Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Born to learn and overschooled but undereducated

Last week, one of the DTLT students from Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology (NMIT), introduced the CPIT adult education team to the website – born to learn
The site summaries a book ‘ Overschooled but under educated: How the crisis in education is jeopardizing our adolescents by John Abbott and Heather MacTaggart (links to videos with John on learning in the early years and Heather on why education needs to change) .  Google books preview of parts of the first 4 chapters available.
The main premise of the book, build from a synthesis of contemporary research in neurobiology, cognitive psychology etc. is that humans are ‘born to learn, not born to be taught’. Therefore, schools have to encourage self-directed learning, personalised individual learning plans, foster the use of mentors and provide the opportunity for teenagers to practice at becoming better learners.

Of interest is the one of the authors’ experiences as a teacher chaperoning a group of senior high school students on a field trip to North Africa. The headman of the village tells the teacher that unlike the village kids, who at a similar age are already contributing to their family’s and community’s well-being and productivity, the kids from Western societies are still dependent on their family and are unable to accomplish even the simplest of domestic/agricultural tasks.

Also, there is a reflection in the first chapters of the book on the role of apprenticeships in helping the younger generation find meaning and status in life, and the role of adult mentors in providing young people with structure and challenge. Schools have taken the ‘factory model’ too far, dampening the natural instincts of their students by imposing a lock-step, one-size-fits all model. The current needs of humankind require more of schools including the need to prepare young people to face the big challenges like environmental degradation, globalisation, peak oil etc.

In all, not a new message, as evidenced by many other commentators, Sir Ken Robinson, John Seely BrownMarc Prensky, dana boyd, Michael Wesch to name but a few well-known internationally, and locally in New Zealand we have Stuart Middleton and  Derek Wenmouth)  

The website has packaged the message into an easy to understand  and accessible medium for parents, teachers and policy makers.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Using Adobe Connect

This year, I am teaching one of the Diploma in Tertiary Learning and Teaching courses. The course is called Learning ang Teaching 2 but is aka 'adult learning theories'. Students on the course are polytechnic teachers/tutors. This year is the second time I am running this course fully on-line. The students are based in two institutions in Christchurch and in Nelson. I learnt much from working with the students on last year's course. So this year, I have make plans to include a larger number of 'virtual classroom' type courses. Every fortnight, we meet for an hour or so to discuss the course content and activities posted on to a course Moodle site.

This week, we had our first virtual classroom session using Adobe Connect meeting space. We had a 'get to know how to use' session last week and as a result, the session went without too many technical hitches. Everyone managed to get their microphones and earphones working and were able to contribute to the session. I recorded our session from this week and had a chance to hear/see the action again today, providing me with a good opportunity to reflect on how the session.

At the moment, I am only using the simplest of approaches. This is mainly so  I can upskill myself but also to provide students with a chance to become familiar with the various icons in the meeting space. online conferencing protocols and become comfortable in the virtual classroom enviroment. As the course progresses, I intend to learn newer ways to present material and encourage input from the students. Working my way through the various features provided is a good way to learn and to model to students, how to use and improve on using virtual classroom structures.

On viewing the recorded session, I find that I will have to leave items on the screen for longer and to give students more time to respond to questions. Plus I need to work on encouraging students to 'raise their hand' to interrupt or take turns. I have also been trying to run the session with participant input by doing a 'round' but this can be intimidating to some participants and I have no recourse to body language to gauge when someone is ready to contribute or if someone is reluctant. I will need to collect some feedback on how the session went, so that the students are motivated to participate in as many of the virtual sessions as possible. So looking forward to the next session.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Apprenticeship in critical ethnographical practice - Jean Lave's new book

The new book by Professor Emerita Jean Lave and Professor Thomas P. Gibson  called 'Apprenticeship in critical ethnographical practice' (2011) is a wonderful read. It traces Lave’s journey as an ethnologists. Her initial studies of apprentices have contributed to a better understanding of how learning occurs in the real world. This book details her research of Vai and Gola tailors’ apprentices in Liberia in the 1970s. Threaded through the book is the practice of ethnography, the many facets of becoming a researcher through doing field work. Usual preview via Google books.

There is a recorded presentation at Universidad los Andes in Colombia– assumptions about how people learn and how work by anthropologist and social psychologists overturns some of these assumptions and suggests other approaches - summarising some of the concepts in the book.
I first found the book at the CPIT ebook library. However, it was frustrating to try to read the book at the office due to interruptions and the usual meetings interspersed through my work day. I then accessed the book at home on my ipad but had difficulty accessing the wifi in bed. So I had a look at Amazon and found the ebook at a reasonable price (NZ$15.12) so it is now on my ipad Kindle app and I have been able to dip in and out of it over the last two weeks. Each reading brings new learning. One Kindle feature is that the book shows up sections highlighted by other readers. I turned this off at the first skim read but for the current, more in-depth read, I have created and shared my own highlights and also paid some attention to what others have highlighted. As with all ebooks, the ability to bookmark and annotate is also a great advantage.

