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Professional learning and practice related dilemmas in vocational education


   School of Education

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  Ms S Cornelius, Dr S Thomson  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Across the world educators are addressing complex changes in society, the challenges of the climate emergency and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vocational education sector is in the midst of this complexity, making connections between theory and practice, preparing learners for the current and future workplace, and supporting inclusion and social justice. The sector itself is also characterised by change and complexity. In Further Education (FE) in Scotland, for instance, there will be profound changes in practice following the COVID-19 pandemic. These include increased use of blended and digital approaches, changes in the nature of the student population and the implementation of professional registration of lecturers with associated requirements for ongoing professional learning.

Vocational and FE lecturers have always been involved in ongoing professional learning. The complexity of the context and frequent need for boundary crossing (for example between education and work settings) means that they routinely face practice-related challenges which have no obvious solution. Often referred to as dilemmas, these are problems that cannot be solved by a lecturer alone, but require reflection and purposeful engagement with the perspectives of others (for example through communities of practice or interprofessional working) to generate potential solutions. Dilemmas both require professional learning and provide professional learning opportunities. Examples can be readily identified in areas such as digital and blended learning, inclusion, student support and employability. A range of examples (including some specific to the 16+ age group) can be explored at promise-eu.net. 

This PhD project will address issues associated with professional dilemmas and professional learning, focusing on the nature of dilemmas, ways they are addressed, and sustainable approaches to preparing lecturers for a career during which they are likely to encounter many dilemmas. The research undertaken is expected to be of value to individual lecturers, professional learning coordinators, teacher educators and/or policy makers in the sector and should make both theoretical and practical contributions to knowledge.

Possible question for consideration include:

  • What dilemmas are faced by lecturers in FE and vocational education?
  • How do FE and vocational lecturers address their practice-related dilemmas? 
  • How do FE and vocational lecturers learn from practice-related dilemmas?
  • How does boundary crossing and interprofessional working support the resolution of practice-related dilemmas?
  • How can learning from dilemmas be acknowledged and valued as part of formal professional learning process?
  • How should formal professional learning opportunities prepare lecturers for learning from dilemmas?

The successful candidate will be expected to research underpinning conceptual ideas and develop a suitable theoretical framework for their work and an appropriate research design. They will have flexibility to shape the focus of work, within the scope of the ideas presented above and in consultation with supervisors. An application for this PhD should therefore provide evidence of initial thinking about a suitable research question, theoretical framework and research approach as well as some familiarity with relevant related research and methodologies.

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