The name Boyer (and, no, that is not him above!) is probably unfamiliar to most professional trainers and assessors in Australia, but his model of scholarship is bound to be affecting the work that they do. This article will explore that a little more, and share just why research among VET professionals is so important.
It is fair to say that research often gets a bit of a bad rap. That is not surprising when we think of some of the research that has attracted public attention.
Things like spending more than $200 000 to “understand how communities mobilise in Melanesia through the integration of digital media, mobile phones and music” and over $160 000 to investigate how art-science collaboration generates “new modes of intradisciplinary knowledge”. Or, what about $850 000 to study that promised an exciting new analysis of correspondence by Italy’s Catherine de Medici.
There are plenty of other examples, but you get the point: so much of what passes as research appears to be no more than a waste of time.
If we look a bit deeper at the reasons why these sorts of research are generally criticised, we find that people’s main concern is not that it costs a whole heap of money that could be spent on something else. No, it is because it does not actually appear to help make anything better.
When confronted by those sorts of research projects, we ask ourselves the question: how does that make the world a better place?
And no matter how try, we cannot find a good enough answer to that question. We just can’t see the point of it.
So, what has all this got to do with Trainers/Assessors in Australia?
For the very reason that so many publicly funded research projects are criticised, research projects that are undertaken at the coalface of our work are valued.
But not all research is the same, and we should be careful to not judge all research as if it is the same.
When compared with the other types of research, applied research seeks to shed some light on an existing situation, and with that additional light to shine a path that shows how to make that situation better in some way.
The need for research activity to be broadened is something that Ernest Boyer proposed in 1990. Boyer has been around for quite a while, and has shared some interesting thoughts about education, such as this from 1984, entitled: The Hope for Education:
In Boyer’s view, the emphasis of institutions on traditional research did not help modern organisations adjust to – and create – the new ways of the world. This is what he was getting at in the video where he started to question the morality of research that is not somehow linked to the so-called real world. His own research found that academics in educational institutions themselves overwhelmingly believed that we needed strike a balance among teaching, research, and service.
He also reckoned that scholarship encompass four categories, depicted in the following model:
This led him to start question what good research or scholarship looked like, and resulted in him proposing that for a work of scholarship to be worthwhile, it must meet the following six Standards:
|Clear Goals||Does the scholar state the basic purpose of his or her work clearly?|
Does the scholar define objectives that are realistic and achievable?
Does the scholar identify important questions in the field?
|Adequate Preparation||Does the scholar show an understanding of existing scholarship in the field?|
Does the scholar bring the necessary skills to his or her work?
Does the scholar bring together the resources to move the project forward?
|Appropriate Methods||Does the scholar use methods appropriate to the goals?|
Does the scholar apply effectively the methods selected?
Does the scholar modify procedures in response to changing circumstances?
|Significant Results||Does the scholar achieve the goals?|
Does the scholar’s work add consequentially to the field?
Does the scholar’s work open additional areas for further exploration?
|Effective Presentation||Does the scholar use a suitable style and effective organisation to present his or her work?|
Does the scholar use appropriate forums for communicating the work to its intended audiences?
Does the scholar present his or her message with clarity and integrity?
|Reflective Critique||Does the scholar critically evaluate his or her own work?|
Does the scholar bring an appropriate breadth of experience to his or her critique?
Does the scholar use evaluation to improve the quality of future work?
What’s this got to do with trainers and assessors in Australia?
Now: think about your own work.
How many things cause you to scratch – or shake – your head? As training professionals, we seem to have a collective experience of things not being quite right. After all, we have sufficient knowledge and experience to make a judgement about how good things are now, and how they could perhaps be better.
And that is where applied research comes in (and specifically Boyer’s category that relates specifically to the scholarship of teaching and assessing).
At its heart is curiosity. We see something, and we ask ourselves: I wonder why ……
And if we entertain that question, then we might just discover an answer. And if we discover the answer, then we might just be in a place where we can improve the thing that we initially observed. Or, as can also be the case, we might just discover that the thing we initially observed perhaps doesn’t need to be changed, but that it could be something else that is causing whatever it is that we are seeing that causes us to shake our head.
And so, we find that applied research starts with two things:
- Observing what is going on.
- Asking questions.
When we do that, we can start to narrow down the focus of what we will be looking at. Once the question is narrowed down, we can then put together a plan for us to discover the answer and turn our focus on how to do things better.
And that, quite simply, is what applied research is about.
It is also what TAERES501 is all about, with every one of Boyer’s six standards embedded in the tasks that Fortress Learning students complete when they do the unit. This is why so many professional trainers/assessors are being required to do TAERES501 in order to move to the next pay point. The reason RTOs are prepared to pay more for people who have done TAERES501 is quite simple: they want people at the coalface of VET to be not just seeing problems, but finding and fixing them.
It’s exciting stuff, and at a time when many trainers/assessors are reeling in a landscape of uncertainty, it is very empowering for those professional trainers who do embrace the challenge – and opportunity – that it provides.