Monday, January 28, 2013

Bodies of knowledge - report summary

vocational education (2010). London: Edge Foundation
Claxton, G., Lucas, B., & Webster, R.

This report is a precursor to another published at the end of December on vocational pedagogy - blog entry next week. It is a summary of  recent work and written for educational practitioners and policy makers in all education sectors.  For the school sector to better prepare children for the future world of work and for the further and higher education sectors to change current approaches to vocational education.

The report lays out the argument that learning practical skills and the curriculum of vocational education are no less demanding or complex than ‘academic’ disciplines. They summarise recent research in cognitive sciences, especially in the area of embodied cognition / embodiment (Johnson's book summary) and other ways of knowing to argue the following:
  • Doing comes before seeing and thinking
  • The body and the mind are closely interlinked
  • Our bodies are cleverer that we thought
  • Physical movement helps thinking
  • Much thinking is not conscious

Therefore, practical and academic learning are much more similar that previously theorised.
The myths surrounding practical and vocational education include: practical learning as being cognitively simple, involves lower order thinking and is second rate; that clever people grow out of practical learning; understanding has to happen before learning occurs; clever people don’t get their hands dirty or to work with their hands; practical learning is only for the less ‘able.

Compares the learning required to become glass blowers, motorcycle mechanic and scholar to be similar in complexities but with different focuses. However, all require the learning of ways of doing and approaching tasks which have commonalities. They call these ‘presence of mind’ and argue the importance of schooling in helping young people learn these important generic skills.  “it is only a very narrow view of intelligence that cabinet ministers are in a sense ‘brighter’ than cabinet makers”

The habits of mind – investigation, experimentation, reasoning and imagination along with frames of mind – curiosity, determination, resourcefulness, sociability, reflection and wisdom, all contribute to the development of ‘presence of mind’.  These are summarised in the 4-6-1 model. 4 habits and 6 frames lead to presence of mind.

The last chapter (chapter 5) also brings in the ‘social contribution’ to learning as the 4-6-1 model focuses on individual learners. Has a good overview of ‘situated learning’ summarising and updating Lave & Wenger’s work. Combines the 4-6-1 model with aspects of activity theory (leading to socio-materialism / sociomaterial approach) to extend understanding on the context of where learning occurs. Of note is a comment on how the authors have not come across work on “how talk between apprentices and those engaged on vocational learning can best be facilitated” – perhaps some of our work on peer feedback  and peer learning is a beginning contribution. Various approaches to teaching and learning are also discussed with regards to relevance to the 4-6-1 model and vocational education.

Footnotes are provided on the side of pages, providing for a few articles / books to follow up. References provide a comprehensive list of contemporary cognitive learning scholarship.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Shop class as soul craft - book summary

Crawford, M. (2009). Shop class as soul craft: An inquiry into the value of work. New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Worked through this book in greater detail over the last few days. Second hand book in pristine condition purchased through Amazon, taking about a month to arrive in NZ, just in time for summer weekend when it was too hot to do much gardening or walk in the hills.

I had borrowed the book from the library and browsed through the book when it was first released. This time a good opportunity to read the book in greater depth.  Here are notes taken, summarising each chapter of book.

Introduction provides background on the decline of ‘shop class’ in the U S of A and Crawford’s thesis that the manual occupations are still important in contemporary life due to our reliance on large numbers of material goods. People who make, maintain and repair things are now more important than ever (as per $$ we pay plumber to unblock drains) and yet the education system puts its main emphasis into preparing ‘knowledge workers’.

1.       A brief case for the useful arts. Here the discussion revolves around how manual work can be fulfilling and requiring use of both bodily and cognitive skills. Plus an argument on how some forms of work in the trades, cannot be ‘outsourced’. So American workers in occupations that can be accomplished remotely (accounting, IT, call centres etc. ) may be more at risk to job restructure than builders / carpenters and joiners who build houses.

2.       The separation of thinking from doing. An overview of how thinking and doing has been seen to be either white or blue collar. Some white collar work is now similar to ‘assembly line’ work and some blue collar requires high levels of adaptability and innovation.

3.       To be a master of one’s own stuff. In this chapter, the argument for work to allow individual agency is presented. Plus some history on the development of motorcycles (and cars) from being fixable by the ‘amateur’ to being difficult for even mechanics to get into.  How society has moved from individuals being able to rectify their own tools / appliances / vehicles to machinery becoming so complex (and relatively cheap to replace) has removed individual’s choice to fix and re-use. Yet, it is more satisfying for humans to have input (using cake mix example – all in product does not sell as well as a product that requires the addition of an egg).

4.       The education of a gearhead. The chapter traces Crawford’s development as a mechanic His first experiences as an apprentice in an automotive workshop where he did the boss’s housekeeping before being allowed to clean engine parts. And reflections on learning the complexities of automotive engineering from mentors, mistakes, dwelling on problems, development of individual understanding and knowledge base.

5.       The further education of a gearhead: from amateur to professional. Here Crawford describes his on-going learning as a motor cycle mechanic and self-employed business owner. How he learns on the job by undertaking difficult work on obscure, older models of motor cycles. How he undercharges as some of the jobs take effort to work through beyond what would seem to be commercially viable charge out rates.

6.       The contradictions of the cubicle. Provides examples of some of his ‘knowledge worker’ jobs and how some have become production line orientated, as per his work indexing and abstracting articles, or without clear outputs that lead to job satisfaction (work in a ‘think tank’).

