Reflecting on the Expansive Learning Process
This chapter focuses on the outcome of the Change Laboratory, a hands-on interdisciplinary project to be carried out in two Grade 5 classes. During a follow-up workshop, the participants discuss the outcomes of the analysis that was described in the previous chapter, and features, potentials and challenges of the interdisciplinary project are discussed with the people involved in the project: teachers, workshop assistants and students’ representatives. Since many teachers refer to the interdisciplinary project as competence based, during the follow-up workshop, the participants evaluate the extent to which the interdisciplinary project had been delivered according to a competence approach. From one perspective, this approach is a way to validate research findings: participant validation strategies, also called member checks, are an oriented process centred on the participants to challenge the researcher’s interpretations by establishing the conditions for the study participants to talk about the research. These tasks are also designed expected to trigger the expansive learning action of reflecting on, and evaluating, the process to think what else needs to be learnt to improve the interdisciplinary project. The interdisciplinary project will be better implemented during the next school year by solving a tertiary contradiction between the old and the new object, division of labour, rules and tools. This strategy will help train the new figure of surveyor that the school reform and the job market have called for.
KeywordsContradictions Reflection Competence Interdisciplinary project Tensions Member checks
The first and the second sections tell the results of the third follow-up workshop where the participants were tasked with reflecting on the interdisciplinary project. The first section presents the results of the discussion around the first task, a diagram summarising the findings of the previous chapter on the features, potentials and challenges of the interdisciplinary project. The participants—teachers, workshop assistants and students—agree that the interdisciplinary project is based on group work, authentic tasks, and connecting the technical disciplines, thus moving teaching approach from knowledge based to competence based. There are also issues, however, since the main hindrance for development comes from the workshop assistants whose connecting role is underemployed. The second section presents the results of the discussion around the second task on the extent to which the interdisciplinary project has been implemented according to a competence-based approach. The discussion is carried out with the help of a grid with the criteria defining a competence approach. For each criterion, there are specific descriptors spanning from non-competence based to fully competence based. The results of the discussion involving students and the teaching staff make the teachers reflect that they tend to overestimate the extent to which they think they deliver the interdisciplinary project according to a competence-based approach.
The third section compares the implementation of the interdisciplinary project in class A and in class B. In one class, the Design teachers used the interdisciplinary project to teach this subject throughout the school year. Here, the project was made simple enough to be approachable by the students, and the students group worked well, but the teacher did not make use of the formative assessment. In the other class, the teacher taught the interdisciplinary project only for the first semester and the second semester just taught the regular programme. In contrast to the first class, the project was more complicated and the group work did not work well; nonetheless, the Design teacher made use of formative assessment by mentoring the students. The fourth section shows the challenges the interdisciplinary project is faced with, with tensions between the old (disciplinary view) and new (competence-based approach). This tertiary contradiction between the old and the new is visible in the object between the interdisciplinary project and the regular school programme, in the division of labour between teachers and workshop assistants, as well as in the rules and tools for working in groups in the classroom.
6.1 The Interdisciplinary Project with the Member Checks
On March 2017, roughly one year after the end of the Change Laboratory, I arranged the third follow-up workshop to summarise the situation near to the end of the school year, when the interdisciplinary project had been already well developed. This workshop was recorded and later fully transcribed for analysis. The participants were nine teachers, two workshops assistants and four students as representatives of the two Grade 5 classes involved in the interdisciplinary project. Different views between teachers and students were expected to ensure dialectics (Engeström, Virkkunen, Helle, Pihlaja & Poikela, 1996). At the beginning of the workshop, the teachers felt the need to change the organisation of the benches in the room to work in circle. The workshop was organised into two different tasks.
