Thursday, 31 December 2015

Standing outside the interview process?

This is a really pertinent piece of work. It helps clearly explain the differences between Husserlian and Heideggerian phenomenology. I had pretty much grasped them, it seems. It also seems that I had by chance made the right decision about the process of bracketing, or rather not. I find it difficult to understand how a researcher can 'bracket' out prior experiences and knowledge if undertaking phenomenological research, and so the Heideggerian process of co-creation of the interview between the interviewer and the participant seems to naturally make more sense to me. I'm rather surprised to find myself writing this, with my positivist background in science!

One interesting thought from this paper is that they suggest that confusion and not clearly nailing your phenomenological colours to the mast is relatively common, at least in nursing research. I have to admit that I find this rather surprising - even a cursory glance at the literature clearly indicates that these two concepts of phenomenology are different and so need to be approached in different ways. Anyway - on to the paper. I think it's one I'll come back to time and again.

Lowes, L. & Prowse, M. (2001). Standing outside the interview process? The illusion of objectivity in phenomenological data collection. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 38, 471-480.

1. Introduction

Phenomenological interviewing as data collection is defied by a philosophical position. However, these are rarely stated within articles - perhaps due to word count restrictions. The authors suggest that there is lack of methodological clarity if the philosophical position of the author is not clearly identified. This can, in turn, affect rigour and trustworthiness of the work.

2. Phenomenology as a philosophy and a research approach

There are different interpretations of phenomenology. The omission of a clear statement about the philosophical underpinnings of the phenomenological research method used results in confusion which can affect the overall quality and rigour of the research. Researchers claiming affiliation to either Husserl or Heidegger need to substantiate their claim in their methodological account.

3. Husserl's philosophy

Husserl believed that, in order to ensure the validity or objectivity of research, the researcher needed to examine any preconceptions or beliefs, acknowledge them, and then bracket them - 'reduction'. In order to come to an understanding of an experience that is uncontaminated by our preconceptions, we must try to remove as many layers of experience as we can. Husserl's phenomenology is known as 'transcendental' as he believed that the researcher must transcend their natural attitudes and stand outside the research process, to ensure the objectivity of the research.

4. The pursuit of objectivity through bracketing

The process of bracketing is questioned by philosophers and researchers. Merleau-Ponty (1964) suggests that complete reduction is impossible as the researcher's consciousness is engaged 'in the world' and so cannot be transcended. Crotty (1996) points out that bracketing does not just refer to the researcher but also the participant. Considering the difficulty that researchers have with bracketing, suggesting that participants should have the skills to do so, to consider the work rigorous, seems somewhat troublesome. Furthermore, it must be remembered that Husserlian phenomenology was based on efforts to ensure objectivity and therefore links to positivism, rather than the subjectivity sought through interpretivism (Harper & Hartman, 1997)

There is a question over how researchers do lay aside their biases in practice. There has been a move toward a more pragmatic view of bracketing, but this hardly holds close to the Husserlian ideal.

5. Heidegger's philosophy

Heidegger emphasises the importance of 'being in the world' - both the participant and the researcher are in the world and both view human experience through language, history and cultural perspectives. The hermeneutic phenomenology of Heidegger sees a shift from the aims of objectivity with Husserlian phenomenology. We cannot bracket our 'being in the world' but can only interpret experiences through our own beliefs, prior experiences and preconceptions. The defining characteristic of Heideggerian phenomenology is the incorporation of the researcher's preconceptions in the generation of data.

6. Heideggerian phenomenological interviews

The products of Heideggerian phenomenological interviews are a co-creation by interviewer and respondent. This means that the researcher's experiences, as well as those of the respondent, are captured within the data.

7. The influence of preconceptions on the interview process

Husserlian phenomenology requires the bracketing out of all of the researcher's preconceptions. This is difficult to achieve - researchers choose their studies because they are of importance to them in some way. In Heideggerian phenomenological research, the researcher's background, preconceptions and interest in the study topic influence their responses to participants, data generation and analysis (Rodgers & Cowles, 1993). Credibility therefore relies on the researcher demonstrating self-awareness throughout the research process. Heideggerian phenomenologists acknowledge and document their preconceptions and the possible effects on the interview structure and participants' responses. Reflective journals can be used to make this process visible. At each stage of the study position statements can be produced to explicate preconceptions. It must be considered that preconceptions are open to reinterpretation throughout the interview and analysis process - this should also be documented.

8. Interviewer as co-participant in the research

Interviewers and participants co-create data through interaction where each affects the responses of the other. This enhances the richness of data collection. However, we need to consider the issue of interviewer bias, particularly where there is a perception of power of the interviewer over the respondent, as could occur in education and healthcare. Explicit consideration of this issue will augment trustworthiness.

Nevertheless, it is important o ensure that questions do not guide the respondent to answer in a particular way which merely confirms the preconceptions of the researcher. The researcher must maintain some level of objectivity within the interview, to ensure that they maintain a critical distance and can see alternative viewpoints.

9. The literature review

Opinions differ as to when the phenomenological researcher should review the data. ethically, some research must be performed before the interview, to ensure that the respondent's time is not wasted with questions which do not uncover new thoughts or ideas. Some researchers suggest that in Husserlian phenomenology, a review of the literature should only be completed after interviews, to reduce the preconceptions that must be bracketed. within Heideggerian phenomenology, the researcher's preconceptions are a part of the research process, and so the idea of a literature review producing bias is irrelevant.

