Exploring the concept of a semi-permeable curriculum: Mixed audience masterclasses in teacher education

Authors: Bregje de Vries, Ilona Schouwenaars, Martine Derks & Wim Folker.

Abstract

Vocational education needs to find ways to constantly update curricula to raise professionals who can face new theories and practices. In this paper, a multiple case study is presented which explores how mixed audience masterclasses can contribute to a semi-permeable curriculum defined as ‘an open-ended core curriculum with a firm base in evergreen content around which flexible elements about new content can evolve’. Six masterclasses on innovative topics in which pre- and in-service teachers learned collaboratively, were designed and evaluated. Positive findings on the educators’, teachers’ and students’ awareness of, experiences with, and appreciations of the masterclasses indicate the potential of mixed audience masterclasses. Several conditions under which they can become successful emerged, such as administrative support, and explicit design of mixed audience interactions. It is concluded that improvement of the design and implementation of the mixed audience masterclasses could further contribute to realizing a semi-permeable curriculum that offers new professional topics to teachers in all stages of their career.

Introduction to the problem

Because of education constantly changing, teacher education is in constant need of renewing its curriculum to prepare its students for emerging practices (Barnes & Solomon, 2014; Burstow & Maguire, 2014). Teacher education is not the only field facing this need. Shay (2016) explains that higher education in general is confronted with a ‘cross-fire of expectations’ to keep up with change. Through the years, this cross-fire has been mentioned in many domains, such as medical education, finance, and computer sciences (e.g., Churchill, Bowser & Preece, 2016; Jones, Higgs, De Angelis & Prideaux, 2001; Russell, 2007). It raises the question how vocational education curricula can be made more flexible in order to be able to adjust in time to new ideas and practices in the work fields. In other words, the question is what vocational education curricula should look like to be future sensitive and easily adaptable?

Due to the rapid developments in professional domains, vocational education has been confronted with yet another question: how it can contribute to the professional development of in-service professionals. In case of the educational field, the question is how teacher education institutes can contribute to the need for continuing professional development of in-service teachers working in schools. Bachelor and master degrees in vocational education and teacher education have become starting certificates rather than diplomas that last forever. In order to keep up with innovations and improvements, it is deemed necessary that in-service teachers participate in professional development programs that address both individual and organizational needs, and offer a variety of flexible activities to facilitate theory-practice discourses (e.g. Burstow & Maguire, 2014; Garet et al., 2001). Teacher education seems to hold many good cards to provide such programs: they have the network and the expertise. And over the past years, several developments in teacher education already contributed to the professional development of in-service teachers. For instance, schools and teacher education institutes have built school-university networks in which they prepare pre-service teachers and conduct research together (e.g. Baumfield & Butterworth, 2007; Benade, Hubbard & Lamb, 2017; Smith & Ulvik, 2014). This collaboration has increased awareness of a need for professional development of in-service teachers. Therefore, teacher education institutes increasingly feel responsible for offering professional development programs for in-service teachers as well.

In this paper, the central question addressed is how the teacher education curriculum can become more flexible in its structure and content in order to become future sensitive and easily adaptable to emerging theories and practices, and provide up to date programs for both pre-service and in-service teachers. To answer this question, we introduce the concept of a semi-permeable curriculum, and explore how it can contribute to teacher education in particular, and vocational education in general.

Theoretical background

In general, educational designers have frequently suggested that design products should be flexible and adaptable for sustainable implementation. Brown (2009) argues that so-called Adaptive Instructional Materials (AIM) have three characteristics: (1) they consist of building blocks; (2) the building blocks consist of reusable resources and actively support customization; and (3) materials are easily accessible. Brown concludes that “the three characteristics taken together optimally support different modes of use by being sufficiently open-ended to accommodate flexible use, yet sufficiently constrained to provide coherence and meaning with respect to its intended uses (p. 32).” Further, as Barab and Luehmann (2003) put it: “The core challenge is not to design some “correct” version of curricula or assessment that will be implemented “wholecloth” by willing teachers, but to develop flexible support structures that facilitate local adaptation and ownership of each curriculum” (p. 456). Many case studies have been conducted which illustrate that educational renewal is positively supported by design products that allow teachers and educators to make local adaptations (e.g., De Vries, Schouwenaars & Stokhof, 2017; Linn et al., 2003; Squire et al., 2003).

Additional to the micro level of curriculum design there is a well-expressed need to create flexibility at the meso level of higher education curricula that concerns the entire curriculum instead of one subject or school year (Van den Akker, 2013). In earlier years, many pleas and efforts to make higher education curricula flexible at meso level can be found. For instance, as early as 1986 Van Eijl argued that “more flexibility allows for a faster updating of the curriculum, better accessibility of the courses to different groups of students and a better adjustment to developments in the labour market and the needs of society” (p. 450). The solution explored ever since is modular programming, and designers of modular curricula have been in search of the ideal scope of modules to optimize their function as building blocks (Lucena, 2003; Snyder, Herer & Moore, 2011). Moreover, educational designers have explored ways to enlarge the flexibility of such a modular system in an online repository (Churchill, Bowser & Preece, 2016; Cook & Dupras, 2003), and have developed software that produces dynamic routings to address differentiated needs (Snyder, Herer & Moore, 2011). The belief is that modularization supports an external orientation towards the work field (e.g., Hubbal & Burt, 2004; Nieuwenhuis, 1993). In addition, it is expected to promote interdisciplinarity by combining modules from different domains in larger units (Hubbal & Burt, 2004; Lucena, 2003). The flexibility and adaptability at the school level have been given vivid names such as ‘living curriculum’ (Churchill, Bowser & Preece, 2016), and ‘dynamic curriculum’ (Derks, 2016; Hughes & Tan, 2012) to express its ambition to become future sensitive and adaptable to changes in the work field and society on the one hand, and needs of different groups of learners and stakeholders on the other.

Besides creating modular programs, it is suggested that embedding close encounters of theory and practice is a key issue to increase future sensitivity and flexibility at the meso level of curriculum design. Palonen et al. (2014) suggest to put so-called ‘knowledge practices’ at the center of learning. Likewise, Grossman et al. (2009) put a stake in the ground for letting teacher education evolve around ‘core practices’ which represent current issues of professional behavior from the work field around which creativity, adaptive expertise and metacognition are demanded to solve a problem and develop professional skills. Others have suggested to make vocational education research-based to improve the research-practice nexus by implementing authentic research projects within curricula (e.g., Vereijken et al., 2017; Van der Rijst, 2017). All the suggestions in general lead to the creation of regional school-university networks and communities of practice in which teachers in all stages of their careers come together with teacher educators and researchers in projects and programs. As a result, initial and post-initial professional development become intertwined (e.g., Derks, 2016; Timmermans, 2012). Lifelong learning has been mentioned as a framework (e.g., Iredale, 2018). Moreover, dialogue is often viewed to be an essential part of continuing professional development because in interaction professionals with different backgrounds can explicate and share their knowledge and questions and learn with and from each other (e.g., Crafton & Kaiser, 2011).

In this paper, we seek to build on those early efforts to make curricula more future-sensitive at higher levels of curriculum design by introducing the concept of a semi-permeable curriculum, defined as ‘an open-ended core curriculum with a firm base in evergreen content and timeless competencies, around which flexible elements about new content can evolve’ (De Vries, 2016). A semi-permeable curriculum provides an open-ended format at the meso level of curriculum design. It consists of a fixed backbone, surrounded by varying options around innovative knowledge practices. The modular system is taken as a starting point for building dynamic and differing routings for groups of learners. Some modules are obligatory and in fixed order whereas others are a matter of choice through which any kind of student, being a pre-service student or an in-service teacher, can deepen or broaden his/her knowledge and skills. At the meso level of curriculum design a semi-permeable curriculum gains strength by being able to include including varying work formats ranging from lectures to collaborative design and research projects. The variety improves the freedom of choice people have to work and learn in ever-changing settings and groupings. Overall, a semi-permeable curriculum strives to provide both freedom in the structure as well as the offered content and work formats.

Mixed audience masterclasses can be considered as one work format that could help turn a curriculum into a semi-permeable one. We define mixed audience masterclasses as ‘small groups of learners with mixed backgrounds gathering around authentic situations and experiences that are reflected upon by an expert, and a community of fellow learners (cf. Atkinson, Watermeyer & Delamont, 2013; Doherty, 2007). They could contribute to the semi-permeability of a curriculum because they can easily and radically change their content, and connect theory with practice by inviting experts and learners with different backgrounds to come together. Furthermore, they do not radically need to change the structure of the curriculum since fixed time slots can be reserved for the masterclasses. This makes them easily implementable from an organizational perspective. Finally, because they are rather isolated from the core curriculum on basic competencies, they can be planned in such a way that they become accessible for both students as well as in-service teachers.