In the first part of the workshop, I presented the diagram (in Appendix B) that summarises the outcomes of the interviews with the teachers and the focus groups described in the previous chapter. The goal was twofold. Firstly, the diagram should act as a mirror material of the present, a task to perform the sixth expansive learning action aimed to reflect on and evaluate the learning process. Secondly, sharing the results of my analysis with the actors was a participant validation strategy (Merriam, 2009; Ravitch & Carl, 2015). In qualitative research, validity (or better, trustworthiness) refers to the ways with which the researcher can claim that the findings are faithful to the experiences of the participants. Trustworthiness seeks to do justice of the complexity of the participants’ understanding and to thoroughly contextualise their experience, perspective and life; it is both a goal and a process. Participant validation strategies (or member checks) can use a relational approach to engage the participants to solicit their responses and thoughts on the researchers’ concepts and interpretations at various stages during research. The aim of these strategies is to help the researcher inspect and ascertain whether they really understand the participants’ responses, and to test their methods of data collection and interpretation.
The participation of the students gave the workshop a special verve as it introduced multi-voicedness (Engeström, 2001). Students are an essential part of the community in a school, and there would be no course without students. Not only could their opinions contradict the researcher’s interpretations, but they could also offer fresh perspectives for the teachers to learn from, to produce more developed reflections. It was the teachers who suggested that two students from each Grade 5 class could join the workshops, and the students were happy to come and speak their mind. To take into account the different power relationships between teachers and students (Ravitch & Carl, 2015; Young, 2001), we looked for the most polemic students; although polite, they are generally not afraid to say what they think. At the end of the workshop, they said they had enjoyed the workshop very much.
6.1.1 The Features of the Interdisciplinary Project
This section validates my findings on the characteristics of the interdisciplinary project described in the previous chapter and summarised with the diagram in Appendix B. During the member checks, the participants agreed that the main features of the interdisciplinary project are the following: it is based on realistic tasks, it connects the technical subjects, and it is based on group work.
Concerning the fact that the project connects technical subjects, some teachers argue that humanities topics have also been dealt with, such as the study of landscape and history of buildings. However, these have been tackled only tangentially and by technical teachers, with humanities teachers not being involved. In both classes, the interdisciplinary project has only involved technical subjects, especially Design—the major of the course with 6 weekly hours and partially other subjects such as land valuation and topography. Management of the building site—a minor subject—has been involved only a little bit.
Regarding student’s group work, the participants agree that this form of pedagogy has been an important feature of the interdisciplinary project, though necessary only in Design; simulating real design activities dramatically improves the outcomes achieved in the tasks and workload that can be handled by students. However, it seems that in class B, group work did not work well. Class B’s students argue that the work that students undertake in groups is different to that which happens in the surveying industry; to be more authentic in the class, it should entail a coordinator responsible for the group. An example can be traced during the planned experiments of the flipped classroom the year before. Second, it was the first year for the Design teacher in class B. As he did not know the students, when he asked how to make the groups, it was decided that the students would form the groups autonomously. This approach was exceptional to the situation, however, since letting students make groups according to their liking has proven detrimental for group work (Johnson & Johnson, 1999).
By way of contrast, the class A’s students and the Design teacher contend that group work was more effective. The students had to make a blueprint individually, and only after this first step was completed did the Design teacher make the groups as heterogeneous as possible according to the blueprints. In groups of three individuals, they had to discuss their blueprints they had created separately and come out with a new design that synthesised elements from all three of their drafts.
In any case, for both Design teachers, the main concern on group work was to avoid students’ loafing, that is some members in the group carried out most of the work, while others were not doing anything. This misconduct is perceived by teachers as a matter of fairness; it is unfair to give a good mark to a student who did make a significant contribution. However, I subsequently learnt from teachers and students that in both classes, group work had not worked well, and diverse students had loafed.
Another feature of the interdisciplinary project acknowledged by the whole group during the member checks is that it promotes a competence-based approach and a holistic understanding of surveying. The class A’s Design teacher carried out the interdisciplinary project throughout the whole school year, and when possible used it as ‘an excuse’ to embed the other topics of the programme he wanted to teach, indicating that he taught according to a competence-based approach.