There is much in this book to absorb and reflect on. Lave’s passion for her work shines through every page in the book. She writes of her commitment to the task of critical ethnography and how doing research through praxis, involves also changing one’s whole ways of doing, thinking and being. In so doing, the researcher is continually transforming their identity, just as the participants they are observing grow as they learn and develop. Of importance is the ‘critical’ aspect. The critical ethnography researcher needs to be mindful of the impact of their fieldwork and to use their findings to help improve opportunities for their participants.

Chapter one is very much a deliberation on how research apprenticeship has also involved the researcher is undertaking an apprenticeship in critical ethnography.

Chapter two is an overview of Lave’s original work in Liberia, when she undertook to study the mathematics learnt through ‘informal’ learning. There are vivid descriptions of the tailor’s district and the apprenticeship system as practiced 40 years ago in West Africa.

Chapter three ‘becoming a tailor’ details the ways in which tailors learn their craft and how many of the skills learnt were also about ‘being a tailor’. The beginning of learning to be a tailor, involves entry points both into the trade/apprenticeship and into learning tailoring. The emergence of the well quoted ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ conception is described and substantiated with observations of how novice tailors enter the trade and begin tailoring by firstly learning how to sew on buttons. This not only provides a 'simple' task to master but the opportunity to examine the finished pair of trousers through 'tailors' eyes and hands'.

Chapter four goes into ‘testing learning transfer’. Here Lave describes a series of experiments she carried out with tailors, to find out if ‘school based’ type mathematics or algorithms would be similar in a workplace situation. The chapter also details much of Lave’s reflection on the effectiveness of this form of research method. A must read chapter on how embedding numeracy practices needs to be based on real-world practices and not just ‘school based’ learning couched into a different format.

Chapter five titled ‘multiplying situations’ goes into Lave’s strategies to improve on the work described in the previous chapter. Having found out that work-based mathematics was vastly different from school-based approaches, she describes in this chapter, her work at unravelling the salient structures that underlie work-based and real-life practical mathematics, what Lave calls ‘mundane maths’. The example used to explain the ideas learnt are apt. It is a record of a tailor, negotiating the best price from a customer, using quick calculations to ensure that he gained a reasonable profit, while the customer drove the price down with aggressive bargaining. How did apprentices learn this skill? And could such a skill have been learnt in a school-based system?

The last chapter ‘researching apprenticeship, research as apprenticeship’ links back to the discussion in chapter 1. I can relate well to how doing research via completion of PhD is very much a research apprenticeship. This brief chapter also lays out the foundational premises for situated learning so that the transfer of learning between school and real-world application is narrowed.

The references contain a wealth of anthropological literature to explore further. Many are pre-1970s to support the work as reported in the book but there are a substantial number of newer references I am not familiar with which will need following up.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Vocational education : Professor Stephen Billett's latest book

A hardcopy of Professor Stephen Billett’s new book ‘Vocational education: purposes, traditions and prospects’ arrived in the library just as I got back to work a month ago.  Usual preview also available on Google books. As much of the content is relevant to my research, I have put time  into working through the book.
In this book, Billett argues for better recognition/respect of the role of vocational education. To support the assertion he begins by undertaking a review of the positioning of vocational education through analysis of its historical roots, both in Western (Greek, Roman) and Asian (Chinese) traditions. Discussions continue by unpacking the connotations of the terms 'vocations' and 'occupations'. The historical valuing of vocations is contrasted to the more prosaic acceptance of the need for people to undertake paid work in the form of occupations. Of interest, is the collation of an argument for the deliberation of not only vocations but occupations as a calling. Thereby, closing the loop with regards to occupations and vocations, with some individuals, transforming their occupations into vocations.

The various economic, social and political pressures and continuous reforms within vocational education are then overviewed and brought together in the next few chapters on the development and purposes of vocational education.
Then a useful chapter, introducing, substantiating and describing the vocational education curricula as intended curriculum as decreed by standards setting bodies, enacted curriculum by those who deliver the learning required to take up a vocational occupation and the experienced curriculum as how learners/students encounter and engage with the learning. Parts of this are summarised in Billett’s keynote presentation last year at the Industry Training Federation’s (ITF) NZ vocational education research forum. The concept is useful when we assess the impact of vocational education on students who are being prepared (through pre-trade or university education) for work. Does the intended curriculum actually meet the needs of industry and is the curriculum as experienced by learners, actually sufficient preparation for the realities of work?