Hardly any evidence can be found in the research literature on processes and effects of mixed audience work formats, but some case studies have reported positive experiences. For instance, Roback (2003) concludes: “I hadn’t anticipated (but was excited to see) the improved quality of interaction in class sections resulting from a mixed audience. I found that class questions operated on many different levels, all of which enhanced the learning atmosphere in the class” (p. 10). Similarly, Godfrey (1998) concludes that differences in prior knowledge and expectations of mixed audiences gave students a variety of experiences but at the same time demands explicit attention. Both case studies take place in other domains than teacher education, a statistics course and a software engineering course respectively, on which we seek to build with the present study.

In the remainder of this paper, an explorative study on mixed audience masterclasses in the educational field is presented which seeks to answer the following research questions: (1) How does the design of the masterclasses invite a learning dialogue between audiences? (intended curriculum); (2) To what extent can a learning dialogue between audiences be observed during the masterclasses (implemented curriculum)? (3) How do participants appreciate the mixed audience in the masterclasses? (attained curriculum).

Methods

Design of the study

The study was organized as a multiple case study of six masterclasses in two subsequent years and ran from 2015 until 2017. The study took place at a teacher education institute for primary education in the Netherlands. As the institute is located at a university of applied sciences, it collaborates with primary schools in its region in a university-school network. A significant part of its curriculum takes place at the workplace, and practice-based research is conducted within the network by teachers, students and with the support from experts and researchers. The mixed masterclasses are offered to the schools present in the network and invite their in-service teachers to join pre-service teacher students at the teacher institute. The six mixed masterclasses were part of a larger list of masterclasses that were not mixed. Pre-service teacher students could choose from the whole list, whereas in-service teachers could only subscribe to the mixed audience masterclasses. The masterclasses consisted of two or three meetings of two hours each. In between, the participants worked on a practical assignment.

Participants

Three groups of participants were involved in the masterclasses: (1) teacher educators, hereafter called ‘educators’, who designed and gave the masterclasses, often in collaboration with experts from research institutes or consultancy; (2) pre-service student teachers in their first or second year, hereafter called ‘students’; and (3) in-service teachers with varying years of experience, hereafter called ‘teachers’. The teachers could be mentors of students, but not necessarily of the students who participated in the masterclasses. Table 1 gives an overview of types and numbers of participants.

Table 1: Overview of (subscribed and) present participants in the 6 masterclasses
Masterclass Students Teachers Total 
Total (114) 91 (29) 15 (143) 106 
MC 1 Urban education (22) 9  (5) 3 (27) 12 
MC 2 Talented (9) 8 (8) 3 (14) 11 
MC 3 Values in teaching (19) 16 (3) 3 (22) 19 
MC 4 Bilingual education (20) 19 (3) 3 (23) 22 
MC 5 Programming with kids (13) 13 (3) 1 (16) 14 
MC 6 Urban Education (31) 26 (7) 2 (38) 28 

Students had to follow two masterclasses as part of their bachelor program, and subscribed through the regular student administration system. Teachers enrolled in as much mixed audience masterclasses they wanted as part of their personal development programs. All students and teachers participating in this study participated in one masterclass only. As Table 1 shows more students than teachers enrolled. This could be explained by the fact that participation was obligatory for students whereas teachers voluntarily subscribed. In addition, the numbers of students and teachers dropped significantly after subscription. In case of the teachers the small number affected the mixed nature of the masterclasses.

Instruments and procedure

Data were collected during all meetings of all six masterclasses with a mix of quantitative and qualitative instruments: collection of design products, interviews, observations, and a short questionnaire. Before the start of the masterclass, design products were collected (e.g., setup, powerpoints), and interviews with the coordinating educators were held to collect expectations and background information on the design. During the meetings, an observation protocol was used by which we collected information on (1) number, type and location of participants by drawing a map of how they were seated in the classroom, (2) the lesson structure by noting the time and the (sub)activity, and (3) interaction patterns by noting who was talking to whom about what. At the closure of the last meeting, a questionnaire was used to measure if students (N=78, 13 missing) and teachers (N=14, 1 missing) had been aware of the mixed nature, and how they experienced and appreciated it. Items were formulated as five-scale Likert items, and measured three constructs: awareness of, experience with, and appreciation of (6 items per construct). After the last meeting short semi-structured interviews with an approximate length of fifteen minutes were held with some volunteering students (N=5) and teachers (N=13) in separate small groups to ask about their opinions in more detail. The interview protocol addressed their experience with a mixed audience, their appreciation of the mixed audience in terms of what it contributed to a mixed audience interaction and their learning, and their evaluation of the setup of the masterclass in light of supporting mixed audience interaction. In the weeks after the masterclass, final semi-structured interviews with the coordinating educators (N=6; approx. length 30‒60 minutes) were held to reflect on the mixed nature of the masterclasses.

Data-analysis

The data were stored digitally. All interviews were transcribed. Analysis took place in four steps. First, the designs were analyzed for their overall structure and explicit activities/moments aimed at (mixed audience) interaction. Then, the observations were analyzed by segmenting the observed dialogue in the masterclass into dialogue patterns with a beginning, middle and end, and summarizing for all the segments if an IRF pattern (e.g., question-answer-feedback) or an IDRF pattern (dialogue comprising more extended discussion) occurred. Furthermore, the speakers in the segments were coded as either educators, students or teachers to see if and when interaction between mixed audiences took place. Next, the questionnaire data were stored in SPSS and descriptive analysis was conducted summarizing the participants’ scores on the constructs by calculating means and standard deviations. Third, the interview segments were coded and categorized as saying something related to awareness/expectation, experiences/perceptions of what happened, and appreciations. Taken together, the data gave an overview of the design and implementation of each masterclass. Finally, the within-case analyses were synthesized in a cross-case summary of findings on the design, the interaction, and the awareness, experiences and appreciations as expressed by the participants. In the next section, we report the main findings from this cross-case analysis, illustrated by excerpts taken from the individual masterclasses.

Results

We report on the outcomes of the study in three parts. First, we present findings on the designs and expectations of the educators. Then, we present findings on the meetings of the masterclasses both from the observations and reported experiences from the interviews and questionnaire. Thirdly, we present the participants reflections by reporting on their appreciations of the masterclasses as expressed in the questionnaire and interviews.

Intended curriculum: Designs and expectations

The masterclasses were designed by mixed teams of educators, experts and reseachers. The general starting point for all masterclasses was to design a masterclass that inspired by presenting new theory and practice, provided room for gaining new experiences in the practical assignment, and encouraged reflective dialogue on those experiences. All the masterclasses focused on presenting new information in the first meeting, collecting experiences between the first and the second meeting, and reflective dialogue on experiences in the second and third meetings. The design products illustrate this general setup. The powerpoints of the first meeting are extensive, provide new theories and practical examples, and aim at short dialogues between educators/experts and the participants. In the second and third meetings, the powerpoints are limited in size, mainly show procedural information, and more frequently aim at encouraging dialogue between the participants. The worksheets and products that the participants bring with them are put more central. Overall, the design products reveal their focus on interactivity by explicitly encouraging collaboration between participants, for instance: ‘discuss with your neighbour’, ‘work together with someone who has the same idea’, ‘form groups of three for discussing a case’, and ‘think-pair-share’. The examples show that although the focus is on interactivity, the educators did not explicity design mixed interactions between students and teachers. From analyzing the design products, one can not derive that we have entered a mixed audience masterclass. Only in one case, the sheets reveal an exercise in the first meeting aimed at making explicit the differences between the participants with respect to their prior knowledge and expectations.

Although the design products and materials do not reveal the mixed nature of the audience, we know from the interviews with the coordinating educators that they were well aware of the mixed nature, and expressed mixed feelings about it. For example:

“Difficult, such a diverse audience. First year students of whom I do not know what brings them here. Are they interested, are they gifted themselves, what are the questions they have. [ …] I need to look for ‘somewhere inbetween’ teachers with practical experiences, and first year students who just got acquainted with the topic. We struggled with this in the design of the masterclass. I will make that explicit at the start of the masterclass. I do think it is a positive thing, a richness encouraging an open mind. Getting to know different cases.” [ MC1]

“I had very positive expectations, an interesting starting point to let students and teachers meet […] It did not change the content of the masterclass, I did think again about the work formats, and that not all teachers would go sit together. That it will really mix.” [MC3]

Some first experiences led to incidental adjustments in the design of next meeting(s). For instance, MC2 added theoretical input in the second meeting based on expressed needs of participants, MC1 adjusted the home assignment for two participants who wanted to do the assignment in an informal learning environment, and MC1 and MC4 adjusted the content to specific prior knowledge and questions of the teachers.

