Research Project

Professional Learning of Vocational Educators

Vocational educators need to keep learning during their career, but offering them workshops and courses may not be the only solution. Why? Because most of the learning done by vocational educators happens on the job as they learn with and from colleagues, students, industry partners, and other stakeholders. Therefore, this project has three objectives:

1.To better understand how vocational educators learn on the job.

2. To identify strategies for optimizing workplace practices, so that instructors continue to learn professionally during their daily work.

3. To develop training and education for educational developers and department chairs in vocational education on the subject of fostering professional learning of post-secondary vocational teachers.

Why do vocational educators need to learn?

1. Changing practices in industry

Vocational educators need to stay abreast of the changes in the industry/trade/profession they teach so that students learn the most up-to-date skills, standards, practices, and requirements.

2. The student population is changing.

In Alberta, labour shortages cause an increased demand for skilled tradespeople. Because of the labour shortage, immigrants are attracted to Alberta and vocational institutions see an increasing number of immigrant students.A growing number of people change careers and attend vocational education later in life. The vocational classroom thus includes multiple generations, nationalities, and cultural backgrounds, requiring the vocational teacher to learn how to teach a diverse student population.

3. Educational innovation

Career and Technical Training needs to meet the demands of employers. Vocational Educators need to teach to the tasks that students are expected to perform on the job. This requires the teaching and assessment of real-world, hands-on tasks and practices, skills that vocational educators need to acquire.

4. Expanding role of vocational educators

In addition, polytechnic institutions are increasingly engaging in Applied Research. Vocational institutions across Canada face similar challenges and require vocational educators to operate at the forefront of new technological innovations, engage in applied research, and engage students in innovative practices (e.g. polytechnicscanada.ca). In order to meet these changing requirements, vocational and trades education institutions should invest in the ongoing professional development of their teachers.

How do we study instructor professional learning?

We use a case-study approach to study six departments across three post-secondary institutes. We observe meetings, instructors fill out a survey, and we interview randomly selected instructors in each department. We specifically look at instructors’ learning activities and how they’re embedded in departmental practices. Departmental practices studied include culture of feedback and collaboration, performance assessment, support for professional development, reflective dialogue, shared norms and goals, and instructors’ sense of autonomy.

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