1.4 Pedagogical models to integrate workplace and school learning
1.4.3 Computer-supported collaborative writing for professional development
In consideration of these two models, aiming at the integration of workplace and school learning, in the context of our research, we elaborated a new conceptualisation of how school learning and workplace experience can be brought together, while, at the same time, respecting the relevance and importance of both the social and individual dimensions of learning that, as said earlier, have a key role in both settings involved in vocational education. Elements emerging from both the Erfahrraum and the Integrative Pedagogy were taken into account, in order to build a concrete example of how to support learners in bringing to school experiences of the workplace, in order to reassess and rework them, so that they will be ready to be reinserted in practice. In order to do this type of exercise, learners use writing activities to reflect individually on the difficult situations they encountered, in order to, afterwards, submit them to the collective dimension of their classroom, and receive comments and ideas from others, while, at the same time, providing interesting reflective elements to their colleagues facing other types of situations.
This new model conceptualising the use of computer-supported collaborative writing for professional development is presented in figure 4.
31 Figure 4. Conceptualisation of the use of computer-supported collaborative writing for professional development This model moves from the observation that, in the vocational education context (point 1, in the schema above), learning in the workplace is often a mainly individual task (2), in which learners are confronted with a series of situations that will constitute their own portfolio of experiences and practices, and that will differ from the one encountered by any other apprentice in a different, or even in the same, workplace situation. On the other hand, school learning (3), in this model is considered as a collective process, as in this context learners are inserted in a group of peers, progressing together in their educational path (Ortoleva, Bétrancourt & Morand, 2012). As mentioned above (see section 1.3.3 The social and the collective dimensions of learning in vocational education), we are well aware that other very interesting, but contrasting, views may perceive school as an individual process and workplace learning as a more collective one (e.g. Resnick, 1987), but as here we would like to focus on the learning process, rather than on the activity per se, we will stick to our perspective in which the social and the individual dimensions of learning are respectively associated to the school and the workplace practice (even though we recognize that both social and individual learning play a role in the two settings).
In consideration of these two dimensions of learning in vocational education, and of research determining how pedagogical scenarios should not only include collaborative group-learning activities
Giulia Ortoleva Writing to Share, Sharing to Learn
32 but also individual and collective ones (Dillenbourg & Jermann, 2010), we elaborated an instructional scenario, in which individual and collaborative writing activities (4) provide learners with the opportunity of working individually on experiences encountered in their practice, in order to, in a following step, share them with fellow learners in a more collective and collaborative setting. In this sense, this activity is organised around two main phases: in the first phase, learners are asked to write individually (5) about a critical situation encountered in their workplace practice (following the critical incident technique; Flanagan, 1954). The main idea of this activity is based on a number of theories considering that the writing process per se has beneficial effects on learning. These theories belonging to the writing to learn research paradigm, consider that the writing activity supports reflection on experience, bringing to the reorganisation of previously existent knowledge, as well as the creation of new concepts and ideas (Tynjälä, Mason & Lonka, 2001; Galbraith, 1999). In order to elaborate these personal and individual experiences in a more collective manner, this model suggests using collaborative writing activities (6), in which learners will share and discuss the situations they encountered in their workplace, in order to receive others’ points of view on the challenges they encounter, as well as to allow learners to have a more extensive view of the workplace conditions encountered by their fellow learners in their workplaces. In this sense, the idea of collaboration is perceived as having some important beneficial effects on the learning process (Davies, 2002), by, for example, provoking and mediating a socio-cognitive conflict between learners (Bereiter &
Scardamalia, 1994). Technologies supporting collaborative writing (7) play a key role in the scenario, as they permit to orchestrate this process of moving from the individual to the collective dimensions of learning in a smooth and easy-to-orchestrate manner. The theoretical background connected to writing both individually and collaboratively (4), and more specifically, its three fundamental aspects in the scenario, associated with the use of writing as a learning activity (5), with collaborative writing tasks (6), and with the technologies aiming at supporting collaborative writing (7), will be detailed in the next chapter.
