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.