However, the researcher must be mindful of not trying to fit their study findings into a conscious or unconscious framework developed from previous studies. The consideration of theoretical constructs from the literature can be documented in a research journal.

10. Quality indicators

A defining quality indicator in Heideggerian research is a detailed explication of the interviewer's preconceptions and reference to these throughout the research process (Paley 1997). In contrast, a quality indicator in Husserlian phenomenology is an account of how the interviewer's preconceptions have been treated so as not to influence the research in any way.

11. Conclusions

Researchers cannot stand outside the interview process but must consider fully their preconceptions.

Further reading

Crotty (1996) Phenomenology and nursing research

Harper & Hartman (1997) research paradigms. In P. Smith (Ed.). Research mindedness for practice.

Merleau-Ponty (1964) Primacy of perception and other essays

Rodgers & Cowles (1993) The qualitative research audit trail: a complex collection of documentation.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Reflections on learning: widening capability and the student experience

This paper is obliquely linked to my interests but does have some useful information and links. It discusses some theories which may be of relevance in my analysis stages. The social context at the beginning is also useful to help me understand the greater picture. I was drawn in by the title, with 'widening capability' - I initially believed this was to do with widening participation. The link is certainly there, exploring methods of assessment which acknowledge the life experiences of those students from a non-traditional background, but it is more to do with developing skills through this acknowledgement.

Summary: Useful background, some further reading to explore.

Garratt, D. (2011). Reflections on learning:  widening capability and the student experience. Cambridge Journal of Education, 41(2), 211-225.

Social Context

There has been rapid and unprecedented expansion of HE in the UK (David, 2010) with an increase in students from non-traditional backgrounds entering HE. Garratt draws attention to the theme of increasing diversity and looks at the implications for learning and teaching, to produce a more socially just pedagogy.

Crozier et al. (2008) suggest that the discourse of WP only involves the 'desire to participate' rather than affecting change in the 'ability to participate' once the students have entered HE. Walker (2008) invokes the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (2007) who believe that within the UK, HE is not fully promoting equality.

Garratt's research question is: "How can HE programmes widen 'capability' by encouraging student reflection on learning and personal knowledge and further recognise the outcomes in order to develop a more inclusive pedagogy, integrating formal and informal learning?"

Methodology and data sources

Garratt identifies the participants, states that it is a qualitative account, with vignettes taken from student learning logs. The study is a post-hoc rationalisation (Hockings et al, 2010). Garratt goes over the ethics process and suggests that the study was done as it was for heuristic reasons. For my own info: heuristic: method not guaranteed to be optimal but sufficient for the immediate goals. Garratt used a hermeneutic approach, moving between theory and data, to find "warrantable understandings" (Ivanic et al., 2007) - illuminating and capable of inference, rather than seeking 'truth'.

Learning log - discussion of the student assessment

Theoretical framework

Sen (1992, 1999) discusses notions of equality in learning, closely linked with the concept of 'capabilities'. Capabilities are the opportunities given to individuals to enable them to realise their potential.

The space between an individual's 'internal capabilities' (Nussbaum, 2000) and 'functionings' (realisation of measurable outcomes) is mediated by the external environment. Bourdieu's  concepts of 'habitus' and 'cultural capital' help demonstrate how students have varying levels of accessibility to particular forms of high status knowledge, based on prior learning experiences and dispositions (Crozier et al, 2010). Crozier et al (2010) suggest that there is a disjunction between the habitus of students from non-traditional backgrounds and the unfamiliar field of experience at university.

Garratt uses Critical Race Theory to analyse the vignettes, using rich data to explore the 'warrantable understandings' drawn from the work.

Widening capability in student experience

Students telling their own stories in accordance with freedoms they have reason to value, the learning task provided opportunity to widen 'capability' and allow students to participate more confidently in their learning.

Hockings et al (2010) "students value teaching that recognises their individual academic and social identities and that addresses their particular learning needs".

Bates (2007): productive pedagogies that seek to develop a capability approach and further the course of social justice in education often usefully possess the following characteristics:...... Intellectual quality - development of higher order thinking.....

Further reading:

Bates (2007) Developing capabilities and the management of trust. In Walker & Unterhalter (eds) Amartya Sen's capability approach and social justice in education.

Crozier, Reay, Clayton, Colliander, Grinstead (2008) Different strokes for different folks: diverse students in diverse institutions - experiences of higher education

Crozier, Reay, & Clayton (2010) The socio-cultural and learning experiences of working-class students in higher education. In David (below).

David M. (Ed.) (2010) Improving learning by widening participation in higher education

Hockings, Cooke & Bowl (2010) Learning and teaching in two universities within the context of increasing student diversity: Complexity, contradictions and challenges. In David's book above

Ivanic, Edwards, Satchwell and Smith (2007).  Possibilities for pedagogy in further education: harnessing the abundance of literacy.