6.1.2 The Potentials of the Interdisciplinary Project
This section deals with the validation of my findings on the potentials of the interdisciplinary project. The participants agree that if presented during the open days, the interdisciplinary project can promote enrolments in surveying. This is done by explaining the parents that in surveying students tackle a need felt as important by the city habitants with a concrete project in a known area of the city. The teachers agree that the interdisciplinary project can also contribute to make the course more up to date. For example, it was the first time that the students dealt with the transformation of gardens related to an historical building. This helps the course in surveying moving from the issues related to constructions towards environment and territory, thus making the future professional more in line with the demands of the industry. The teachers comment that this potential has also been used to promote the course in surveying during the open days.
My finding that the interdisciplinary project can make the state exam more competence based did not raise any discussion or agreement. This result is because no student had decided so far to present their project at the state exam. The participants agree that the interdisciplinary project can, however, make the students more employable. This potential is true in principle, with students more capable of dealing with issues they could face one day at work such as the sewage system and plants of buildings, but it is also true in practice, with the students being able to present a portfolio at their job interviews containing their work.
The students agree only to a limited extent that, as it is based on concrete tasks, the interdisciplinary project has brought inclusion among some ‘hands-on’ learners. This triggers a discussion on an alleged students’ scholastic attitude to be overcome in class B. While the workshop assistant of class B would have expected more proactivity, autonomy and problem-solving attitude in carrying out the interdisciplinary project, the students do not understand what it means to have a scholastic attitude, given the fact they are students and not professionals. Moreover, the class B’s students and a Design teacher suggest that the project may indeed have been too difficult, thus hampering their proactiveness and autonomy in carrying out the interdisciplinary project. For the class B’s Design teacher, the interdisciplinary project was carried out throughout the whole year, and disciplinary aspects of design were discarded to give students time to learn according to a competence-based approach.
6.1.3 The Challenges of the Interdisciplinary Project
This section deals with the validation of my findings regarding the challenges faced by the interdisciplinary project. Most of the interviews and focus groups showed that harnessing the workshop assistants’ potential is the most important challenge. There have been three orders of problems: a) in class A, there has been a turnover of three workshop assistants over the school year, the first being appointed one month after the beginning of school, that year; b) in both classes, no time has been allocated for workshop assistants to take the lead with lessons aimed at connecting the technical subjects; c) most teachers have the feeling that the workshop assistants do not have enough expertise to assert a leading role. However, from the class A’s topography teacher point of view, the workshop assistants’ turnover has not hindered her work, and while the position was still vacant, the other class’ workshop assistant came to help students perform the field survey.
Both teachers and workshop assistants agree that planning should be necessary to help the workshop assistant have a leading role, yet the main dispute relates to who should write such plan—whether the teachers or the workshop assistants. The teachers argue that workshop assistant should propose the plan and the workshop assistants argue the opposite. This disagreement is because workshop assistants could write the plan, but the teachers are the only responsible for the course contents. The final compromise that was made in the workshop itself was to discuss the division of labour in the next follow-up workshop or at the beginning of the school year.
Another issue is that the project has been more multidisciplinary than interdisciplinary. In both classes, only sometimes the students had seen the interdisciplinary project from a holistic perspective, but most of the times they only considered the interdisciplinary project from the point of view of the specific disciplines. This disparity is because the workshop assistant has played a minor role. The proposal is to allocate specific hours for interdisciplinarity, and this would reduce the risk that the workload for students becomes too heavy.
6.2 Is the Interdisciplinary Project Implemented According to a Competence-Based Approach?
The study programme is based on founding tasks, work processes and competences (the qualification profile). Here, I explained the term learning outcomes as it should be in competence-based approaches. It is unclear to what extent the teachers use the qualification profile for their course programme; they tend to rely more on the content given by the Ministry of Education. The impact of this approach is that the course curricula are far from being written in.
Teachers put at the centre complex and founding vocational problems. Here, I explained to the teachers the meaning of this criterion; the interdisciplinary project does put at the centre an important and valuable vocational problem to be resolved holistically by the students. This criterion can therefore be considered as fulfilled.
