Pedagogy has been defined variously by different researchers but for the purposes of this paper pedagogy will simply be defined as the science and the art of teaching. As such pedagogy encompasses the content taught/learned (what), the approaches of teaching and learning (how) and the philosophy and underpinning values (why)[ CITATION An05 \l 1033 ]. The most useful pedagogical approach in the VET sector is the so called ‘learners and learning at the centre’ which places the learner at the centre of the learning process. The approach focuses on empowering the actor not only to be a disengaged-passive participant but an active and motivated partner in the learning process[ CITATION Dep061 \l 1033 ].
Reflective practice in the VET sector helps the trainer to choose the pedagogical approach that is most useful and relevant to his/her situation. Reflective practice is the process of self observation and self analysis with an aim of improving both the teaching process and the learning process. It is one of the six conceptualizations of practice.
The focus of this paper is reflective practice as employed in the VET sector. The paper shall briefly look at the six conceptualization of practice before shifting attention to reflective practice. The paper shall then address three main subjects, namely
1. The role of reflective practice in improving the teaching and learning processes.
2. The impact of technological advances on pedagogical approach in the VET sector
3. The effect of the student’s occupational and personal needs on pedagogical approach.
In order to explore the role, significance and effect of reflective practice in Vocational Education and Training (here after referred to as VET) it is imperative to expound on a few terms and concepts. The last two decades have seen tremendous changes in the contexts and practices in VET sector resulting from increased mobility, globalization and advances in technology[ CITATION Ste101 \l 1033 ]. These changes have in turn affected the practices employed in the VET sector, from educational to professional practices and from language to more general social practices[ CITATION Ste101 \l 1033 ].
At least ten pedagogical approaches have been employed in the VET sector and in general teaching[ CITATION An05 \l 1033 ]. The pedagogical approaches mentioned are neither exhaustive nor independent but have been supported by evidence-based research as being valuable in engaging and motivating learners as well as supporting the learning process. Suffice to say that pedagogy has been defined variously by different researchers but for the purposes of this paper pedagogy will simply be defined as the science and the art of teaching. As such pedagogy encompasses the content taught/learned (what), the approaches of teaching and learning (how) and the philosophy and underpinning values (why)[ CITATION An05 \l 1033 ]. The most useful pedagogical approach in the VET sector is the so called ‘learners and learning at the centre’ which places the learner at the centre of the learning process. The approach focuses on empowering the actor not only to be a disengaged-passive participant but an active and motivated partner in the learning process[ CITATION Dep061 \l 1033 ].
Another important concept to understand is that of reflective practice. In the context of teaching reflective practice is looking at what is done in the classroom, the reason it is done and if it works- it is the process of self observation, self monitoring and self evaluating. The teacher therefore gathers information on what is happening during the teaching process and analyses the information with the aim of improving the teaching skills and the learning process and experience. In other words reflective practice in teaching is the process of professional development that begins in the learning environment and goes beyond the classroom[ CITATION TEE04 \l 1033 ]. Reflective practice is one of the conceptualizations of practice described by Mike Brown (2002).
2.0 Conceptualization of practice
VET trainers are responsible for the designing, development and implementation of activities and tasks (practices) to engage learners hence develop their capacity for work related tasks. The six conceptualizations of practices described by Brown (2002) are an attempt to explain the pedagogical practices relevant in the VET sector. Six conceptualizations of practice have had a great impact on learning, teaching, curriculum, research and professional development of VET practitioners[ CITATION Mik02 \l 1033 ].
‘From novice to expert’ practice aims at developing expert through a continuum of stages[ CITATION HDr85 \l 1033 ]. Dreyfeus & Dreyfeus described the five stages in the development of an expert as novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient and expert. The VET practitioner using this approach needs to know the characteristics of each stage in order to effectively impart knowledge and skills because each stage would require use of specific skills. The second conceptualization of practice is the vocational practice at the centre of which is the notion of competence. According to Daley (2001) describe this approach as constructivist theories and gives a threefold definition. The vocational practice is generally involves the learner making sense and meaning for themselves, secondly it is social learning that occurs across groups and thirdly it is a highly situated and context specific learning[ CITATION BDa01 \l 1033 ]. The third practice, the critical science of practice, was described by Kemmis and McTaggart and is a matrix approach to practice that is explained as five traditions[ CITATION Mik02 \l 1033 ].
The fourth conceptualization of practice assumes that knowledge is reliable, remains relatively constant and falls into clear hierarchical and subject specific categories. This approach asserts that knowledge is best conveyed as structured information[ CITATION Mik02 \l 1033 ].
The fifth conceptualization is build upon experiential learning in which the learner takes on various roles. The sixth conception of practice, reflective practice, is the subject of this paper. The practice was introduced by Donald Schon in 1983 and is divided into reflection in action and reflection on action. The first form of reflective practice occurs in concert with the teaching action and commonly occurs when the action is not working right so that the teacher immediately changes the way s/he is teaching on noticing it is ineffective. Reflection on practice is more useful for professional development of the trainer and occurs in retrospect to the action; the teacher revisits the teaching either mentally or by verbalization[ CITATION JMo00 \l 1033 ]. Reflective practice has been seen to be at the very heart of effective preparation and development of professional competence[ CITATION JLo02 \l 1033 ].