Nussbaum (2000) Women and human development: the capabilities approach

Sen (1992) Inequality re-examined

Sen (1999) Development as freedom

Walker (2008) Widening participation, widening capability

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Doing Heideggerian hermeneutic research: A discussion paper

Smythe, E. A., Ironside, P. M., Sims, S. L., Swenson, M. M., & Spence, D. G. (2008). Doing Heideggerian hermeneutic research: A discussion paper. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 45, 1389-1397.

This was quite a difficult paper to read. In summary, it is one main researcher, in discussion with colleagues, going through the thought processes that lead them to hermeneutic analysis of their work. It goes into some depth on Heidegger's Dasein, etc. There are a few useful points which I could use in my assignment.

Within this sort of work, rigour is often renamed trustworthiness (needs a citation). The authors stress that they do not link to Husserl or his followers such as Colazzi and Giorgi. They choose to stay close to the experience itself (ontologic) rather than try to articulate a more generalised analysis of essence (ontic).

1. At the heart

"In the midst" of a specific situating that is constantly in flux". Specific knowing can only come in the moment. Gadamer spoke of the rom to "play" - some room to explore within a structure (e.g. wheels on a bike needing some 'pay' to allow for their free movement).

Phronensis: a key part of Heideggerian hermeneutics - the "wisdom in action" that knows in the moment and finds the way, day by day. Researchers in  phenomenology are  never outside their research - they are always in the midst, making choices and living with possibilities.

2. Our quest

There is an understanding that their research cannot produce objective, scientific concepts of truth. Heidegger (in Harman, 2007) refers to truth as 'unconcealment' yet what we seek will move in and out of concealment as we try to seek it. "Thinking is not a 'working out' but a 'letting come' (Dunne, 1993).

3. Translation to method

3.1 The phenomenological conversation
Within phenomenology, the method must, at times, make way for 'Dasein' - being in the moment. Each conversation is unique, even when an interview framework is used. "What matters most is openness to what 'is' - to the play of conversation" (p. 1392).

3.2. Working with the data
Heidegger suggests that our understanding is always already there and cannot nor should be divorced from our thinking. "We are called by a particular story, just as one 'stops' in front of a particular painting in an art gallery". One can never teach another how to think because meditative thinking, as described by Heidegger (1992) is an experience of being-lost-in-thought. The  minute one tries to 'describe' how one thinks, one moves from being-in-thought to a more ontic process that is different.

Van Manen (1990, p. 79) 2Grasping and formulating a thematic understanding is not a rule-bound process but a free act of 'seeing'  meaning". What we call themes are not necessarily the same thing said again and again but rather an understanding we have seen something that matters significantly, something that we wish to point the reader towards.

They suggest that themes aren't 'findings' removed from the data but to indicate what the researcher senses within the text and to indicate to the reader that this will be analysed further.

3.3. Offering
Reliability is not important but what provokes the researcher to wonder.

3.4. Inviting
Heideggerian phenomenology invites the reader to make their own journey.

4. The 'experience'

4.1. At the beginning, the research question is not important and is not fixed. "The focus of the research is held but the questions we bring to that focus will grow and change as our understanding builds."

4.2. Captured by a thought

4.3. Enjoying
Letting the ideas jump out.

4.4. Working
Listen for the ideas that jump out.

4.5. Listening and responding
Must have an openness to the thinking that emerges and respond to those insights with  more questions.

4.6. The unutterable circle of writing

4.7. Openness
writing as thinking rather than writing as reporting. Be open to the unexpected.

4.8. Always an impression
Findings of hermeneutic phenomenological research is the impression gained. It seeks to engage others in their own thinking experience.

4.9. Discerning trust
The researcher has a responsibility to listen in a way that seeks to understand the meaning of what is said, and to respond with thinking that provokes and engages. Resonance - the hallmark of trustworthiness.

4.10. 'Graced moments'
A hallmark of phenomenological research is the act of 'graced moments' (Heidegger) - a shared sense of belonging to the insight that seems to go beyond what was said, yet is felt and understood as being true.

4.11. Being self
Let thinking come, as it comes. 'Being there' in the midst of what is.

4.12. Conclusion
The paper sought to provide words for the unutterable process of phenomenological research. Phenomenological researchers listen to the participants' story of their lived experiences, trusting that new understandings come through the data. Writing hermeneutically is thinking.

Overall, this paper shines through with the joy that the researchers seem to feel as they engage with the process of research and particularly with the process of analysis of the text.

Further reading:

Dunne (1993) Back to the rough ground.

Harman (2007) Heidegger explained. From object to phenomenon.

Heidegger (1992) What calls for thinking?

Heidegger (1995) Being and time.

Van Manen (1990). Researching lived experience.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Deep swimming and murky waters: Phenomenological interviewing

This paper is a useful one to consider and review just prior to interviewing. It goes through the process and its difficulties, for an early stage researcher. The key point to keep in mind seems to be that you need to make sure you use questions appropriately to probe deeply enough to get answers to the research question.

King, D. (2014). Deep swimming and murky waters: Phenomenological interviewing - reflections from the field. Education Journal, 3(3), 170-178.

Abstract: A reflection on the merits and caveats of phenomenological interviewing as an educational research tool.

