The mediating of messages about pedagogy of Bachelors degrees in public vocational institutions

Year: 2019

Author: Pelletier, Ili, Knight, Elizabeth, Rawolle, Shaun, Webb, Susan, Hodge, Steven

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper aims to understand pedagogy of Bachelor’s degrees at vocational institutions [VIs] within the broader context of Australian high participation system, within a wider project investigating the growth of Bachelor degrees in Australian public vocational institutions (e.g. TAFEs). The project this research is based on considers the entry of vocational institutions into higher education and investigates practice drawing on Bernstein’s theory of message systems.

This research foregrounds the student voice and the data drawn on in this paper includes an in-class survey with over 450 students at multiple sites of 2 of the 11 case study institutions. This sample represents between 10-20% of the enrolled cohort in these institutions and post-survey deepening interviews were undertaken with 56 students and graduates. Qualitative interviews were carried out with educators and senior members of staff at the VIs and at universities located close to the VIs.

The research considered questions about how messages of pedagogy were understood by the students to contribute to understandings of how pedagogy is constructed in the higher education field. The messages that arrive out the student data suggest a voiced difference in perception of pedagogy between universities and the public vocational institutions.

The survey results suggested that students feel the pedagogical engagement at the vocational institutions was of different type and answers to specific questions about their experience of teaching indicated the VIs orientation towards the students was perceived to be more catered to their individual needs. Key words and phrases in the discourse used by students in 21 different interview settings included repeated uses of ‘different style of learning’, ‘hands-on learning’ and multiple suggestions in different ways that they valued ‘being known’ by their teaching staff.

Although these understandings of practice could be could be an echo chamber, some of the interviewed students had first hand (through personal experiences of other providers) and most had second hand (through their friends and family) knowledge of Australian university practices. Further, there are indicators in the marketing materials that the practices of organisation of teaching and pedagogy play out differently in higher education in these vocationally oriented Bachelors degrees in public VIs.

This paper explores how discourses are formed within institutional contexts and how marketing and social media can mediate messages and how different understandings of higher education pedagogies are transmitted in the public sphere and are valued by the higher education sector in Australia.