02 SES 07 C, Cooperation of Companies and Schools
In this paper we will present some preliminary results from a part of an extensive research project where collaboration on curriculum development in VET between vocational schools and companies is a main focus. Thirty vocational teachers enrolled in an in-service master’s program in vocational pedagogy at Oslo & Akershus University College participate in the project. Participation is voluntary. The research question is:
How can collaboration between vocational schools and companies contribute to a relevant vocational education?
Relevant vocational education is defined as an education characterized by a close connection between the educational content and the professional content of the actual vocation. It is an education where students have the opportunity to develop professional knowledge in the actual vocation at a high level (Hiim, 2017). An essential aim of the project is to gain new knowledge on how collaboration between vocational schools and companies, aimed at developing vocationally relevant curricula, can be organized, and what are the main challenges and possibilities.
The background of the project is research pointing towards essential challenges concerning a lack of coherence between the content of the vocations and the educational content in Norwegian VET (Hansen & Haaland, 2015, Hiim, 2015, Nyen & Tønder, 2012). Norwegian VET is organized in a two plus two-model, with two years at school followed by two years of apprenticeship. The school-based part is divided into nine broad vocational programs, where the first year is an introduction to the different vocations included in the program. The second year is more specialized towards a few or one vocation. Placement periods in vocational companies during the school-based part are encouraged in the formal curriculum frameworks. However, students’ real opportunities for such placement seem to vary greatly between regions and schools (Nyen & Tønder, 2012). There is a lack of vocational relevance in the curriculum related to a lack of coherence between subject matter and content at school and professional work in vocational companies. Problems of relevance are related to a lack of coherence between academic and vocational subjects and between different learning arenas – the classroom, the school workshop and placement in firms (Hiim, 2015).
Lack of coherence and vocational relevance in VET, and weak collaboration between schools and companies, are international problems. For instance, recent research shows that companies and schools in German vocational education cooperate very little (Gessler, 2017). There are also challenges concerning mutual distrust and weak cooperation between schools and companies in Swiss and English VET (Gessler, 2017, Young, 2004). In Norway, the need for strengthening collaboration between VET schools and companies is now emphasized in formal political directions (White paper no. 9 2016-2017, The Vocational Education and Training Promotion, 2017).
In this project, we investigate challenges concerning vocational relevance and coherence in the curriculum in light of epistemological analyses of how vocational knowledge is constituted. Analyses of pragmatic and critical concepts of knowledge challenging the separation between body and mind, theory and practice, are essential to understand vocational education and to develop concepts of vocational didactics. From pragmatic and critical epistemological perspectives, vocational knowledge is constituted by skills, understanding and ethical values as a whole. It is developed through systematic experience with and research on essential vocational tasks and practices (Dreyfus & Dreyfus, 1986, Hiim, 2017, Janik, 1997, Molander, 1996, Schøn, 1983).
To coordinate the project, we as leaders and the involved students meet regularly one day per month during the actual four years’ period to discuss theoretical and methodological questions and results. Each of the students have the responsibility for conducting an independent research project related to the main research question. Two types of investigations are essential: Many of the students are doing action research as systematic, research-based curriculum development projects in their own practices, aimed at developing structures and content in collaboration between their own schools and actual vocational companies. The action research approach is inspired by principles of educational action research, teacher research and organizational learning (Eikeland, 2012, Hiim, 2016, McNiff, 2014). Some of the students are conducting conventional qualitative investigations, mostly interviews, on how vocational teachers, instructors in companies, students, school leaders etc. look upon questions concerning vocationally relevant curriculum and collaboration between vocational schools and firms. The different research approaches are meant to supplement each other. Action research provides opportunities for investigating the curriculum and the relationship between schools and firms through experiments and change, while qualitative research interviews provide insight in the situation “as it is”. The results that will be presented in this paper will be based on a preliminary qualitative analysis of twenty of the submitted master’s theses. The students have accepted and approved that analyses of their research is included in presentations of results from the overall project. The analyses are inspired by phenomenology and partly also by grounded theory (Chamaz, 2014, Janik, 1996). The purpose of the analysis is to identify main themes in in the different theses, and to discover patterns. The aim is to find important categories and aspects concerning collaboration between schools and companies related to the development of relevant curriculum. Further, the intention is to gain insight in the meaning of the different themes and categories seen from vocational teachers’, instructors’ and students’ point of view. Our preliminary analysis and interpretation of the students’ research has been presented to them as part of a validation process that will be continued throughout the project. So far, the preliminary results are rather general and contain less phenomenological depth and details than will be revealed by more extensive and deeper analyses.