3.0 The role of Reflective practice in improving teaching
As earlier stated reflective practice has been defined variously by different scholars and is at the very core of development of the teaching professional competence. Whitton et al (2004) defined reflective practice as a threefold process encompassing direct experience; evaluation of beliefs, values or knowledge about the experience and consideration of alternatives leading to corrective actions where necessary[ CITATION DWh04 \l 1033 ]. As such reflective thinking primarily helps the trainer to improve their skills and meet the learner’s needs.
As a VET trainer reflection in action helps me “shift gear” in class in response to the learners’ needs. By seeking the student’s feedback and observing the student’s facial expression and gestures I judge whether the student understands the lesson. If the students do not understand then I immediately change the approach with n aim of making the lesson livelier and encouraging students’ participation. Reflection in action therefore affords me with an opportunity to immediately respond to and address the students’ needs. Therefore through reflection in action helps the student is placed at the heart of the learning process as an active and motivated partner.
In the VET sector reflection on action is very useful for continuous improvement of the trainer’s skills as well as the learning environment. By recording the events of the training process on a diary or on tape I am able to analyze what occurred and if I feel it was ineffective then I can take corrective measures in the next training sessions. Reflecting on the learners’ response, actions and attitudes as a trainer I can focus on specific individuals or groups. Through reflection it is possible to assess the learners’ abilities and level hence group them according to their weaknesses and strengths and use the appropriate approach for each group.
Another approach of reflective practice in VET that I have found helpful is the peer observation. In this approach the trainer invites colleagues to attend the training sessions and give their analysis and recommendations. By incorporating the views and recommendations of my peers, I can then enrich my practice and increase variety and flexibility. Finally using evaluations I am able to gather the students’ feedback. This later method is most useful because it enables me to directly respond to the students needs thus putting the students at the very centre of the process.
4.0 Impact of technology and pedagogical approach
According to George Siemens (2005) there is a need for a new learning theory to accommodate the profound technological advances of recent years. In addition the rapid technological development and uptake by the young generation demands that today’s trainer be well informed on the new technologies in order to be relevant. In the VET sector in particular the information technology has seen a paradigm shift in the teaching approaches to save on time, to afford flexibility and remain relevant.
While initially in the QLD government there were restrictions on computer use especially in terms of websites that could be used. The computers then did not have the ability to play DVDs nor download and install programs. This restrictions made it challenging to search for the relevant training materials and deliver the same to the trainees via DVDs. Currently with the lifting of these restrictions as a trainer I am able to acces a variety of information sources thus prepare adequately for content delivery. Access to the internet has made it posible to access the most current information thus as a trainer I can use the most current and relevant information; this is particularly useful in the VET sector because of the dynamic nature of the industrial aspects which demands that the trainer keeps abreast. The access to the internet has made it possible to change the focus from a content to a process oriented approach.
In addition advances in technology have caused a shift in the training process from a situation where the staff had to move from the workplace to access training. The current pedagogical approaches are more flexible and accessible from a remote centre so that the student can learn from their comfort and at their pleasure. One of the dominant technollogies that has taken centre stage in the education sector is the Virtual Learning Environment. This learnning platform is a range of ICT systems used to deliver and supporting leaning[ CITATION Edu10 \l 1033 ]. This platform has personalized online learning for students by providing an interactive interface through which students and trainers can access learning resources, stored work, facility to track progress and communication tools.
5.0 Effect of the students occupational and personal needs on learning
The occupational and personal needs of the student have a profound effect on what is learnt and how it is learnt. In the VET sector the learner actually dictates what is to be taught and the way it is taught because the VET focus is on skills delivelopment rather than academic performance. It would be impractical to train the staffs on something that is not relevant to his or her profession. Students tend to enjoy and participate more when what is taught is something they interact with at work. In addition it is easier to understand something that one interacts with from the work level.
From personal experience as a VET trainer participants guide their own training based on their roles. The participants are then grouped with each group consisting 4 members of staff with similar functions and roles. The groups follow scenario based learning with each group following scenarios that are related to their professional roles. Each scenario may have up to 50 activities but the participant is not obliged to partake of all the activities but rather choose those relevant to their roles. In addition the participant may choose to skip the activity s/he is familiar with.
The VET system is structured to feet the personal needs needs of the learner. For instance for staff members working on a parttime basis the approach is to train them when they are available so that there is no rigid schedule or time table. In the programme I am working with have trainers who visit trainees that are unable to travel to Brisbane for training for one reason or the other. This kind of arrangement has been particularly helpful to single parents who are unable to make alternative arrangements fot the care of their children inorder to attend the training. This “mobile” trainers are stationed at Cairns, Rochempton and Townsville and are available to vist these learners and train them.
Reflective practice in the VET sector has proved useful in improving the trainers’ competences and the learning experience as well. Through reflective thinking VET practitioners are able to analyze their work and take measures to improve their art. Reflective thinking is just one of several conceptualization of practice. Advances in technology, students professional and personal needs influence the pedagogical approach employed by the VET trainer.
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