Demonstrations of Vocational Skills as Integrator of Education and Working Life in Finnish VET

Paper Presentation for VETNET, ECER2008 Gothenburg, Sweden, 10 - 12 September 2008

Dr. Marja-Leena Stenström The Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä

Aims of the paper
• Aim is to describe connection between work and learning in Finnish vocational education and training, especially in the vocational skills demonstrations from the viewpoint of student assessment. • This paper is based on a study whose aim was to examine students’ practice-oriented learning as a part of VET provision at workplaces. The study was part of the Leonardo da Vinci project QUAL-PRAXIS (Grollmann & Stenström 2005; Stenström & Laine 2006) coordinated by the Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä. • The data have been collected by interviewing social welfare and health care and construction students (n=6), their teachers (n=8), and representatives (n=6) of enterprises operating in these fields in Central and Southern Finland in 2005.

Context of work and education
• Historically, learning and work were inseparable during the pre-modern era, whereas during modern era a progressive differentiation took place between work and learning. • In the late modern era differentiation has become fragmentation. Learning and work after post-compulsory education are organised in different forms. • Nowadays, the fact that knowledge and skills are also provided outside formal education and training, is gradually leading to the formulation of a European educational policy. • There has also been an increase of interest in workplace learning among educational scholars (e.g. Billett, 2001; Fuller & Unwin, 1998; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Griffiths & Guile, 2004).

Finnish VET system
• Described as a continuum, at one end are countries such as Germany and Austria in which working life bears the main responsibility for VET, while at the other end there are countries where vocational education has been school-based e.g. Finland. • However, in recent years Finnish educational policy has emphasised the importance of creating closer relationships between education and industry. • Since 2001 in Finnish upper secondary VET has been the incorporation into the curriculum of work-related learning lasting at least 6 months. • Efforts to achieve closer cooperation between VET and working life also include what are known as vocational skills demonstrations (demonstrations of vocational skills), a procedure that was in experimental use in educational establishments from 1999 until autumn 2006, when it became established practice (Opetusministeriö, 2004).

Demonstrations of vocational skills demonstrations as part of workrelated learning in Finnish VET
• In Finnish vocational education and training, the central competencies of each vocational study module are assessed by means of vocational skills demonstrations. The assessment targets and criteria used are defined in the national core curriculum. • The central competencies, as targets of assessment, are command of the knowledge that forms the foundation of the work domain, command of work processes, command of working methods, tools and materials, command of occupational safety, common emphases, and core skills common to all fields (Kinnunen, 2005). • These assessment targets are the same for every initial vocational qualification, but not all of the abovementioned targets of assessment are included in every vocational skills demonstration.

Targets of assessment of vocational competence in Finnish VET (Kinnunen, 2005, 70.)

Comparison between Eraut’s typology (2004) of knowledge and targets of assessment of Finnish vocational competence
Eraut’s typology of knowledge Theoretical knowledge Targets of assessment of Finnish vocational competence Command of the knowledge that forms the foundation of work Command of working methods, tools and materials, and command of occupational safety Command of work processes Core skills common to all fields Common emphases

Methodological knowledge Practical skills Generic skills General knowledge about occupation

Targets of assessment of Finnish vocational competence
• This comparison has been made on the basis of the titles of the types not their contents. However, it can be seen that the contents of the Finnish curriculum resemble Eraut’s typology (2004), although the concepts are different. • He has examined the types of knowledge used in educational context and in the workplace. • Although most types of knowledge are described as transferable, there is little evidence that these skills are being transferred to the workplace.

Learning theories behind skills demonstrations
• The constructivist learning theory forms one approach to vocational skills demonstrations. • However, constructive learning is not enough on its own to explain work-related learning, which can be described using the concepts of reflective, transformative, contextual and situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Mezirow, 1991). • The contextual nature of work-related and workbased learning lies in the fact that the student engaged in it learns and is assessed in an authentic context. • Thus, learning of this kind can be described as a process of participating in communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998).

Features of assessment of vocational skills demonstrations fostering connection between work and learning

• • • • • •

Part of learning process Reflection Self-assessment Feedback Joint assessment (tripartite principle) Authentic context

Assessment as Part of Learning
• In vocational skills demonstrations, assessment is part of learning and its aim is to guide and motivate the student to learn and to acquire self-assessment skills. • The most important element is the assessment discussion, which occurs after every demonstration of vocational skills, the aim of which is to promote the learning process.

• Vocational skills demonstrations and on-the-job learning periods have generated reflection not only among the students, but also among the workplace instructors and the teachers. • Workplace instructors have reported that supervising students has made them think over their own ways of action and working methods and their approach to instruction. • Teachers feel that the implementation of vocational skills demonstrations has broadened their perspectives and helped them to keep up to date. • Conducting vocational skills demonstrations has forced teachers to get to grips with the essential issues included in a study module or qualification.

