Thursday, March 27, 2008

Embedded practitioner

A thought provoking blog from Konrad Glogowski about being an embedded practioner. His blog like that of Barbara Ganley provide glimpses of life as a teacher at the whiteboard face.
In his latest blog he quoted work from Freire’s book Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy and civic courage. The quote summarised as ‘there should not be teaching without research and research without teaching’. One informs the other. It also reflects many of my thoughts about teaching. We teach, we find things that don’t work, we try to fix, we learn and teach others about what we found out.

Konrad also brought up the much blogged about curtailing of Al Upton’s student blogs by the South Australian government. This provided a sharp reminder to me about my work with apprentices and access to their personal blogs. Their workplace evidence is intermingled with snippets of their out of work life, a view into young lives lived to the full.

There is a find balance between becoming a truly embedded teacher and being a nosy one. Through immersion in the craft I teach and the practice of helping student’s learn, I cannot help but become embedded in how my students think, approach a topic, react to learning activities and come to grips with learning challenges. Part of becoming a good teacher is empathy with your students. Understanding what makes students tick, helps me sort out where their perceptions lie and this in turn helps me to gauge how to scaffold students from one level of understanding to the next. Engagement with students in their on-going learning also means that you become involved in other aspects of their lives as well.

Having access to apprentice blogs (and to my children’s – now both in their 20s) has provided me with a window into a totally different world viewpoint. The things (movies, music, leisure activities) young people are into are far removed from my own experiences. Yet, there are commonalities. My son’s collection of hip hop / rap artistes include several who write and perform lyrics that are akin to poetry that I enjoy reading. Yet, he would NEVER read poetry! Movies that my daughter watch & clothes she wears are things that I would never do, but we have long ranging conversations via txt on recently read books. I have learnt quite a bit about boy racing culture from several of my apprentice’s blogs.

I think that the important thing is to connect to not WHAT young people are interested in but WHY. We need to hone in on what actually creates a sense of enjoyment, awe or engagement for them. So we don’t have to rap, or write in tagging or txt language on the board, but we need to provide students with a sense of what they can achieve with their learning or how they can apply what they learn to their current contexts. Also, we need to help trigger their passion in the subjects that they are studying. They already have the wherewithal to find more information on things they are interested in. So we as teachers need to supply them with reasons for connecting, networking, researching and learning.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

ITF research forum now online

The efficient staff at the ITF have now put all the presentations made at the ITF 2008 research forum available online.

Of interest to me were the concurrent sessions that I did not attend as I was presenting in the other room. The three most relevant would be:-
  • Initial Results from the Upskilling Research Programme by Dr John Benseman and Anne Alkema, Department of Labour which was on projects completed in the workplace to improve literacy in the workforce. I have witnessed many young apprentices making great improvements in their literacy and numeracy over the course of their apprenticeship. In year one, some struggle to string sentences together but by year three, many have used the opportunities afforded by situated learning in their workplace context, to write more confidently and fluently.
  • The Ministry of Education Research and Monitoring Programme from David Earle and Paul Mahoney from the Ministry of Education who provided statistical information about the Industry Training Administrative Dataset Analysis and Advanced Trade, Technical, and Professional Qualifications. All pertinent to planning for ITOs and providers. This initiative provides data very much like the work of the Australian NCVER on apprentice completions etc. good to see NZ pertinent data is now also available.
  • Employment Profile, Skill Needs and Training Priorities in the New Zealand Hospitality Industry by Anne Benson, from the Hospitality Standards Institute which was a quantitative look into training needs for the NZ hospitality industry into the next five years. Another good resource, useful in forecasting needs and work we are doing on re-structuring programmes in hospitality and cooking this year.