The learning activities take place in diverse, significant and concrete professional situations. For the students, the interdisciplinary project ranks on level 3, which means it is viewed as only partially competence based. The descriptor for level 3 is “Inside and outside school, the learning activities partially take place in concrete and meaningful contexts. From time to time teachers connect in-class experience and practical experience”. By way of contrast, the teachers consider the interdisciplinary project on level 4, which means largely competence based; the descriptor for this level is “Inside and outside school, the students often work individually or in team on learning activities taking place in several contexts of concrete and meaningful practice. A connection is often made between in-class learning and learning through practical experience”.
Knowledge, skills and attitudes are integrated. For the students the interdisciplinary project ranks on level 3, only partially competence based, the descriptor is “Knowledge, skills and attitudes are integrated into some parts of the programme, but the three aspects are assessed separately”. In other words, the students have the feeling that knowledge, skills and attitudes are still taught as separate elements from each other, in their curriculum.
The students are regularly evaluated. For the students the interdisciplinary project ranks on level 2, that is starting to be competence based, the descriptor for that level is “the assessment takes place several times during the learning process, and it is qualifying. Students seldom assess the development of their competence. Professional practice is rarely involved in the assessment”. There is a clear lack of self-assessment practices, with assessment mostly relating to topics based on acquiring knowledge.
The students are encouraged to reflect on their learning process. Here the teachers ranked the interdisciplinary project on level 4, namely largely competence based. The descriptor for this is “Students are often encouraged to reflect on their learning and on learning outcomes”. Teachers argued that students are often encouraged to reflect on their mistakes after summative assessment. Students are not assessed, however, for the quality of their reflections. This omission shows that summative assessment does not guide learning and so does not promote reflection (Biggs & Tang, 2011).
The study programme is organised in such a way that students progressively lead their own learning. For the students the interdisciplinary project can be ranked between 2 (starting to be competence based) and 3 (partially competence based). The descriptors for 2 are: “There are rare possibilities for students to self-guide their learning”, while for 3 “There are some possibilities for students to self-guide their learning. Students have some influence on their own learning process. Both the student and the teacher are co-responsible for the student’s learning process”.
The study programme is flexible. All the students rank the course flexibility at level 1 that is not competence based. The descriptor is “The study programme is the same for each learner. There is no possibility to change it for specific students”. For the teachers the level is 2, “starting to be competence based, with the descriptor “The study programme is the same for each student, but there is the possibility to follow it at own pace”. During the workshop, the teachers argued that there are students who are allowed to hand their homework later. The students’ reply to this claim was that this accommodation is not an example of course flexibility, since in the end each student is expected to produce the same outcome.
The teacher’s directions are personalised to the specific student’s learning needs. The couple of students of class B rank this criterion on level 3, which means only partially competence based, the descriptor being “The teacher is a coach and an expert. The teacher offers directions that are partially adapted to the student’s learning needs”. They probably refer to their Design teacher and the periodical project revisions. The other couple of students argued that it depends very much on the teacher and preferred not to express their opinion in their evaluation.
The study programme also considers competences related to citizenship, career and learning. Most of the participants do not know what is meant by educating for citizenship. These competences were explained to the whole group by the teacher of literature. It is unlikely that such key competences are taken into consideration and embedded into the respective curricula.
Role of assessment. Here I explained to teachers and students what formative and summative assessment mean (described in Chap. 2). Unfortunately, formative assessment is a practice that teachers do not know much about. In class A, only the literature teacher made use of feedback that she gathers from formative tasks. Within the interdisciplinary project, in class B the Design teacher made group revisions of the state of the project, and this peer mentoring constituted a form of formative assessment.
Plurality of sources of information for assessment. I explained the meaning of this criterion to the teachers. It appeared that teachers at this stage only use their point of view to assess the performance of students as well as the effectiveness of their tasks.
