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Vocational teachers, pedagogy and technology: issues around a double identity

August 12th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

More thoughts on the literature review I am doing on initial training and continuing professional development of teachers on the use of ICT for learning and particularly looking at pedagogic approaches to using technology for teaching and learning.

There is quite a lot of literature on teachers in general schools and some papers and reports on professional development for university teachers. However, there seems to be a big hole when it comes to vocational teachers.  As Phillip Grollmann says “teaching in vocational education has often failed to be acknowledged, despite its significance, ubiquity and its assumed contribution to the welfare, maintenance and progress of society.” And research into vocational education has also always been the ugly sister in educational research. Of course, one answer would be to say the issues regarding the use of technology are just the same as in general schools. But I don’t thing they are.

Grollmann  points out that vocational colleges often have an extended role in supporting innovation and learning at a regional level as well as providing continuing professional development for employees, often related to the introduction of new technologies.

There is a very considerable issue in terms of the domains of knowledge required by vocational teachers. Besides explicit knowledge and practice (for example, pedagogy , knowledge and teaching of subjects) and formal knowledge of the education system and the educational establishment,vocational teachers require implicit knowledge of their occupation (practical experience in work and teaching, vocational pedagogical skills, etc.).

In other words, vocational teachers have a dual identity, an identity as a teacher and an identity as a skilled worker in their own vocational or occupational field.

That dual identity is based on the vocational nature of the curriculum they are teaching. And this effects the use of technology for learning.

Just as in general schools or universities, technology is being used in vocational schools as part of the pedagogic process. And equally this is leading to issues of new pedagogic approaches to tecahing and learning. But at the same time technology is a core part of the focus of vocational programmes. And technology is being used differently in different occupations. So teachers need to know how to use technology to teach about the use of technology in an occupation. In a period of very rapid technological change this poses a challenge. How can vocational teachers keep up to date with their own vocational occupation. And how can technology best be used to learn about technology in an occupational context.

Lars Heienneman has suggested to me that the issues of culture and occupational identities and important here. He suggests that in Germany where the idea of ‘Beruf’ remains strong and vocational teachers are generally held in high esteem, they have a higher level of identity with their occupation, and thus expect to continuously update their occupational skills and knowledge. In the UK, where in general vocational teachers are not held in such high esteem, there is less identification as a skilled and competent vocational practitioner and thus a bigger problem in terms of  modernising practice.

I am not totally convinced. But there appears to be no research on this. Or am I missing something. If so please point me in the right direction.

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