Thursday, April 24, 2014

AVETRA day 2 afternoon

After lunch, I attend a session with Drs. Daryl Dimock and Ray Smith on 'models of continuing education and training: VET practitioner perspectives'. A report back on one aspect of a 3 year study to identify and evaluate potential models for CET appropriate for Australian context. CET used to keep current, maintain employability and develop skills required for future production. interviews and short surveys with 137 workers and 60 managers. 4 'models' were identified to trigger discussion. These were wholly work based experiences; work based with direct guidance; work based with educational interventions; and wholly educational institution based. 62 VET professionals were asked about how applicable each of the 4 models were to their context. In general, CET in workplaces or authentic work activities considered important. interpretations of authentic work activities ranged from simulation (model 4) to full on job learning (model 1). All 4 models supported. Model 3 - work based with educational interventions - most favoured. most reservations about model 1 - wholly workplace based. To work well, work place needs to be responsible for developing a learning culture; provide access to learning pathways; plan and finance training as part of business plans; contribute to development of national training system; and engage more fully with VET professionals and RTOs. VET professionals need to take responsibility for developing practitioner skills; strengthen support and involvement in workplaces; and need both technical as well as industry specific knowledge and regulations. Workers also were responsible for being self-directed and value work as learning; be self motivated, confident and be commited and open to learning; develop capacities of active inquiry; contribute to others' learning; investigate practice outside of own immediate experience. Challenges occur with existing attitudes to work-based learning including strict adherence to regulatory framework with potential value of workplace learning still seen to be difficult to encompass within administrative and regulatory requirements.

Then a session on 'self-directed learning and apprenticeship: an emerging grounded study' with Damien Pearce. Presentation on PhD in progress. Semi structured interviews with 7 apprentices, 3 employers and 3 vocational teachers analysed using grounded theory approaches. Interested in the process of learning to support competency completion as self direction is important to deal with complexity. Presented part of the initial analysis on how apprentices find value in the process. How apprentices decide to engage include influence of family and friends; experiences with work through part-time work; and high self-efficacy.

Next with Stephen Kemmis and Ros Brennan Kemmis on 'VET practices and practice architecture'. Based on study from 2010 to 2012 on leading and learning: developing ecologies of educational practices. Places, sites and situations are used as framework to understand learning. Definition: A practice is a form of socially established cooperative human activity involving sayings, doings and relatings to form a project. Practice architecture are the preconditions that prefigure practices. There are cultural-discursive, material - economic, and socio-political arrangements. Used an example from a carpentry unit to illustrate the sayings, doings and relatings overarching the practice. For an apprentice - as per recent project on retention, there is the need to learn how practices occur in various settings (school, workplace, TAFE), each with their own perspectives and ways.

After afternoon tea, a panel discussion convenes with Thomas Bailey, Gog Soon Joo, Erica Smith, Stephen Billett and Michele Simons. The broad topic is how to disseminate research so it is relevant to the target audience.

Closing keynote is with Rod Camm, the new director of the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) on 'research has a role. Does it?' Research needs to be relevant to policy makers and other VET stakeholders. Need to have a layered approach to dissemination. Short, concise and pithy for some, longer and academic for journals. So research needs to be easily digestible, timely and disseminated using synthesis pieces and convening round tables. Impact of NCVER's research finds out if research has made a difference in terms of knowledge production, capacity building, influencing policy and practice. Reviewed 2 projects that have contributed include apprenticeship / traineeship completions and where are STEM students heading. Ran through several important topics for Australian VET where research is required.

Overall, a busy conference with many relevant presentations to follow up on.

AVETRA day 2 morning

Day two opens with a welcome from the chairperson, Professor Michelle Simons.
The keynote is from Professor Erica Smith on 'apprenticeship: not just a learning experience'. Although apprenticeships seem to be old fashioned, there has been a revival of interest in the way apprenticeships work. New economies need trained workers, mature economies need more highly skilled workforce and struggling economies need to engage youth in work. Apprenticeship seen as a way to meet economic workforce skill development needs. However, apprenticeships are country specific to aspects of culture, social, politics and economics. Presented some of the different ways apprenticehips are enacted. Presented a summary of a 2012 project for the ILO on finding out how different apprenticeship systems work and a synthesis to meet the Indian context.