In spite of new formal directions on strengthening cooperation between school and work life, lack of cooperation is still a considerable problem. Many vocational students still do not get the opportunity of work life practice during the school based part of the education, especially not during the first year. This is when they have to make their choice of specialization and future occupation. Teachers alone are responsible for students’ opportunities of work life practice, and get little support from their principals and from regional school authorities. Schools and companies are skeptical towards each other’s views on educational content. Instructors usually have no formal pedagogical education, and apprentices sometimes learn very little vocational theory. However, the action research projects and some of the other research projects show that it is possible to develop good, close relations between vocational schools and companies, and that this is very important to the students’ learning. In some cases, comprehensive agreements between schools and companies are developed, concerning placement periods as well as apprenticeships. Schedules for regular “learning meetings” between the parties are worked out (Eikeland, 2012). In these meetings, teachers, instructors and students discuss professional tasks, the objectives of the curriculum, plans for each student’s work practice, and how practice in the company and teaching at school may be better related to each other. Teachers and instructors visit each other’s work places and give courses to each other’s colleagues. It seems that there is a “scale” from no collaboration to deep and extensive collaboration focused on developing the quality of the curriculum. . It may be concluded that strengthening collaboration on VET curricula between schools and companies seems beneficial to schools, companies, teachers, instructors, students and society. All parties are more updated, the education is more meaningful to the students, and society gets better skilled workers.
Chamaz, K. (2014). Constructing Grounded Theory. London: Sage Dreyfus, H. & Dreyfus, S. (1986). Mind over Machine. The Power of Human Intuition and Expertice in the Era of the Computer. New York: Free Press. Eikeland, O. (2012). Symbiotic Learning Systems. Reorganizing and Integrating Learning Efforts and Responsibilities between Higher Educational Institutions and Work Places. In Knowl Econ DOI 10.1007/s 131 32-012-0123-6. Gessler, M. (2017). The Lack of Collaboration between Companies and Schools in the German Dual Apprenticeship System: Historical Background and Recent Data. International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, [S.l.], v. 4, n. 2, Pp. 164-195, aug. 2017. ISSN 2197-8646 Hansen, K. & Haaland, G. (2015). Utfordringer i norsk yrkesopplæring. (Challenges in Norwegian VET) In K. Hansen, G. Løkensgard-Hoel & G. Haaland, G. (eds). Tett på yrkesopplæring (Close to VET) (s.19-46). Bergen: Fagbokforlaget. Hiim H. (2015). Kvalitet i yrkesutdanningen. Resultater fra et aksjonsforskningsprosjekt om yrkesutdanningens innhold og struktur (The quality of curriculum in VET. Results from an action research project on content and structure in VET) Norsk Pedagogisk Tidsskrift (The Norwegian Journal of Pedagogy) No. 2\3 2015 Pp. 136-148. Hiim, H. (2016). Educational Action Research and the Development of Professional Teacher Knowledge. Action Research for Democracy. Gunnarsson, E., Hansen, H. P., Nielsen, B. Steen (eds.). Pp 147-161. London: Routledge. Hiim, H. (2017). Ensuring Curriculum Relevance in Vocational Education and Training: Epistemological Perspectives in a Curriculum Research Project aimed at Improving the Relevance of the Norwegian VET. International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training (IJRVET).Vol. 4 no.1 Pp. 1-19, apr. 2017. ISSN 2197-8646 Janik, A. (1996). Kunskapsbegreppet i praktisk filosofi. (The concept of knowledge in practical philosophy.) Stochholm: Symposion. McNiff, J. (2014) Writing and Doing Action Research. London: Sage. Molander, B. (1997). Arbetets Kunskapsteori.(The epistemology of work). Stockholm: Gotab Nyen, T. & Tønder, A.H. (2012). Fleksibilitet eller faglighet? En studie av innføringen av faget Prosjekt til fordypning i Kunnskapsløftet. (Flexibiliy or vocational focus? A study of the new subject “vocational choice” in the Knowledge Promotion Reform). Fafo-report 2012:47. Schön, D. (1983). The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic books. The Vocational Education and Training Promotion (Yrkesfagløftet). Regjeringen.no, last updated 09.06.2017 White Paper 9 (2016-2017). Fagfolk for fremtiden. Fagskoleutdanning. (Skilled workers for the future – vocational college education). Young, M. (2004). Conceptualizing vocational knowledge: Some theoretical considerations. In H. Rainbird, A. Fuller & A. Munro (eds.). Workplace learning in context Pp. 186-200.
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