Implemented curriculum: Interaction processes

In most meetings the classroom is organized in small groups. Only in MC3 the participants are seated as in a bus, and in MC4 and MC5 they sit in a square. At the start of the first meetings, most educators explicitly invite the participants to mix as they get seated. As it turns out, however, most students and teachers seat themselves in non-mixed groups. In the following meetings, the educators do not address mixed seats again at the start. During these follow-up meetings, the participants do mix during group discussions, as far as this is possible given the low number of teachers present in most masterclasses.

Most educators explicitly pay attention to the mixed audience at the beginning of the first meeting. The educator of MC1 mentions the challenge she felt to address different kinds of participants with one masterclass. Most educators start the masterclass with getting to know each other: who is present, what is their background and what are their expectations for this masterclass. In most masterclasses, getting to know each other is a short exercise in which not even all participants tell their stories. In MC1 and MC4, more extensive activities take place in the form of a quiz that makes visible different thoughts and backgrounds of participants. The educators emphasize the equality of all input and backgrounds.

In relation to the general setup, all masterclasses run as planned. The first meeting puts an accent on inspiring and informing, and the next meeting(s) on sharing experiences and reflective dialogues. All meetings are highly interactive taking the form of plenary questioning and answering, and group discussions. Most often, the dialogue is started by the educator(s) with a question or statement, to which the participants react. Although the participants also start to react on each other’s input, overall the initiating and mediating role of the educator(s) remains strong, dialogues remain rather short after which new input is provided by the educator(s). Most dialogues follow a classical IRF pattern in which the educator initiates, the participants respond, the educator gives feedback on the response, and moves on to the next question or topic. To a lesser extent, IDRF patterns emerged in which whole group discussions occured in a more extensive way. In the second and third meetings, IDRF pattters have been observed more often than in the first meeting. The following observation excerpt illustrates an IDRF pattern occurring in MC6 when the whole group discusses the meaning and appearance of ‘underwater behaviour’ from a socio-dynamic perspective. E is one of the educators, T1 is a teacher and S1234 are students:

“E asks to mention underwater behaviour of children they know of.
T1 answers; S1 and S2 also provide an answer.
S1 and S2 explain they do not fully understand the question.
E explains and rephrases: which behaviour do chilren sometimes show which is not conform the values of the classroom, but is left unspoken.
S1 mentions quick glances and mimics of children.
S3 asks: what do you do, how do you talk about it with your children?
S4 adds: is it necessary to discuss such behaviours?
T1: in my experience each group has implicit rules, you see it, but you cannot get a grip on it
S3: but I think you should make it explicit and discuss it, because it is often negative behaviour. But then again, we just concluded a few minutes ago that we should ignore negative behaviour?
E refines: sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t, sometimes you get back to it later
S1: we sometimes address such things by role playing, without names or so, and ask the children: how does this feel for you.”
[MC6]

The excerpt illustrates a discussion in which the educator initiated the topic, but after that the teacher and students start discussing the topic amongst each other, building on each other’s thoughts and experiences. In the second and third meetings, IDRF patters occurred frequently in smaller settings. In those meetings, small group discussions dominated the meeting. In the first meeting, the students did not bring in experiences since often they didn’t have any yet. This changed in the follow up meetings: by the assignment the students have gained some early experiences that they can reflect on. The educators noticed the impact of the students having collected fresh experiences. As one educator put it:

“During the second meeting knowledge sharing was central. And although this occurred to be complicated in the first meeting, this time they really entered a conversation with each other. The students felt more secure. Teachers and students started sharing knowledge with each other.” [MC4]

Summarized, it was observed that in all meetings interactivity was frequent. The interactivity changed after the first meeting, since the participants started working in groups more. But overall, the presence of the educator(s) was dominant in IRF patterns although some examples of IDRF were observed as well. The educators reflected on the interactivity in the masterclasses as being hard work, needing many interventions to maintain the conversation, and address both groups of participants:

“I planned sharing knowledge in small groups. This needed intervention from my side, because all the teachers sat together. In the plenary discussion that followed they dominated the conversation by sharing ‘how it went at their school’. Then I explicitly asked the students: how do you perceive all this, how do you experience it at your school? This intervention was really necessary, to help students take their part because teachers tend to react quickly on each other’s situations and students get forgotten.” [MC2]

The opposite of teachers dominating the conversation was also observed. In some cases the teachers withdrew from the conversation because they were too aware of the differences in experience between them and the students, and did not want to take too much space at the cost of the students. Even more, some teachers felt responsible for the students’ learning (rather than for their own!). Both teachers and educators confirmed this observation in the interviews:

“I noticed that teachers found it interesting, but at the same time were holding back, as if they thought let the students think for a while. A real dissapointment. They kept holding on to the tutor-student relationship.” [educator, MC2]

“The first meeting I felt awkward. Inclined to tell a lot, but then you think no let the students provide input first, because they are still learning. So I kept silent at that moment.” [teacher, MC3]

“It is so much fun to notice that students develop their ideas, even if I think that they might not work that well in practice. I do not say that on prupose, because I think they need to experience it themselves and see why it does or doesn’t work.” [teacher, MC5]

Attained curriculum: Awareness and appreciations

When designing the masterclasses, the educators were very much aware of the mixed audience, being in favor of creating such a rich learning environment, but also feeling anxious at the same time if and how to satisfy all the participants. To what extent and how were the students and teachers aware of the mixed nature of the masterclasses, and experienced and appreciated it? In general, the participants were moderately aware of the mixed audience during the meetings (M=2.91, SD=0.41). The extent to which they experience the mixed nature is also rather moderate (M=3.20, SD=0.40). The dominating finding here is that the number of teachers present was so low that many participants indicated they did not always experience a mixed audience. Unless this low presence of teachers, the questionnaire and interviews indicate that the participants do appreciate (the thought of) the mixed nature (M=3.23, SD=0.38). Both students and teachers explain that they learn from each other:

“Students talk about they think, teachers share experiences. I recognize from their stories they have different contact with parents, real contact that I cannot have yet as a student teacher. I can finetune my own experience by what I have heard.” [student, MC1]

“Students say we can simply do it like this, we can solve this. By experience I know that things run differently, but I do like it, a fresh view on the matter.” [teacher MC3]

Although both groups appreciate the mixed audience, they perceive different gains: students say they hear new things, and can collect real examples by hearing the examples from teachers while teachers explained that they become more aware of the knowledge and experience they have collected during the years. One of the educators confirmed this finding from the questionnaire as follows:

“I think it is really nice for students to hear so many stories from practice, to hear what experienced teachers struggle with. That there will be challenges no matter how experienced a teacher you are. At the other side, I think it is really nice for teachers to see where they come from, to become aware of what they can do already. And the importance to keep developing your skills.” [educator, MC1]

Although both students and teachers perceive knowledge gains, the interviews revealed that for some students the level of the masterclass was too high, whereas some teachers felt there was more in it for the students than for them because much information was not new to them. This finding shows the importance of addressing the participants in the right ‘zone of proximal development’ to really contribute to professional development at any stage. It can also explain for the fact that teachers sometimes stayed in their role of being a tutor, as we have indicated above.

Conclusion and reflection

In this paper, we posed the following research questions: (1) How does the design of the masterclasses invite a learning dialogue between audiences? (intentional curriculum); (2) To what extent can a learning dialogue between audiences be observed during the masterclasses (implemented curriculum)? (3) How do participants appreciate the mixed audience character of the masterclasses? (attained curriculum). By answering the questions we hope to gain first insight in if and how mixed audience masterclasses could possibly contribute to building a semi-permeable curriculum, which we defined as a future sensitive curriculum that can easily manipulate flexible elements around a fixed core curriculum, seeks the intertwinement of theory and practice, and provides a learning environment for professionals at all stages of their careers. In an answer to the first question, we saw that the design products and materials revealed a focus on interactivity and dialogical learning in either whole class or small group discussions. At the same time, the awareness of a mixed audience was not explicitly taken into account in the designs, which did not specify the different backgrounds of the participants for instance. The intended curriculum, therefore, was not pervaded with a mixed audience yet. What did we see in the implemented curriculum? In answer to the second research question, we conclude that most of the masterclasses addressed the mixed audience to a certain extent. We saw that the start of the first meeting in many cases was used to get to know each other in some way, and to express different backgrounds, experiences and questions in the group. But in several masterclasses this was a rather short exercise, in which not all participants were invited or took the chance to express themselves. In only two masterclasses an effective work format such as a quiz was implemented to make visible the mixed audience. Furthermore, we saw that the interactivity in the masterclasses was high, but the mixed character low for several reasons: the participants did not mix up physically by sitting next to each other or in mixed groups, and much of the dialogue was initiated and maintained by the educator(s) in short IRF patterns. In some cases, especially in the second and third meetings, we did find mixed IDRF conversations in which the participants co-constructed the dialogue from their different backgrounds, and educators took less dominant roles. However, we also noticed that at such “mixed moments”, their roles as tutors in the larger school-university network now sometimes prevented the teachers to put their own needs before the students’ ones even while they were not the mentors of the students participating in the masterclass. Overall, for the time being we conclude that the mixed audience masterclasses were positively evaluated by all the participants. The educators believed in the concept, and teachers and students appreciated the idea although they also indicated to be only moderately aware of the fact that there was a mixed audience.

