Towards a culture of scholarly practice in mixed-sector institutions

By Melanie Williams, Fleur Goulding, Terri Seddon Research report 28 March 2013 ISBN 978 1 922056 47 4

Description

Scholarship is readily seen as a requirement in higher education and is not commonly associated with vocational education and training (VET) institutions. However, the increasing prevalence of VET institutions delivering higher education qualifications has raised questions as to the place of scholarship in these institutions. This report uses Boyer’s four forms of scholarship – delivery, integration, application and teaching – to explore how scholarship is implemented across the different tertiary education sectors. Whilst the VET sector may not use the term ‘scholarship’, aspects of these four forms are being practised. The authors conclude with a number of strategies to enhance scholarly practice in VET institutions.

Summary

About the research

The increasing prevalence of primarily vocational education and training (VET) institutions delivering higher education qualifications has raised questions about the place for scholarship in these institutions. Scholarship is not commonly associated with the VET sector. Rather, teachers and trainers are expected to have the appropriate technical skills and knowledge of the subjects they are teaching and to be up to date with industry practice. This is essentially the 'knowledge' that teachers and trainers need and it is conceptually similar to the 'knowledge' required by university lecturers. In the latter case, the usual label is 'scholarship' and there is a vast literature defining the concept. One particularly influential framework is that of Ernest Boyer with its four forms of knowledge — discovery, integration, application and teaching — and it is this framework the researchers adopt in this project.

Key messages

  • Even though the term 'scholarship' is not normally associated with VET, it was clear from the research that Boyer's four forms of scholarship are relevant to the VET sector and are being practised. Examples of discovery included making films and composing music to be shared with students, while integration involved attending multidisciplinary networks and seminars. In terms of application, examples included participation in action research projects and ensuring their relevance to industry. Moreover, scholarship in VET is mainly related to teaching and learning rather than being discipline-based.
  • Scholarly practice in mixed-sector institutions combines elements of scholarship from both the VET and higher education sectors. It focuses on individual practices, has an industry focus and is mainly undertaken in the areas of teaching and learning. However, as in the higher education sector, it recognises the role of critical reflection, the need to place the scholarly practice within the broader literature, and the necessity of addressing social and ethical issues.

Given the move towards delivering higher education in VET institutes there is increasingly a need for scholarship in VET. Developing a shared language will help the teachers/lecturers in these institutes.

Tom Karmel
Managing Director, NCVER

Executive summary

The project

This project addresses the question of what constitutes scholarship in three distinct Australian tertiary education settings — higher education, mixed-sector and vocational education and training (VET). The integrated tertiary environment emerging in the wake of the Bradley Review of Higher Education (2008) and other policy and legislative reforms mean that it is timely to address this issue. The project uses the concept of 'scholarly practice' to understand the established patterns and emerging practices of knowledge building in Australia's tertiary education system and to identify the criteria used to judge the quality of that practice.

We report on research that investigated the way practitioners who work in universities and in VET and in 'mixed-sector' public providers build knowledge through scholarly practice in their workplaces. The study involved three major phases.

  • A literature review clarified and informed our understanding of 'scholarship' and 'quality scholarly practice' and enabled us to think about scholarly practice as a particular form of labour that proceeds through dialogue and is conducted within specific terms and conditions of work.
  • Narratives and reflective commentaries on scholarly practice in relation to learning and teaching in the three settings were examined using text analysis techniques. This procedure revealed similarities between the three settings, with knowledge building occurring and considered important in all. Scholarly practice was endorsed because it produced knowledge that was seen to have value individually, educationally and institutionally. The analysis also revealed differences between settings: in the way scholarly practice was represented; the words used to describe knowledge building and the practices that produced knowledge and knowledgeable practice; and the terms and conditions of scholarly work under which knowledge was produced.
  • The initial text analysis was validated and expanded through a stakeholder forum involving participants from universities, VET, mixed-sector public providers and the policy community. This stakeholder consultation confirmed shared understandings of the importance of knowledge, the work of building knowledge and the broad approaches to scholarly practice across the three settings. It also provided information about: other forms of scholarship as they are understood and practised in each sectoral location; criteria that could be used to define 'quality scholarly practice'; and practical strategies for supporting and enhancing scholarly practice and culture in mixed-sector institutions.

Findings

This project has established the existence, value and stakeholder endorsement of knowledge and knowledge building through quality scholarly practice across the tertiary education sector. Scholarly practice across all three settings involves a set of distinct procedures, individualised reflective practice, systematic inquiry and processes of knowledge sharing. It is distinguished by three features. First, it is a form of intellectual-practical work, moving iteratively between established ideas, practical activities and new ideas. It occurs in workplaces under specific terms and conditions and where specific purposes and expectations prevail. Second, the knowledge produced through scholarly practice is influenced by the way that work is done, and it is the scholarly character of that work rather than compliance with a set of activities that defines 'quality scholarly practice'. Third, the quality of scholarly practice and the knowledge resources produced are enhanced when the processes and products of knowledge building are open to scrutiny and dialogue, which encourages refinement of the knowledge-building processes and products.

Scholarly practice in mixed-sector institutions reflects the hybrid nature of those institutions. It shares some distinguishing features with VET and some with higher education. Some of these characteristics, such as the highly individualised practices of knowledge building in VET and mixedsector institutions, reflect institutional constraints rather than acknowledged good practice. Shared terminologies, such as 'peer review' and 'making knowledge public', and the way they were understood and practised, also differed in each location. Yet there was considerable convergence in the criteria identified by practitioners across all three settings in defining quality scholarly practice. The principle that good practice in knowledge building was necessary if robust and useful knowledge was to be produced as a public resource was strongly endorsed by all stakeholders. It was valued because it could be used to enhance learning, problem-solving and innovation in enterprises and communities across Australia.

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