Then provided an overview of the Australian apprenticeship system. Research in apprenticeship involves economic, labour process, learning and political theories, providing a fertile ground for study. Some of the people research include: Sociologists - Volker Wedekind, Marius Busemeyer. education - Felix Rauner, Thomas Deissinger, Lorna Unwin, Alison Fuller, Roger Harris. The 'dark side' of apprenticeships also discussed included exploitation / bullying, paternalism / infantilisation, conservatism and resistance to change of the system, new colonialism through the adoption of the 'German' dual system in Africa and Asia and exclusion across gender, ethnicities, age, disabiliites. Can apprenticeship meet social and economic expectations? Future questions include effects of globalisation; avoid widening have / have not gap; reconcile stakeholder interests; flexibility in careers. INAP 6th conference at Ballarat in 2015.

in the first series of concurrent sessions today, I attend Professor Stephen Billett's session 'constituting VET professional development in contemporary ties'. Summarising an evaluation of the VET development centre's professional development programme. Used online survey garnering 532 responses and supplemented by f2f and telephone interviews. Finding that VET PD is becoming a hybrid provision. VET PD used to advance knowledge; support novice practitioners. Demand from RTOs as they often have small staffing bases, distributed workforces and limits of internal professional support requires external provision. PD participants use the sessions to engage with other practitioners for guidance, support and affirmation. Literature informing what works is if VET practitioners influence, design and conducts kinds of learning experiences supporting their immediate teaching skill development; institutional support availed and theories used aligned to practice.

Then, Susanne Francisco's session on 'novice VET teacher learning through mentoring'. Presented on her work towards a PhD thesis. Based on a qualitative study framed by Kemmis et al 2014) work on practice architectures. The cultural discursive architecture included shared understanding of discipline knowledge, development of a shared language related to the teaching role and teacher support, expectations of supporting teacher learning. Material economic architectures include employment arrangements, time unavailable for support, 'informal' support during 'smoko', physical shared spaces need to be organized and mentoring needs to be formalized. The social political architectures include shared teaching areas, reciprocal sharing and valuing (recent industry experience) and mentoring structures.

Lunch followed and summaries of afternoon sessions in the next blog.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

AVETRA day 1 afternoon

After lunch, Dr. Gog Soon Joo, Executive Director of Singapore's Institute for Adult Learning presents 'continuing education and training in Singapore: skills innovation and productivity'. The Singapore experience in building research capability for their Continuing Education and Training (CET) sector is shared. Presentation centred around economic development and the role of education; journey of CET research development and capability building; and informing change in CET policy and practice - lessons learnt from 3 projects. An overview of the history of Singapore and the critical role education plays in contributing to future economic development. CET only seen to be essential since 2000 with CET training system set up in 2003. Key challenges to keep CET system in step with economic restructuring and workers' demand. From 2009, with no research taking place in CET, research strategies set up to build capability starting with mentoring of young Singaporean researchers with overseas research fellows mentoring. Also, Master of CET set up to increase pool and create pipeline of promising local researchers. Role of CET research includes developing local research capacity; create the disposition and capability of the CET community to interpret and use research; and influence CET practice and policy through research. Important to help industry and policy makers understand CET research through relevant dissemination means. Impact focused system of research requires researchers who are aware of their biases (social origin, theoretical bias, critic without practical implementation of advice) and pedagogical disposition to help others to truly learn. Three studies include skills utilisation; contingent workers in Singapore (learning and identity); and sectoral learning and performance transformation. Future plans embedded in the 2013 - 2020 CET strategy plan also shared.

I assist with the chairing of the following 2 concurrent sessions. First up a presentation by Adeline Goh on 'an authentic approach to facilitate vocational and technical education students' transition from education to work' in the context of the Brunei TVET. Presented on the literature review leading to a project to improve learning for vocational students. Provided background on Brunei VET context; and a summary of the literature on VET learning and how authentic learning contributes to better VET learning. VET learning may occur at college or workplaces. The 7 VET institutions tend to take a traditional didactic approach but need to assist students to become critical thinkers, and self-directed and lifelong learners. Need for present VET curriculum to encourage links between workplace and college learning. Authentic learning seen to be one way to help bridge theory and practice gap. Learning is based on "real-world, complex problems, their solutions, using role playing exercises, problem-based activities, case studies and participation in virtual communities of practice (Lombardi, 2007)". Need to look up Berry (2011) on planning authentic learning activities using workplace pedagogies and De Bruijn and Leeman (2011) on powerful vocational learning environments. Authentic learning in the Brunei context needs to include key content, employability skills, authentic tasks (workplace practices) and authentic assessment in industry.The challenge is to increase pedagogical capability with VET teachers and combine learning at both college and workplace is considered to provide a basis for lifelong learning.

