Thursday 29 August 2024

Innovation & research in vocational education: Congruency and consistency in theory and practices

A one day sub-congress during ISCAR 2024

Participants are able to register for this sub-congress only. The sub-congress can also be attended by participants of ISCAR 2024 (no additional registration required). 

Since about ten years research groups in Dutch secondary vocational education called ‘practoraten’ have acquired a position in most VET-schools. About 100 teacher-researcher and research leaders, ‘practors’, promote research as a method of sustainable practice development in education (cf. english).

“[A] practoraat provides direct connections between research and the application of its outcomes in school practice, by applying methods of practice-based professional devolpment. Research is focused on questions raised in the educational practice by all kinds of professionals within the school.” (Cedefop, 2019).

In this sub-conference1 we will explore how Cultural-historical Activity theory (CHAT) and its methodological perspectives can support the endeavour of the specific research groups of practoraten who stimulate practice development. As Roth & Lee (2007) point out, “One of the most attractive features of CHAT for educators is that it lessens the theory-praxis gap (…)” (p.210). With core concepts and connected ways of working such as ‘double stimulation’, ‘warping towards the zone of proximal development’, historicity and agency, the interwovenness of theory, methods and practice development (Stetsenko, 2017) has shown to help improve educational practice in primary education (Van der Veen & Van Oers, 2019) and workplace development (Engeström & Sannino, 2020). Such examples could be inspiring and a (second) stimulus for practoraten.

Although VET and practoraten aim for practice development through research (MBO-raad, 2019), they tend to see practice-based research as research in which theory has less room for development. We, however, argue that the rigorous theory of CHAT and its methodology can enhance practice development. CHAT, following Vygotsky, moves ‘beyond the old divide between theory and practice and, instead, embodied their unity …’ (Stetsenko, 2017 p.116). Hence, working as researchers with other educational professionals at that insersection CHAT can be a powerful theory. Moreover, we would like to argue that merely introducing or strengthening theory within practice-based research or within practice development does not suffice. 

Besides theory as a guiding tool, a methodology fitting practice development and coherent with the theory also seems necessary. Or as Sannino (2015) puts it “In the double stimulation method the distance maintained by the experimenter in classic psychological experiments to avoid contamination bias is therefore not a concern. In this method the experimenter’s involvement and interpretive process, and not, or not only, the child’s actions, form the data for investigation and analysis” (Sannino, 2015, p.3) Double stimulation may serve that purpose.

However, how theory and methods could help to develop practices for practoren that work at a ‘double intersection’ between practice and theory (i.e. research-education and school-workplace) still needs to be discovered. We know form experience that using CHAT and its methodological perspectives is far from easy. Consistency and traceability seem to be common quality criteria in (practice-based) research but CHAT also seems to ask for congruency of researchers using the theory, its methods and supporting practice development. That is why we are curious about how the consistency, traceability and congruence in other CHAT research practices, as mentioned above, has been achieved and what the possibilities, bottlenecks, and areas of difficulty within these approaches are, so that practoren can learn from that.

Questions that will be addressed in the workshops are:

  • What are good practice examples of consistent, traceable and congruent research practices in which practice development was pursued?


  • How could the narrative of such collaboration between researchers and practitioners be an inspiration
    for practoraten?


  • What bottlenecks and areas of difficulty do these collaborations encounter and how do they deal with

Preliminary programme content

  • Welcome
  • Short introduction in CHAT
  • The narrative of developmental education by Chiel van de Veen and what working with CHAT does to
    the researchers and professionals + discussants from educational and/or academic practice
  • Breakout sessions (several sessions in which practoraten and other researchers can present and discuss their narrative, specifically on the consistency, traceability and congruence of their research practices + discussants from educational and/or academic practice.)
  • Plenary wrap-up in which the main questions are asked and shortly discussed lead
  • Reflection on the whole by Monique Volman
  • Reflection on the whole by TBA

With this programme we hope to inspire practoren and to learn about the characteristics of CHAT research
practices that are successful in (collaboration with) practice development. Besides this we hope to find out what this type of research does to researchers and asks of researchers.