1. Introduction: Phenomenology - issues in educational research

1.1. Phenomenology - what it is.
"The difficulties of stating point-blank what phenomenology is are notorious" (Wimpenny & Gass, 2000). There are disagreements about differing approaches to phenomenology and even disagreement over whether it is an approach or a method (Wilkes 1991 - can't find online at the moment). There is a discussion of the primacy of subjective consciousness; awareness that this consciousness bestows meaning and that this meaning can be accounted for through reflexivity. Polit, Beck & Hungler (2001) suggest that the approach is of use when studying a phenomenon that is not well described.

1.2. Why it is valued in educational research
Human experience is revealed through rich descriptions from the people being studied. It preserves the integrity of the situation where it is used (Cohen, Mannion & Morrison, 2007). This leads to insight and awareness of participants' inner worlds. The phenomenological researcher uses their "intuition, imagination and universal structures to obtain a picture" (Cresswell, 1998) of the experience under study. The subjective judgement of the researcher is a key part of the phenomenological approach (Polit & Hungler, 1991).

1.3. Bracketing
The author discusses the role of bracketing as vital in Husserlian/transcendental phenomenology. He then discusses Heideggerian hermeneutic phenomenology where we cannot separate our own 'being in the world' (dasein?). Attempts to bridge the gap between Husserl's and Heidegger's views on bracketing have led to the suggestion that the researcher acknowledges the subjective views that describe individual realities. These views include those of the researcher. The author suggests self reflection as a tool to define the researcher's concerns and explain their world view. Open acknowledgement  of the researcher's viewpoint is made explicit to the reader. The philosophical viewpoint of the researcher should be made clear, to provide methodological transparency. Rigour and trustworthiness rest on the researcher clearly demonstrating their preconceptions and contribution to the interview process (Lowes & Prowse, 2001).

The researcher  is the primary instrument of research therefore we need to begin by examining, identifying and acknowledging values, experiences and expectations in relation to the research, and why we are interested in the topic. This can be done through a researcher as instrument statement.

2. Framing the research question.

Framing the initial research question is the first step in the research process (Wellington, 2011). At the bottom of page 172 - some (possibly) good information on how to come up with a research question, by working through the author's own thought processes.

3. Interviews as research instruments

The role of interviewing as a means of data collection is to gather knowledge as generated between humans, often through conversations. Interviews allow subjects to provide their personal views and interpretations of the world. Interviews are multi-sensory, with both verbal and non-verbal communication. There is co-construction of the interview between the interviewer and interviewee (Walford, 2001). "A tacit tension exists between the need for an interviewing framework and the essential naivety required for phenomenological interviewing" (p. 175). The author's suggestion here is that, especially for the beginning researcher, questions do need to be outlined prior to the interview. However, the researcher should have the courage and intuition to follow up areas of interest that relate specifically to the research question, even if they haven't been considered during the planning process.

3.2. Phenomenological interviewing and the interview framework
Seidman (1991) suggests that the researcher needs to have an interest in the stories of others. e need to remain open to emergent experiences. Interview schedules are developed to identify the experience and its meaning for the participants.

4. Sampling and conducting the interview

Use of purposive sampling - selecting appropriate information from sources to explain meanings. We need to make a conscious decision on the site of choice for interviewing as this can affect interviewee response.

5. Ethical considerations

We have a moral obligation to conduct research ethically and to take all necessary precautions to avoid harm. Must seek approval from the ethics committee. BERA require voluntary informed consent. A participant information sheet and consent form are provided. Clear and accurate records of the research procedures followed. Secure data storage.

6. IPA of interview transcripts

The author suggests approaching the data with two aims:
1. To try to understand the participants' world and describe 'what it is like';
2. To develop a more overtly interpretative analysis, positioning the initial description in a wider social, cultural and theoretical context  (Larkin, Watts & Clifton, 2006 - have already read this - go back to!) The novice is therefore using a proven framework.

6.1. Phenomenological reduction
There should be bracketing of the researcher's personal views and assumptions during analysis. It is an analysis of the experience 'as lived' rather than allowing personal/theoretical concepts to get in the way of the rigour with which the description was being analysed. Need to read the transcripts 'naively' several times to get a sense of the whole (consider the hermeneutic circle here - exploration of the part/the whole and back to the part?)

6.2. First order constructs
Hycner (1985) recommends that the researcher delineates units of general meaning through scrutiny of verbal and non-verbal responses, to distil the meaning of the participant, using rich data from the participants themselves.  "Construct" = an abstract or general idea extracted from specific instances by systematically arranging ideas or terms to create a mental framework. First order constructs are units of participant statements kept in their original verbatim form.

6.3. Second order constructs
This is where we interpret meaning from the verbatim text to illuminate the phenomenon in approachable terms (Van Manen, 1990). We look for convergence and divergence by interpreting the narrative and describing and arranging themes into categories - second order constructs.
Taber (1991) describes first order constructs s how the participant conceptualises the phenomenon of interest and second order constructs as how the researcher makes sense of the phenomenon through interpretation.

6.4. Clustering of themes
The second order constructs are grouped into themes. During this phase the researcher moves between the parts and the whole (hermeneutic circle), and clusters the themes into a meaningful relation - structural synthesis of the core elements of the described experience.

