Thursday, January 26, 2012

Emerging approaches to educational research - book summary

Through browsing through another new book in the CPIT library, I started to work through the first few chapters in greater detail. The book is ‘the Sage handbook of workplace learning’ edited by Margaret Malloch, Len Cairns, Karen Evans and Bridget N. O’Connor. Chapter 2 by Professor Paul Hager on ‘theories of workplace learning’ provides a good overview of the three approaches , the theories influenced by psychological theories, socio-cultural theories and post-modern theories. So, time to update my knowledge on the post-modern theories through an ebook from the CPIT library ebook collection. The book is edited by Professor Tara Fenwick, Professor Richard Edwards and Peter Sawchuk and called ‘emerging approaches to educational research’. Fenwick presents a summary at the University of Technology last month.

This book provides a good introduction to why research approaches have shifted and moved towards trying to understanding the diverse nature of learning and the various contexts learning take place in. The book introduces, describes, discusses and evaluates the ‘sociomaterial’ research approaches or ‘four arenas’ for future educational research. The four arenas are complexity theory, cultural historical activity theory (CHATs), actor-network theory and spatiality.

Each of the four arenas is based on recent dissatisfaction with the inability of research frameworks to capture, study and explain ‘how people learn’. Each proposes frameworks / methods to try to account for the many material / non-material contributions towards how learning occurs. There is generally no ‘right or wrong’ answer coming through using any of the four arenas as research frameworks. Hence, the use of ‘post-modern’ as one categorisation for a raft of research approaches that go beyond the usual ‘qualitative/quantitative’ debate.

The common premises of the four arenas are:

Not dependent on the individual as being the sole focal point of study

Challenge relationships/binaries on which our understandings of ‘practice’ are founded

Challenge notions of context as being where the action is and allowing for a wider range of ‘contexts’ to be recognised

do not take reductionist stances but recognise the continuous dynamic nature of learning

acknowledge the complexity and ‘mess’ that represents the ‘real-world’.

Accept that learning is fundamentally difficult to pin down or to explain.

For me, the above represents some of the steps I have taken as a teacher/researcher, moving from trying to grasp the ‘known’ to understanding that the ‘known’ is slippery, dependent not only on context but on social/historical/ontological factors and attempts at explanation are always going to be incomplete. The above also challenge my grounding as a ‘socioculturalist’ in trying to explain learning as an ‘equilibrium’ between social affordances and individual agency with contributions from the various social relationships individuals encounter. Shifting towards a post-modern framework requires unpacking my current belief systems and evaluating another new way of looking at things.

There is a helpful explanation of the terms used in ‘knowing organisations:practice-based approach’ (book by Nicolini, Gherardi and Yanow) by Svabo – titled – ‘materiality in a practice-based approach’ also relevant to the ‘emerging approaches to educational research’ book.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Ibooks 2, ibooks author and itunes u app

Endgadgets has a brief summary of the latest Apple launch. An educational focus with details of ibooks 2 for purchase of textbooks, free Mac app - ibooks author - for those who want to compile their own textbooks and put them up on itunes and an ipad app for itunes U. A more educationally focused summary from the Guardian provides some balance.

Unfortunately, ibook has always been a dud in New Zealand as we are only able to access a small range of 'free' classics . Similar thing now with ibook 2, textbooks are only accessible within the US of A. As a teaser, there are two interactive books that we can download in NZ.  One a pretty picture book with animation is for younger children (the yellow submarine) and the other, and Introduction to life on earth. Both provide good examples of what is possible with interactive books, with a facilities for the book to be read out (yellow submarine) and video and interactive windows/sections (life on earth).

On the bright side, it will be interesting to try out ibooks author to compile interative textbooks. Something we will work on through the next couple of months. The ibooks author app is now downloaded onto the Learning Technologies Unit sandpit Mac and I have emailed a few tutors who might be interested, to try it out. 

I downloaded the Itunes U app on to my ipad this morning. A nice, clean interface which recognised my current itunes podcasts and popped them on to the bookshelf.  Straight –forward app store type layout to find and download more pod or vodcasts. I have been working my way through a series of podcasts from Oxford University on 'critical reasoning for beginners' and now downloaded a series on 'Nietzsche on mind and nature'. About 4-5 hours of podcasts on Nietzche, enough for the next two months of dog walkies :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Working knowledge in the globaliizing world

I am putting the time in this week to catch up on reading of books recently purchased by the CPIT library. Firstly, a hard copy book edited by Liv Mjelde and Richard Daly as part of the series published by Paul Lang on studies in vocation and continuing education called ‘working knowledge in the globalizing world'. The articles in this book originated from papers presented at a conference in oslo in 2004 on vocational education and training.

The chapters in the book have been divided into two parts. Part one with writings on ‘working knowledge: work related learning’ and part two on ‘vocational education training: policies and practices in a globalizing world. I concentrated my reading on the chapters in part one although there are also a few chapters in part two marked for future follow up.

