Monday, July 30, 2018

Integration of vocational education and training experiences - book overview

Integration of Vocational Education and Training: Purposes, Practices and Principles, published 2018 by Springer, edited by Sarojni Choy, Gun-Britt Warvik and Viveca Lindberg.

Disclaimer: I am the lead author of one of the chapters in this book.

The overall premise of the book, is to bring a variety of perspectives on the integration of study /vocational educational programmes with work. Most of the chapters, focus on how to better help students, studying in dual systems, or completing full-time study with components of work integrated learning, bring the skills / knowledge and attitudes which demark each context, into a complementary whole. Of note is the need to address the 'space in between' as formal study is structured through both intended and enacted curriculum and workplace learning is driven by work processes and objectives. 

The book has 18 chapters in 2 parts. The first chapter sets the scene and provides an overview of the book's direction and contents. The last 2 chapters, provides a synthesis of the themes explored through various chapters and brings the commonalities and differences across the various contexts reported, into discussion.

Part 1: - 4 chapters on the provision and integration of work experiences within vocational education
The first introductory chapter – integration between school and work: developments, conceptions and applications – by the editors – provides an overview of the premises of the book. This first chapter sets the context for the following chapters in the book. The term ‘ integration’ is discussed and historical development described. Various approaches towards understanding integration are summarised. Including: three types of integration – low road integration to assimilate skills and automate practice through authentic work exposure; high road integration whereby reflection is engaged to integrate knowledge and skills via ‘accommodation’; and transformative integration, allowing for individuals’ perspectives to be changed as an outcome of WIL. Fuller and Unwin’s restricted vs expansive participation is also used as a framework for the affordances of learners to develop ‘integration’. The boundary crossing concept is also another. Pedagogies of for integration of WIL include the 7 dimension of purpose, context, nature of integration, curriculum issues, learning, partnerships and support to students. WIL also requires support for students’ learning before, during and after WIL.

As prefaced above, student’s agency is important to achieving WIL goal. Chapter 2 is by S. Billett on student readiness and the integration of experiences in practice and educational settings. The 8 dimension of readiness require addressing – conceptual, procedural and dispositional (i.e. knowledge, skills and attitudes). Recommendations for promoting student readiness before students engage with work placements and how to ensure students’ integrate their experiences after work placements, are detailed and discussed.

In the third chapter, D. Guile presents work experience and VET: insights from the connective typology and the recontexualisation model. This work is based on various models including bridge to work, experiential learning, a generic model, work process and the connective model. The article argues for a ‘continuous recontextualisation of knowledge and professional practice model. Learning for occupation / work is seen to be a continual process of adjusting to context, comingling of conceptual understanding and professional experience and further workplace recontextualisation as work evolves.

Chapter 4 by P. Grollman is on the topic of ‘varieties of duality: work-based learning and vocational education in international comparative research’. Calls for not only work to inform ‘school’ curriculum but for work to be also influence by school learning contributions. Describes various approaches across countries and unpacks the dualities in these systems.
Part 2, integrating work experiences within vocational education: empirical cases – presents a range of international examples and case studies.

Chapter 5 by S. Choy presents the Australian perspective with ‘integration of learning in educational institutions and workplaces. Based on a study on how VET students, teachers and managers/ coordinators conceptualise connectivity between what is learnt at educational institutions and workplaces. 4 conceptions are proposed. Experiences as preparation for learning in different sites represents a more sequential / linear progression from learning in education, and application to practice at work. A broader perspective includes the opportunity to de-construct / reflect on how learning and experiences from each (TAFE / workplace) inform or support each other. A third perspective is to encompass the learning from both sites. A fourth is the stimulation of higher-order thinking through the reflective cycle and the opportunity to select or negotiate ways forward.

The next chapter by R. Smith, discusses the role of ‘learner agency and the negotiation of practice’ is a summary of his PhD work. The main argument is the opportunity for workers to use their learning to contribute to the work process. There are many complex mechanisms in a workplace which can support or dis-engage a worker from participation. Worker agency is a key as to how, when and why workers engage. The negotiation of workers’ contributions is held to be a role of workers’ decisions (agency) and enablement through workplace practice. Each cannot occur without the other.

A Finnish example by L. Pylvas, H. Rintala and P. Nokelainen on the topic of ‘integration of holistic development of apprentices’ competences’. Reports on a study of apprentices to gauge their integration into the workplace. Found there was poor integration. Proposes the need to ensure integration occurs and to support apprentices beyond skills training. In particular to ensure they also are drawn into the culture of the workplace, develop social and meta competence and become part of a workplace.

Then, an example from Iceland. E. Eiriksdottir writes on ‘variations in implementing the dual VET systems: perspectives of students, teachers and trainers in the certified trades’. Discusses the impact of economic, socio/political, historical contributions to the length and sequencing of WIL periods across trades apprenticeship programmes.

