What Happened to Vocational Educational?

A friend who is not involved in education recently asked me, "Whatever happened to vocational educational?" He was thinking about when he was a kid in school back in the 1960s and there came a point before high school where he was presented with a choice. That choice was to go on to high school and prepare for college or go to a vocational school and prepare for a job. That choice is not so evident today in America.

Vocational education in the United States varies from state to state, but vocational schools (AKA trade schools) are both seen as an alternative high school experience and as post-secondary schools. In both cases, they teach the skills necessary to help students acquire jobs in specific industries. Both types of schools still exist.

The breadth of offerings has certainly increased since my friend's options almost 60 years ago, but some industries still are options, such as cooking, business courses, drafting, construction, auto repair, and some healthcare careers.

If we are talking about the postsecondary vocational training, much of that training is now provided by proprietary (privately-owned) career schools.

About 30 percent of all credentials in career training is provided by two-year community colleges.

We should also consider military technical training or government-operated adult education centers as part of this area.

I taught at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and quickly discovered that many people unfamiliar with that university interpreted the name (especially the "institute" part) to mean we were a vocational school. (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, doesn't seem to have this issue.)

The biggest difference between vocational schools and traditional colleges is the amount of time students need to complete their education. Most vocational schools offer programs that students can complete in about one or two years. Students attending traditional colleges often take four to five years to complete their education. Traditional colleges also require students to complete a liberal arts education. Students must enroll in a broad range of courses that are not necessarily related to their area of study. Vocational schools require students to enroll only in classes that pertain to their particular trades.

Manhattan trade school for girls

Manhattan trade school for girls, 1916

In the U.S., vocational education really moved forward in the early 1900s with an effort to introduce German-style industrial education. Educators were looking at the apprenticeship and continuation school models in Germany and were determining how they could be applied in an American context.

The industrial education system evolved more rapidly after World War I into what we call vocational education. On the timeline, the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917 was meant to reduce reliance on foreign trade schools, improve domestic wage-earning capacity, reduce unemployment, and protect national security.

The George-Barden Act after WWII expanded federal support of vocational education to support vocations beyond the 4 most common subject areas (agriculture, trade, home economics, and industrial subjects).

The National Defense Education Act of 1958 was focused on improving education in science, mathematics, foreign languages and other areas with a particular focus on topics related to national defense.

In the next decade, the Vocational Education Act (1963) was designed to give support for work-study programs and research. The Vocational Education Amendments (1968) was a modification that created the National Advisory Council on Vocational Education.

In 1984, the Vocational Education Act was renamed the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act and amended six years later created the Tech-Prep Program to coordinate educational activities into a coherent sequence of courses.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, vocation ed and "trade schools" acquired a stigma of being below the quality of college and just slightly better than high school. In fact, many vocational programs were in high schools and had become standalone vocational high schools during that time period. 

This stigma even carried over to the 2-year colleges who were not aided by the use of the term "Junior College" that was once used before community and county colleges became the preferred terms.

Still, the "Stigma of Choosing Trade School Over College" persists, as that title from an article in The Atlantic notes. 
"When college is held up as the one true path to success, parents—especially highly educated ones—might worry when their children opt for vocational school instead." 


Vocational education in other countries https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocational_education#By_country   

https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/other/vocational-education-training/

What Is on the Horizon in Higher Education

horizonThe annual EDUCAUSE Horizon Report for Higher Education is always interesting to read. The report for 2019 is online now. It is 44 pages, so it would be a full lunchtime read, but as a cheater's guide or preview I offer the two parts that I always look at first.  

One is the section on "Key Trends Accelerating Higher Education Technology Adoption."  If you look back at past reports you will see that some trends come back for several years. That is partly intentional as the report predicts ones that should be considered "Short-Term" meaning in the next one or two years, as well as ones for 3-5 years and long-term trends that are probably 5+ years away.

Of course, there are also trends and tech developments that are almost perennial. We always seem to be rethinking online learning, learning spaces and assessment. And some tech, such as blockchain and rethinking degrees, have been "on the horizon" for a chunk of years and still don't seem to be really making a big difference.

In the short-term, the report lists "Redesigning Learning Spaces" and "Blended Learning Designs."

For Mid-Term Adoption in the next 3-5 years, they list "Advancing Cultures of Innovation" and a "Growing Focus on Measuring Learning." I think the latter should be moved up as a perennial topic.

In the 5+ years category is the rather broad "Rethinking How Institutions Work" and the returning "Modularized and Disaggregated Degrees."

The other section I always jump to is called "Important Developments in Technology for Higher Education." Again, there are predicted "Time-to-Adoption Horizons" given for each. 

The report also considers the challenges in adopting any of these technologies or trends. For example, one that I have been challenged by since I started in higher education tech in 2000 is what they term "The Evolving Roles of Faculty with Ed Tech Strategies."

The report says about that (and I generally agree) that:

"At institutions of any type or size, involving faculty in the selection and implementation of educational technologies can be difficult. Whether an institution is implementing a new courseware platform for the purpose of personalizing learning or building a completely new program by applying a pedagogical approach such as competency-based learning, such efforts face a range of challenges. Identifying learning outcomes and engagement strategies before identifying educational technology solutions creates an advantage by establishing faculty buy-in at the earliest stages of a strategic initiative.