• Self-assessment offers students a chance to identify their personal vocational strengths and weaknesses and become aware of their development needs. • Many students find self-assessment difficult, particularly at the early stages of their studies, although in the opinion of teachers, today’s students have better self-assessment skills than their forbears. • Despite the difficulty of self-assessment, students feel that it is essential that they were able to evaluate their own work. • In addition, better skills in assessing themselves and in being assessed by others has made students better equipped to enter working life.

• During the assessment discussion, the student’s performance in the vocational skills demonstration is examined. • The teacher and the workplace instructor give the student feedback, provide guidelines on the student’s development and explain why they are proposing a particular grade. • The assessment discussion offers also the student an opportunity to present feedback of their own and share their thoughts on vocational skills demonstrations and assessment situations. • Moreover, being able to arrange a shared assessment discussion promotes cooperation between education and working life.

Joint assessment by teacher, workplace instructor and student
• Tripartite assessment by the student, the teacher and the workplace instructor is the prominent principle of the Finnish vocational skills demonstrations. • The teacher’s role in the assessment discussions is to be the assessment expert. S/he also has the main responsibility for the implementation of the assessment. • Workplace instructors are valued for their professional field- and workplace-specific expertise. • Using assessors of working life it it important that these assessors have taken part in assessment training, since proper training can help to interpert the assessment criteria (improving reliability). • The student’s most important task is to demonstrate their skills. The student also prepares a written demonstration plan.

Authenticity of the assessment context
• Teachers and workplace instructors consider that authenticity of vocational skills demonstrations is essential. • According to them a real working situation is best able to bring out a student’s vocational skills. • Even if teachers prefer vocational skills demonstrations implemented in real working life, simulations have also been utilised at least in the Technology and Transport Sector.

Skills demonstrations as integrator of education and working life
• The studies of skills demonstrations show that the implementation of this new assessment system has improved cooperation between education and working life (e.g. Stenström et al., 2006, Stenström 2008). • Vocational skills demonstrations offer an excellent opportunity to connect formal school learning and more informal workplace learning and to integrate theory and practice. • Skills demonstrations have also led all three parties involved – teachers, workplace instructors and students – to take their own learning-related duties more seriously as well as encouraged them to develop their occupational skills.

Student as mediator between education and working life (Stenström 2008)

Challenges for future
• The current practice allows only little room for personal co-operative relationships. • These problems are connected with the limited resources. • In the transfer of information between education and working life, the main channel is definitely the students. Their role is central: they are the ones who bring new ideas from the school to the workplace and vice versa. The role of information exchange on the other levels seems to be rather modest. • Therefore, one of the biggest challenges in developing work-related learning and skills demonstrations is to strengthen the direct cooperation between teachers and workplaces.

• There is also the question of the reliability of vocational skills demonstrations. The conditions under which vocational skills demonstrations are implemented differ. • First, workplaces are different and working practices are diverse. • Second, it is natural that workplace instructors vary: instructors are different in their basic education and differ in how much training they have as workplace instructors. • Moreover, in guiding students their motivation and styles differ. Vocational skills demonstration tasks are also various, as are the demands they make on the student. • At this stage, one of the most important questions related to vocational skills demonstrations is whether suitable workplaces as sites for learning will continue to be available for educational institutions and their students.

• In sum, the system of job learning and vocational skills demonstrations has contributed to the creation of closer links between education and work, closer collaboration between teachers and workplace instructors e.g. in assessment process and closer integration of theory and practice. • However, there are challenges for developing assessment of vocational skills. The issues concern assessment criteria, targets, assessor training, assessment methods, resources and tasks of the skills demonstrations.

Connection between education and working life in vocational skills demonstrations (Stenström, 2008)

Published articles, reports in English
• Grollmann, P. & Stenström, M-L. (Eds.). 2005. Quality assurance and practice-oriented assessment in vocational education and training: Country Studies. (Working Papers No. 55). University of Bremen, Institute Technology and Education. Stenström, M-L. (2008, forthcoming). Connecting Work and Learning through Demonstrations of Vocational Skills – Experiences from the Finnish VET. In M-L. Stenström & P. Tynjälä (Eds.) (2008). Towards integration of work and learning: strategies for connectivity and transformation. Amsterdam: Springer. Stenström, M-L. & Laine, K. (Eds.) (2006). Quality and Practice in Assessment: New Approaches in Work-Related Learning. Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä, Institute for Educational Research. Stenström, M-L. & Laine, K. (Eds.) (2006). Towards good practices for practice-oriented assessment in European vocational education. (Occasional Papers No. 30). Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä, Institute for Educational Research. Stenström, M-L., Laine, K. & Kurvonen, L. (2006). Practice-Oriented Assessment in Finnish VET - Towards Quality Assurance through Vocational Skills Demonstrations. In M-L. Stenström & K. Laine (Eds.), Quality and Practice in Assessment: New Approaches in Work-Related Learning (pp. 89-120). Jyväskylä: University of Jyväskylä, Institute for Educational Research.

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• Thank you for your attention!

• Further information: • Marja-Leena Stenström • The Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä

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