7. Discussion of findings

The direct story of the participant recounted that mentoring was a good, helpful experience. The researcher then positioned the participant's interpretation of 'goodness' and 'helpfulness' within a theoretical framework to gain a full picture of what the mentoring experience meant. The researcher clustered the themes under three key constructs defined in relation to the pupil's interpretation of her mentoring experience: mentor constructs, pupil constructs and impact constructs.

8. Conclusion - reflections on phenomenological interviewing

Trustworthiness of the data is an issue  the participants may feel they have to provide the 'true' answer. This would depend on any power relationship between interviewer and participant. The researcher found that he needed more detailed responses to answer the research question - see my comments at the beginning. This is something I must try to get right!

Further reading:

Cohen, Mannion & Morrison, 2007 Research methods in education (6th ed.).

Cresswell (1998) Qualitative enquiry and research design: choosing among five traditions.

Larkin Watts & Clifton 2006. Giving voice and making sense in IPA

Lowes & Prowse (2001). Standing outside the interview process? The illusion of objectivity in phenomenological data generation.

Polit, Beck & Hungler (2001). Essentials of nursing research: methods, appraisals and utilisation.

Polit & Hungler (1991) Nursing research: principles, methods (3rd ed.).

Taber (1991) Triangulating job attitudes.....

Seidman (1991) Interviewing as qualitative research

Van Manen (1990) Researching lived experience: human science for an action sensitive pedagogy

Walford (2001). Doing qualitative educational research: a personal guide to the research process.

Wellington, 2011. Educational research: contemporary issues and practical approaches.

Wilkes (1991). Phenomenology: A window to the nursing world. In G. Gray & R. Pratt, Towards a discipline of nursing (pp. 229-246). Melbourne, Australia: Churchill Livingstone.

Wimpenny & Gass (2000) Interviewing in phenomenology and grounded theory: Is there a difference?

Saturday, 26 December 2015

More policy background - New Labour and HE by D. Watson

Certainly whilst I was working in FE, the labour period was one of growth and developments. Since the coalition and Conservative governments FE, like most areas of spending, has had its funding cut significantly. This paper is an interesting discussion of New Labour's policies in HE, in relation to WP as a key theme running through Labour's government.

Watson, D. (2006). New Labour and higher education. Perspectives, 10(4), 92-96.

Participation and social justice
Watson starts by suggesting that WP is a troublesome issue in HE, with a wide range of research identifying just as wide a range of 'answers' to the issues. Within the Higher Education Act 2004, there was discussion of 'under-represented groups' for the first time. Watson suggests that political interference into who is worthy or not worthy of support is a concern. He cites that admission tutors (Wilde et al., 2006 - see below for link). He dismisses Schwarz's arguments (DfES 2004a and 2004b). There is discussion over WP - it shouldn't just be about raising aspirations but also "fair access to prestigious institutions" (p. 93). This is not as big a problem as getting disadvantages students *to* university.

Watson suggests the following interventions:
- WP is about improving the quality of the school-based experience for all students, especially those from under-represented groups;
- WP is about parental expectations;
- WP is about governments and employers recognising that L3 is the key for the development of a learning society;
- WP is about employers living up to their promises of supporting younger and older workers in their learning journeys.

There is a tension between the expansion of HE and participation - an increase in HE places risks further disadvantaging non-participants.

Watson expresses concern that HEIs may think this is SEP, and continue to recruit those who are easiest to recruit, then look for others to meet the numbers.

From the Secretary  of State's letter to HEFCE (2006): "The second priority is on WP for low income families - due to entrenched inequality, and equates to a waste of human capital" - from this quote it can be seen that the political focus is on capital.

HE and the public interest
What is the public interest in HE? It is not the same as that of the government or the state. He suggests we need to consider what is the university in a civil society, and how and for whom do HEIs work? Are students customers, clients or members? What is the effect of a university, as opposed to other methods of knowledge production? All of these affect public policy surrounding universities - with New Labour, Watson suggests that many policies are determined in spite of evidence rather than because of it. Plus ca change....

Facing the future
Watson suggest short term initiatives should be 'framed' within "an ambitious overall policy goal".

SO what?
Some useful background information here. Also, it has forced me to consider the gap that WP can cause. It's fine to bang on about widening participation, but how does that leave those who cannot/do  not want to go into HE? Second class citizens to the employer? Especially when considered in conjunction with the Wolf Report (previous post) where she bemoans the dearth of apprenticeships for young people. Not directly relevant to assignment one but interesting.

Further reading to do:

Wilde, Wright, Hayward, Johnson, Skerret, Nuffield review higher education focus groups: Preliminary report.

Friday, 25 December 2015

The Wolf Report

This post looks at the Wolf report into vocational education. It's a recent key report into VE, and I should probably have been more aware of its contents than I was. Its content and recommendations aren't probably of specific relevance to my current work, but it's important to have an understanding of the context of the politics surrounding FE. The report stresses the relevance and employers' understanding of long-standing vocational qualifications at level 3, such as the BTEC. Where Wolf feels that students are let down are many of the lower level VQs which do not lead on to further qualifications. However, as an  overview to remind me at a later date, I've put down the key points and spent some time on the context, as I'm lacking in knowledge of the background.

Wolf, A. (2011). Review of vocational education - the Wolf Report. Retrieved from

Purpose: Consider how we can improve VE for 14 to 189 yos and thereby promote successful progression into the labour market and into HE and training routes.