The pitfall of this study is coming with its explorative nature. We have tried to explore and discover the merits of a new work format, mixed audience masterclasses, which seeks to combine already existing collaboration in a school-university network with fresh ideas about learning together. Being used to being the tutors of students in the workplace, we now invited the tutors to become learners themselves together with pre-service students! We saw that many of the teachers who subscribed dropped out before the masterclasses had even started. Maybe becoming a student amongst students contributed to their dropping out? The teachers who did participate confirmed they had to overcome some feelings of ‘being misplaced’ when they entered the classroom filled with groups of students. Their first inclination was to either return to their cars, or enter the classroom and team up with the few faces they recognized as “being teachers just like me”. Another simple reason that could explain for the dropouts is the back office of the teacher institute, not being used to facilitating subscriptions from outside the institute. The teachers who did show up all explained they subscribed early in the school year, received one confirmation email from the institute, and then never heard from it again. This puts rather high demands on people’s awareness of approaching data, and a sense of urgence. The teacher institute also struggled with the internal registration of students choosing from many options, which could explain for the students who subscribed but never showed up. All in all, the low number of teachers in the masterclasses hampered the exploration of mixing up audiences. The present study indicates the format is promising, but follow-up evaluations are necessary to look for its benefits more extensively. In next cycles of design and evaluation, the outcomes of this study further suggest that the participants’ awareness of the mixed nature of the masterclasses could be raised in order to make the participants more responsible for the process of learning with and from each other. At the same time, the awareness should be fed by explicit elements in the design of the masterclasses. The outcomes suggest that educators should be supported to define design principles for working with mixed audiences, which translate into work formats that explicitly address and use existing differences between participants when it comes to backgrounds and experiences, questions and needs. A design tool such as Van den Akker’s (2003) spider web, which guides micro designing of lesson structures and materials, could be helpful. The spider web discerns nine design issues that need to be addressed in any design: goals, content, activities, teacher role, sources/materials, grouping, context, time allocations, and ways of assessment and feedback. Some of these issues have appeared to be important to realize an effective mixed audience learning environment. For instance, we saw that people do not mix naturally. In the design, interventions to fysically mix audiences should be present (context, grouping). In addition, articulating prior knowledge and learning needs should be part of the design of a mixed audience masterclass, and dialogue activities could guide the constructive comparison and complementarity of the knowledge and questions present. This implies interventions related to content and activities, and should affect the role of the educator (guiding and following the discussion rather than instructing and dominating it) as well as help teachers and students to become equal partners in learning.

As a final reflection, we would like to address the main question raised in this paper, if and how mixed audience masterclasses contribute to a semi-permeable curriculum. We think that our first experiences with the mixed audience masterclasses positively support the expectation that they could contribute to future sensitivity, an improved theory-practice nexus, and lifelong learning. At this stage, educators, teachers and students favor the mixed setting, and recognize several benefits of the encounter. The educational field is full of innovations that need to be introduced and explored by any teacher no matter in which stage of career development (s)he is, and the masterclasses provide room for that in the curriculum. The presented study shows the potential of putting pre- and in-service teachers together around such themes in easy to adapt masterclasses. At the same time, it also reveals several conditions in both the organization and design of the mixed audience masterclasses that are necessary to create new relationships between the mixed audiences for the benefit of all. With the masterclasses we have only begun to see how mixed audience formats, of which a masterclass is only one possibility, could contribute to a flexible and future sensitive professional learning program that starts with initial education but is implemented across all stages of teachers’ careers’.

Practical implications

Now we get back where we started. Almost any profession nowadays deals with rapidly evolving new theories, practices, techniques and strategies. Raising professionals for the future is a design problem recognized by many faculties of (higher) vocational education. As we have argued before, the demands on vocational education are diverse and high, and since we often cannot foretell what will be needed in a profession in the (near) future exactly, curriculum design has to become as flexible as possible to be able to adapt just in time and continuously. In this light, others have presented solutions under the heading of ‘modularization’ (Lucena, 2003; Snyder, Herer & Moore, 2011), ‘living curriculum’ (Churchill, Bowser & Preece, 2016), or dynamic curriculum (Derks, 2016; Hughes & Tan, 2012). The presentation of the concept of a semi-permeable curriculum in this paper seeks to contribute to this quest. Finally, by emphasizing that curricular puzzles need to be worked out at all levels of curriculum design, from nano and micro lessons to meso and macro structures, we suggest that across all those levels, the concept of semi-permeability could be further explored to give further expression to the fact that some parts in a professional field remain evergreen and should be seen as part of a core curriculum, whereas other parts of the curriculum will be fed and constituted by recent developments in either theory or practice that are deemed important in the near future, and may become evergreen elements in time. We hope the concept inspires educational designers and educators to embrace the quest for balance between old and new. Moreover, we hope it inspires many professionals in each stage of their career to embrace lifelong learning and enter the semi-permeable curriculum to learn together.

Authors

Bregje de Vries, PhD, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU), The Netherlands
Ilona Schouwenaars, M.Sc., University of Applied Sciences Arnhem en Nijmegen (HAN), The Netherlands
Martine Derks, M.Sc., University of Applied Sciences Arnhem en Nijmegen (HAN), The Netherlands
Wim Folker, M.Sc., Director of SKPCPO Delta, Arnhem, The Netherlands


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Methods and Tools to Improve Collaborative Lifelong Learning

Authors: Rebecca Eliahoo, Marcelo Giglio & Loes van Wessum.

Abstract

This paper describes a three-stage method for teachers and researchers to collaborate and co-create ideas for future practice, to improve collaborative lifelong learning. Using a thematic network group, practitioner-researchers and practitioners associated with the European Association for Practitioner Research on Improving Learning (EAPRIL) came to a shared understanding of possible teacher actions, methods and tools which can be used to improve collaborative lifelong learning processes and support the professional development of teachers.

Three case studies are given as examples of developing lifelong learning processes through collaboration. The EAPRIL thematic network group borrow and adapt the concept of ‘‘interthinking’’ (Littleton & Mercer, 2013) as a process of investigating collaborative talk in the pursuit of collective intellectual endeavour. The focus was on collaboration, as this can have positive effects of social interaction for learning (Littleton, Miell & Faulkner, 2004). “Of all the conditions that feed deep learning, collaboration is at the heart of them” (Fullan, Quinn & McEachen, 2018, p. 97).

Roundtable discussions were held in an international ‘interthinking’ group’ to collate practitioners’ perspectives on ways of encouraging and supporting creative collaborations and lifelong learning for staff and students. Following this, a call was sent out for international case studies which form part of this article.

Introduction

Practitioners from one of EAPRIL’s¹ thematic networks (https://eapril.org/node/16) worked together to gather examples of professional experiences, ideas, educational visions, methods, tools and/or results of research. The question we asked ourselves was: how to improve collaborative lifelong learning for the future of education? These professional insights formed part of an international roundtable workshop which collated practitioners’ case studies and instructive examples.

Part of the roles of Universities of Applied Sciences (UAS) is to encourage creative practices and educational research. Richardson and Placier (2001) consider that teachers can change practice by learning, development, socialization, growth, improvement, implementation of education with new or different visions, cognitive and affective change, and studies. In this sense, our international ’interthinking group’, was largely drawn from UAS institutions within the context of the EAPRIL Conference in November of 2017 in Häme University of Applied Sciences, Hämeenlinna, Finland.

The thematic network group felt that it was important to build collaborative relationships both internally and externally, even to the extent of encouraging schools, and other educational institutions, to plan ways of incorporating collaborative skills alongside discipline-specific competences, for both staff and students.

  1. The ‘inter-thinking group’ used a three-stage method which involved:
  2. The leaders of the thematic network pose questions within a roundtable workshop where interthinking groups collate their answers.
  3. Members of each interthinking group share and collate their answers in a plenary session.
  4. The plenary group co-create a shared understanding through a Cloud-based shared document.

The thematic network group leaders and one member of the interthinking group use the shared understanding to write this article and to include three international case studies focusing on collaborative lifelong learning.