Second presentation from Associate Professor Philip Thomas on 'co-creating innovation through shared expertise: principles underpinning the epistomology and scholarly contribution of a portfolio-based professional doctorate'. Philip provides a workshop on the programme which is run to allow for a ''custom built space' to allow for a 'workplace based' scholarship with mutually shared knowledge to occur. Candidates are supported through academic, industry and professional sectors. Sensible intersections are created to bring university, workplace and profession to share expertise. Candidate is tasked with coming up with an 'innovation' in the form of product, project, new paradigm etc. Portfolio tracks the journey from taking a idea to contributing to change in the workplace. Workplace attributes to provide project environment for a candidate needs to have vision, climate of excellence, participative safety and norms of innovation. Requirements t form the candidature include instutional mechanisms are aligned; workplace commitment; sound project; candidate expertise; and academic support. The concepts from this presentation contributes to my work with designing post-graduate qualifications at my own institute.

After afternoon tea, two more concurrent sessions. First up, Dr. Colleen Young provides an update on NZ tertiary academies with 'students perceptions of their learning experiences in the first two years' a focus of her PhD thesis. Colleen provided the background, rationale and details of the development of tertiary high schools in NZ. The study explored the ways the tertiary high school impacted on students - who were identified as likely to fail. Students responded with improved attendance; move away from school rules and culture and into 'adult' and work expectations and responsibilities; wider choices for tertiary study; applied learning; a headstart into a qualification; exposure to work based learning to inform career choice; need to set goals and take responsibility for own learning. Programme included high levels of pastoral care; monitoring if required; requirement for student to use individual learning plan. Students reported improved achievement, engagement with learning and completed qualifications they would not have otherwise.

Last concurrent session of the day with Ingrid Berglund wigith provides a Swedish perspective on 'workplace based learning in the Swedish upper secondary apprenticeship education'. Firstly ran through the Swedish context for upper secondary VET and the various reforms undertaken to make the programmes more vocation-specific. The last three years of school used to undertake a start with apprenticeship through workplace attachment and school. Decisive differences in the new systems is to assign role of apprentice as student, not employee; education contract voluntary between school and workplace; workplaces receive money to keep apprentice; equal curriculum learning objectives as in school-based VET. However, as apprentices are viewed as trainees their legitimacy in the workplace as learners is affected. The study surveyed over 300 students in 9 locations from 21 schools. Found 3 industries (construction / electrical, business and administration, health and care) had different approaches both in the workplace and in the school based structure. The enacted curriculum was difficult to achieve within workplace conditions.  Finding workplaces to participate was difficult and VET teachers became responsible for organizing the education and time was now sufficient to complete assessments. Follow up and assessment feedback was not sufficient. More study required to come up with pragmatic recommendations.

The AGM for AVETRA is held in the early evening, followed by the conference dinner. All in a long but, as always, interesting day.

AVETRA day 1 morning

At the annual Australian Vocational Education and Training Research Association (AVETRA) conference today and tomorrow. A busy programme to fit into the two days as the conference is flanked by Easter and Anzac Day.

So an early start on the official day one for the 17th AVETRA conference organised around the theme of 'Informing changes in VET policy and practice: The central role of research'. Pre-conference workshops and and evening 'welcome reception' were held yesterday.

The day opens with a welcome from the conference chairperson, Professor Stephen Billett and an official welcome to country from Yugembeh descendent, Ted Williams. Conference officially opened by John Paul Edward, who is minister of education, training and employment for Queensland.

The first keynote is with Professor Thomas Bailey from Columbia University, providing an American view on Career and Technical Education (CETE) with emphasis on 'developments and anxieties and the completion agenda in American post-secondary education system’. Tom is the director of the community college research centre. Tom has a long history of research and scholarship in the American post-secondary education system. In America, higher education includes VET. American higher ed. tends to concentrate on generic /foundational skills before final ‘rounding off’ in occupational focused skills. Therefore, trades like plumbing, follow similar education structure to professionals (law, medical etc.). A good overview of the American structure and how some parts of it may usefully inform other systems. For instance, community colleges offer the first two years towards a four year Batcherlor degree. Some professions provide all parts of a four year qualification (e.g. nursing).

After morning tea, the first of the concurrent sessions across seven streams begin. My presentation 'learning a trade: Apprentices' perspectives on workplace learning' is in this concurrent session. I presented on last years' 'learning a trade' project. Summarising the report with an overview of the literature foundations, key findings and recommendations. The session generated a good range of questions and discussion for follow up.

In the second concurrent sessions, I attend Andrew Dolphin's presentation ' when art becomes food: an application of Bourdieu's distinction to hospitality pedagogy'. Baandsed on Andrew's Phd literature review arguing that food as art is a contentious concept. Bourdieu uses social capital as the ability to 'see art' which is a learnt skill more easily acquired by people already in possession of a level of social standing. Cultural pedigree asists as access to the learning actitivies associated with 'seeing art' are important. So,there will be a variance in aspiring hospitality workers' social capital. How can the required 'seeing food as art' ability be facilitated? Suggested market identification, behaviour can illuminate scial class and capabilities required by employers.