The working definition of VE used: all qualifications, other than GCSEs, A levels, IGCSEs and IB, that incorporate clear vocational content and referencing.

Introduction: There are around 2.5 million 14-19yos, most in full- or part-time education. Education and training programmes should allow young people to progress. There is high youth unemployment. Most 14-19yos take some form of vocational qualification. Almost two thirds of young people don't take A levels - the conventional academic route. Wolf suggests that there is a failing of vocational provision, with no clear progression opportunities. Around 350,000 young people "are poorly served by current arrangements" (p. 21). This is not just a failure of education provision but of changes in labour markets. There is failure of vocational programmes due to constant reorganisations of 14-19 education by central government. She suggests we need a reduction in the centralised management of qualifications and greater involvement of employers, increased efficiency and more relevant qualifications.

The social and labour market context: There has been a reduction in the youth labour market. There are high returns on education and qualifications and high aspirations to HE. There are also high returns to work experience. Rapid economic change is having unpredictable effects on the labour market. All of these impact on 14-19 VQs.

1. Collapse of the youth labour markets: Apprenticeships are a valuable route into employment throughout the EU. The number of young people in employment is low. Those not in education and training face high levels of unemployment. England has very high youth unemployment, up to 25yos. People are pushed into education due to the lack of jobs. even before the 2009 recession, youth unemployment was rising and the number of NEETs increasing.

The nature of the labour market: There is a high level of 'over-qualification' for jobs, but shortages in very specific areas - as demonstrated by the returns for specific qualifications, especially quantitative ones. It is now harder for 16 -17 yos to find employment due to legislation making it more difficult (H&S). The employer perception of 16-17yos leaving education is one of 'low achievers'.

2. High returns to education and qualifications: Education and qualifications 'pay'. Low level VQs have very low returns - they have little or no labour market value (level 2 qualifications). Employers look for qualifications with which they are familiar, rather than trying to keep up with constant qualification reforms.

3. High returns to apprenticeship and employment: Employers value work experience - this explains the high returns associated with apprenticeships. "The best predictor of being employed in the future is being employed now" (p. 34).

4. Occupational change: There is rapid economic and occupational change and a decline in skilled manual jobs.

Implications of change (A): YPs entry into the English labour market:- YP are very likely to change both jobs and occupations in the first years of employment, There is considerable 2churn2 in and out of education and employment.

Implications of change (B): How education systems are adapting - facts and misconceptions:- Most developed countries now delay specialisation to later stages. England pushes for earlier and more complete specialisation in both academic and vocational tracks.

Implications of change (C): Challenges for VE:- VE needs to take into account the varying job histories YP can expect to experience. Needs to take into account aspirations for higher study.

The educational context:
Issues: Young people taking VQs which the labour market does not reward; and also established VQs valued by industry being denied accreditation and funding by the government. YP are being encouraged to take VQs which will reduce opportunities for progression. There are high drop out rates and 'churning'. The funding systems discourage further English/maths courses post-16. There is a marked decrease in returns to post-16 VQs. The causes of these issues are complex.

There has been rapid and repeated change in VE over the past 25 years, for example: new 'non-academic' qualifications such as the Diploma, designed by central government; increasing regulation of qualifications for 14-19yos; redesign of VQs to a specific vocational focus; changes in performance management by central government; apprenticeship reform; changes in funding formulae for 14-19yos; changes/redesign of maths and English, especially for those on VQs.

Key issues A: Key Stage 4: Until recently, VQs were only a small proportion of a 14-15yos timetable. In the 1990s, GNVQs were introduced, at first for post 16s only. Then came GCSE equivalencies for VQs such as BTEC Firsts. The QCA's programme of 'equivalencies' to ensure all qualifications at a particular level are treated as substantively equivalent (and with parity).

Key Issues B: Upper 2nd, age 16-19: No major changes, unlike KS4. Most study for AS and A levels - the 'sixth form' pathway. BTEC awards also attract substantial numbers and are well recognised by HE; these are teacher assessed and awarding body verified.

Part 4: Audit of current provision
In 2009 11.4% of UK applicants accepted for HE entry had BTEC ND and no A levels. A further 1.7% had BTEC national plus A levels. 37.1%  had A levels alone. In 1999 only 4.9 of acceptances had only BTEC nationals. 14-19 education should equip young people to follow different routes successfully and not operate as a tracking system.

1. There is a mismatch between labour market requirements and VE provision. The content of many current VQs is not valued by employers and the labour market. Level 2 courses allow limited progression and lead to churning.
2. The labour market recognises qualifications that are stable and familiar - academic qualifications have been relatively stable. YPs employment patterns imply a need for more general rather than highly specific VQs; however, YP are increasingly being offered only highly specific VQs.

The report discusses the mismatches in VQs and the labour market in detail as well as the role of apprenticeships. There are a large number of recommendations, which the 2015 review returns to.

Need to: Review the Government's response to the Wolf report and also any updates (2015) - for future work rather than of relevance now.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

The toddler explanation of creativity

I was sitting with our little boy yesterday, whilst he drew a picture. At each stage he explained the following:
- what he was drawing;
- why he was drawing it;
- an explanation of the story behind what he'd drawn.