Interthinking group Stage 1

The interthinking group was asked to arrange their roundtable discussions so that each table, comprising three to six members in the same room, was made up of people from different countries. They were asked to focus on exploring the ways in which each country introduces new forms of thinking and acting to improve collaborative learning and lifelong learning in education for all. Participants were asked to focus on three topics:

a) Given any recent educational reforms in your country, what is the role of Universities of Applied Sciences in encouraging creative practice and educational research on collaborative competencies and lifelong learning?

b) Identify any new approaches to teaching quality improvement. This includes teacher actions and research perspectives within your context/level of education, instruction, or vocational training.

c) From these discussions, please write down any new teacher actions and research perspectives you have highlighted in your group.

Interthinking group Stage 2

Each table was asked to appoint a chair who would take notes and share their group’s ideas and observations in a plenary. The thematic network group leaders helped facilitate these discussions.

Interthinking group Stage 3

During the plenary, each chair summarised their group’s comments whilst the thematic network leaders wrote these down in a shared document. As the document was projected on a screen, it could be checked immediately and amended in real time.

The thematic group leaders used the data selected during the interthinking group session to write this article. They invited members of the interthinking group to contribute case studies to add to the article. One of the members accepted and together this article was written.

We begin by reporting on the findings of the interthinking groups’ roundtable discussions from the EAPRIL conference; then we present the more in-depth cases which provide instructive examples of collaborative lifelong learning. Each case is structured in the same way highlighting their context, methods and tools, contribution and implications; and finally, we discuss our conclusions.

Interthinking groups’ roundtable findings

Methods and tools used by Universities of Applied Sciences to encourage creative practice and educational research on collaborative competencies and lifelong learning

In general, for schools, colleges and universities, the interthinking groups reported that one of the ways in which UAS encourage collaborative competences and lifelong learning, would include peer review and observations in classrooms. This could take the form of ‘Learning Walks’, where teachers allow colleagues to observe their classrooms on an informal and non-judgemental basis. The interthinking groups described this peer evaluation as a form of learning, citing other examples such as structured professional discussions between teachers; the creation of personal teaching logs, vlogs (a blog in which postings are primarily in video form) and diaries which can capture important aspects of classroom practice; regular informal meetings and networking, so that teachers share best practices across contexts and institutions; and lifelong career support through mentoring and/or coaching.

Several people suggested ‘intervision’ or ‘action learning’ (McGill & Brockbank 2004), a peer coaching activity which aims to develop professional expertise and help colleagues gain insight into their work problems (see Case Study 2). Practitioners of ‘intervision’ or ‘action learning’ claim that it can bring a practical understanding of theory, as well as contributing towards a collaborative culture where people feel collectively responsible for their organisation and its performance.

Whether it’s through informal learning over a cup of coffee; or through supported experiments, action research or student co-creation, it was felt that collaboration remains an important part of the professional development of educators and students (see Case Study 3).

However, teacher collaboration is a means to achieve an end. The interthinking groups stressed that space must be made for a research-based and scholarly approach in order to help define goals and shed light on outcomes and sustain visions of education’s future. Otherwise, collaboration can become a content-less waste of time. Teachers must feel that collaboration helps them teach and integrate into a professional learning community or community of practice (Wenger, 1998), instead of feeling forced to collaborate and experiencing loss of autonomy. Collaboration only works within a climate of openness and trust, as demonstrated in Case Study 1 (Van Grieken, Meredith, Packer & Kyndt, 2017).

Participants in the ‘interthinking’ groups were contacted after the EAPRIL 2017 Conference and asked if they would like to contribute more in-depth case studies, three of which are presented later in this article.

Professional learning communities as a form of collaborative and lifelong learning

Over the last few decades, the language of collaboration and collegiality has shifted more towards the terminology of ‘professional learning communities’ or ‘communities of practice’ (Wenger, 1998) which comprise different types of institutions or organizations coming together in the interest of a shared enterprise or purpose.

This is illustrated by Little’s research (2006) focusing on community and professional development as foundations for learning-centred schools. She argued that when schools systematically support professional learning, they are more likely to be effective with students. Little’s paper (2006) examines a selective sample of research, looking for the ways in which investment in teachers’ professional learning in North American schools might have an effect on students’ learning.

Little (2006) concluded that schools exhibiting a high level of success with students tend to have working environments that are also conducive to teacher learning:

In these schools, teacher learning arises out of close involvement with students and their work; shared responsibility for student progress; access to new knowledge about learning and teaching; sensibly organized time; access to the expertise of colleagues inside and outside the school; focused and timely feedback on individual performance and on aspects of classroom or school practice; and an overall ethos in which teacher learning is valued and professional community cultivated. (p. 23)

In professional learning communities (PLCs), professionals collaborate on improving student learning and share the responsibility for all students to learn (Lomos, Hofman & Bosker, 2011). This collaboration also contributes to the professional development of the teachers (Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace & Thomas, 2006; Vescio, Ross & Adams, 2008). If teachers focus on changing their instructional practices, PLCs are successful in improving student achievement (Supovitz, 2002).

Many elements identified by the interthinking groups also appeared in the following three case studies.

Case study 1: Collaboration between an English UAS and community colleges for innovative curriculum design

Context

This case study relates to an innovative initial teacher education course in the UK, which was re-designed by Rebecca Eliahoo in her role as UAS programme leader, in collaboration with course leaders from eight different community colleges. The aim was to improve in-service, part-time courses, for example, by correcting over-assessment and employing a greater variety of assessment for learning methods. The courses offered professional qualifications for teachers in the Lifelong Learning Sector, which has several definitions in the UK, but is generally understood to cover education for students over 16 years of age, as well as adult and community education. This case study is empirical in nature as it deals with the gathering of information through direct personal and professional experience and concerns research applied to a specific group of UK teacher educators.

Method and tools

The course leaders from each college met regularly at the University for professional development workshops facilitated by the UAS programme leader, using Cloud technology to share ideas, resources and draft modules. Module leaders from all the colleges were also invited to assignment writing seminars, research days and cross moderation meetings, where they were provided with discussion materials and resources to discuss ways of improving practice and re-designing the curriculum.

New module leaders and course leaders were given written and oral guidance on their role and offered mentoring, as well as opportunities to collaborate with more experienced practitioners on marking and moderation.

Contribution

This collegial involvement (Little 1990) provided a benign environment for colleagues from different institutions to exchange practice, design assessments and share resources. The University-college teacher education consortium also jointly won two research bids. For example, two of the colleges worked together to create free resources to help teachers support their learners’ literacy and literacy (see link: http://supportingliteracyandesol.blogspot.co.uk/).

The UAS and colleges’ investment in their lecturers’ time together resulted firstly, in the development of closely bound groups with high levels of trust in each other’s professionalism (Van Grieken, Meredith, Packer, Kyndt, 2017) and with ‘collectively held beliefs, ideas and intentions’ (Little 1990); and secondly, their collaborative work had a positive impact on teacher trainees and ultimately their learners. However, it took a couple of years to embed these collegial working practices, building sufficient trust between colleagues from different institutions.

For example, the emphasis of the courses shifted towards inquiry learning and critical thinking within an ethical framework. Going back to first principles in teacher education, it was felt that assessment of trainee teachers had to be rooted in practice. Course assessments were therefore linked directly to observed teaching practice, so that these were spread throughout the course. Different educational learning theories were actively modelled by module leaders during course delivery; and trainee teachers were asked to evaluate the impact of their teaching on their own learners.

Collaborative and inquiry learning, which exemplified the notion of teaching as action research, were used throughout the courses through supported experiments (Petty, 2017) and then in action research projects, so that the teacher trainees could engage critically with educational literature. Supported experiments involve teachers in experimenting with their teaching, changing something important and reflecting on this in the light of learner and colleague feedback. The assessed research project focused on researching an aspect of subject specialist practice.

Module leaders, who were also tutors and mentors, were asked to audio-record professional discussions with teacher trainees and these were particularly effective for vocational and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) teacher trainees, non-graduates and those with dyslexia. The piloting of audio recording professional discussions had shown that teacher trainees could identify their strengths and areas for development more critically within a dialogue, rather than in an essay.

The design of valid and innovative assessment methods was a direct result of the grass-roots curriculum development and ideas creation which had emanated from the UAS and college practitioners’ collaborations.

Implications

This case shows the crucial role of Universities of Applied Science in supporting the professional development of colleagues from different types of institutions who are also teaching Higher Education courses; as well as the richness and diversity of design ideas and resources which can be garnered from teachers who are not based in Universities.

Case study 2: School leader development programme created through UAS and primary schools’ collaboration

Context

This case study relates to a two-year innovative school leader development programme in the Netherlands led by Loes van Wessum in which nine principals of primary schools (from three school boards) collaborated with five advisors from the UAS. Three of the UAS advisors had pedagogical expertise and two – including the project leader – had expertise in educational change, CPD and leadership.

