Thursday, April 11, 2013

ITF NZ 2013 vocational education research forum DAY 1

In Wellington for the annual NZ vocational educationresearch forum convened by the Industry Training Federation (ITF). This is the tenth year of the conference, so a momentus occasion.
Mark Oldershaw, the CE of ITF opens the conference and introduces the first key note.
Dr. Ian Hall introduces the Ministerial address by the Hon. Simon Bridges, Minister of Labour. Reinforced the importance of research in informing government, business groups, industry etc. on the vocational education sector.
Export markets, capital growth, resource use, plus skilled and safe workplaces are important strategic areas of NZ. Present govt. Recent initiative to support apprenticeships show governments commitment to skilling the workforce.
Signals several changes – more flexible work hours, greater flexibility in employment contracts, a ‘start-out’ wage for young people starting in the workforce, setting targets for safe work places to reform present legislation. A new govt. section on improving and maintaining workplace health and safety to be set up.
The Honorable Steve Maharey, now CE of Massey University, keynote is on the importance of research in informing policy.  Focus on How do we know?? As an example is the Minister of Labour’s proposal for a ‘starting wage’ for young people. How do we know this will help young people get started and are they able to actually live on the ‘starting wage’? Evidence based research still required to inform policy.
Went through brief overview of VET – prior 1992 – workbased (Gladwell- Outliers – 10,000 hours); post 1992 – industry-led, competency based, flexibility, new areas covered, PTEs (private training providers( formed. 2000 – modern apprenticeships launched, 2011 – review of ITOs (now just 21 compared to over 40 2 years ago) – with most changes made possible not based on evidence ??
Research informed practice plays a role in helping people to change their minds about long held beliefs. Evidence base needs to be context specific but also be localized / relevance. How much research is actually used? How much evidence based literacy exists? Policy-research connection needs to be closer- for example through staff exchanges between policy developers and industry / ITOs etc. Encouragement to know the audience for the research, use social media, build capacity for not only doing but understanding research findings and how they can be transferred into policy that will make a difference.  See Newman, K et al (2012) what is the evidence on evidence-informed policy making? INASP: UK uses a demand / supply framework to unpack how policy makers may use evidence.
Research on what works should be routine; practitioners should be involved in research; disseminate results; resources should enable practitioners to be critical consumers of research; remove barriers between practitioners and researchers; practitioners should drive some/all research agenda; and research needs to be relevant to the situation.
Some good recommendations and an inside view on how policies come about!
Following, an expert panel convened to discuss the implementation of Hon. Maharey’s presentation. Panel include Dr. Peter Coolbear from Ako Aotearoa and Roger Smythe from the Ministry of Education.

Peter thanked Steve for some good recommendations. Research needs to meet policy developments more than half way – how we do and promote research. Ako Aotearoa already working through any of the recommendations and continues to work to improve the process. Simple messages need to be distilled about what the evidence is telling us, what works in industry workplace training, the barriers etc. need to bring the findings together into a coherent way and disseminate to target audience.
There is research on unpacking complexity or research that leads to change in practice and improvement in outcomes of learners. Ako Aotearoa supports evidence bases that promote positive change.
Roger provided background on MOEs work to form an evidence-based focused direction. In the past, there wasn’t much work done (stuff was taken on trust). There was lots of data but no concerted effort to make meaning. Progress has been made since to understand the data on completion rates for example.  Greater emphasis on drawing out the important information presented in data collected (often from different ministries / sources) to see patterns and postulate influences / impacts. There is a will within the MOE to make the consolidated data available to the sector / public but still lots of work to be done – with limited resources.
Steve replied to reiterate the need for evidence informed policy and questions from the floor presented and answered / extended / discussed.
After morning tea, the concurrent sessions in 2 streams begin.
I chair the first session in stream A, presented by Dr. Helen Henderson from the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic on ‘how to increase student retention and success.’ Helen presented an engaging session. A need to qualify what ‘completions’ mean? How can we help students complete?  What can be changed? Students’ socio-economic matters, educational background, cultural diversity, family support and expectations of previous teachers pretty much set. But tutor’s knowledge, programme elements, institutional support and targets are things that can be worked on. Principles for institutional change include need of continuous improvement, collection and use of evidence to inform action and evaluation, accept responsibilities and boundaries and focus on strengths and student engagement.  Student cycle – programme focused approach to retention and support, identify key points of engagement and form an evidence base approach to strengthen engagement. Key points of engagement include recruitment, first contact orientation, diagnostic placements, teaching and learning, assessment tools, pastoral care/support, destination (work, further study). What evidence is available in each point of the student cycle to establish what works, how to improve, actions to take and ways to continually evaluate. Which part of the cycle needs to be worked from identified for was part of the student cycle.                                                   Detailed a trial with 18 programmes with eventual improvements in 15 programmes (2 remained the same and 1 declined in completion rates).

