ICT, transfer, and boundary crossing in VET – part 2

As I explained in a previous post, in our current research project my colleagues and I are interested in studying why and how vocational teachers understand and design for boundary crossing through the use of ICT-based artefacts. The research project is guided by the following two main research questions (RQs):

RQ1: In what ways and why do VET teachers use ICT-based artefacts as boundary objects to design for boundary crossing and continuity in and across different contexts?

RQ2: What didactic and pedagogic recommendations can support VET schools’ future work with establishing enhanced school-workplace interaction through the use of ICT?

A couple of important points should be made regarding these RQs. First of all, at the Metropolitan University College, we are obligated to conduct “applied research”, which means that besides generating new knowledge, the research must be directed towards “a specific practical aim or objective” (cf. OECD’s Frascati manual). This obligation influences both the identification and formulation of RQs, and as seen in RQ2, we have to conclude our research with concrete recommendations for practice, and ideally these recommendations should be “field validated” by practitioners through our research. In our case, we develop didactic and pedagogic materials (models, cases, exercises etc.) the in-service VET teachers can use when they participate in our educational programme*, and hopefully also when they’re back in their schools.

Another point has to do with our use of the term “didactic”. In a Scandinavian or German academic tradition, our a study would be situated within the field of Didactics. However, according to Hamilton (1999), in the Anglo-American mind, the term “didactic” may have very negative connotations implying a moralizing and heavily teacher driven approach to teaching and learning. Professor emeritus, Karsten Schnack from the Danish School of Education (Aarhus University) therefore recommends Danish scholars to avoid using the term when communicating in English (Schnack, 2000). While we don’t subscribe to a moralizing and teacher driven approach, we do recognize this aspect, and so in general when we present our research outside a Scandinavian context, we use the more neutral concept of “design for learning” (cf. Wenger, 1998).

To further guide our research, we have some additional sub-RQs as well:

  1. How and why is boundary crossing and continuity understood and practiced?
  2. How and why are boundary objects understood, designed and used as mediating artefacts?
  3. What types of ict-based artefacts can be identified as boundary objects, and what didactic and pedagogic pros and cons can be attributed to these?
  4. What types of ict-mediated boundary crossing can be identified, and what didactic and pedagogic pros and cons can be attributed to these?

As the reader will notice, we are using the concept “boundary crossing” and not “transfer” in our RQs, even though our project in Danish is entitled “ICT and transfer in VET”. According to Akkerman & Bakker (2012):

Boundary crossing is a concept that has been proposed as an enriched notion of transfer (Tuomi-Gröhn et al., 2003), but differs from transfer in various ways. First of all, whereas transfer is mostly about one-time and one-directional transitions, primarily affecting an individual who moves from one context of learning (e.g. school) to one of application (e.g. work), the notion of boundary crossing includes ongoing, two-sided actions and interactions between practices (Säljö, 2003). Second, whereas transfer emphasizes the need for similarities between practices, boundary crossing is about finding productive ways of relating intersecting dissimilar practices. (Akkerman & Bakker, 2012, s. 155 – my emphasis)

In a Danish VET practitioner context, however, the concept of boundary crossing is unknown and our research dean therefore recommended that we use the more traditional transfer concept. We have, nonetheless started to use boundary crossing and boundary objects in our teaching.

Further, as already stated in the above mentioned first post on our project, we are constantly challenged by the similarities and differences between the concepts.


*) In Denmark, VET teachers are obligated to attend in-service further education, and at the Metropolitan University College we offer such programmes.


Akkerman, S.F. & Bakker, A. (2012). Crossing boundaries between school and work during apprenticeship. Vocations and Learning. 5:153-173

Hamilton, D. (1999). The Pedagogic Paradox (or Why No Didactics in England?). Pedagogy, Culture & Society. Vol. 7, No. 1. pp. 135-152.

Schnack, K. (2000). Er didaktik og curriculum det samme? Danmarks Lærerhøjskole.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge University Press.

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