The focus of the programme was to help principals to develop an analytical culture which could stimulate professionals to work with an inquiry habit of mind within primary schools. In Dutch schools, data are available, but teachers and principals don’t use them very often as information to improve student learning (Schildkamp & Lai, 2013). Three school boards turned to a UAS for help so that schools could develop their capacity to enhance data driven teaching. In line with developing professional learning communities, data driven teaching can also be used as a professional development strategy. Principals were stimulated to use leadership practices which could contribute to the development of PLC’s.

Methods and tools

Principals collaborated with advisors on two intertwined topics: enhancing their learning results in maths and language through collaboratively analyzing and reflecting on these results within school; and enhancing the inquiry habits of minds of teachers by using new forms of leadership practices.

Developing an inquiry habit of mind can be described as a habit of using inquiry and reflection to think about where you are, where you are going, and how you will get there; and then turning around and rethinking the whole process to see how well it is working, before making adjustments (Earl & Katz, 2006). It involves teachers thinking about what they can do to contribute to student learning, acting on it and checking the effects of their instructional practices on students’ learning.

UAS advisors took the role of ‘critical friend’ on the understanding that they would be encouraged to speak truthfully, but constructively, about weaknesses, problems or emotionally charged issues. Principals collaborated with each other on the same topics in three workshops each year using an ‘intervision’ or ‘action learning’ peer coaching approach (McGill and Brockbank 2004).

These workshops were facilitated by the project leader, UAS advisors and a senior researcher. The preparation of the workshops also included the central office administrators from the three boards, who were participating in the workshops. One unexpected result was that these office administrators also started to collaborate within the bounds of the innovative leadership programme.

At the end of each workshop, principals completed learning reports in which they answered two questions about their learning outcomes (‘what did you learn in this workshop?’) and their learning activities (‘what contributed to this?’).

Contribution

Analysis of all the learner reports showed that principals expanded their practical and theoretical knowledge base; reflected on their roles and underlying assumptions; and learned to experiment with new leadership practices. They mentioned collaboration with both the advisors and other principals as the most important learning activity.

In the first year of the programme, principals collaborated through storytelling and sharing ideas, as well as asking and providing each other with assistance in the form of giving suggestions. In the second (ongoing) year, the programme will also use deeper forms of collaboration (Van Grieken, Dochy, Raes & Kyndt, 2015), such as sharing and analyzing data together, reflective dialogue (in which an analysis is made before giving suggestions to solve the problem) and providing aid and assistance.

Implications

Principals’ professional development can be stimulated if it focuses on teachers’ learning and school improvement.  Principals’ learning processes can also be enhanced through the development of explicit collaborative reflection, which can help them in several ways. Firstly, to realize how leadership practices can contribute to teachers’ learning and school development; and secondly, reflection can help them to widen deliberately their repertoire of leadership practices (Ericsson, 2006).  This UAS-school collaboration helped them to become aware of their own tacit knowledge and mental models (Senge, 1990) and in becoming more aware of their own mindsets, they felt able to question them.

As mentioned by the EAPRIL interthinking group, the combination of formal and informal learning activities which contribute to teachers’ learning and school improvement, together with peers and experts, seems to be a fruitful approach for enhancing principals’ professional development.

Case study  3: Group creation & innovation method: professional and collaborative visions of the assessment of cross-curricular competencies

Context

This case study relates to an innovative method of practitioner research in Switzerland, which was designed by Marcelo Giglio in his position as head of research project (UAS HEP-BEJUNE), and in collaboration with Céline Miserez Caperos (HEP-BEJUNE), Régine Roulet (Heads of teachers’ continuing education programmes), Christiane Droz Giglio (Department of Education, canton of Neuchâtel) and thirteen different community colleges.

This case study is illustrated by a dynamic method of co-creation, innovation and co-diffusion of groups among different actors: collaboration and networking between different positions of primary school, teacher education and educational research. The objective is to improve ways of thinking and acting on assessment for learning as part of the prescribed cross-curricular competencies which form part of the new curricula of Switzerland: PER (Plan d’études romand) which apply to school pupils up to the age of 16.

The Swiss canton of Neuchâtel proposed assessment for learning progression with competency expectations across multiple developmental stages, ages and grade levels in primary schools. It isn’t easy for teachers when they have to categorise and organize progression by subject area and by cross-curricular competencies (such as creativity, collaboration and reflection). Children are expected to learn these skills as they progress through their education by using assessed portfolios. Furthermore, these collaborative, lifelong learning skills are always evolving towards the future; are never exhaustive; and need to be assessed.

We can define assessment for learning as a process of collecting and interpreting evidence for use by pupils and their teachers to decide where learners are in their learning progression, where they need to go and how best to get there (Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall & Wiliam, 2007; Broadfoot, Daugherty, Gardner, Harlen, James & Stobart, 2002). How can teachers learn and develop new forms of assessment for learning in class? In particular, how can teachers assess learning progression on cross-curricular competencies in terms of creativity, collaboration, communication and reflection?

Methods and tools

This case study relates to a three-phase method of Group creation & innovation carried out since 2013 in the canton of Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The goals of this project are:

  • To improve the practices of assessment for learning in primary schools.
  • To increase the quality of teachers’ advisors in assessment for learning progression by portfolios.
  • To enhance the scenarios of teacher education and workplace internships on assessment for collaborative lifelong learning.

Cross-curricular competencies and skills require new teaching actions that focus on collaborative learning progression. This means that pupils could be committed to verbalizing, drawing, writing or presenting a plan, model or theory in the form of a schema, using different ways of thinking, acting and interacting creatively and reflectively in class. Such competences can also benefit their lifelong learning habits.

Indeed, it is necessary that pupils learn to self-evaluate, distinguish and compare their point of view about their own learning progress with the teacher’s (Giglio & Rothenbühler, 2014). This is a challenge for the future of education and learning: to train pupils in lifelong learning, using what is available in today’s world, so that they can adapt to an unknown new world, in ways that are collaborative, creative and reflexive, as well as in ways which encourage deep learning (Fullan, Quinn & McEachen, 2018).

In terms of collaborative learning, social and cultural skills, as well as competencies, can be considered as important as different school subjects. They require both teachers and pupils to use different assessment for learning approaches (Tessaro, Gerard & Giglio, 2017).

Phase 1 – Collaboration as the driver for creativity:

The first phase of this Group creation & innovation method was inspired by R. Keith Sawyer’s study of ‘group genius’ (2007) which considers collaboration to be the driver for creativity. Rather than concentrating on an individual’s capacity to develop creative ideas, Sawyer’s studies focused on innovations emerging from the dynamic of a group.

Each Group creation & innovation comprises six members with different educational professions and institutional roles:

  • teacher,
  • teachers’ student,
  • teacher mentor,
  • teacher advisor,
  • teacher educator, and
  • researcher

The researchers coordinate 90-minute collaborative sessions which aim to provide favourable conditions so that each group member can think about their shared current good practices, on the one hand; and about the future of education and learning, on the other hand. This is not only from their own educational profession and position, but also in a collaborative situation from the point of view of other educational professions and roles.

From each other’s current experiences, each group member contributes, in a creative and innovative way, to professional development and teacher training. In addition, this type of collaboration between teacher educators, teachers’ students, practitioners and researchers is an activity that can trigger what Engeström describes as Expansive Learning (1999). It is by analysing new situations that these education professionals can create and innovate tools, try them out, consolidate them and come up with a new and improved step-by-step educational contribution. This work can help develop new, future uses, creative and perhaps innovative teaching practices, as part of a collective work geared towards education and learning in the future. All these Group creation & innovation sessions were recorded, transcribed and analysed by researchers.

Phase 2 – Sharing, compiling and consolidating collaborative visions in a professional community:

The second meetings are for researchers to present examples of future visions of assessment for learning progression to each working group of teachers’ advisors or to teacher educators. The aim is to collaborate towards a compilation and consolidation of these visions of future education. Each separate 90-minute session was recorded, transcribed and analysed by researchers.

Phase 3 – Co-dissemination and enriching to other colleagues:

The third phase of this Group creation & innovation method is for these visions, as well as the research results, to be shared and enhanced with other colleagues in another session. This is implemented by every team formed of a researcher, or a teachers’ advisor or a teacher educator separately.

Examples of future visions of assessment for learning progression are separately presented to each working group (teachers’ advisors and teacher educators) by the researchers, to consolidate these visions of future education.

Lastly, these visions, as well as the research results, are co-disseminated to other colleagues. This is implemented by every team formed of a researcher, a teachers’ advisor and a teacher educator.

During these co-dissemination approaches, teams use the following approach:

  1. Introduction of the objective of the session;
  2. Presentation of the project’s theoretical and methodological aspects and researchers’ results;
  3. Audio recording of participants’ discussions and noting pathways for proposed visions of future education, especially assessment for learning progression;
  4. Sharing of these creative and innovative visions of education;
  5. Selection and analysis of data (recorded discussions, documents and researchers’ notes).

