Are Deep Approaches To Learning Possible In Vocational Degree Courses In Construction?: A Phenomenological Inquiry

Scullion, James (2002). Are Deep Approaches To Learning Possible In Vocational Degree Courses In Construction?: A Phenomenological Inquiry. EdD thesis The Open University.



Since its first formulation by Marton and Saljo (1976 a and b) the notion of deep approaches to studying has been influential within the higher education sector of the United Kingdom (Entwistle, 1997b; Webb, 1997db). Despite this the literature on approaches to studying, and the more recent literature on approaches to teaching, have remained, largely, detached from mainstream learning theories until Marton and Booth (1997) sequestered the approaches literature into their learning theory, labelled, by Prosser and Trigwell (1999), the constitutionalist perspective.

Marton and Booth represent this theory, which draws heavily from phenomenography, as a one best theory. These other learning theories, in turn, have been clustered into metaphors of acquisition and participation by Sfard (1998) and classified as either modern or post-modem by Prawat (1996).

This dissertation uses Sfard’s metaphors and Prawat’s classification to delimit the contours of the Marton and Booth’s (1997) constitutionalist perspective and, in consequence, the approaches to studying and teaching literature sequestered, by them, into this theory.

This is undertaken within the context of an inquiry into approaches to studying and teaching, adopted by various student and staff members in a department of Building and Surveying, which offers construction related vocational degree courses in a “new” university in the West of Scotland. The study proceeds from Sfard’s argument that the various metaphors/ learning theories are dialectically related rather than Prawat’s and Marton and Booth’s view that they are hierarchically or oppositionally related.

The study is phenomenologically oriented, remaining within the tradition of inquiry initiated by Marton and Saljo (op. cit.) and argued as potentially valuable by Lave (1996) to studies into legitimate peripheral participation.

The principle research instrument in the study is phenomenologically analysed group interviews with the data clustered around headings abstracted from Sfard and Prawat. The group interview is supported by a questionnaire constructed from by combining an abbreviated version of Entwistle’s (1997)Attitude to Study Inventory (ASI) and Prosser and Trigwell’s Attitude to Teaching Inventory (ATI).

The data generally supports Sfard’s argument finding that students and teaching staff tended to talk in terms of both metaphors. However part-time staff and students tended to be the groups who mixed their metaphors the most. Full time staff tended to talk in terms of a single metaphor. In the case of the full-time quantity surveying staff their discourse was skewed towards an acquisition metaphor whilst the full-time interior design staff‘s discourse favoured a metaphor based on authentic practice in the studio and related this to the Bauhaus of Walter Gropius.

Those students who had an experience of practice, either as part-time students or during Supervised Work Experience (SWE) greatly valued practice as valid learning. Practice is described by them as a rich, complex and intense learning experience where tools of practice, including discourse, are used.

The data from the inventory tended either to support deductions drawn from the constitutionalist perspective and the upproaches literature or be capable of explanation within that perspective. However, there is a suspicion of a social desirability response effect from the teaching staff responses.

Whilst agreeing with Sfard that one metaphor should not dominate the other it is suggested that there is room for manoeuvring the department closer to Sfard’s participation metaphor and Prawat’s post-modern theories. Student enthusiasm for learning in the authentic context of practice, together with tentative evidence for a deepened approach to studying after SWE, would suggest more emphasis being directed towards a view of the classroom as a locus of authentic practice rather than as a locus where practice is represented. The department being investigated already has the “tools” at its disposal to facilitate such a change in the form of part-time staff. It is recommended that:
- All student groups, including studio based interior designers, be required to undertake SWE with consideration being given to extending SWE from 8 months to 15 months (these durations include academic holiday periods).
- The present 80% of the assessment of SWE by teaching staff be discontinued in favour of a 50-50 split with supervising staff in the workplace. Assessment should he based on the principle of equivulency and not samene.w and could for example be related to internal, authentic, assessment regimes already in place in the workplace such as staff appraisal systems.
- The move towards a practice-portfolio basis for assessment of SWE.
- A closer linkage of SWE with other parts of the curriculum, especially the final year dissertation.
- Part-time staff should not just be treated as another pair of hands. Instead their ability to provide a unique contribution, enabled by their rich tacit knowledge, should be recognised e.g. by leading cross-discipline, case-study tutorials and by participating in course design.
- This last recommendation acknowledges a place for tacit knowledge in the curriculum. The department should investigate the extent to which tacit knowledge should feature, indeed is able to feature, in a classroom based curriculum

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