christian (2015). Academic drift in vocational education? From Vocational to professional Education. Eds. J.C. Smedby & M. Suthpen. London: Routledge.
Wittgenstein, L. (2003). Filosofiske undersøkelser. (Philosophical Investigations). Oslo: De norske bokklubbene.