All of this work provides for a good foundation as vocational education research gains some impetus in NZ.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Boy racers & learning as becoming

Over the last three weeks, I have been immersed in writing up a rough first draft towards my PhD thesis, belonging, becoming and being bakers: the role of apprenticeships. One of the premises of the thesis is that we learn skills, knowledge etc. during an apprenticeship but we also learn many other things like life skills, workplace relationship, learn how to learn, etc etc. most of which are inferred as something apprentices will learn even if there are no unit standards attached to them.

This week, the local papers & national media have been awash with reports on boy racers. In particular the way they make pests of themselves by congregating in large numbers and holding drag races, usually late at night. The local city council banned the boy racers (who were in town this weekend in greater numbers to attend a motor show) from areas that they had been a problem before. This included streets around the city and one of the streets in the city that has many car sales yards. Vandalism perpetrated in the car yards had raised an outcry from these businesses. The boy racers then ended up in one of the more exclusive areas of the city which riled the august citizens living in the area by keeping them up for most of the night.

All the commentators seem to be bend on clamping down on boy racers by using the usual law & order strategies. Fines, arrests for non – payment of fines, confiscation of vehicles etc.

Anyway the furore has been an excuse for me to think about other things besides the contents of my thesis along with the need to get my twelve year old car fixed to meet warrant of fitness standards. One of the readings I browsed through last week came to mind, an academic paper by Phil Cohen in the Journal of Education and Work. The paper proposes using the narratives of the various ‘actors’ who participate in ‘labour’ to provide perspectives on the concepts for understanding the ‘knowledge economy’ and other social issues. It contains a telling quote (summarised from page 116) from a young man (age 17) explaining the differences between how he and his father viewed work.

“My old man’s a car mechanic. I’m what they call a boy racer. We both fix cars! He don’t approve of some of the things I get up to, but where am I gonna learn on the job and get kicks at the same time?”
My thinking is why are we wasting all the skills these young people are learning? OK. Some of the associated skills might not be appropriate to civilised society but what about the ones that are of use? I know from experience that my students are the best source of information on the best deals for motor mechanics. So wouldn’t it be great if boy racers used their skills with cars to help others in society fix their cars? The non boy racer population would have the opportunity to interact with a sector of society that has trouble understanding them and boy racers would be exposed to a different set of viewpoints as well.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Industry Training Federation (NZ) 2008 research forum

Presented a paper at the ITF research forum yesterday. Conference was held at Te Papa in Wellington and was opened by Hon. Maryan Street, associate minister for tertiary education who would be the first ‘voc ed.’ minister we have and has oversight on Skills strategy. This was followed by keynote from Douglass Watt, associate director of the Conference Board of Canada (sort of a Canadian NCVER) on International approaches to training in small & medium enterprises. He presented case studies based on 65 SMEs around the world which focused on practical training responses to critical business issues and successful learning strategies that lead to meaningful outcomes for employers and employees. Good relevant and useful information for SMEs in NZ in a handout that summarised 15 of the case studies. Second keynote of the day from Paul Satherley & Eliot Lawes from the Ministry of Education summarising findings from the adult literacy and skills survey (ALLs). Very interesting data on where NZ stands with regards to literacy (document literacy) and numeracy.

Then attended following sessions:-

  • How students manage the difference between theory and practice in voc. ed. by Dr. Peter Gallagher of UCOL. Interesting concept on how ‘personal value’ in nursing students helps them negotiate through decisions they have to make with regards to the theory they learn and what they see in actual practice.
  • Measuring skill utilisation by Heather Lees from the Electrotechnology Industry Training Organisation was based on a research project in a call centre to see if individual skill perceptions, skill measurements (National quals.) and skill utilisation (company objectives) align. She found that they did not and also provided insight into the challenges of doing research in the workplace.
  • Web based dramatised scenarios to facilitate reflection, discussion and critical thinking from Keith Tyler-Smith, TANZ covered using photos and audio files to convey ‘case studies’ which engage online learners through their appeal to the affective senses of students.
  • Molding the market: skill ecosystems in the NZ context ‘ with Gemma Piercy, Waikato University was based on 2 summer project by university students to find out if skill ecosystems, developed in Australia would be relevant in the NZ context (possibly) or have commonalities / synergies with community of practices (possibly but requires further work).
  • Embedding sustainable workplace learning and assessment within workplace infrastructures’ by Dr. Nicky Murray & Gill Genet from Careerforce. Nicky provided a good overview of the challenges placed by the changing nature of our society and the workforce in maintaining training for her industry (providing care within the health and disability sector) & three workplace models that could assist in planning workplace training for her sector. Billett’s workplace pedagogy, Fuller & Unwin’s expansive / restrictive participative continuum & Ellstrom, Ekholm & Ellstrom (2008) on enabling and constraining learning.
  • My paper on ‘belonging, becoming and being: Role of apprenticeships went well.