Reflections include the need for clear goals and requirements (institution and TEC for completions); needs to be leadership commitment; need to collect useable data on how students enroll, progress and complete / or not complete; shift to business as usual promptly once project stops; large attitude shift required from all players; share on-going success – strategies that assist with positive course / programme completions.

Second session is with Mike Hay from Trade and Commerce presenting on an Ako Aotearoa project to ‘increase student engagement andachievement through a strengths-based approach to education’.  Original rationale based on a Gallup poll that reveals on 17% people use their strengths at work. Engaged students think – I can, I should and I want. Hillary Rhodes (2007) defines engaged learners as finding education to be important; have persistence and sustained attention and attend regularly; are excited and interested in learning – with a sense of belonging’ have a preference for academic  challenge, positive self concepts. Used Mason Durie’s work on the Te Whare Tapa Wha – where the whole – mental and emotional, physical, social and spiritual wellbeing and Snyder (1996) on hope.
Many definitions of ‘strengths’ one from J. Fox (2009) as activity (energise you, you look forward to, you want); learning (learning preferences and environments) and relationship (develop effective and rewarding connections) strengths. Competency requires we be good at everything. Strengths approach involves discovering, developing and applying their strengths in their teaching activities as they help students to do the same learning and different levels.
Engagement factors include – early success and positivity; making connections between tutors and students; develop skills to identify personal strengths; take personal responsibility; strong support crew; aspirations aligned to strengths; qualifications and /or employment pathways and activities aligned to strengths; and celebrate success. A framework for strengths based delivery presented for careers in hospitality (level 2) as an example.  Involves settling in– weeks 1 and 2-(becoming part of the group, build relations between peers and tutors); discover strengths ((weeks 3 – 4) and then use strengths through the course before encouraging to ‘living with my strengths (6 weeks prior to completion).  The strengths identification and application process is also linked to unit standards and are therefore have credit values.
Challenges for students include- believe that they need to work on weaknesses; are afraid they do not have strengths; to follow their strengths they might need to change behaviours and expectations. For tutors believe in identifying students; weaknesses; but must do things differently and have to work harder to educate more than train/ teach; enjoy the power in pointing out students’ problems – so need to change beliefs and practice. For organisations – what is organisations highest priority and how much money and time is spent on student recruitment vs student engagement.
Success of the approach is based on focus on abilities; do activities together; use what you learn about the student; listen to their stories; develop an individualized plan; and measure engagement in real-time.  Carried out a project of find out if the approach worked. Compared control and trial groups and trial group showed slightly higher levels of engagement, hope, wellbeing and tutor relations with the trial group.
So implications include: how can achievement be defined? Depends on if WINZ (jobs)or TEC (qualifications)! But achievement is also about lifting engagement, aspirations, self-confidence, independence, quality of learner decision-making, and qualification achievement. Therefore, there is more to student achievement than concrete outcomes.
For the future – set up a strengths-pedia of strengths activities; develop strengths-based assessments; strength-based employee recruitment and job allocation; employee-strengths based engagement framework; roles and responsibilities based on strengths; strengths based coaching and performance reviews.
After lunch, a plenary session on student engagement in NZ PTEs (private training providers) – piloting AUSSE in the NZ PTE sector with Dr. Peter Coolbear from Ako Aotearoa. The project survey analysis completed by Ali Radloff from the Australian Council of Education Research and coordinated b Keith Heathcote (NZAPEP) with Peter providing funding, and conclusions in the presentation. AUSSE a powerful research tool but it does not provide all the answers, has a self-selected convenience sample and provides a broad brush overview.  Provided an outline of student engagement, the AUSSE itself, some of the things the survey tells us about students in the participating institutions.
Premised on the outcomes which are desirable from inputs of student effort, institution and teacher support. All of these are not independent variables.  Student engagement is about active, purposeful involvement in the learning opportunities provided in their tertiary experience.  Characteristics of engagement include appropriate levels of challenge, high expectations coupled with deep approaches to learning, quality engagement with staff, enriched learning activities and active learning approaches. Dimensions include student-centred learning perspective, includes both in and out of class activities and condition, assumption that individuals learn and develop involvement with key educational practices and activities. Based on 4 decades of research (international) and can be linked to retention and eventual student completion and success.  AUSSE is designed to start action-focused conversations about teaching and learning BUT not make judgements off a single data set. However, comparisons within institution, between other institutions and along other data. Within institutions with improvement over time, inter-disciplinary, first year to later years, specific student groups and between disciplines.
