Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 11 February 2014


Helyer, R. (2014), "Editorial", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 4 No. 1. https://doi.org/10.1108/HESWBL-12-2013-0026



Emerald Group Publishing Limited


Article Type: Editorial From: Higher Education, Skills and Work-based Learning, Volume 4, Issue 1

Welcome to the first issue of the fourth volume, and the first issue of 2014, of Higher Education Skills and Work-Based Learning (HESWBL), the official journal of UVAC (the University Vocational Awards Council). The journal has continued to grow apace and is now included on the rankings list of the Australian Business Deans Council (ABDC); this is recognition of the journal's growing reputation and reach internationally. Downloads and submissions are growing from Australia, Malaysia and the USA, and we are keen to extend this ever further as we include cutting edge work focusing on the interface between the learning occurring in the workplace and HE learning globally.

The content of this issue offers some exciting examples of this, including Ruth Taylor and Damian De Luca's, “Theory to practice: Canalside Studio, a case study”. Taylor and De Luca describe the experiences of staff and students from the University of Huddersfield's (UOH) School of Computing and Engineering who, having recognised the problem of limited work placement opportunities for students on undergraduate games courses, created their own in-house computer games business. The case study focuses on the challenges and processes involved in moving from a teaching environment concerned with theory, experimentation and “practising”, to one of professional “practice” involving real-life commercial concerns.

A similar balancing of commercial concerns with educational needs is explored in “Training the trainer – lessons from the new South Africa” by John van der Merwe of North-West University, South Africa and Martyn Sloman of Kingston Business School, UK; this thought provoking case study outlines the challenges of delivering an educational programme to corporate trainers in the new South Africa. It interrogates the way in which training within organisations has changed in the modern economy and questions whether the “training” is academically rooted in knowledge, or rather a craft discipline carried out in context by experienced practitioners. The circumstances of post-Apartheid South Africa, including coping with the logistics of a geographically spread cohort, are examined as well as a discussion about evaluation undertaken to measure the impact of the programme. Conclusions drawn could well assist in the design of similar programmes elsewhere.

The root aims, and philosophies behind, educational training are further explored by Stan Lester in his paper “Professional standards, competence and capability”. Lester examines the concept of “professions” and the assumptions which go along with such a concept, as well as the concerns and challenges made to the governing bodies of these professions, around competency and fitness to practise. Whilst these concerns are partly met by agreed education and training routes, there are still issues around the variability, and imprecision, of such terms as: competence; competency; proficiency and capability. In the UK this debate has been strongly aligned with occupational standards. The paper interrogates the principles and policy surrounding this area and includes an in depth discussion into the uses and limitations of the concept of “competency” in modern professions, drawing upon recent research into professional entry-routes and qualifying requirements. The research encompasses 54 professions, including accounting, financial services, law, business and management and health and social services.

The results of another research study are drawn upon by Jon Talbot and Andy Lilley (both University of Chester, UK) in their paper “Approaches to supervising work based learning students’ workplace research”. The authors identify a recent and increasing emphasis in UK Higher Education upon learning which is relevant to the workplace, whilst acknowledging the relative scarcity of programmes which regard the workplace as an object of study in its own right. They offer definitions around work-based learning which emphasise a curriculum where the negotiation of learning follows the needs of the workplace, rather than a professional body or subject discipline, and learning occurs principally in the workplace and is concerned with the practice of work. The pedagogical approaches supporting and facilitating this kind of learning are investigated and the research findings suggest that a negotiated curriculum, tailored to learning needs, creates distinctive pedagogic practices, including, trans-disciplinary facilitation of active, reflective learning; use of learning contracts; the recognition and accreditation of prior learning and work-based projects. This small-scale study sets the stage for further investigations.

Similarly engaged by the need to support work-based students Teri Taylor of Northumbria University, offers her paper “Guidelines for supporting placement learning via video-communications technologies”. Practice-based learning forms a significant part of the curriculum of many HE programmes and this paper investigates the consequent high demands this can cause for placement student support and guidance systems. Usually students receive this support via visits from their academic tutors, and this is a convention, in the health sector at least, which has not been tested by research.

