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On Being a Workplace Education Practitioner

“Being a workplace education practitioner often means being a person who brings educational know-how to bear on workplace issues, often issues of workplace change where people are looking together for new responses to new situations.  We operate in the overlap between education and work so that learning and work are meaningfully connected.”

Tracy Defoe, Sue Folinsbee,  Mary Ellen Belfiore

The creation of my first blended learning course is coming to completion. It is almost ready to vet with the user – most likely resulting in review and edit.  I’ve discovered many things in the process, but one stands out clearly above the others.  It is the lessons I learned while conducting a very brief study for ADLT 650 on the literacy practices involved with professional development for teachers.  Professional development is the purpose of my blended course.  The study methodology included observing teachers in the act of receiving professional development, surveying them on the experience, and interviewing several teachers of varying experience levels about professional development in general.  It was through the process of interviewing that I learned the most about the course design – much more than I would have learned in a traditional needs assessment process, much more than a ‘stakeholder focus group’ would have revealed.

The study revealed that current professional development practices are not aligned with the needs of teacher as learner; therefore teachers have little motivation to change instructional practices as a result.  In this context there are multiple layers of functional literacy in the deeply-rooted ideologies of the culture to further explore and comprehend.   One of the most interesting findings for me was the idea that teachers, in this high school environment, consider their subject area department as “family.” As such, there is an implied trust and belief in taking care of their own.  This is accomplished by observing and talking with each other, through mentoring and transferring of knowledge.  This is how they define meaningful professional development, not participating in a training session.  Teachers expressed a desire for professional development to be relevant to what they need to learn (practical), of their choosing, peer-to-peer based in small groups, applicable to their teaching practice (useful), and interactive-based (interesting).  Ironically, these are the many qualities of instructional theory and practice behind project-based learning.

And, fortunately, this is the magic of the blended learning design approach I took for my project. The bridge between theory and practice is built from both sides.  It applies collaborative problem solving with outside consultant expertise in successful implementation and internal experts (teachers and grant resources) shaping the content for relevance.  Teachers use their own practices and curriculum, integrating with other areas of instruction, and immediately applying their work in the classroom.

I just may have gotten it right.

Reading Work:  Literacies in the New Workplace (Belfiore, Defoe, Folinsbee, Hunter, and Jackson) is an excellent read for those that want to better understand the role of the workplace education practitioner.  It shed a new light on my practice.  The authors describe how they “work with people to build knowledge about learning, about being a learner and knowing themselves as learners when they might be very disconnected from that idea.”  Sounds very much like Connectivism to me.  I believe George Siemans and Wendy Drexler would concur.

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