Contribution

In the content of the participants’ discussions, we can identify the challenges of collaboration between different institutions (schools, minister and UAS-teacher education) and between different educational roles to improve evaluation in the present and in the future of education. Among these challenges, there is only some coherence between the usual field practices and the tools needed to assess learning progression on cross-curricular competencies in terms of creativity, collaboration, communication and reflection. These competencies are constantly evolving in the face of an unknown future. Evaluation tools must be open to the uncertain future of society and education. In addition, the pupil’s place in the assessment for learning process is very important for their collaborative lifelong learning in terms of creativity, collaboration and communication. We are currently studying the actions of teachers by supporting, coaching and advising pupils in their learning or self-regulated learning.

Implications

The Group creation & innovation process allows members of the teaching profession to create a collective group of reflections and analyses, in order to produce certain lines of action and perspectives which are based on the results of the study. These documents and recordings are used by the researchers to witness and supervise new research objects with practitioners from most of these groups of educational professions.

What do these three collaborative lifelong learning cases demonstrate in terms of methods, tools and contribution to professional development?

These three international instructive examples were used as short case studies which showed firstly, that for collaboration to be effective, it requires time to build up trust between participants, as trust and group cohesion are building blocks for innovation. A prerequisite of effective collaboration is the identification of goals and/or aims which should be clearly articulated. The cases highlighted the roles of peer mentoring and coaching which can be powerful tools for group integration and sustainability. Importantly, in all the cases, collaboration between different types of institutions (for instance schools and UAS; colleges and UAS) stimulated positive pedagogical changes that also helped change individuals’ professional mindsets.

Clearly, evaluations of collaborative learning (for example, learner reports) can also contribute to widening the repertoire of pedagogical and leadership practices. Indeed, collaborative learning can be a driver for creativity through triggering expansive learning (Engeström 1999), thereby enabling practitioners, teachers, teacher educators and students to create, experiment with and review new teaching practices.

In all three cases, the ultimate goal was to enhance the assessment performance of teachers or teacher trainees which contributes to students’ learning, especially where this helps develop students’ capabilities to assess their own learning (Hattie, 2009; Dewitt, 2017).

Within schools, research shows that teachers have the greatest impact on students’ learning (Hattie, 2003; Mourshed, Chijioke, & Barber, 2010) followed by the impact of school principals (Leithwood, Harris & Hopkins,  2008). School principals and teacher educators have an important, if indirect, impact on students’ learning because they can enhance teachers’ professional development (Robinson 2007).

In the cases presented above, a systematic and sustainable approach was used. We believe that stimulating the professional development of the secondary contributors towards student learning – teacher educators and principals – as well as focussing on the professional development of teachers and teacher trainees will have a greater influence on learning. This is because school principals and teacher educators would be enabled to facilitate better quality and more targeted professional development for teachers and teacher trainees who, in turn, can enhance student learning.

The cases also show that inter-organizational professional collaboration between teacher educators or principals can benefit from the participation of UAS colleagues in the role of critical friends. When collaboration concerning authentic problem solving is used as deliberate practice for professional development, for example, by setting and reflecting on learning goals or using assessment performance instruments like learner reports, it enhances the cognitive, emotional, motivational and behavioural learning of teacher educators and principals. This is comparable with effective features of professional development programs for teachers (Darling-Hammond, Hyler &  Gardner, 2017).

Deeper forms of collaboration as joint work (Van Grieken, et.al.,2015) contribute to professional development of teacher educators and principals. But context also matters. Collaboration contributes to and depends on the development of professional capital (Fullan & Hargreaves, 2012) through sharing and creating knowledge and beliefs as well as mutual trust and respect.

Conclusion

We now return to the initial question posed to the interthinking group: how to improve collaborative lifelong learning for the future of education and learning? Answers came from the participants who were asked to work in roundtable interthinking groups comprising educators from different countries, including Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. The principal examples of effective practice that they discussed, based on their own practical experiences, were:

  • The use of video to capture and reflect on one’s own teaching, which participants felt it was relatively easy to set up and which has the potential to enhance teachers’ own learning.
  • Collaboration and networking were effective where school and college leaders provided time for such activities.
  • Students were given a real-world task which was a joint assignment. One example asked students to go through a cycle identifying what the problem was and what research questions there were. Lastly, the students were asked to cooperate and discuss progress with their supervisor and groups of peers. This made them communicate with their peers, tutors, and a real-world assignment holder before the work was assessed by tutors.
  • Another example cited used student groups to tackle a real-world task, with the best assignment being sent to the client as a finished project.
  • Some participants wanted to use ‘ill-defined problems’ in order to provoke discussion and argument around these problems, before being in a position to reach a consensus.

The participants of the interthinking’ group not only came from different countries, but also from a variety of disciplines. They therefore had different theoretical backgrounds and different methodological approaches to learning in their own disciplines.

Researchers in collaborative learning (Littleton, Miell & Faulkner, 2004) highlight the need to discuss the different facets of interaction, within which lie the important roles of conflict, planning, negotiation, exploratory talk and professional dialogue.

The group also highlighted the difficulties which arise in the act of collaboration itself. For example, lack of time – even with online meetings. As social beings, teachers may prefer to collaborate face to face, even when the goals are not very clear. Participants felt that it was important to avoid situations when it’s easier just to muddle along on your own.

The group agreed, however, that without reflection on the experiences of collaboration and networking, there would be no educational benefit. A research-based and/or scholarly approach needs to be taken and actions should represent more than just being ‘a good idea’.

¹ European Association for Practitioner Research on Improving Learning

Acknowledgements

With thanks to members of the EAPRIL Cloud 3 ‘interthinking’ group at the Hämeenlinna Conference in November 2017.

With thanks to the National Education Association in the USA for permission to cite from Little’s Professional Community and Professional Development in the Learning-Centered School.

With thanks to members of the Service de l’enseignement obligatoire (SEO) du Département de l’éducation et de la famille, Canton et république de Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Glossary  
Adviser Educational developer 
Lecturer Teacher working in a Further Education college or a Higher Education Institution 
Principal Head teacher of a school 
Pupil A person, especially a child at school, who is being taught 
Student A person who is learning at a college or university 
Teacher School teacher 
Teacher trainee In-service or pre-service teacher in training 

Authors

Dr Rebecca Eliahoo, PhD,  Educational consultant
Dr Marcelo Giglio, PhD, Professor, Head of research projects, HEP-BEJUNE, Switzerland & University of Neuchâtel
Dr Loes van Wessum, PhD, Associate professor Leadership in Education, Windesheim UAS, The Netherlands


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Kielikahvilassa

Aina kannattaa kokeilla! – Kielenopetuskokeiluja Jyväskylän ammattikorkeakoulussa

Jyväskylän ammattikorkeakoulun kielikeskus on ollut aktiivisesti mukana JAMKin nopeissa kokeiluissa. Kieltenopetusta on ollut haluttu kehittää opiskelijalähtöisempään ja elinikäistä oppimista korostavaan suuntaan, ja JAMKin sisäisen kehityksen hankkeet ovat tarjonneet siihen hyvän mahdollisuuden. Opiskelijalähtöisessä oppimisessa opettaja nähdään valmentajana, ohjaajana tai jopa kätilönä (Weimer 2013, 60–62). Sen sijaan, että opettaja loisi valmiita oppimisrakenteita, hän tukee opiskelijaa tekemään itse arviointia, valintoja ja rakentamaan itselleen sopivia oppimisen tapoja (mts. 59–60). Opiskelijalähtöisyys on varsinkin monelle kansainväliselle opiskelijalle uudenlainen oppimisen tapa. Innovaatioita kehitettäessä on hyvä muistaa, että asiakas ei aina osaa arvioida, mitä tarvitsee, koska hän tarkastelee asioita aiemman kokemuksensa ja oman tietotasonsa raameissa (ks. esim. Cooper, Vlaskovits & Ries 2013, 111, 113). Opettajan asiantuntemus on tärkeä tavoitteita ja toimintatapoja luodessa. Seuraavassa kuvataan neljää kokeilua, jotka on toteutettu vuosina 2013–2016 osana JAMKin pedagogisia kehityshankkeita.

Language Café – kieliä ja kahvia

Language Café -kokeilun tarkoituksena on tarjota sekä JAMKin opiskelijoille että henkilökunnalle mahdollisuus harjoittaa kielitaitoaan rennossa ja epämuodollisessa ympäristössä. Tapaamisia järjestetään kerran viikossa opiskelijakunta JAMKOn kahvilassa, jossa osallistujat keskustelevat eri kielillä, enimmäkseen kuitenkin suomeksi ja englanniksi, erilaisten pelien, tehtävien ja kahvikupin äärellä. Paikalla on myös kieltenopettaja, jonka rooli on kuitenkin vain tarvittaessa aktivoida keskustelua ja avustaa mahdollisten kysymysten kanssa ilman varsinaista opettajajohtoista opetusta.