The drawing started off as a donkey. But gradually, layers of story were built upon the donkey drawing. The finished drawing no longer looked like a donkey, but it had a complex narrative woven into it.

What's this got to do with an EdD? Metaphor for understanding, for building an assignment or a thesis? Perhaps just an idea of how to tackle the module on creativity in education next year. I just wanted to capture the idea, the process, before I forgot. Thanks Thomas, and thanks Donkey.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Research on the transition from vocational education and training to higher education

Dunbar-Goddet, H. & Ertl, H. (2007). Research on the transition from vocational education and training to higher education. Degrees of Success Working Paper 1.

This paper discusses the method used in the previous paper I looked at. It has some useful information to consider, relating to questions. It also makes me realise that everything seems to have been done before. After all, this paper is 8 years old.

Context: The current debate on WP in HE in relation to VET needs to consider two issues:
1. The increase in participation in post-compulsory education;
2. Issues of parity of VQs and 'academic' qualifications (i.e. A levels).

Despite the expansion in the HE sector, the greatest levels of growth are seen in students from the traditional source, that is middle class backgrounds who have entered HE with traditional A level qualifications. A substantial increase in VQs in secondary education has not opened the doors to an equality of access to HE. There is tracking of VET students to less prestigious HEIs.

Government policy under New Labour was to improve the perceived academic value of VQs. The authors found a gap in the knowledge about transition from level three VQs to HE and whether increasing participation in VET has led to widened participation in HE.

Project overview: large scale data analysis and some more in depth interviews, both of students and tutors.

Research design: A variety of questions, including "To what extent are students in VQs prepared fro studies in HE?" "What mechanisms are in place to remedy any lack of preparation?"

Since the 1970s arrange of questionnaires have been used to measure how students approach study in HE (Richardson, 2000). See: Approaches to Studying Inventory, Learning and Studying Questionnaire. See also Ertl, Hayward et al., 2007: The student learning experience in higher education literature review report for the HEA

See also: Christie et al. (2006) From college to university: Looking backwards, looking forwards.

The research had not only a question on preparedness for HE but also on unpreparedness. I would also need to consider asking questions about parental education and whether or not they were first generation HE. Other questions could cover the main challenges they find in academic skills, and how they overcome them., and what their expectations were about academic study at HE and how they thought it would differ from FE. The links above can help me formulate my questions. See p. 28 of article for the questions they used.

They start off with gentle questions such as "Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, for example can you describe the qualifications you obtained before coming into higher education?", "What subject did you study?", "Before you came to university, how well did you think your qualification prepared you for further study?" "Now you've been at university for a while, how well do you now think your vocational qualification prepared you for study at university?"

I need to think around these questions, and then think about what questions I can ask that will help me to answer *my* specific research question. It will be important to make sure we both understand what we mean by academic skills as this is what I'm interested in, rather than general differences between college and HE.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The transition from vocational education and training to higher education: a successful pathway?

Hoelscher, M., Hayward, G., Ertl, H., & Dunbar-Goddet, H. (2008). The transition from vocational education and training to higher education: a successful pathway? Research Papers in education, 23(2), 139-151.

This is an interesting paper as it briefly mentions something my tutor discussed and which I didn't really pick up on: post-hoc rationalisation of decision-making.

Because of the fragmentation of research, access to HE is considered a troublesome area. There is a policy aim to increase access to higher education through the vocational education and training (VET) route but the authors state that there has been little research into how effective these policies have been nor on the types of HEIs that VET students typically access.

Descriptive analysis: where/how individuals with differing prior educational backgrounds participate in HE.

Rationale: New Labour's social policy was the indivisibility of economic efficiency and social justice. Tony Blair said that employees should be equipped with the skills to help them prosper in the workforce. Therefore, the State’s role is ensuring provision of adequate opportunities to develop human capital.
There is a belief that more diverse educational opportunities beyond age 16 would lead to increasing and widening participation in HE. This produces both individual and social returns on investment.
There has been a large increase in participation in full time education beyond 16 (Hayward, 2006), not least due to the increase in level 3 vocational qualifications. These are marketed as a means of progressing to HE, and so widening participation. However, research has shown that this link is not strong. Research by Pugsley (2004) suggests that some vocational qualifications provide minimal opportunity for progression. Therefore there is room to consider whether the increase in participation in VET has increased participation of those from a VET background in HE.

Data sources: The authors used large scale administrative datasets, which were supplemented by case studies at five HEIs.

TO LOOK UP: Dunbar-Goddet and Ertl (2007) outline the theoretical framework and research questions and ibid. (2008) a detailed description of the questionnaire data.

Large scale datasets: The authors define five different types of prior education pathways: general academic; vocational; general academic and vocational; foundation and access courses, and not level three/not known. Perhaps I should consider using this definition? The authors discuss the problem of defining vocational education in the UK – this is also something I need to discuss. They choose a pragmatic, rather than a conceptual, definition. For a more in depth study, a consideration of the characteristics of vocational qualifications would be needed.

Case study data: Two surveys were undertaken with the entire intake of students in three subject areas (business, nursing and computing) at 5 HEIs, for the 06-07 academic year. Interviews with 40 students provided insights into rationales for choosing both HEI and subject. The authors mention the fact of post hoc rationalisation of the students’ decisions will take place and mention Hall (2001).
Hall, however, refers to Thomas, Adams and Birchenough’s study from 1996 “Student withdrawal from higher education”, where they state: “data collected through post-hoc student surveys must be treated with caution as it may reflect socially acceptable rationalisations of what actually happened”.

