02 SES 05 B, Vocational Learning and Pedagogy
Education is an important context for society’s socialisation of youth. The pedagogical practice is characterised by the exercise of power and control and various forms of handling discipline by the school as an institution representing society (Foucault, 2002; Bourdieu, 2006).
In teaching with ordinary physical presence, control is exercised in relation to students’ presence and physical location and of what they are engaged in – under conditions that in addition to controlling the students’ room for activity at the same time allow the teacher various forms of ‘monitoring’. Foucault (2002, p. 211) addresses this using the concept of the ‘panopticon’ or the ‘surveillance eye’ in connection with his analyses of the management of the plague and the surveillance of those infected in the 18th century.
Teaching at the vocational schools in Denmark during lockdown under the COVID crisis in the spring of 2020 took place under circumstances that differed from the usual ones, and at the same time created a completely new setting and changed conditions for institutions’ and teachers´ exerting of control.
The teaching in Denmark during spring 2020 proceeded in phases starting with the lockdown, followed by the first gradual and controlled reopening phases, and the second phase of the reopening (Ministry of Children and Education, 2020a). For students in basic courses at vocational education (VET), including EUX (VET-programme combining a general upper secondary education and vocational education and training), the reopening took place from 18 May 2020. After the summer holidays, students were back in the schools, but the teaching was still subject to restrictions and local closures caused by the corona crisis. In the spring, the students had to adjust to being taught from home in virtual settings and thus for a period be at a distance from both teachers and other students – and students and teachers had to get used to the conditions in a pedagogy and teaching with distance learning typically based on different forms of digital technology.
Pedagogical traditions in vocational education in Denmark are based on principles that link internships and schools to create coherence for diverse student groups in relation to gender, age, and social background (Juul, 2006; Hvitved, 2014; Jørgensen, 2009; 2013; Duch, 2017; Louw, 2017). During the lockdown, however, the conditions for doing so were changed. The students were at home in various family contexts, which involved different types of social obligations other than the education, and the students had different prerequisites for structuring an everyday life when not attending school.
The virtual settings and different kinds of digital technology framed the exercise of discipline and control in ways that differed from the traditional pedagogy in which students and teachers are present in the same place (Duch and Kjærgaard, 2015; EVA, 2015; Aarkrog and Puge, 2019). While teachers can traditionally monitor and follow up on students’ activities in workshops and classrooms, virtual pedagogy requires other tools and practices that presuppose that students act more or less as the teacher wants, because they are already socialised to understand and adapt to the school’s demands and forms of power and discipline.
The student perspective on pedagogy during the crisis in the spring 2020 is relevant in light of the challenges that teachers face in vocational education, including the political demands to attract and retain students in these educations (Jørgensen, 2011, 2016; Aarkrog, 2020).
Drawing on sociological theory and based on students’ experiences, the paper contributes to knowledge about pedagogy in vocational education. We ask how students during the lockdown experienced and behaved in the virtual pedagogy and its changed ways of handling and exerting control and discipline by teachers.
The article is based on six focus group interviews conducted in August 2020 with 24 students who all attended the basic course (VET), with 11 studying the technical programme (10 boys, 1 girl) and 13 studying the commerce programme (5 boys, 8 girls). Of those interviewed, 21 were aged 16–22 years (the ‘younger’ group) and 3 were aged 27–36 years (the ‘older’ group). Each interview included 2–6 students (Duch, 2020). The informants were selected by the school in order to gain knowledge about different student experiences. Thus, the students were affiliated with the main areas of administration, commerce, and business services, as well as technology, construction, and transportation. Some of the oldest students had children, but also the youngest were in different life and housing situations. Some lived alone, others lived with their parents or partners. In August, they had different retrospective perspectives on pedagogy, also because they were in different situations such as being internship applicants, on internships, or on training courses at EUX at the vocational school. We believe we can say that the students contribute with a relatively broad experience base in these main areas; however, with the bias that the students were at school during the interview except for two students on internships who were interviewed online after working hours at the internship. Likewise, for obvious reasons, students who dropped out before August 2020 were not included. Notes were written during the interviews. Thereafter, the interviews were transcribed and analysed on the basis of the mentioned theories, but the analysis initially had an inductive focus. In the following first part of the analysis, an insight is given into the variation of the pedagogy and its changed physical framework, as the students describe it. The analysis is based on students’ different experiences of pedagogy in virtual settings during the crisis, both in relation to the physical classroom (often their home) and the technological tools that have been used. The students’ descriptions are analysed regarding how the teacher can see their presence and register absence. Students’ absence can, in its extreme consequence, mean that they are excluded from school. It is also analysed how the students were aware of making their performance visible to the teacher under the virtual conditions.
Based on the analysis, we can conclude that the interviewed students on the basic course (at VET) in the spring of 2020 had very different conditions and experiences with pedagogy in virtual settings, and that they were concerned with living up to the demands regarding their presence, despite the teacher’s changed conditions for keeping an eye on them. The virtual pedagogy disciplines students, turning their attention toward being visible in the virtual setting in order to eliminate absenteeism and having academic performance seen. At the same time, they are very much aware of whether their fellow students maintain discipline or try to circumvent it. However, the question is what this knowledge can contribute in light of the fact that students are socialized to, used to and thus expect - and prefer - to see a teacher guiding activities in classrooms in virtual settings and in virtual settings as well. However, some students also describe how being taught in virtual settings improves their well-being as well as their academic learning as a result of the independence in the virtual environment, where teacher power, teacher responses, and the teacher’s gaze reach them to a lesser extent. In this way, during lockdown the teaching had the potential to include other students. However, the analysis also indicates that such pedagogy may have a social bias, and conditions introduced in the spring of 2020 can be difficult for some students (Bourdieu, 2006; Munk, 2014). On the other hand, there may be a potential for building on the students’ positive experience with new student roles.
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