In session three, the session on safety training 'safety beyond classroom training to workplace learning for workers in perilous work environments' by Dr. Kristine Yap seems appropriate for my work with trades tutors training workers for the Christchurch rebuilt. Context includes a shift from training to learning; emphasis is on compliance and licencing; classroom learning is authentic with workplaces seen more to be a legitimate site for learning. Study undertaken in the petrochemical industry in Singapore, a company recognised for good safety record. Comprehensive data analysis process used to unpack what assisted workers to learn and practice safely. A combination of personal and organizational approaches essential to cope with diversity of workers' language and culture.

Session four is a change of topic with Hilary Timma on 'distance-based learners navigating between remote and real-time learning contexts'. A more interactive session. Presentation based on a small study with Cert. IV students who were completing the qualification via on-line courses. Sociality of learning between work and learning improved through authentic learning and assessment; workplace others; and learning facilitation process. Workplace colleagues, supervisors, others who had completed the course were key inter mediators between workplace experiences and newly learnt concepts. Mediators assisted learners to check on their learning progress, clarify confusion and make connections.

Off to lunch and will post on the afternoon's sessions this evening.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Guitar Hero - book overview

Marcus. G. (2012). Guitar hero” The new musician and the science of learning published by Penguin Press.

Probably the least satisfying of Gary Marcus’ books. Professor Marcus uses his sabbatical year away from university teaching to learn how to play the guitar. Marcus is realistic about his poor sense of rhythm and tone deafness. However, his experience just prior to going on sabbatical through playing music via the computer game ‘guitar hero’ ignites a long wished for ambition to play the guitar.

The book tracks Marcus’ journey from neophyte to being able to play the guitar as part of a band. On the way, reflections on learning a skill are detailed. Descriptions of the deliberate practice cycle are sprinkled through the book along with Marcus’ new learning on music theory. Importantly, how he starts to make sense of how chords are constructed and how they contribute to musicians’ expertise. Identifying and learning the ‘signature discipline’ does make a difference to learning progress.

When I was a child, I learnt to play the piano and in hindsight, realise how much learning music has contributed to my toolbox of life skills. Aside from providing a lifelong love of music (both Western and Eastern – Chinese and Indian), learning the theory of music meant I practised the ability to make sense of symbolic concepts and acquiring the motor skills of piano playing provided improved hand-eye and brain coordination.

Marcus’ book provides practical advice for others intending to take a similar route as adults to learn how to play an instrument. Of note is the correct assertion that we are never too old to learn. Our brains were evolved to be plastic and flexible. Older people may bring with them life experiences which contribute to learning difficult skills and concepts better. Adults tend not to have the time to put into deliberate practice time to build up the 10,000 hours required for expertise but they may have acquired metacognitive skill sets assisting them to leverage off deliberate practice cycles better. The key is to maintain motivation, find the right teachers, put aside dedicated time to the task of learning and not be afraid to make (and learn) from mistakes.

The book has a useful glossary to explain musical and neurological terms, short notes for each chapter, 25 pages of relevant references (especially useful on skills learning) and index. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

Soul dust: the magic of consciousness - book overview

Soul dust: the magic of consciousness by Nicholas Humphrey (2012)

This book is an interesting read. It provides a counter argument to the scientific neurobiological stance of the non-existence of a soul. In this book, the presence of the soul in the form of human consciousness is presented. Humphrey puts forward the view that our consciousness puts on a show for us inside our heads to make our lives worth living. Consciousness evolved to provide us with the means to sustain a spiritual side to ourselves, so that we sense wonder and experience quality graduations.

The book is sprinkled with beautiful poetry to illustrate the ways humans try to articulate their ‘soul niche’. The argument is carefully constructed with philosophical discussions, examples and the aforementioned poetry. The writing style is conversational and accessible although some of the first few chapters (part one) introducing the philosophical background underpinning the book requires the reader to concentrate on following the main threads.

Part two is the most enjoyable part of the book. There are 5 chapters discussing the concepts of ‘soul dust’ and ‘soul niche’. The presence of consciousness is reiterated and levels of consciousness are explored in some detail. The poems of Rupert Brooke are used to provide examples of the philosophical concept of qualia.

Part three closes the book with the call to live one’s life well, to find, enjoy and extend one’s ‘soul niche’ and to be enveloped and nurtured by one’s ‘soul dust’.