02 SES 12 B, Learning and Competences in VET
General description on research questions, objectives and theoretical framework (up to 600 words – nå 417)
In a changing labour market, professionals are expected to update themselves and learn to learn by integrating literacy skills and professional competences (Remix) in a life-long perspective. “New work order” (Filletaz & Billet, 2015; Gee, Hull & Lankshear, 1996) acknowledge communicative competences and language skills as a productive resource for work and professional development. The claim for a mix of generic and technical vocational skills probably differs between trades, branches and industries (Karlsson & Nikolaidou, 2016). Since 2006, all Norwegian curricula includes basic skills like writing, reading, oral communication, calculation and the use of ICT. As the Norwegian VET-model is a sequential dual model with two years in school and two years as apprentices in a company, there are many stakeholders involved in supporting the development of professional as well as generic skills (Nore, 2015). Assessment of professional competences both in school contexts and through trade examinations are performance based, but include planning, argumentation and reflection – often as written supplements to performed work. Research on VET-students and apprentices’ writing competences are rather modest (Hellne-Halvorsen, 2014; Ortoleva & Betrancourt, 2015), but underline the importance of explicating technical vocational skills as well as the ability to document and reflect on the quality of performed work. Such writing competences are challenged through different initiatives to develop and implement large-scale assessments in VET. The Norwegian MECVET-project (Measuring Competence Development in Vocational Education and Training) tested professional competences through open-ended, case-based test-tasks at three different time points in VET for selected professions: health care, electricians and industrial mechanics. Experts in the trades rated the solutions on three different levels (good – average – poor) in accordance with standardized rating schemes three times during VET. Results were portrayed as professional profiles according to the KOMET-model (Rauner & al, 2009). As a first analytical step in the project, results were analyzed according to technical vocational progression and to the influence of different contexts like the VET-schools, the size of companies and the impact of the training offices’ quality systems. The length of the written solutions differed a lot, and questions about the importance of writing competences on the ability to express professional competences came to the fore. The next analytical step was to explore how students´ and apprentices´ express their professional competence in written format. Literacy experts with a sociocultural approach analyzed a sample of the solutions with a perspective on both professional and generic writing competences (Evensen, 2006; Brandt & Clinton, 2002; Hellne-Halvorsen, 2014). This article draws on the third analytical step, which investigated possible correlations between the trade experts’ ratings of professional competence and the literacy experts´ ratings. Research questions were: (1) What is the coherence between the trade experts’ ratings of professional competences and the literacy experts’ ratings of writing competences? (2) In what way are professional competences and generic writing skills similar or different across trades and levels of education? (3) To what extent does writing skills influence the trade experts’ ratings of professional competences?
Methods/methodology (up to 400 words ) The MECVET-project shortly introduced above, was a three-year longitudinal study of the development and progression of professional competence among Norwegian VET-students and apprentices in health care, electricians and industrial mechanics. A multiple research design (Robson & McCartan, 2015) combined principles of assessment tool development, contextual surveys and quality case-based studies of the instrumentation and implementation processes. Fifty students/apprentices in each trade completed a test-task formulated as complex problems or orders from customers etc. The testees got two hours to solve one out of four test-tasks/cases (randomly selected) and were allowed to use a computer with access to the web. Very few used the latter as a resource. The tests were conducted at three educational levels: 1) after second year in upper secondary school, 2) after first year of apprenticeship and 3) at the end of the apprenticeship. All in all, N=150 for each level with a total number of N=450 solutions. Experts in the trade thereafter rated the written assignments and calibrated the ratings in pairs. For the literacy assessment, a sample of 108 solutions were drawn according to the criteria: (1) 12 students and apprentices in each trade on each educational level, (2) all the four test-tasks represented on each level, (3) a mix of solutions rated by experts in the trades as low – medium – high performances. In this third step of analyzing the MECVET-results, we have compared the trade expert ratings with the language analysis in a sample of 12 assignments in each trade. Further, analysis of video- or audiotaped think-aloud processes from the raters’ discussions in the calibrating processes were examined to retrieve their comments on a possible influence of students writing skills on their assessment of professional competence. All test and questionnaire scores were processed by SPSS and subject to regression analyses with different measures of vocational competence as dependent variable. Whereas selected parts of the video-material were transcribed and organized by qualitative analysis software, AtlasTi, and subject to thematic analysis.
Expected outcomes/results (up to 300 words) The written test-format seems to favor the health care workers literacy proficiency. They are used to case- based written assignments in schools followed by written assignments linked to e-portfolios organized by training offices during apprenticeship. Both their generic and professional writing skills increase from VET school to the end of apprenticeship. This is in accordance with their development of professional competence as rated by trade experts. In health care, there might be a high correlation between the writing skills, the text length and the level of professional competence – even though they use fewer professional specific concepts than the other trades. Industrial mechanics and electricians are more used to performance-based assessments with limited requirements for writing skills. Nevertheless, in the school context students write reports from placements in companies and have written assignments in general subjects. As such, they are trained in writing. In the apprenticeship period, work performance is mostly practical with some requirements for documentation in standardized formats. As a result, generic writing skills decrease from school to the end of apprenticeship period for electricians and industrial mechanics. On the other side, professional writing skills increase during the apprenticeship period - corresponding to their development of professional competences as rated by experts; a decrease from VET-school to first year apprenticeship followed by an increase at the end of apprenticeship. Electricians and industrial mechanics develop a rich trade specific vocabulary and become more experienced (at average level) in professional argumentation with customers and colleagues. Trade experts argue they “read the professional competences between the lines”. As skilled workers in the trade, they can imagine what the students and apprentices want to explain when their writing skills are insufficient or inaccurate. This project address the European debate on feasibility of large scale assessments in VET based on written assignments.
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