The author's own research explores the potential for using video-based communications, as an alternative to face-to-face contact, whilst still supporting individual, practice-based students and includes a feasibility pilot project together with a more comprehensive exploration of the topic. Further phases of action research are ongoing, in a bid to locate practical solutions. The results, so far, demonstrate the complexity of both individual learning needs and technological implementation, alongside the requirement to balance bespoke learning opportunities with mass provision. The conclusions offer some valuable initial guidelines for the implementation, and practice of, video-based student support.

“Halifax Community Bank: a learning society within a UK organisation”, by Christine Eastman, Middlesex University, further explores the differing support needed by working students, in this case undergraduates completing an Advanced Diploma in Retail Banking Practice. This diploma has been specifically designed for branch managers and focuses on developing personal and professional knowledge and skills in order to help students to realise their full potential in the workplace. This paper is contextualised by a case study based on Eastman's experiences of delivering this programme. The way in which students cope with the transition into academic life is particularly examined, including their experiences with academic reading and writing, and both participative and online group work (via a virtual learning environment). The paper charts the building of these students’ academic confidence, and the improvement in their reflective capacities, by interrogating examples of their writing on this topic.

Paula Nottingham and Adesola Akinleye, both of Middlesex University, continue the theme of professionals learning through their work in, “Professional artefacts: embodying ideas in work based learning”. This fascinating work examines curriculum planning for a BA Honours Professional Practice programme, with a focus on the introduction of a “professional artefact” as part of course requirements. These are work-based students who co-produce and integrate various forms of knowledge in the workplace, therefore professional artefacts offer them an extremely appropriate way to communicate their learning within the work environment.

This paper charts the beginnings of this process and therefore captures the development stage curriculum planning, and shares findings as an evaluative self-reflection, aimed at assisting others. What has emerged is that the professional artefact goes beyond being simply a practical element illustrating knowledge, to be demonstrated as a potential way for students to exhibit and communicate their understanding of the relationship between knowledge and work based activities.

The paper therefore raises interesting questions around the separation of theory and practice, and suggests that flexible assessment methods used for work-based learning students could have implications for other undergraduate learners.

This issue also includes a book review, “A new paradigm emerging?”, from Norman Crowther who has been reading, Learning, Work and Practice: New Understandings (Springer, Dordrecht, 2012), edited by Paul Gibbs.

I am pleased and excited to announce several upcoming special issues. The next journal issue (Volume 4, Issue 2) is to focus on “Professional Doctorates” with guest editors Professor Gail Sanders, University of Sunderland, UK and Professor Rosemarye T. Taylor, University of Central Florida, USA. We also have future special issues on “Enhancing employability: using work placements in higher education programmes” and “Higher Vocational education delivered in colleges: a global perspective” in development and more details of these can be found on the journal's webpages: www.emeraldinsight.com/products/journals

I am delighted to welcome several new members to the Editorial Board and look forward to working with them going forward to continue the growth and success of the journal, they are: Professor David Boud, University of Technology Sydney, Australia; Judie Kay, RMIT, Australia and Conor Moss of Sheffield Hallam University, UK.

Conor has taken on the role of Associate Editor – Social Media, and is starting to develop a social media strategy for the journal, beginning with the creation of our Twitter account, please follow us at: www.twitter.com. The account will be used for discussion, debate and engagement on all things HE, skills and WBL.

2014 will see the development of our Social Media profile, look out for our Linkedin account which will be opening in January, entitled Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning. Please contact Conor if you have any thoughts or points to discuss within this area – mailto:C.Moss@shu.ac.uk

As always, also please feel free to contact me at mailto:r.helyer@tees.ac.uk with any ideas or comments and please do continue to submit your fascinating work. Details of how to submit via the online portal are included inside of the back cover. I am also happy to view abstracts of papers initially, via my email address, if this would help.

We are always keen to recruit suitable reviewers for the journal, if you would like to get involved please send me some details of your profile and areas of expertise.

Ruth Helyer