"Relevant and meaningful practices and teaching in vocational teacher education in Norway"
This presentation is an account of a collaborative action research project undertaken between ourselves as vocational teacher educators, practice teachers (vocational teachers in schools mentoring student teachers), instructors in apprenticeship firms, and students at our Bachelors programme in vocational teacher education in Design and Crafts. The project is one of several that make up the “Recarol project”, a research project based at our University College that aims to strengthen collaboration between vocational teacher education, vocational schools and apprenticeship firms. We are in all projets working to find essential principles of vocationally relevant curriculum in VET and in vocational teacher education (KD 2006, Meld st. 20 2013, NoU 2008, Elliot 1998).
The aim of the project is to develop vocationally and professionally relevant curriculum in vocational teacher education in Norway in cooperation with the practice field.
Research questions: What are essential principles and content of vocationally relevant curriculum in the program of Design and Crafts?
What kind of knowledge and skills are essential for becoming a good vocational teacher in this program, and how should these be taught?
There is a lack of knowledge about these issues, and research on the field shows there is a need to develop relevant and meaningful educational practices in VET and in vocational teacher education (Dahlback et.al 2011, Dahl et.al 2012, Hiim 2013, Landro et.al 2010).
Norwegian VET at high school level is organized in a two plus two model, with two years at school followed by two years of apprenticeship. Design and Crafts is one of nine vocational programs. Vocational teacer education at bachelor level (three years) is based on a formal certificate as a skilled worker plus two years of vocational practice. It is organized in programs corresponding to the programs in VET, and the curriculum consists of vocational pedagogy \ didactics and school practice, plus vocational theory and practice in vocational firms aimed at deepening student teachers’ insigt in the range of vocations in the program.
The curriculum in our teacher education in Design and Crafts adopts a pragmatic, work-based and competence-based learning perspective (Dewey 1916; Schön 1987, Dreyfus & Dreyfus 1986). This perspective is characterised by its focus on direct relevance to the practice setting, the profession and the development of deeper understandings of practice. This means that the programme plans, and form of teaching are based on real-life understandings of practice rather than on de-contextualised abstract theories (Kolb 2012, Illeris 2012, Negt 2012, Hiim 2013).
A main issue is that student teachers often experience teaching in practice schools as less personally and vocationally relevant than what they learn that it could and should be at the University College. This implies that there is a lack of coherence between what is taught and practiced at the vocational teacher education institution and at the practice school.
A central question for us is therefore what kind of knowledge and skills are essential for becoming a good vocational teacher and how these should be taught (Dahlback et.al 2011, Brandt and Haltevik 2003, Dahl et.al. 2012, Illeris 2012). We want to challenge all stakeholders in the program Design and Crafts - our student teachers, practice teachers, vocational instructors and ourselves as teacher educators on this question. We want to raise our awareness of the importance of these issues. The core of our project is to organize collective reflective processes between the stakeholders, aimed at finding ways of further improving our own practices.
In the action research we have an pragmatic, experiential and socio-critical approach to the field. As Negt (2012) & Nielsen & Svensson (2006) we see the value of learning that cultivates people's everyday experience in a personal and social perspective. We are also concerned with empowerment and the way all the participants are involved in the process (Kolb 2012; Nielsen & Svensson 2006; Schwencke 2006; Hiim 2009, 2010, Mc Niff 2002). The Project has three phases, and at this point, we choose mainly to describe the first two phase of the project.
Phase 1: Planning and Mapping - autumn 2014 to december 2015.
In this phase the focus was on problem identification and defining needs. After practice in schools spring 2015 we completed a question survey with 18 students from the third year, and interviewed 14 practice teachers (Kvale 2001), to start the process of finding out what is relevant and meaningful practices and teaching in VET, and defining the different needs. We also analyzed the evaluation forms from the practice teachers, to see what kind of skills and knowledge the students had developed so far, and what they needed to work on with.
Phase 2: Establishing contact and reflection, autumn 2015 – spring 2017. In December 2015 we arranged an exhibition with practical products made of our student teachers, and arranged the first meeting between teacher educators, instructors, and practice teachers. 120 vocational students from upper secondary school, 60 vocational teachers, 5 school leaders and 5 instructors came to see the exhibition. Our student teachers arranged activities for the vocational students while we arranged an information and dialog meeting for 35 of the practice teachers, school leaders and instructors. We informed about the changes in the vocational teacher education, and invited to further cooperation. 25 practice teachers and 5 instructors wanted to cooperate and take part in the action research project. We are planning workshops with participants of the project spring 2016 and spring 2017. On this workshop reflective dialoqes and developing of our practices will be focused on.
During spring 2016 and spring 2017 we will also do analyses of the reports from our student teachers’ research and development works in schools and companies. The analyses will be followed up with reflective dialoques with student teachers, instructors and practice teachers.
Phase 3: The last analyses and evaluation, will find place autumn 2017 - spring 2018.
By trying to see what is relevant and meaningful practices and teaching in VET, the results of the first interviews with the practice teachers and questions survey with the teacher students shows there are differences in what the practice teachers and teacher students see as relevant contents. There are also big differences between what the practice teachers say they are doing and what the students observe(s) that the practice teachers are doing. We wanted to find out what kind of methods the practice teachers used, and the student teachers observed the practice teachers in the first phase of their practice.
100% of the practice teachers say they do work related teaching, but only 13% of the student teachers say that they observed this kind of teaching during their practice in school. 91% of the practice teachers say they give their vocational students self-elected practical work, but only 13% of the student teachers observed the teacher doing this. 82 % of the practice teachers say they use introductary practical exercises, and only 25% of the students observed them giving this kind of exercises.
We do not think we have the answer of what is right or wrong methods, but the differences between the practice teachers- and the students teachers’ understanding are interesting as a base for futher discussions finding out what kind of practices are relevant, what kind of knowledge and skills are essential for becoming a good vocational teacher and how these should be taught. The results will be used to change the curriculum in our teacher education, and to develop more relevant practices in schools and companies. The expected outcome of the project will be a teacher education better related to the needs of each vocational student in upper secondary school, the branch and the society.
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