7.       Thinking as doing. Provides arguments and examples of how manual work involves many aspects of having to also use large amounts of brain power. How practical know how is difficult to pin down. Examples include fire fighters’ ‘sixth sense’, common sense and tacit knowledge in automotive trouble shooting (lubricant or air to clean spark plug based on recent weather  activity or if sand is found around the vehicle), the role of being able to ‘ask the right question’ in problem solving, deciphering archaic and poorly translated vehicle repair manuals.

8.       Work, leisure and full engagement. How leisure and work may be complementary. Also how many people now work to earn $$ to indulge in activities that feed their soul. Perhaps some forms of manual work may both earns $$ and be fulfilling.

Concluding remarks on solidarity and self reliance: Summarises the argument – to have a trade skill means having solidarity with other trade workers in the same field (understanding a common language / ethos and practising skills), being attuned to learning from mistakes / failure and yet taking individual responsibility for one’s on-going learning and improvement.

The notes themselves make interesting reading, some revealing Crawford’s personal history, others filling in on the specialist knowledge of motor cycle repair and overviews of various philosophical approaches. The style of writing is readable without being condescending to the reader.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The return of 'making'

Summer holiday reading included a couple of books on the return of ‘making’. Firstly, a book published in the UK by the Crafts Council, edited by D. Charny (2011) called ‘power of making: the importance of beingskilled’ and a book by C. Anderson (editor for Wired Magazine) called ‘Makers: Thenew industrial revolution (kindle version 2012).

Both extol the return to making. Humans evolved as makers of things. The industrial revolution shifted manufacturing into mass production, removing many artisanal , small /family owned businesses. Specialised craft skills and craftsmanship approaches have been lost as a result of the ‘material’ society whereby all products are ‘mass-produced’ / manufactured and purchased from retailers. A similar theme explored in other books, including Sennett’s ‘the craftsman’ and Crawford’s ‘shop class as soul craft’.

Now, it is possible for designers to manufacture their own product through using open source / crowd sourced software / hardware, ability to tap in to specialised manufacturers for components / parts and access to the ‘long tail’ of the market demand curve.  Specialists products / bespoke / individualised items now attainable. Rapid prototying using 3D printers and crowdsourcing lowers time for product development. Availability / democratising of hardware also assist the process. In the Makers book, Anderson compares the example of his grandfather, who invented a system to set up automatic / timed lawn watering. Anderson’s grandfather had great difficulty finding a manufacturer and then keeping control of the quality of the product. In contrast, Anderson himself set up a business that designed, assembled and sold radio-controlled  or robot helicopters. The process evolved quickly, with design and software development in US of A, parts sourced via internet, website took care of sales, just-in time manufacture in Mexico and delivery via the extensive courier / mail delivery system we now all take for granted. Development of hardware and software was completed with a mixture of open-source, crowd-source and mashing, leveraging on global intellectual minds of enthusiasts and specialists. 

Therefore, there is now greater need for skill sets that include conceptualisation of the ‘entire’ making from notion, to design process, to testing and production. The focus of the ‘crafts person’ has also shifted - a book reviewer who is also a cabinet maker details how his business now works. Customised kitchen cabinets etc. are ordered from specialist manufacturers who put together these components using CNC machines. Delivery time 24 hours. Then a need for craftsmanship skills (Pye’s - craftsmanship of risk) to fit the cabinets into kitchens where walls, floors and ceilings are not always guaranteed to be square. So focus has changed from skill sets required to manufacture to problem solving required to work through real-world challenges. Another example of how not all types of work can be ‘outsourced’.  Production of cabinet components may be mass produced but installation still needs to occur in-situ. Therefore, training of young trades people need to account for work skills now required plus include generic skills to learn new technology / new skill sets as the market evolves. 

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

plans for 2013

Last year, I devoted a large amount of time to reading related to improving ‘learning in the trades’. The literature from sports psychology, learning music/voice/performance arts, expertise, and practice-based learning all contribute much material to work through, evaluate and contextualise.

In the first half of this year, I hope to be embarking on a project that is a continuation of the first year apprentices project. The funding application is still in the process of seeking approval. Apprentices who we interviewed in 2010 will be re-contacted to find out how they went about learning the skills to become trades people. The apprentice cohort in the original first year apprenticesproject will now be near the end or would have just completed their apprenticeship. A synthesis with recent work on vocational learning / pedagogy exampled by booklet from the City and Guilds Centre for learning and the literature I have been working through will inform the outputs from the project. This will be two brochures, one to assist apprentices to enhance workplace learning opportunities and another for workplace and polytech/private provider educators to help prepare apprentices for the challenges of workplace learning.

The second half of the year will be busy with programme design work with several programmes. These include programmes for fabrication/engineering, automotive, tourism/travel, business admin., veterinary nursing and electrical engineering, all interesting subject disciplines, with a mixture of staff capability / willingness to change. This is an outcome of the NZ Qualifications (NZQA) targeted review of Qualifications(TroQ). As programmes complete TRoQ, institutions need to redevelop programmes. At CPIT, we will also be working with strategic direction for increasing flexible and sustainable delivery. We need to build capability with our staff with regards to the pedagogical implications of shifting from content-based to student-focused  and flexible delivery programme design.

There is also on-going work with Ako Aotearoa on their professional development workshop series. Dissemination through journal articles and conferences will also continue. I will also need to continually chip away at drafting and refining articles for submission to peer-reviewed journals. So, looks like another busy and interesting year.