Improving subject-specialist pedagogy

Improving subject-specialist pedagogy

The University of Huddersfield is spearheading a project to improve pedagogic decisions in ITE for teachers of vocational science, engineering and technology (SET), says Professor Kevin Orr 

The University of Huddersfield is leading a three-year project to enhance subject-specific pedagogy in initial teacher education (ITE) programmes for teachers of vocational science, engineering and technology in further education colleges.

The project seeks to better understand what good teaching on vocational SET courses looks like before implementing an intervention during ITE that is designed to improve teachers’ pedagogical decisions.

In its influential report in 2013, The Commission on Adult Vocational Teaching and Learning (CAVTL) stated “the importance of codifying, recognising and valuing the sophisticated practice of vocational pedagogy”, while also recognising that even using the term pedagogy in this context had proved controversial.

Our project, ITE-VocSET, is currently in phase one which involves research to inform the design of the ITE intervention. This will comprise both online and face-to-face resources and sessions.

Phase two, from September 2016, will see the intervention’s implementation involving 60 to 80 trainees around the country. Phase three, from September 2017, will involve evaluation of impact and dissemination of findings as well as any resources we produce.

ITE-VocSET is funded by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, which has previously commissioned a report on ITE in the FE sector as well as the pilot for the current project.

That pilot was based on continuing professional development (CPD) for teachers of STEM subjects and, above all, it demonstrated that college teachers have difficulty finding time for CPD, which led the new project to focus on ITE.

While holding a teaching qualification is no longer a statutory requirement, most colleges require their teaching staff to attend an ITE course. That requirement provides an opportunity to engage trainee teachers in our research.

The University of Huddersfield is a major provider of ITE for FE and, to find more participants, we are collaborating with colleagues in three other English universities with significant college-based ITE.

As noted by CAVTL, the term pedagogy is controversial for some, but we see pedagogical decisions as those that teachers make in specific relation to curricula or bodies of knowledge and in relation to particular groups of students.

Our project aims to improve those decisions by focusing on teachers’ subject specialist knowledge, especially in connection to the effective sequencing of teaching, expectations of students’ understanding at appropriate thresholds and effective assessment.

Teachers’ own experience and level of knowledge, as well as the context in which they work, affect pedagogical decisions and none of those influences is determined by our project. We will report on all the influences we can identify.

Perhaps the trickiest part of our project is judging if the ITE intervention has had any impact at all. We aim to make judgements on impact by gathering data from project participants and other trainees. We will also analyse the language that participants use to explain their decisions in the classroom or workshop to look for echoes from the intervention.

By the end of phase three we will have produced an intervention including a set of resources along with a rationale for their development, an evaluation of the intervention’s effectiveness, and also a means that others might use to evaluate other such pedagogical innovations. Watch this space.

For more details, see the WorldSkills website.

Kevin Orr is professor of work and learning at the University of Huddersfield

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