Challenges in designing for horizontal learning

Even though, my colleagues and I’ve presented our preliminary research results on several occasions, so far we’ve only presented in English once. In May 2016, I had the opportunity of presenting a short paper at the Designs for Learning conference in Copenhagen at AAU-CPH:

 

Our short paper can be found here (pp. 97-101)

/Mariis

For those readers who understand Danish, I’ve written a more detailed post about the conference on our Danish research blog.

ICT, transfer, and boundary crossing in VET – part 3

For the time being, this will be the third and final post describing our research project. In the first post, I wrote about the background for initiating the project, and in the the second post I zoomed in on our research questions. In this post, I focus on the design of our study.

According to Mackenzie & Knipe (2006), in the social and applied science, the exact nature of how research is defined will depend on the researcher’s personal and professional beliefs. Therefore, it is important to discern such assumptions before embarking in any research endeavour, because:

All research is interpretive: it is guided by a set of beliefs and feelings about the world and how it should be understood and studied. Some beliefs may be taken for granted, invisible, or only assumed, whereas others are highly problematic and controversial. (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011, p. 13)

Mackenzie & Knipe (2006) suggest four sets of underlying assumptions or paradigms: 1) Positivist/postpositivist, 2) Interpretivist/constructivist, 3) Transformative, and 4) Pragmatic. It is the choice of paradigm that sets down the intent, motivation and expectation for the research,  and I would say that our project mainly is situated within an interpretivist line of thinking in which the intention of the research is to understand the world by trying to make sense of the experiences and attributed meanings others have about the world. Researchers focus on the processes of interaction among individuals and on the specific contexts in which individuals live and work. Further, proponents of this paradigm recognize that the researchers’ own background impact the research and their interpretation hereof. Initially we wanted to design our project as a transformative study building on a Design based Research approach, but our local research leader advised against this assuming the VET schools would be too busy to get involved in a significant manner.

Consequently, we ended up designing our project as a multiple case study (Yin, 2009) with interviews and observations as primary methods to generate and collect data in different phases of the project.

In the preliminary research phase of the project we conducted six ethnographic interviews with VET teachers, which we have written about in a short paper presented at the Designs for Learning 2016 conference (Riis et al, 2016). Building on Spradley’s (1979) ideas of descriptive questioning, and questions loosely structured around the elements in a third generation activity system, we interviewed six vocational teachers from the three dominant strands of the Danish VET system (technical, business and social- and health schools). As stated by Spradley (1979), descriptive questioning aims at uncovering the informant’s personal experience with the practice and phenomenon under study by way of having the informant elaborate through thick descriptions and examples, often times by repeating and rephrasing questions. The data generated in this initial phase was mainly targeted at answering our first sub-question regarding VET teachers’ understanding and practice concerning the concepts of boundary crossing and continuity. In brief, we found that the interviewed VET teachers predominantly think in terms of vertical learning processes and one-time and one-directional transfer, rather than horizontal processes, continuity, and boundary crossing.

In the second phase of the project (Spring 2016), we conducted classroom observations combined with further interviews (with VET students and trainers as well), and we are still in the process of analyzing the data.

Due to organizational changes in our department, which led to a reduction from five to three people in the research group (with one being a newcomer to the project), we decided not to interact directly with VET schools this fall. Instead we have focused on analyzing data and on field validating some of our pedagogic-didactic materials that we have developed, and this we have done in our teaching at the Diploma for VET teachers.

Based on our findings so far, it has become obvious that we need to focus on observing teachers and students acting with technology in the future in order to better understand the phenomenon of ICT-based artefacts and their role in boundary crossing. When looking at the different types of ICT that participants in our study actually use, it seems fruitful to focus on the use of video and learning management systems, and we are hoping to interact with VET schools in this regard beginning 2017.

/Mariis

References

Denzin, N.K. & Lincoln, Y.S. (2011). The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research. SAGE

Mackenzie, N. & Knipe, S. (2006). Research dilemmas: Paradigms, methods and methodologyIssues In Educational Research, Vol 16, 2006.

Riis, M., Bergstedt, P., Jørgensen, C.B., Koch, H.H. & Rasmussen, C.L. (2016). Challenges in designing for horizontal learning – in the Danish VET system. Short paper accepted for Designs for Learning conference, May 18.-20., 2016 in Copenhagen, Denmark at Aalborg University, http://www.designsforlearning2016.aau.dk/

Spradley, J.P. (1979). The Ethnographic Interview. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Yin, R. K. (2009). Case Study Research. Design and methods. 4th edition. SAGE.

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.

/Mariis

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

References

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.