AUSSE survey can be distilled into engagement scales to measure academic challenge, active learning, staff/student interactions, enriched educational experiences, supportive learning environment and work-integrated learning. Outcome measures also in higher order thinking, general learning and development outcomes, career readiness, average overall grade, departure intentions and overall satisfaction.
In general, PTE attrition lowish but completion low (around 50%- across 8 years) and progression also low. In this pilot, 10 PTEs participated, 990 learners, mainly degree and diploma in IT, Health and Education. PTEs exhibit high support of students – supportive learning environment - when compared to other types of providers.  Overall satisfaction and support of students’ development also high.  For PTE batchelor students when compared with university, ITP and Australian university – higher academic challenge, active leanring, student staff interactions, enriched learning experiences, supportive learning environment and work integrated learning.  Outcome comparisons more even but PTE batchelor degrees still higher in general development outcomes.
ITP and PTE pilot validated to study levels 3 – 7. Best PTEs have clear strengths in supporting active learning and work integrated learning. Younger learners show higher propensity to active engagement than older learners, Maori and Pacifica learners have different needs but more work needs to be done to understand the relationship between engagement and success for Pacifica learners.
Future direction – develop a version for levels 1 -2 ? apply to workplace learning contexts?
Then, I present on the various situated technology enhancelearning (STEL) projects at CPIT with ‘ STEL: improving learning of a trade. Projects with Peter Sauer (using tablets to complete assessment naming mechanical parts of car), Katrina Fisher (learning barista skills), Debby Taylor (improving reflective learning using video of roleplays of check-in and check-out), Heather McEwan (improving digital literacy through virtual field trips to hotels) and Peter Harrison (using point of view video to learn engineering practical skills). Presenting on the pedagogical frameworks underpinning STEL as a whole and each of the projects (constructivism, deliberate practice, embodied learning etc.). Then the need to prepare students and prepare tutors before selecting technology to engage fully in the avoidances provided through STEL.
Afternoon tea followed by keynote from Dr. Rose Ryan, Heather McDonald(Heathrose Research) and Doug Pouwhare (ESITO) with their presentation on an ESITO (electricity supply ITO) project on ‘ Ultimit benefit: Women trainees in the electrical supply industry.’  Project to encourage and support women to work as line mechanics and cable jointers. Asks whether isolation and lack of peer group support limit’s womens’ recruitment and retention? Does health and industry safety model consider womens’ needs? What work related attributes and qualities support women. 
Interviews carried out over 2 years with trainees, supervisors and team leaders collecting 109 interviews. Supplemented with documents related to training and observations. Electrical supply industry has good representation with women in generation and retails. However, few in transmission and distribution. Could be due to type of work being physically demanding, hazardous, in isolated areas and mucky.
In 2008, there were 1270 apprentices in line mechanic / cable jointing but only 42 women in 5 trades. In 2013, 1566 trainees and 107 women in 37 trades.  Final report to be launched on 20th April. So interim findings are reported.
From previous learnings in another project, women were recruited and then organized into cohorts to ensure they were supported through apprenticeship. Total of 9 trainees (6 in one and 3 in another company). Selection was rigorous with opportunities for potential trainees to find out about the physical and other job requirements. Initial expectations of trainees and trainers/ supervisors was positive. Training and learning was on the job – often dependent on the team leader or supervisor leading; the attitude of the trainee (ask questions or take initiative); and trainee experiences varied between being accepted in teams to reluctance to invest in hands-on learning. Health and safety focuses were challenged – high expectations with women perceived to having higher states of awareness of risks and hazard control; issues raised including size of protective gear; reproductive health; and strength and fatigue thresholds contested. Found that relationships were important including with managers, mentors and outside support; within work teams; shared understandings of performance expectations and management; ‘getting stuck in’ was valued but what does that mean in practice; and importance of family relationships.
Concluded that the cohort effect does make a difference; health and safety issues cannot be considered separate from workforce development issues. Work culture important in determining what is valued in specific jobs – for instance strength valued but not attention to detail, ability to manage relationships with land owners etc.).
Implications – targeting recruitment for trades in women works. VET in non-traditional trades offers employers access to wider pool of labour; VET offers young women a range of career choice not previously available; organization recruiting from a non-traditional workforce to consider what they need to do to prepare their existing workforce for changes. Ultimit has a goal to increase womens’ workforce representation in traditional trades within the electric supply industry.

Day ends with a cocktail function to celebrate the 10 years of the forum.