Hence, during the discussion it emerged that the teachers took for granted that teaching using a interdisciplinary project makes the curriculum competence-based, while students see possible improvements in the way theinterdisciplinary project should be delivered. This technique could entail: improved use of formative assessment; personalisation of the programme according to the students’ needs; integration of assessment with forms of self-assessment and reflection; better connection of the school activities with outer school activities and improved integration of knowledge, skills and attitudes.
As significant differences emerged in the two classes in the delivery of the interdisciplinary project, the next section will make a comparison.
6.3 A Comparison Between the Interdisciplinary Project in the Two Classes
Comparison between the interdisciplinary projects as carried out in class A and B
Canteen with house of the keeper
Canteen with underground parking
Time dedicated to the interdisciplinary project in major subject
Survey in the field
At the beginning of the school year
Almost at the end of the school year
Selection of the components for group work in major subject
made by the teacher
made by the students
summative and formative
The first difference is the building to be designed. While in class A it was the canteen with the apartment of the keeper, in class B the object was a canteen with a parking underneath. According to the class B’s Design teacher who made the decision to add the underground parking, the location was too central to avoid a parking facility. The effort was therefore to keep the project realistic, but during the discussion, students and other teachers agreed that this choice increased the degree of complexity in the project, to a point that was hardly manageable by the students. Many students consequently made serious mistakes when designing the canteen with the parking lot underneath it. By way of contrast, the class A’s project was simple enough to be achievable by the students.
The second difference is the time span to develop the interdisciplinary project within the design subject (a major of the course). In class A, the Design teacher used the interdisciplinary project to teach other related topics, thus making a year-round topic. In doing so, all the curricula became more realistic and therefore more competence based. By way of contrast, in class B the Design teacher chose to dedicate only a semester to it and continued with the regular programme, which is more knowledge based, in the second semester. For the Design teacher, this mixed approach was better to ensure that he covered all the topics so that the students would be better prepared for the state exam.
The third difference comes from the time of the year where the related field survey was carried out. In class A, the topography teacher went with the class at the beginning of the year, thus handing timely data for Design. In class B, the topography teacher chose to start the school year with the regular curriculum, and only towards the end of the year, when some time was left, did he send the students for the survey on the field. This choice partially hampered the initial phase of design, where students had to rely on incomplete data. Consequently, the coordination between subjects resulted better in class A.
The selection of the students for group work in Design was also different. In class A, it was done by the teacher after having weighted variables such as the initial blueprint and the students’ performance. In so doing, the groups were balanced and heterogeneous. In class B the students made groups autonomously, which led to homogeneous groups basing on performance and liking. As a consequence for that, in-class group work in class A worked better.
The assessment forms were also different; in class A, it was only summative, therefore the students were not given intermediate feedback on their projects. In class B, the evaluation was both summative and formative, with the teacher mentoring the groups regularly. A competence-based approach would call for a mix of formative and summative assessment methods, therefore class B was better delivered according to a competence-based approach.
Overall, in class A, the interdisciplinary project transformed the curriculum into competence based, especially in the design subject. The project was delivered throughout the school year and embedded other related topics, it entailed productive in-class group work, and coordination among subjects worked better. More formative assessment forms would, however, be needed. In class B, the interdisciplinary project allowed only for a partial switch to a competence-based approach for half a year, and in-class group work and coordination between subjects did not work so well.
6.4 The Interdisciplinary Project Facing a Tertiary Contradiction
6.5 Old and New Curriculum
The emergence of a shared interdisciplinary project has shown tensions between the old and the new curriculum; on the one hand, there is the knowledge-based curriculum, and on the other, there is the interdisciplinary project that is competence based. Three different points of view illustrate such tensions in the object: a Design teacher teaching his subject with the new concept, one topography teacher teaching the course programme the customary way, and a Design teacher who teaches half of the year with the new concept and half of the year in the customary way.
In the Grade A class, the teacher could employ the whole school year for the interdisciplinary project, and could therefore deepen it more. In doing so, he abandoned the disciplinary aspects of design, didn’t you (turning to Design teacher 3)?