Plenary discussion on ‘research & policy development’ with Dr. Karen Vaughan from the NZCER, Dr. Peter Coolbear, director of Ako Aotearoa & Roger Smyth, manager of tertiary sector performance and reporting. This provided insight into how government policy developers (Roger) view research (draw evidence from wherever created to provide insights towards a more consolidated picture). How researchers (Karen) view policy makers – need to have more conversations between researchers and policy makers & this needs to be ongoing for life of a research project. And how funders (Peter) see research – research needs to be timely (although longitudinal research also important (Roger), and outcomes of research must be applicable by employers, providers, learners etc.

The ITF vocational education forum has played a role in encouraging research in workplace learning and vocational education in New Zealand. This, along with the start of Ako Aotearoa, provides the impetus for the emergence of some useful research into both workplace learning and vocational education in New Zealand. We are still a long way behind the Australians with their National Centre for Vocation Education Research but at least things are now starting to move along.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Ako Aotearoa Southern Hub launch

Also attended the Ako Aotearoa Southern Hub opening later in the evening. A good mixture of university and polytech staff attended for a convivial session followed by the formal opening of the Southern hub.

One of the things that make Ako Aotearoa special is that it is unique from other centres around the world in that it covers the whole spectrum of tertiary education. This includes the universities, wananga, polytechnics / institutes of technology and private training establishments, through to adult and community education providers and on-the-job training arranged by industry training organisations. Similar centres include the Australian Carrick Institute.

The Southern hub’s coordinator, Bridget O’Regan coordinated the speakers, starting with the vice- chancellor of the University of Canterbury, Professor Roy Sharp who spoke about the history of how Ako Aotearoa came about. He was followed by Alison Holmes, director of University of Canterbury’s Centre for teaching and learning, who provided a more personal background into how Ako Aotearoa originated. Then Russell from the West Coast who is on the reference group spoke about how the inclusiveness of all tertiary sectors would be Ako Aotearoa’s strength and concluded with Bridget on plans for the Southern hub to help promote excellence in tertiary teaching.

Still early days yet as Ako Aotearoa was only officially opened in November of last year but they have ambitious plans for making an impact on the teaching and learning landscape.

ePortfolios seminar at University of Canterbury #2

Attended a lunch time seminar at the University of Canterbury for a quick but effective overview of ePortfolios by Dr Madhumita Bhattacharya , Athabasca University.

Much of the material presented was a revision for me but the presentation provided several important insights that will be useful in our ongoing mportfolios pilot. These are:-
  • The potential for eportfolios to integrate formal, informal and non-formal learning throughout one’s life. Which leads to the importance of ensuring that the data stored in eportfolios is easy to transport across to other platforms.
  • The use of the eportfolio platform from John Hopkins University, in particular their matrix which allows one to download artifacts in the various ‘boxes’ of the matrix.
  • A rubric for evaluation reflection by engaging with the construction of eportfolios in the form of a ‘spider-web’ graph. Simple, visual and easy to use. plus also can be formatted in 3D to superpose other aspects of evaluation that a visual overview is possible.