Investigating a theory of practice: Diploma students traversing their first professional experience placement at university. Preliminary findings.

Year: 2012

Author: Hadley, Fay, Andrews, Rebecca

Type of paper: Refereed paper


As professional teaching practice is both historically and socially constructed (Kemmis, 2009) background knowledge, skills and experience will impact on how students view their first professional experience placement. Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood Education) program at Macquarie University who have already attained a Diploma in Children's Services from a Technical and Further Education institution (TAFE) are credited with advance standing for the first year practicum component.  Consequently, there is a strong pattern whereby diploma students struggle with their first professional experience unit at university level, as the requirements in terms of teaching expectations and written academic standards can be challenging. These anecdotal accounts are reinforced in several studies, with factors such institutional structures, teaching styles and course content being identified as key contributors to the difficulties that are often faced by diploma students (Fuller & Chalmers, 1999; Whittington, Ebbeck, Diamond, & Yim, 2009).

Assessment requirements and expectations also vary greatly between TAFE and university contexts. The differences in teaching and assessment methods are a result of the different purposes of the two institutions. The Australian Qualifications Framework (Australian Qualifications Council [AQC], 2011) states that diploma qualifications are designed to prepare graduates for skilled technical work. A bachelor degree has the purpose of enabling graduates to understand and apply a wide range of knowledge across various contexts and to be involved in professional work (AQC, 2011). Both qualifications are seen as a possible starting point for further studies (AQC, 2011); however, without sufficient supports many students may find the transition difficult to overcome due to the different context and expectations at the university level.

This project aims to identify supports and constraints for diploma students completing their first professional experience unit at university level. A phenomenological approach is employed to investigate diploma students' 'theory of practice' in their first university professional experience placement. In this presentation the researchers will report on the first two phases of the study. Findings from key stakeholders (students and TAFE teachers) will outline the various perspectives as well as identify the supports and constraints of completing a first university professional experience placement. The presentation will also highlight some of the processes which were implemented prior to placement for these students.  Phase three which evaluates the study, will be reported in the future.