Design teacher 3
Design teacher 2
Well, I dealt only with the interdisciplinary project during first semester
I remember this difference
Design teacher 3
What I reckon is that in the school program there are many things that have a limited use (for working life)
Topography teacher 2
If we chose an approach fully competence-based since the beginning of the school year, this would have a price to be paid. If we want to deal with concrete problems such as the PREGEO procedure, it is clear that we have to reduce all the classic topics of topography including the street project. We cannot deal with everything in our course programs. In my case, I tried to reach a compromise; I did not give up the kernel of my regular school program, and understood the interdisciplinary project only as a plus for the students
For topography teacher 2, the interdisciplinary project was just a positive element to be dealt with as an added value of the regular course programme.
Design teacher 2
The program dictated by the Ministry of Education has been important for me. I discussed with the class on this issue, and eventually we came up with the solution to perform the interdisciplinary project during the first semester, and to dedicate the second semester for the regular school program to, thus preparing the students for the state exam
The Ministry of Education’s programme and the state exam are mentioned as justifications to remain anchored to a knowledge-based view of surveying.
6.5.1 The Old and New Coordination Among Teaching Staff
The implementation of the new concept caused a tension in the division of labour between teachers and workshop assistants. Historically, workshop assistants are a product of the latest school reform of 2007 and have appeared in schools since 2012. Their role of technical and practical assistants would be to assist the teachers during both workshops and lessons. From the teachers’ point of view, however, their function is yet to be found. In the old way of teaching based on knowledge and lectures, workshop assistants are unnecessary. In the implementation of the new concept, they become valuable as they are in charge of liaising the technical subjects and coordinate the subject teachers around the interdisciplinary project. Similarly, the coordination between subjects is also important, as the survey on the field by the topography teacher had been carried out first to give the students the idea of the site where the building will have to be designed.
6.5.2 Tensions Between the Old and the New Didactics
The new concept calls for new rules concerning class didactics, especially in the design subject. While the old curriculum makes use of lectures, the interdisciplinary project requires more workload for students because they consider the many constraints in the field necessary when designing realistic blueprints. Group work becomes therefore necessary to share the workload, but the Design teachers find it hard to set the rules for it. Although the students did not rose the problem of group work during the third follow-up workshop, there have been issues for both classes, especially in the coordination of the homework. While teachers contend that in-class group work runs smoothly, at home there are two problems. Firstly, some students do not hand the work by the established deadline, thus hampering the work of their colleagues who base their work on that output. Second, sometimes one group member does not perform the task at all, and another student who has been allocated with them does the job. The teachers will therefore have to find tools and rules to better organise group work among students to improve the implementation of the new concept.
Another follow-up workshop was carried out close to the end of the school year, and the teaching staff decided to continue the development of the interdisciplinary project the following year. It is already positive news that the new concept is continuing despite the obstacles faced, and the teaching staff is showing their sense of initiative and entrepreneurship not to give up in their endeavour. In order for the interdisciplinary project to be better implemented, the tensions above will have to be overcome, and the participants will need to decide what still has to be learnt to deliver it more effectively, according to a fully competence-based approach. This approach must include: use of formative assessment; personalisation of the programme according to the students’ needs; integration of assessment with forms of self-assessment and reflection; connection within the school activities and between outer school activities and integration of knowledge, skills and attitudes.
This chapter discussed from a CHAT point of view how the expansive learning process is developing. While the Change Laboratory caused a medium-sized cycle of expansive learning with a new concept to be progressively put into practice, the participants strive to progress in the macro-cycle by solving contradictions, to make the interdisciplinary project the customary way to teach surveying in Grade 5. During the implementation of the new concept, they face issues they had not envisioned when designed it, and by solving them, they stabilise the activity and make it the customary way to work. Building on this chapter, Chap. 7 draws conclusions on the Change Laboratory for teacher training in entrepreneurial education. It will show the extent to which the implementation of the new concept is being effective for solving the original challenge for which the Change Laboratory was held, that is how to improve the number of enrolments in surveying.
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