Distribution of students over institutions and subjects: Both institution and subject choice are influenced by a range of factors such as personal interests, social or ethnic background, social capital, etc. They are also influenced by prior attainment, such as educational background.

Institutional choices: HE students in FE were not analysed. There was an unequal distribution of students from different educational backgrounds in different HEI types. Only 13.5% of VET students were at pre-’92 institutions. VET students went to HEIs with the lowest RAE results; therefore, the authors suggest, A levels are the major route into more prestigious HEIs. It is possible that the students are what the authors call “tracked” into these less prestigious JEIs or track themselves into these HEIs.
Interviews gave a deeper understanding of individuals’ choices of institutions. The most common reason for choice was location, across all educational pathways. The second reason was the perceived quality of institution and/or course. There was often a process of ‘self limitation’ – students tended to exclude many institutions located beyond perceived barriers of physical (proximity to home), academic (grade requirements) or social (friends) space.

Subjects studied: Some subjects are more vocationally oriented than others. There must be fair access for those with non-traditional backgrounds across all academic areas, otherwise there is a continuation of the academic/vocational divide.
The authors used ‘odds-ratio’ to analyse the data. The greatest differences were found in medicine/dentistry and veterinary science, which had a 25 times lower entry for VET students. VET students were over-represented in ‘engineering and technology’, ‘business and admin’, education, agriculture and computer sciences. It is possible that those with vocational qualifications are more attracted to applied subjects.
Different wage premia are connected with degrees in different subjects, but there is no clear pattern between prior qualifications.

Is there a difference for subjects within different types of institution? A level students are much more likely to study at pre-’92 institutions, even when accounting for their subjects.

One explicit goal of the current widening participation agenda is to open up pathways for students from VET backgrounds into HE. The paper looked at the notion of “fair access”, encouraging a more even distribution of students from disadvantaged backgrounds across HEIs and courses which offer the highest financial returns. Although the policy appears effective (VET students are participating in HE), there is little evidence of the PARITY OF ESTEEM, with most VET students at post-’92 HEIs with lower RAE and QAA results. Reasons for this are associated with tracking within a stratified HE system and also individual choice. Tracking suggests that significant institutional barriers remain, funnelling VET students into post-92 HEIs. Personal choice is also involved and is highly individualised. This includes evidence of self-limitation through physical, academic and social barriers. The authors suggest that the policies riving these changes are too weak to achieve the desired outcome.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Assignment 1 notes

Introduction - general blurb and structure

My background

Quantitative vs qualitative

Paradigms - postivists/interpretivist/CT Discuss and dismiss, drawing out where I stand and why I stand there.

Methodology - discussion of methodology. Considering phenomenology (discuss theory/history) and interpretive rather than descriptive (why?) will need to show how their own experiences have shaped the choice of research topic, the questions and their interpretations. How do I stand within a hermeneutic circle?

Consider the issues of validity

Method: semi-structured interviews of students; purposive sampling; taping;


On the right track!

I had a meeting with the module tutor today, about my proposed research for the Research Methods module To say I was nervous was an understatement! I sort of expected to be quizzed on my ontological and epistemological standpoint and be questioned on my choice (seemingly random) of methodology.

But no. Hurrah! I gave an overview of my background and interest and then of my research question. The tutor started off by saying it was a widely studied area, so my immediate concern was that there would be no further area to study. The tutor reeled off list after list of reports surrounding the area of vocational qualifications and their perception in relation to A levels. These I'll have to acquaint/reacquaint myself with:

- Higginson report on A levels in 1988
- Tomlinson report which was quashed by the Blair/Brown government in the run up to the 2010 election
He suggested that I tap into the long history on the topic of vocational qualifications and their role in equipping young people to become career-ready, for example Leitch's Review of Skills

He also suggested I read up on Michael Young: A Curriculum for the 21st Century? Towards a New Basis for Overcoming Academic/Vocational Divisions (can't currently access this online anywhere).

We also discussed (well, I listened...) Foucault's discursive practices relating to policy, with the suggestion that policies speak into existence the behaviours and understandings of us all. Policies inform practice and there is a sovereignty of academic qualifications over vocational qualifications; students come to believe in this 'truth' through socialisation.

With regard to the use of IPA, the tutor was happy for me to use this methodology. He stressed the importance of location of my self within the research, and suggested that I ensure disclosure of my background, in the introduction, to identify the lens through which I view and interpret the research. This will be discussed in relation to the theory of reflexivity My own thought is that I need to mention bracketing, if only to explain why I discount it. Furthermore, something I haven't mentioned previously, is that I am the first generation of the family to go to university. This is something worth mentioning. Currently, I remain the only member of my side of t he family to do so.

SO, where am I? In a happier place about my thoughts about how to go about this assignment and research project.

What do I need to do now?
- Reconsider my assignment plan to incorporate policies/discursive practices
- Consider adding info on the various reports highlighted
- Develop my location of self
- Get cracking on the ethics side of things! This is what may well hold me up.