Overall, a scholarly book written for an academic audience. It provides good overview of the present state of affairs in the vocational education field. Vocational education is something governments require to assist with the training of a ‘skilled’ workforce. Yet, vocational education is more than ‘just training’, it prepares people for occupations , in turn providing livelihoods for many. For some, occupations are not just a job, but a means to also attain fulfilment. As vocational educators, we need to think through our objectives. Are we training? or educating? Does preparation for work also need to include many non-work related skills that help people become 'who they want to be and become'?  So, in a sense, the book raises many questions about vocational education's role - for individuals, society or humanity?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

ebooks on workplace learning / education research relevant to vocational education research

There are now many ebooks in the CPIT library. During my summer trawl through the University of Canterbury library, I noticed many of the journals now only available as digital (as from 2008) and there are more books listed as ebooks on the library catalogue.
At CPIT, many of our ebooks are available via the eblib (EBL) subscription. You can either browse the books (5 minutes – arrghh) or make a request for a loan. Loan requests are for 7 days and there can be gap of a few days (for some books) before the access email arrives. Not the most user-friendly experience in comparison to just picking the book off the library shelve and flicking through it. I also checked access to the ebooks via my ipad. On-line reading worked without any glitches, the only drawback being the multiple logins required to obtain access.

Anyway, I worked through three ebooks a couple of weeks ago, as I requested them all on the same day. Something I will need to make plans around as working through three books in a week is heavy going.

The first book “Making work visible: Ethnographically grounded case studies of work practice” (2011) edited by Margaret Szymanski and Jake Whalen and the most relevant to my current work. This book records the work of Xerox and the work of well-known researchers in the field of workplace learning including Lucy Suchman and John Seely Brown. In a sense, it is almost a history book, as it documents the many studies made from the 1970s, on improving workplace learning but also machine-human interaction. Chapter one is a transcript from a presentation by Suchman, detailing the journey of the work practice and design project.

The second chapter is by Wes Sharrock and Graham Button, detailing their engineering investigations on ‘ what is made visible on making work visible?’. This chapter has a good discussion on the advantages and pitfalls of using ethnographical research methods (ethnomethology) to study workplace practice. As an example, they describe studies of engineers planning work and how these workplans may at times become barriers to the actual work progressing.

Chapter 3 is by Peter Tolmie on ‘uncovering the unremarkable’ and focuses on studies of software engineers working at home or at office, to understand ‘unremarkable’ computing a precursor of ubiquitous computing : having technology work in the background without acknowledging but using the capabilities when required. Although seemingly a simple task, the article details the complexities of uncovering the unremarkable, a clear warning to those of us trying to study and understand tacit learning.

Francois Brun-Cotton and Patricia Wild write on ‘work practices to understand the implications of nascent technology’, of relevance to our netbooks projects. Provides a good description of ethnography, based on collection of a wide range and volume of artefacts, both static and multi-media.

The next chapter is interesting reading both from the technology and cultural point of view. Diane Schiano and Victoria Berlotti work on ‘ using field study to inform the design of a mobile leisure guide for Japanese youth’ called Tokyo to Go. A good overview of how to conduct a field study using various approaches.

The above are from the first two parts of the book, the next two parts are less relevant covering ‘practices around documents’ and ‘the customer front’. The last two parts ‘ learning and knowledge sharing’ and ‘competency transfer’ – as applied to the projects detailed in the book, have a few chapters for follow up. The last chapter in the book is especially useful to my current learning about ethnography as a research method and how to introduce analytical thinking to other trades tutors. This chapter by Brigette Jordan on ‘Transferring ethnographical competence: personal reflections on the past and future of work practice analysis’ provides a realistic guide to mentoring others into the culture of ethnographical research.

The second book is written by Leslie Rupert Herrenkohl and Veronique Mertl called “how students come to be, know and do: A case for a broader view of learning’ (2010). Here, a research study of a group of American grade school students, is used extend the understanding of how people learn. The book strongly advocates a sociocultural approach to try to increase the numbers of women and minority people into the sciences.

The third book is Yrjo Engestrom's work on ‘from team to knots; studies of collaboration and learning at work’ (2008). Here, 6 case studies are used to illustrate the activity theory framework to study how teams work. The case studies include a TV broadcasting team to find out why the team has ‘stagnated’ in their work approaches; a court trial team as an example of a supposedly tightly restricted/controlled work, innovating possibilities to bring about efficient trial process; a primary health care team to study how newly constructed teams find their bearings and a mode of working together; a teaching team as an example of boundary crossing; industrial machining teams engaged in knowledge creation; and how telecom call centre teams build a shared concept and attain their own social capital. Good examples of how activity theory has been used to study diverse workplaces.

Common themes run through these three books. They are related to preparing people (and students) for a work life of continual change. Xerox’s studies and the case studies in Engestrom’s book provide insightful observations with some recommendations for future strategic learning directions. The book by Heerenkohl and Mertl offers one possible route for education to prepare the next generation for the complexities that lie ahead as humanity copes with social, technological and environment challenges.

The three books are part of the Cambridge University Press ‘Learning by doing: Social, cognitive and computational aspects’ series and over the next few months I will work my way through other pertinent books in the series.