Enhancing Pedagogy in the Teaching of Vocational Science, Engineering and Technology
This paper reports on an on-going project to research and develop an intervention designed to enhance the subject-specialist pedagogy of trainee vocational science, engineering and technology (SET) teachers in English Further Education (FE) Colleges. This research-informed intervention complements the trainee teachers' existing generic teacher training course and specifically seeks to inform their decision making in relation to their own vocational subject specialism. An integral part of the project is the full evaluation of the impact of that intervention.
This study articulates with the emerging international discussion around the disputed concept of vocational pedagogy. UNESCO hosted a virtual conference on vocational pedagogy in 2014, which involved participants from 65 countries including much of Europe (Lucas 2014, 15). In Australia, Wheelahan and Moodie have examined how the promotion of subject-specialist vocational pedagogy might improve VET teaching. In England, there have been reports produced on vocational pedagogy by, amongst others, the major vocational awarding body City and Guilds (Lucas, Spencer and Claxton 2012) and the British government’s own Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL 2013) endorsed the concept of vocational pedagogy. Building on this and other work, our study has sought to apply and adapt concepts and approaches from subject-specialist pedagogy to make them relevant and influential for trainee vocational SET teachers. These vocational teachers are already in post and are training part-time, in-service.
The concept of pedagogy has been controversial in vocational teaching (CAVTL 2013) but its importance is in recognising that the successful teaching of particular vocational topics requires attention to general approach, sequencing of learning and the purpose of specific activities. Furthermore, the concept of vocational pedagogy suggests that the successful teaching of particular vocational areas may involve specific or signature approaches and activities (Shulman 1986). Our project’s working definition is that pedagogy describes how teachers explain the decisions they make in relation to a particular curriculum or body of knowledge (in this case occupational knowledge) and in relation to a particular group of students (in this case students on vocational SET courses). Though the form of those decisions will differ according to situation, the concept implies that teachers need to be well-informed in order to make good pedagogical decisions. Informing new vocational SET teachers based on research is the focus of our project. The term also suggests that vocational teachers and trainers have individual agency in order to make good pedagogical decisions. We have found, however, that in English FE colleges this may not be the case.
This paper reports specifically on the following research questions:
- What concepts and approaches are most useful in informing the pedagogical practice of trainee vocational teachers?
- How can the impact of an intervention to enhance vocational teaching incorporating these concepts and approaches be properly evaluated?
The project has involved desk-based research and interviews with existing SET teachers in colleges to develop the intervention for trainee teachers, which is currently being trialled.
Evaluation of the intervention's impact is on-going but has been based around analysing the language the participant teachers eventually use to describe their decision-making in session planning and delivery.
Both the research-informed resources used in the intervention and the structure of the evaluation are relevant to colleagues in other, especially, European VET contexts.
The initial development of the pedagogical intervention has derived primarily from an extensive literature review of existing research on pedagogy and specifically on science and vocational pedagogy. From this literature review, the main conceptualisations that have been adapted and applied are pedagogical content knowledge and signature pedagogies (Shulman 1986; 1987; 2004; 2005) as well as content representation (Loughran et al. 2004; 2008; 2012). The intervention has also conceptualised how the workplace can be connected with the college workshop or classroom.
Evaluation of the intervention's impact, if there is any, is based on questionnaires and interviews before and at points well after the implementation, including after the completion of their teacher training course. This is based on an examination of the language used by the participants applying the techniques of discourse analysis to discern any difference and to enable inference of any influence on their decision-making.
We also report on variables influencing teaching that are not affected by the intervention, including support in the workplace, previous experience, level of education. The impact of the intervention is judged in relation to these other variables.
Persuading vocational teachers that pedagogy is relevant to them and then persuading them to make time for professional development when their workload is so heavy have been extremely problematic during he project. So, we have had to develop new means to access these trainee teachers using entirely on-line resources and through training of their generic teacher educators based in the FE colleges.
The major issue remains that there are not enough vocational teachers in SET subjects in FE colleges, whether or not they are pedagogically proficient. Nevertheless, this project has shown that subject-specialist pedagogy can be made relevant to trainee vocational teachers whose decision-making can benefit from the associated concepts and approaches. Until the working environment, pay and workload of FE teachers is improved, however, such interventions may only have minimal impact.
Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL). 2013. It’s about work: excellent adult vocational teaching and learning. London: Learning and Skills Improvement Service (LSIS). Accessed 20 November 2016. https://www.aoc.co.uk/sites/default/files/Its%20About%20Work.pdf.
Loughran, J., Mulhall, P. & Berry, A. (2004) In search of pedagogical content knowledge in science: developing ways of articulating and documenting professional practice. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(4), 370-391.
Loughran, J., Mulhall, P. & Berry, A. (2008) Exploring pedagogical content knowledge in science teacher education. International Journal of Science Education, 30(10), 1301-1320.
Loughran, J., Berry, A., & Mulhall, P. (2012) Understanding and Developing ScienceTeachers’ Pedagogical Content Knowledge. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.
Lucas, Bill. 2014. Vocational pedagogy: what it is, why it matters and how to put it into practice. Bonn: UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training. Accessed 24 November 2016. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0023/002303/230349e.pdf.
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