Language Café

Kieli- ja kulttuurivaihtoa verkossa

Tandem-hankkeessa suomalaiset ja ranskalaiset opiskelijat keskustelevat verkon välityksellä englanniksi. Hankkeessa ovat olleet mukana Jyväskylän ammattikorkeakoulu ja Aix-Marseille Université. Tavoitteena on kannustaa opiskelijoita viestimään suullisesti englannin kielellä vertaistensa kanssa aidoissa tilanteissa. Kaikki hankkeessa mukana olevat opiskelijat opiskelevat englantia vieraana kielenä. Tilanne vastaa suurimman osan opiskelijoista tulevaisuuden kielitarpeita, sillä englantia käytetään työelämässä usein viestittäessä ei-syntyperäisten kielenkäyttäjien kanssa.

Työelämän viestintää projektiopintoina verkossa

Työelämän viestinnän verkko-opiskelun haasteisiin vastattiin projektityöskentelymallilla. Hankkeen tavoitteena oli opiskelijoiden asiantuntijuuden ja työelämän viestintäkokemusten nostaminen esille, verkko-opetuksen haasteisiin, kuten ryhmäytymiseen, opiskeluun sitouttamiseen ja vuorovaikutteisuuteen, vastaaminen sekä verkkoteknologian tehokas hyödyntäminen ja projektimuotoinen työskentely. Opiskelijat ovat olleet innostuneita työskentelytavasta. Opiskelijalähtöisyys, vuorovaikutteisuus ja koulutusteknologian tarvelähtöinen hyödyntäminen onnistuivat hankkeessa.

Alakohtaisuutta ja autonomiaa portfoliotyöskentelyllä

Portfoliomallilla opetusta vietiin alakohtaiseen, opiskelija- ja työelämälähtöiseen sekä elinikäistä oppimista korostavaan suuntaan. Portfoliossaan opiskelijat asettavat itselleen kehittymistavoitteita sekä arvioivat taitotasoaan ja oppimistaan. Tavoitteidensa saavuttamiseksi opiskelijat joko valitsevat tehtäviä opettajan tarjoamista tehtävistä tai luovat itse tehtävänantoja. He saavat palautetta työskentelystään ja voivat kehittää sitä saamansa palautteen pohjalta. Malli tukee elinikäistä oppimista, koska tehtävien avulla voi löytää motivoivia tapoja oppia kieltä arkielämässä luokkahuoneen ulkopuolella.

Kokeiluista käytänteiksi

Kaikki neljä kokeilua ovat tuottaneet JAMKin kieltenopiskeluun uusia opiskelijalähtöisiä toimintatapoja. Työelämän viestinnän opinnot jatkuvat projektimuotoisina verkossa ja monimuotokursseina. Opiskelijat saavat oman valintansa mukaan käyttää keskinäiseen viestintäänsä esimerkiksi Whatsappia, sähköpostia tai oppilaitoksen Yammeria. Yhteisiä tehtäviä voidaan toteuttaa vaikkapa Word Onlinessa. Koko ryhmän käytössä ovat esimerkiksi verkkoneuvotteluohjelma Adobe Connect Pro ja mahdollisuuksien mukaan myös kasvokkain tapaamiset. Opettajien tekemät ohjevideot auttavat opiskelijoita kirjallisen materiaalin lisäksi omaksumaan kurssin asioita. Ryhmäytymiseen on pyritty kiinnittämään erityistä huomiota varsinkin kurssin alussa, jolloin on järjestetty tapaamisia joko verkossa tai kasvokkain.

Portfoliomalli on käytössä suomi toisena kielenä -opinnoissa Kirjoita suomeksi -kurssilla sekä Työelämän englanti -kurssilla. Haasteena on koettu opiskelijoiden itsearviointi ja omien opintojen suunnittelu oman tason mukaisiksi. Opiskelijan tulisi valita portfoliotehtävät siten, että ne tukevat parhaalla mahdollisella tavalla omaa oppimista. Oppimista ja itsearviointia tuetaan henkilökohtaisen ohjauksen avulla.

Language Café -toiminnan hyötyjä ovat olleet esimerkiksi tutustuminen eri maista ja kulttuureista oleviin opiskelijoihin, mahdollisuus käyttää kieltä aidoissa vuorovaikutustilanteissa sekä opiskelijoiden omaehtoisuus tapaamisten ja keskustelujen toteuttamisessa. Keskustelukielenä on ollut pääsääntöisesti englanti ja jossakin määrin suomi, ja kehittämiskohteena toiminnalle jatkossa olisikin kielivalikoiman monipuolistaminen.

Tandem-hankkeemme opiskelijapalautteiden perusteella suurimmat hyödyt ovat olleet uusien, kansainvälisten tuttavuuksien luominen, ymmärryksen lisääntyminen toisesta maasta ja kulttuurista sekä itsevarmuuden kasvu, kun opiskelijat huomaavat pystyvänsä kommunikoimaan englanniksi melko haastavassakin tilanteessa. Suurimmat hankaluudet ovat liittyneet esimerkiksi hitaisiin verkkoyhteyksiin sekä kaikille sopivien keskusteluajankohtien löytämiseen. Opiskelijapalaute on kannustanut meitä sekä jatkamaan mallien käyttöä että kehittämään niitä edelleen. Opiskelijat ovat nostaneet palautteessa esille, että oppimiskokemukset ovat vastanneet työelämän autenttisia kielenkäyttötilanteita. Olemme tulleet kokeilujemme myötä siihen lopputulokseen, että aina kannattaa kokeilla!

Kirjoittajat

Jaana Oinonen, FM, suomen kielen ja viestinnän lehtori, Jyväskylän ammattikorkeakoulu, Kielikeskus jaana.oinonen(at)jamk.fi
Suvi Uotila, FM, englannin ja ruotsin kielen lehtori, Jyväskylän ammattikorkeakoulu, Kielikeskus suvi.uotila(at)jamk.fi
Paula Vuorinen, FM, englannin ja ruotsin kielen lehtori, Jyväskylän ammattikorkeakoulu, Kielikeskus paula.vuorinen(at)jamk.fi

Cooper, B., Vlaskovits, P. & Ries, E. 2013. The Lean Entrepreneur : How Visionaries Create Products, Innovate with New Ventures, and Disrupt Markets. Wiley. ProQuest ebrary. Viitattu 30.8.2016. http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.jyu.fi/lib/jyvaskyla/reader.action?docID=10650972

Weimer, M. 2013. Learner-Centered Teaching : Five Key Changes to Practice. 2. p. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ProQuest ebrary. Viitattu 30.8.2016. http://site.ebrary.com.ezproxy.jyu.fi/lib/jyvaskyla/reader.action?docID=10653948

Lisätietoa

Language Café: suomen kielen ja viestinnän lehtorit Anu Mustonen ja Jaana Oinonen, englannin ja espanjan kielen lehtori Petteri Ruuska sekä englannin ja ruotsin kielen lehtorit Suvi Uotila ja Paula Vuorinen (Jyväskylän ammattikorkeakoulu)
Kieli- ja kulttuurivaihtoa verkossa: Suvi Uotila ja Paula Vuorinen (Jyväskylän ammattikorkeakoulu) sekä Alexis Bachelart ja Lauriane Ouvrier (Aix-Marseille Université)
Työelämän viestintää projektiopintoina verkossa: suomen kielen ja viestinnän lehtorit Tarja Ahopelto ja Jaana Oinonen (Jyväskylän ammattikorkeakoulu)
Ahopelto, T. & Oinonen, J, 2015. Työelämän viestintätaitoja hankitaan projektimaisesti opiskellen. Koulutuksen kehittämisen katsaus 2015 – Airuet aallonharjalla (JAMK). https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/101180/JAMKJULKAISUJA2092015_web.pdf?sequence=1
Portfoliomalli: Jaana Oinonen, Suvi Uotila ja Paula Vuorinen
Oinonen, J. Uotila, S. & Vuorinen, P. 2015. Portfolio as a tool for enhancing learner autonomy and life-long learning. Language Teaching Tomorrow. http://verkkolehdet.jamk.fi/languageteachingtomorrow/
Oinonen, J. Uotila, S. & Vuorinen, P. 2015. Monialaisuutta ja opiskelijalähtöisyyttä. Portfoliomalli ammattikorkeakoulun kieltenopetuksessa. Tempus 4/2015.
Oinonen, J. Uotila, S. & Vuorinen, P. 2015. Portfoliotyöskentely osaksi ammattikorkeakoulun kieliopintoja. Koulutuksen kehittämisen katsaus 2015 – Airuet aallonharjalla (JAMK). https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/101180/JAMKJULKAISUJA2092015_web.pdf?sequence=1