The chapters of relevance in part one are:

‘apprentices’ transfer of knowledge from school to workplace in the VET dual system: a study of a VET-programme for rescue officer’ by Vibe Aarkrog provides a good overview of the ‘transfer’ challenge. The main premise of the chapter is that more complex work situations tend to involve some form of customer service component. Least complex tasks tends to see a transfer of knowledge learnt at vocational school towards applying or replication of learnt knowledge/skills. Whereas more complex tasks involve interpretation / re-estimation and reflection of learnt knowledge/skills.

The second article by Faizul Bhyat is based in a South African printing press workplace context and discusses ‘From the particularities of practice to the generalisation of theory’. The author works with a team of printing press workers to enhance their understanding of printing based engineering through situated and applied learning of physics. An interesting article, detailing a strong theoretical framework, a good description of the challenges and case study and the possibilities for the approach to workplace learning. In the conclusion, the author summarises the approach as ‘consciously applying scientific thinking to industrial processes, through conscious introduction of concepts in their appropriate syntax and application context, provides a material basis for what has been previously been seen as the abstract language of science knowledge.’

Jeanne Gamble’s chapter on ‘what kind of knowledge for the vocational curriculum’ provides for a good overview of her work with apprentices in cabinet making. There is a good summary of Bernstein’s work on pedagogical practice and an attempt at explaining craft pedagogy in terms of the relationship between ‘externally visible performance’ and ‘internally held competence’. This leads to discussion on forms of knowledge in relation to the vocational curriculum. The main premise is that epistemology from academic and vocational traditions are both valid but need to be respected for what each has to offer. In respect to the vocational curriculum, theory and practice can be brought together, each with their context dependent meanings.

‘Cooperative education: learning to work- working to learn, and trying to make sense of it all’ is written by Garnet Grosjean to discuss the challenges of helping students learn through work based attachments / internships etc. The chapter provides overviews of activity theory, constructivism and socioculturalism as pertaining to cooperative education programmes, bringing the frameworks together to help students ‘become a professional’.

Tony Irizar and Adita Chiappy contribute the next chapter on ‘the concepts of ‘working knowledge’ and ‘zone of proximal development’ as applied to teaching English as a secondary language’. There is an overview linking the various concepts to enhance communicative language teaching and a call to acknowledge the contributions of zpd to assist students in learning a new language.

Last chapter in part one is from Liv Mjelde on ‘ workshop pedagogy in vocational education: working knowledge and the zone of proximal development’. Here the work of John Dewey, Mikhail Bakhtin and Lev Vygostsky are synthesised with Mjelde’s work to explain how to best utilise the zone of proximal development to assist ‘apprentices and master’ reach learning goals through ‘learning by doing’ to move from simple/concrete to the complex/general; learning through goal orientated activity and the integration of hand, mind and heart.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Plans for 2012

After last year’s interruptions, I am looking forward to a quieter and more productive year. However, the year ended with a good shake up on 23rd December with another aftershock and we have had several reminders the earth is still settling in with aftershocks in the first week of January.

I am hoping that plans for this year will eventuate as CPIT braces for another year. I have applied for two Ako Aotearoa Southern Hub funded projects. One with hospitality front office receptions tutors Debby Taylor and Heather McEwen to improve students’ critical reflective practice in front-office reception skills using net tablets to record and archive role plays. The other with the manufacturing (fitting, turning and toolmaking) team led by Tony Smith, to evaluate their project based learning approach and to do an impact evaluation of the effectiveness of embedding literacy and numeracy into their programme.

The other important objective for this year is to concentrate on dissemination of findings from the many projects completed over the last three years and the PhD thesis. Not only in the form of academic journal articles, but presentations at relevant forums. For instance to trade tutors and industry / employers forums on the first year apprenticeship project and the peer learning projects with Flip.

An article by Michele Martin via a November blog from the bamboo project, provides some direction for on-going professional development. She introduces the concept of being a ‘social artist’ linking to the work of Wenger’s ‘learning citizen’.

My Xmas present to self was the book ‘designing research for publication’ by Anne Sigismund Huff. This highly readable book, is a real ‘must-read’ for postdocs and aspiring academics. The book is full of insightful hints and provides good guidelines to plan a research pathway and trajectory. Of note is the need to ‘find the right conversation’, something I need to think through as I presently have a diverse (but I think connected) range of research topics. Mlearning/use of technology in teaching/learning, vocational identity formation for apprentices and trades tutors, skills acquisition/learning of novice trades students, apprenticeship processes, eportfolios and constructive/inquiry learning etc. to name the main strands! Bringing structure and cohesion to find synergistic links with these research topics makes life interesting, but they need to be carefully brought together.

So, there is much to look forward to this year :)