The overall outcome of this scenario would be, in our view, the production of a change in apprentices, characterised by the elaboration of previously existent knowledge and understanding, accompanied by the construction of new concepts. Also, their participation in a community of learners, through the written exchange encountered in this model, would account for a modified perception of their role in the professional community, impacting learners’ self-efficacy beliefs as well as their professional identity. Therefore, globally, this type of scenario is supposed to impact learners on different dimensions constituting their professional development (8), as it was described above (see section 1.3.2 Professional development).
As said, the scenario we propose is strongly inspired by both the Erfahrraum and the Integrative Pedagogy models. More precisely, the idea of using writing as a mean to capture difficult experiences encountered in the workplace and to reuse and exploit them in the classroom setting embraces the
33 cycle proposed by the Erfahrraum. The situations are collected in an interactive platform, and even if this is not done directly in the workplace, as learners write down the situations they encounter while they are in school, this is nevertheless a way of capturing workplace situations. After this collection phase, there is a moment in which learners are required to share these situations with others, in order to receive their comments, while at the same time, providing their feedback to others. This allows, not only to learn from the comments, ideas and criticism others have on the way each one handled one situation, but also to acquire new knowledge and expertise through the task of providing comments to others, trying to imagine the more appropriate reaction to a situation. Contemporary, this allows acquiring new, more accurate perspectives on the working conditions of others. The validation phase of this scenario is reflected in the idea that learners will elaborate new strategies in their working situations, in order to handle these critical incidents, while contemporary prepare themselves to situations they have never encountered, but that were treated in the episodes reported by their colleagues. This validation again does not take place directly in the working environment, but is postponed to the next implementation of the scenario in the school setting. In this context, learners will be asked to consult again the episodes previously described and read, in order to describe if they had the opportunity of applying the suggestions obtained by others and implementing the conclusion to which they arrived in the classroom. Globally, we consider, therefore, that even if this scenario is conducted in the classroom, without direct intervention in the workplace activity, it still represents an ideal manner to relate and bring together workplace learning with the school setting. This is particularly relevant because, as we will see later on, we implemented this type of pedagogic activity in the context of a vocational school for health care professionals. This has two important implications, which are reflected in the way we modelled this scenario: on the one hand, there are extremely strict rules to protect the privacy of the patients, which means that no direct capturing as taking pictures or videos of a procedure can be allowed in this context. Additionally, the work performed by apprentices in this setting is mainly relational; in this sense they happen to face, on a daily basis, critical situations with patients activating their emotional reaction, together with their professional skills and expertise. The idea of capturing critical events through writing in the classroom, therefore not immediately after the incident happened and in a different setting, can reveal particularly useful for emotionally rich events, where the learners may need some detachment from the moment itself, in order to collect their ideas and be able to write down the issue they encountered and discuss it, being eventually open for constructive criticism.
In consideration of these limitations in terms of direct capturing of incidents and events from the workplace, other activities had to be considered and writing was selected in consideration of the role this process plays in the integrative pedagogy model. As we saw earlier, in the integrative pedagogy model, writing is considered as a mediating tool between theoretical knowledge and practical experience. Additionally, another mediating tool considered by Tynjälä in her model is represented by
Giulia Ortoleva Writing to Share, Sharing to Learn
34 discussion and mentoring. The idea of sharing the critical experiences with others in order to collect their comments and suggestions represents a way of encouraging a written dialogue, therefore implementing the mediating tool of peer-discussion in this setting. Through this scenario, we aimed at following the concepts expressed by the integrative pedagogy model, adapting them to the specific situation of our vocational learning context. Additionally, Tynjälä (2008) inspired by Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993) asserts that activities as problem-solving and collaborative learning represent ways to narrow the gap between theoretical and practical knowledge, therefore creating bridges between school and workplace learning.