Just Practice? Towards a Theory of Professional Education That Uses the Workplace as Context
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AbstractUniversities are becoming more accountable for their own funding and for establishing their own societal relevance. As Governments respond to the demands of industry and commerce to fit graduates for the workplace, universities are being asked to provide students with the knowledge and skills for learning and working in an ever-changing workplace. There is a strong implication here that the traditional theory-based learning associated with higher education needs to be augmented (and complemented) by an experiential component that enables students to develop a 'feel' for the workplace and 'an instinct' for what they are likely to be doing when they are working. Demands for such a change are not only coming from industry: students are asking that their university programs be made more 'relevant' to the reality of work rather than merely for the next step in the higher education ladder which requires the 'skills of research'. Recently there has been a strong move throughout the western world towards 'cooperative education' or 'work-integrated education'. Local initiatives at individual institutions are beginning to emphasise the importance of universities developing more symbiotic relationships with the industries in which their graduates are likely to be employed. In Australia, Griffith University has, for example, set up through its Griffith Institute of Higher Education (GIHE) The Griffith Graduate Project, which is attempting to develop an institution-wide policy in this area so that a concerted and coordinated response can be made. As convenor of a Griffith University workplace-based experiential course in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, I find this study has provided an opportunity to examine the key determinants of success for a workplace-based course and to consider in detail the teaching and learning processes involved. The aim was to examine the fine-grained processes underlying the construction of new knowledge as students accommodate to the demands placed upon them. The methodology adopted was based on an interpretive constructivist paradigm and addressed a number of questions that considered the roles of the different stakeholders in a specific workplace-based course, the formal and informal expectations held of them, and the role-conflicts these stakeholders tended to experience. This meant that the basic process followed was inductive rather than deductive, worked from the specific to the general and required a methodology that did the same. Because the nature of the work in criminal justice agencies often must deal with feelings and emotion, it was assumed that the students' emotional responses could affect their learning so the methodology allowed for the subjective interpretations and responses (both appropriate and inappropriate) made by all stakeholders and the data was collected as verbatim reports of both factual reports and feeling responses. These were then analysed according to the students' own reports of learning and key principles of procedure for the design and implementation of such courses across the career spectrum were extracted. The values and approaches of action research were central to the responsive case study methodology that was developed. The study found that at its best, the course was conducted according to principles that enabled the student to experience an intuitive 'felt reality' while still making decisions on a strong cognitive base. The acquisition of knowledge appeared to depend on transactions that occurred between teacher and learner, supervisor and student in the workplace milieu. The thesis concludes with a number of recommendations and implications for developing best practice in the field. Ways in which the findings may be incorporated into university policy are also considered, as are the implications for change in the design, conduct and teaching of university professional studies courses.