Research and Practice in Adult Literacy – a friendly group

lsrn (Learning and Skills Research Network) meets

Learning and Skills Research Network, London and the South East

A winter LSRN London and South East Network meeting was convened recently with Continuum, UEL’s Research Centre for Widening Participation. Sai Loo, UCL IoE and Rania Hafez, University of Greenwich, co-ordinated five presentations which explored transitions into different forms of work. The afternoon comprised two projects supporting teaching assistants, one widening HE participation, an outline of German teacher education routes into TVET (technical and vocational education and training), and a conceptual framework for analysing TVET teacher education.

These themes are pertinent to developing increasingly ‘higher order’ literacies, integrated into vocational and professional learning, including teacher training.

‘Critical pedagogy, competence and transformative learning pathways of mature black women learners into work’ by Ms Jacqueline McFarlane-Fraser, African Caribbean Women Development Centre, London

Developing teaching assistants’ critical analysis capacity was the most dificult aspect of this training. It was aided by an initial focus on description in their learning logs. Modelling processes, such as those based on ‘competence’ and ‘tranformative learning’, aided learners in revisiting their reflective writing to critique. The pressure to produce was a continuous barrier to reflective practice. Other barriers identified were those of racism within the feminist movement and institutionalised exclusion. McFarlane-Fraser located the study at an intersectionality of marginalised learner characteristics and risk-taking (critical pedagogy) theoretical frameworks.

‘MKO – beyond Vygotsky – adult peer mentoring in HE/FE’ by Dr. Paul Demetriou-Crane and Lyndsey Lapwood, HCFHE (Havering College)

Non-traditional learners, teaching assistants from level 2 to 4, experience an increase in unresolved academic challenges as class sizes increase. To respond to this, Demetriou-Crane and Lapwood set up a peer mentoring model. Learning how to learn, increasing confidence and transferable employability skills were objectives for mentors and mentees. A distinctive characteristic of the scheme is the use of a private moodle blog between mentor and the teacher training team, which encourages description and reflective practice. ‘Formalising’ informal interaction through this scheme contributes to it occuring where it otherwise dissipates in conflicting priorities. The format enables wider learning potential without ‘pushing’, expanding a sometimes myopic dedication to assignment work. Another key feature of the scheme was using knowledge of mentors and mentees, their qualities and needs, to match them, while offering confidential support. The importance of feedback loops is emphasised.

A more detailed post on this work, and accompanying presentation slides, can be found by the team here https://wideningparticipation.wordpress.com/.

‘The Omnibus Learning Gain Study: Towards inclusive metrics in HE’ by Dr Fuad Ali, University of East London

This study developed employability and academic metrics for learners in relation to an ‘ecology of interest’ which encompassed motivation to restructure, to market, to reform teaching, to support students and to rank. Measurements spanned cognitive attributes; academic behaviour and confidence; elements from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills; and the ability to predict own grades. The psychometric features addressed enjoying, engaging, and study behaviours. There was a high level of ‘churn’, i.e. students who were not available to take the next round of psycometric testing for comparison across time. However a clear finding related the amount of time learners had free for independent study and attendance and achievement. The study is described as illuminating ‘a state of perpetual institutional becoming’.

‘Teacher Education for VET-Schools in Germany: Past, Present and Future Challenges’ by Professor Stephan Schumann, University of Konstanz, Germany

TVET in Germany has historically been a larger education sector than university. This changed in 2011, when an exponential increase in university enrolments outgrew slow decline in TVET. Two hundred TVET schools have recently closed, leaving about 1,200. There are three level 3 routes through German schools: the ‘dual VET’ (vocational education and training), i.e. apprenticeships, academic and a minor full-time vocational route. There is a back-up transition stage between level 2 school and level 3 dual VET for those who have difficulty passing at fifteen. Vocational learners are then expected to progress into the labour market, where they may engage in continuing professional development (CPD).

There are two routes to becoming a VET teacher: an academic route which leads to tenured status and a lifetime career; and a working expertise route leading to instructor status in placement companies. A post-bachelor’s masters degree is a pre-requisite to entering in to post-graduate teacher training, which is completed by passing a state exam. The teacher training combines placement in VET schools with seminars on theory and reflective practice. These develop ‘fachdidaktik’, or subject specific pedagogical knowledge in two elected subject specialisms. Many critiques of the system mirror those in the UK: that teacher training is fractured within and between placements and seminar schools, that it is not sufficiently relevant to later teaching, that there may be little progression within teaching, low knowledge of teacher effectiveness, and low co-operation between VET and training companies.

A number of current challenges are presenting: digitalisation; heterogeneity of learners; inclusion (of disabled learners); academisation and decreasing reputation of VET; demographic decline; developing ‘quality’ cultures; developing in-service CPD; and a culture of ‘lone warrior’ teachers, rather than participation in learning communities.

‘Teachers and Teaching in Vocational and Professional Education’ by Dr Sai Loo, UCL Institute of Education, University College London

This theoretical framework of dual professionalism considers the importance of terminology, given the social history of the term ‘vocational’ in a UK context. TVET has at its core the interaction of learning in academic and business practice contexts, drawing on explicit and tacit knowledge types, and context dependency. It identifies the importance of drawing on own professional practice in teaching, even where the expertise introduced may not have direct universal application. These often relate to the professional’s own interests and ‘research’.

The LSRN is generally happy, if any colleagues would like to present and include items for an agenda, to e-mail with the details of the presentation title and points for inclusion. Particular thanks go to Tony Hudson of the University of East London for arranging the venue for this event. Find out more about the lsrn, which has active regional networks as well as national activity, here https://lsrn.wordpress.com/news-events/london-and-south-east-lsrn-meeting-15th-december-2017/

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