The role of full-time faculty and adjuncts alike includes being key stakeholders in the adoption and scaling of digital solutions; as such, faculty need to be included in the evaluation, planning, and implementation of any teaching and learning initiative. Institutions that address the needs of all faculty through flexible strategic planning and multimodal faculty support are better situated to overcome the barriers to adoption that can impede scale.

...in order for faculty to fully engage in educational technology, training and professional development should be provided to facilitate incorporation of technology... adjunct faculty also need to be considered in professional development...workshops that include both faculty and students could enable learning for both groups of stakeholders."

But I do always bristle when the business of education overrides pedagogy, such as the statement that "frameworks for tech implementation and prioritizing tech that offers high ROI should be a guiding principle for institutional tech adoption for faculty use."

Mergers and Acquisitions in EdTech

Mergers and acquisitions are not just the business of Wall Street. They happen in education - especially in the technology side of higher education.

Last week it was announced that Cengage and McGraw-Hill plan to merge. (A move that may have monopoly implications.) They are both at the top of the country’s textbook publishers. With a merger, they would have 44,000 titles in a range of fields. 

This week, John Wiley & Sons announced they are buying the assets of Knewton. Knewton started out as an edtech company with adaptive-learning tools that could work with content from commercial publishers. But beyond that attraction, Wiley is probably interested in Knewton's more recent move towards being a platform that incorporates open educational resources (OER). In 2017, Pearson moved away from using Knewton’s adaptive-learning technology. Knewton's Alta digital-courseware is its OER platform.

Wiley’s president and chief executive, Brian Napack, told The Chronicle that the product costs students about $40 per course, and that Wiley wants to “double down” on low-cost options, "because we think the future needs to look different than the past.”

Credit Hours and Personalized Learning

classroomCredit hours are something that still wield a lot of power in education. It plays a role in high schools, but it really rules in higher education.

Credit hours were once known as Carnegie Units. It goes back to 1906, but it was not designed as a way of measuring learning. It was meant as a method to calculate faculty workloads in order to formulate pensions.

Earlier, admission to colleges was by examinations which varied greatly among colleges, but the method was unreliable. Charles W. Eliot at Harvard University devised a contact-hour standard for secondary education, and also the original credit-hour collegiate post-secondary standard. This is where we get our 3 credit course based on 3 contact hours per week. But the widespread adoption of the 120-hour secondary standard did not occur until the Carnegie Foundation began to provide retirement pensions (now known as TIAA-CREF) for university professors. A stipulation of the pensions was that the universities needed to enforce the 120-hour secondary standard in their admissions.

It only took four years for nearly all secondary institutions in the United States to use the "Carnegie Unit" as a measure of secondary course work. 

The Carnegie Foundation also established that both high school preparation and college "work" would include a minimum of four years of study. But the Carnegie Foundation did not intend the Units to "measure, inform or improve the quality of teaching or learning."

Unfortunately, the credit hour became the standard way to measure the student's workload and progress through those four years in secondary and higher education. Should these credit units be revised or abandoned?

The Carnegie Foundation said in 2012 that "technology has revealed the potential of personalized learning," and that "it is time to consider how a revised unit, based on competency rather than time, could improve teaching and learning in high schools, colleges and universities."

Personalized learning is sometimes suggested as a way to replace the Carnegie Unit and credit hours because it could be based on competency rather than time

But what personalized learning means seems to vary by practitioner. Even the term used to describe the practice varies. Personalized learning is sometimes called individualized instruction, differentiated instruction, direct instruction or a personal learning environment. Though they are not all the same things, they are all used to describe education that is adjusted to meet the needs of different students.

Edutopia published an article on several "myths" about personalized learning that are worth considering in any discussion of changing the way we measure workload and progress.

Because many efforts in personalized learning in the 21st century involved computers and software that allowed students to work at their own pace, personalized learning is associated with technology-based instruction.

The "personalized" part of learning is often thought to mean that students work independently. In a class of 25 students it is unlikely that there will need to be 25 distinct learning paths. Students will often work on collaborative competencies along with individual competencies focused on content and skills. Student interests shared with others in the classroom will form affinity groups for group projects and learning experiences.

Personalized learning is about learners moving at their own pace which is why students demonstrating mastery of content fits into a competency-based system.

Truly personalized learning also involves learners in setting goals and being involved in the planning and learning process. This may be the most radically different aspect of personalized learning. It is very "student-centered" so learners can select their resources and explore different ways to learn in flexible learning spaces. They may also connect their learning to their interests and passions, and even have a voice in how their learning will be assessed.

What has not changed in most personalized learning settings today are the competencies that must be met.

Personalized learning allows for self-pacing, but when students move through competencies at different speeds "credit hours" are irrelevant. If one student moves through a course set of competencies in half the "normal" time should they receive all or half the credit. Obviously, they should receive all the credit. What if they move through all the competencies in a program (degree) in two years? Do they graduate?

Personalized learning is an approach to learning — not a set program. And it is still being formulated and experimented with at different grade levels. But our learning experiments should be combined with experimentation in how we measure movement through learning.