Improving vocational education through competency-based learning tasks: Findings from a pilot study in Austrian vocational agricultural schools
The acquisition of competences features prominently in vocational training in Europe with the European qualification framework (ec.europa.eu/eqf) as well as in Austria (e.g. http://www.bildungsstandards.berufsbildendeschulen.at). Competence goes along with professional ability, describing more than just knowledge (ibid.). The individual competence involves a network of related aspects such as knowledge, skills, understanding, ability, action, experience and motivation (cf. Weinert 2001). It represents a precondition to handle specific problem situations in work life. Educational standards are the state regulated framework to enhance the development of skills based on a fitting learning environment in schools. By using competency-based teaching, pupils should learn how to transform (sluggish) knowledge into professional action and how to use the available knowledge in job-related activities. Those overall skills are seen as a benchmark for the success of the learning process in vocational education. Especially in agriculture the professional competence is important to establish sustainable food production and ecological management in rural areas and the use of the social and economic potential. Therefore competence orientation should become an essential part of lesson planning, teaching and performance evaluation (BMUKK, 2012) in vocational schools in Austria. With the introduction of competency-based curricula in vocational education in September 2015 the use of new self-directed learning methods has become important. Therefore competency-based learning tasks have been developed in the fields of agricultural education, household management and business management and were evaluated in schools. Basis for these tasks, are the educational standards of secondary vocational agricultural schools (Faistauer et al., 2014). In this paper we present a study with the potential of learning tasks. The learning tasks were evaluated from the perspective of educators and students and we want to focus in this paper on the “practical relevance" and the "satisfaction” (cf. Paechter et al., 2014).
The professional competence encompasses four interconnected areas of competence which illustrate the complexity of competency-based acting.
These areas are professional expertise, personal competence, social competence and methodological competence.
Professional competence means nothing less than the successful interconnection of these four areas.
The model of educational standards employed here considers all these areas.
Furthermore, the connection of theory and practice is an essential condition for action-oriented and sustainable learning.
Knowledge cannot be transferred from one person to another, but has to be newly constructed by every single individual.
Therefore, it is necessary to apply pupil-oriented teaching methods.
Learning processes continuously refer to pre-knowledge and habits of the pupils.
As a result, learning does not consist of passive absorbing, but of active constructing of knowledge.
In this process the pupils’ satisfaction with the current learning situation also plays a significant role.
For this reason, the learning tasks were created based on these insights.
In order to evaluate whether the implementation of the learning supportive parameters was successful, teachers and pupils were interviewed and subsequently, unregarded parameters were integrated.
Based on these findings, best-practice-models for competency-based teaching were developed.
Furthermore another important aspect in the course of the construction of the learning tasks was the consideration of the 4 determinants of motivation and cognitive engagement (Blumenfeld et. al, 2006).
How are the competency based learning tasks evaluated by teachers and students concerning the overall satisfaction with it and the experienced practical relevance?
A team of experienced teachers, teacher educators elaborated the learning tasks according to a predefined scheme and with regard to the educational standards of secondary vocational agricultural schools (Faistauer et al., 2014). These tasks were reviewed through the teachers themselves and by the authors of this contribution. From 115 tasks there were 23 selected to be part of the pilot study. The pilot study involved implementing and testing each of the tasks in four different schools (in total: n=48) all over Austria. The aim of the pilot study is to get feedback from students and teachers to provide high quality and comprehensibility. After the pilot run the survey results are used to improve, revise the tasks and, in the end, to publish and provide them to all teachers in agricultural vocational schools in Austria. In the pilot study data was collected via online questionnaires of teachers (n = 125) and students (n = 1803).
The questionnaires contain modified scales of Paechter et. al.
The teacher questionnaire consisted of 16 items (e.g. The learning task is relevant to the students.) with a 5 point likert scale arranged in five scales titled “practical transfer”, “attitude”, “customization”, “challenge”, “instructional clarity”.
Additionally, open questions were formulated and the teachers gave written feedback as well as a qualitative analysis.
The student questionnaire consisted of 28 items (e.g. The task helps me in my future work.) in eight scales: “practical transfer”, “autonomy”, challenge”, instructional clarity, ”motivation”, “satisfaction”, success” and “interest”. The five point Likert scale has its range from 1 (do not agree) to 5 (highest agreement).
113 teachers (n=125) reported that the learning tasks contribute to the educational development. This was because the learning tasks support the development of skills regarding autonomous study, teamwork, creativity etc. of students. Only 4 of 125
Teachers denied any beneficial effects on learning and 8 teachers did not even answer the question.
On average, the pupils answers concerning their satisfaction with regard to the learning tasks was neutral (Median 3.0, s²= 2,002). This outcome requires a detailed analysis of every single learning task.
The relevance of professional practice within the learning tasks found high acceptance by the teachers (3 items: median1: 4.00 (s²=1,293), median2: 4.0 (s²=0,887), median3: 4.0 (s²=1,208)) as well as by students (2 items: mediana: 4.00 (s²=1,390), medianb: 4.00 (s²=1,493)).
As a result, all of the learning tasks feature high relevance for professional and practical activities.
Teachers‘satisfaction as concerns these pupil-oriented and self-regulated learning methods is very high. Student opinions range from high satisfaction to complete dissatisfaction. This gap in results was explained by teachers in the following way: according to them, many pupils still are not able to regulate their learning process by themselves and have difficulties with time-management. Especially weaker students tend to rely on teachers for guidance in the learning process.
The practical relevance of all learning tasks was constituted by the reliance on specifically-chosen methods. Thus, the aim of practical relevance was achieved.
In the next months, the correlation of the scales „challenge“, „customization“ and „satisfaction“ shall be an interesting focus of analysis.
Bundesministerium für Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur (2012). Kompetenzorientiertes Unterrichten an berufsbildenden Schulen. Grundlagenpapier. Juli 2015 – 5. Auflage
Blumenfeld, P. C., Kempler, T. M., & Krajcik, J. S. (2006). Motivation and Cognitive Engagement in Learning Environments. In R. K. Sawyer (Hrsg.), The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (S. 475-488). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Faistauer, C., Friewald, K., Forstner-Ebhart, A., Haselberger, W. (2014). Vom Kompetenzmodell zum kompetenzorientierten Unterricht an Landwirtschaftlich Fachschulen. März 2014 - 1. Auflage.
Paechter, M; M. Kreisler; S. Luttenberger; D. Macher (2014) Unterrichtsaufgaben zur Förderung sozialer und personaler Kompetenzen in berufsbildenden Schulen: Beurteilungen von Schüler/inne/n und Lehrer/inne/n. Gruppendyn Organisationsberat 45. P. 379–399.
Weinert, F.E. (2001) Concept of competence: A conceptual clarification. In Rychen, D. S; Salganik, L. H. (Ed), (2001). Defining and selecting key competencies. , (pp. 45-65). Ashland, OH, US: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers