02 SES 07 B, Transferable Competences and Identity Transformation
The implementation of strategies and practices to support the development of skills for the employability of new generations is recognized, at the European level (COM, 2010), a collective responsibility within educational and training contexts. In Italy, according to European recommendations, was introduced one of this strategy by the Law 107 / 2015, as a compulsory training ‘methodology’ for students of every high school, who have to spend 200/400h within workplaces during the three last years of their high school course. It is refers to School-Work Alternation (SWA) programme as part of international Work-Related Learning programmes. The aim of SWA is to give teachers the opportunity to innovate didactics, to overcome the inability of traditional educational system to create congruence between the formal learning and the real needs, to promote the development of students’ strategic competences or soft skills, about which different definitions can be identified within literature. They are recognized as: i) ‘abilities for adaptive behavior, that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life’ (World Health Organization, 1993, p.1); ‘ a set of achievements—skills, understandings and personal attributes—that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy’(Yorke, 2006, p.8). Next to the political interest for preparing young generation, also labor market complains the lack of inadequate skills in young people; technical skills, alone are no longer sufficient to operate within the dynamics, competitive and complex working reality (Schulz, 2008; Taylor, 2016). Therefore, hard and soft skills need to be considered complementary and not alternative within the students' educational curricula, and within the current scenario of the interdependence between systems (Engeström, 2001) and the building of communities of practices (Wenger, 1998) based on cooperation and sharing; they are skills which all individuals need for personal fulfilment and development, active citizenship, social inclusion and employment (EC, 2006; Elliot et al.,2017).
SWA is a complex paradigm, composed of two dimensions: partnership and situated learning (Tino & Fedeli, 2015). The first dimension is related to the partnership (Engeström, Engeström, & Vähäaho,1999) developed between schools and workplace, where SWA can represents the shared third space, nurtured by new rule, and boundary objects, as the results of a new transformative culture (Tino & Fedeli, 2015); the second dimension is connected to experience that students live within the workplace, and based on the concept of situated cognition, according to which knowledge and learning can be developed through the participation within communities of practice (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 1990). Specifically, this second dimension requires schools’ and workplaces’ partners to design shared learning experiences oriented to the development of competences useful for life and for work, because ‘enabling people to enter and stay in working life is an important part of the role of education in the strengthening of social cohesion’ (EC,2006, p.1). Therefore, in the scenario of the complex dynamism of the organizational and social contexts, the competitiveness due to the globalization, the personal and professional needs of individuals connected to the importance to avoid social exclusion, the responsibility of teachers is demanded in increasing their awareness of the importance of soft skills for their students and highlighting the consequences of their shortcomings (Schulz, 2008), as well as in identifying training experiences aimed at promoting them. In this perspective, and with the awareness of the lack of similar studies in Italy, the paper sought to respond to the following research questions: i) According to teachers, does the SWA students’ experience promote soft skills development? ii) Is SWA learning design focused also on the development and assessment of soft skills?
The study here presented was part of a wider research whose purpose was to explore, through the voices of teachers and students, which competencies SWA experiences promote. In this specific study only perspectives of teachers were presented. The research was carried out through a qualitative approach with the participation of 12 high schools (5 technical schools and 7 lyceums) of 7 different regions: 4 in the northen area, 1 in the central area, and 2 in the southern area of Italy. Specifically, a narrative interview (Atkinson, 2002) was aimed to 24 teacher-tutors (2 per school) who monitored SWA students’ experiences. The interviews conducted in the period of April and September 2017, were based on the idea of collaboration and mutual sharing between the interviewer and the interviewees , thanks to the use of communication strategies, and oriented to motivate participants to provide information useful to answer research questions (Creswell, 2008). The narrative interviews allowed to investigate different dimensions (teachers’ idea of competence; students’ learning; SWA strengths and weakness; typology of competencies; students’ learning design; assessment process), but for this specific paper were analyzed only those useful to answer the research questions, linked to the teachers’ awareness of the development of soft skills during SWA experiences, and the consequent assessment process. To support participants’ reflection on the experiences the interviews were mediated by the technique of photolangage, developed by Babin, Baptiste and Belisle in 1978 as a technique for animation and group formation. The interviews were audiotaped and then transformed in digital documents, in order to do the text-analysis through the software Atlas.ti. The bottom up approach (grounded) has guided the analysis of the data collected in relation to the object of investigation (Corbin & Strauss, 2008), precisely, because of the need to know an unexplored phenomenon and giving voice and meaning to the experience lived by teachers-tutors. The analysis with Atlas.ti.07 allowed to the build two Hermeneutic Units (HU) as a collection space for the 24 Primary Documents (PD) each with the related codes, group-families and networks, to identify the core-categories connected to the research questions.
With the aim to focus just on two specific aspects of data collected, the analysis of the interviews allowed to identify three common important transversal core-categories among the Primary Documents: SWA experience promotes the development of students’ soft skills. Even if teacher underlined the importance of hard skills, all of them, mentioned the development of important soft skills, the same that usually are recognized relevant in the literature; The development of soft skill is not really included within students’ learning design. This aspect was really complex: participants sometimes stated that, soft skills were included within the learning design, but then they said only from a formal point of view. The assessment process of soft skills needs to be build and developed. The assessment process seemed to be the most difficult issue for teachers. They sometimes showed they do not have a real knowledge of the characteristics of soft skills, proved by the following statement: ‘ We can’t evaluate soft skills; we can’t know who really act them’. This show how they are still focused on development and assessment of hard skills, but in a traditional way, in terms of content and not in terms of competencies. Findings showed the most important implications for the practice: to rethink the educational and training teachers relatively the nature of soft skills; the way to create learning design on the development of competencies; the importance to investigate teachers’ culture assessment and moving forward assessment innovation system.
Brown, J.S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32–42. Corbin, J., & Strauss, A. (2008). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks. Elliot, A. J., Dweck, C. S., & Yeager, D. S. (Eds.). (2017). Handbook of Competence and Motivation: Theory and Application. Guilford Publications. Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: toward an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133–156. Engeström, Y., Engeström, R., & Vähäaho, T. (1999). When the center does not hold: The importance of knotworking. In S. Chaiklin, M. Hedegaard & U.J. Jensen (Eds) Activity Theory and Social Practice (Aarhus, Aarhus University Press). European Council. (2006). Recommendation of The European Parliament and of The Council of 18 December 2006 On Key Competences For Lifelong Learning. (2006/962/EC). Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in sociocultural activity. New York: Oxford University Press. Schulz, B. (2008). The Importance of Soft Skills: Education beyond academic knowledge. Journal of Language and Communication, 146-154. Taylor, E. (2016). Investigating the perception of stakeholders on soft skills development of students: Evidence from South Africa. Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning, 12(1), 1-18. Tino, C., & Fedeli, M. (2015). L’Alternanza Scuola-Lavoro: uno studio qualitativo. Form@ re-Open Journal per la formazione in rete, 15(3), 213-231. Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge university press. World Health Organization. (1993). The ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioural disorders: diagnostic criteria for research (Vol. 2). World Health Organization. Yorke, M. (2006). Employability in higher education: what it is-what it is not (Vol. 1). York: Higher Education Academy.
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