Chapter 9 is from a team at Ara Institute of Canterbury in New Zealand. S. Chan, B. Beatty, D. Chilvers, L. Davis, A. Hollingworth and I. Jamieson summarise the difference approaches to work integrated learning with an emphasis on biculturalism. ‘WIL in Aotearoa/ New Zealand: Diversity, biculturalism and industry-led. This chapter uses case study of a range of WIL arrangements deployed by discipline specific programmes. Commonalities across the programmes include the importance of WIL to provide authentic learning, an emphasis on citizenship characteristics through preparation for the bi-cultural nature of NZ, and crucial support from stakeholders. The historical legacies from industry and discipline, contribute to how WIL is constituted. 

Chapter 10 with K. Vaughan, presents work-based learning in New Zealand with ‘even better than the real thing: practice-based learning and vocational thresholds at work. Discusses the important grounding focus, if a dispositional nature, of 3 disciplines. Carpenters with an emphasis on craft work and the values of craftsmanship; development of an expertise of uncertainty in general practitioner doctors; and development of a ‘social eye’ by engineering technicians. Each discipline, bringing to the development of their apprentices / trainees, a specific approach and perspective.
L. C. Lahn and H. Nore write on ‘ePortfolios as hybrid learning arenas in VET. Presents the work on using ePortfolios to be used as a device for liaising with apprentices, training offices, schools and companies.

T. Nyen and A. H. Tonder present a chapter on the Norwegian context with ‘Development of skills through integration of practice training periods in school-based vocational education’. Discusses the pros and cons of school-based and work-based learning. Each has its advantages and disadvantages.
The next chapter is from Singapore, with H. Bound, A. Chia and W.C. Lee on ‘spaces and spaces ‘in-between’ – relations through pedagogical tools and learning. Chronicles the integration of learning across different spaces and intents. These affect the way curriculum is designed. Both work and out of work learning yield potential and understanding the interrelationships is a key. Therefore, the ‘place in-between’ work and off-work learning, is a context which is now not utilised. The current shift to preparing workers for the future of work, adds another dimension to the intersection and interrelationships between work and learning.

I. Anderson writes on ‘workplace learning for school-based apprenticeships: tripartite conversations as a boundary-crossing point’. Uses activity theory to unravel the interconnections between vocational teacher, workplace tutor and student. Boundary crossing is used to explain how plans and negotiations, impact on learning at school and at work. The workplace expects school to prepare students for work. However, a lack of congruence between skills / knowledge learnt at school and workplace expectations, make it always a challenge to meet the needs of both work and school learning.

Then G-B. Warvic and V. Lindberg present on ‘integration between school and work: changes and challenges in the Swedish VET 1970-2011. Another study using activity theory as a framework. Discusses the need to ensure teachers are provided with opportunities to stay conversant with the demands of the contemporary workplace. Teachers are then enabled to mediate between what is expected of students work readiness learning and how this may be actioned through school based learning.

A Swiss perspective is presented in chapter 16. V. Sappa, C. Aprea and B. Vogt write on ‘success factors in fostering the connection between learning in school and at the workplace’. Summarises the challenges for vocational schools to assist apprentices to bridge the worlds of school and work. The study reports on the many complex factors impinging on the integration of work based and school based learning. As with chapter 13 in the Singaporean context, a ‘third space’ which brings together work and school, is explored as a means to provide better integration between formalised school and ‘less structured’ work based learning.

Chapter 17 by S. Billett, G-B. Warvik and S. Choy discusses ‘concepts, purposes and practices of integration across National curriculum’. The chapter argues for the need to ensure there is integration, given the importance of each sector (school and work) towards preparing people for work. The importance of integration are reiterated. There is caution that the intended curriculum – what is planned for students to achieve, learn or attain, does not always transfer into the curriculum as experienced by learners. Learners’ outcomes, may not necessarily need to be constrained or universal, as the discipline, location and societal contexts will differ. Issues identified through the chapters in the book include the important role of individual learner’s agency; institutional barriers including the different objectives of ‘school’ and work; the need to identify and provide learnable or teachable moments as learners engage with work; and the length, sequencing and logistical issues of organising work integrated learning. To resolve, it is important to ensure readiness of students’ to learning beyond school; the issues of connectivity and re-contextualisation between contexts are important to address in assisting learners to understand and mediate between both; and the wider contextual institutional issues also require resolution – with the need to understand socio-politico-historical influences and to consider the means to resolve or tamper their effects, if so required.

The last chapter by the editors, bring the various themes, concepts and perspectives together with a challenge for the ‘consideration for the integration of students’ experiences’. Summarises the various themes presented through the book. In particular, the need for deliberate effort from school-based / curriculum design / school or qualification systems, to be cognisant of the challenges of integration. Proposes four imperatives: social-cultural arrangements, negotiated curriculum, roles of various stakeholders and learner preparedness. Considerations for improving the negotiated curriculum include maximising and rationally implementing the perspectives gathered from stakeholders for the enactment of integrations. Learner preparedness include ensuring learners understand occupational and pertinent requirements; recognising and navigating the passage through integration; and applying appropriate pedagogical strategies.

Overall, the book contributes to a better understanding of how to assist learners (and educators) to 'cross the boundaries' of the various contexts they learn within. How to find conscensus or resolve differences between 'school learning' and work requirements through reflective or assisted learning processes is the key to better work integrated learning.

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