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Profesjonsutdanningenes utfordringer

Hvilke utfordringer står profesjonsutdanningene overfor, og hvordan skal institusjoner som HiOA finne sin plass som universiteter? Professor II ved SPS, amerikanske William Sullivan, reflekterer over disse spørsmålene i et intervju.

Kjersti Lassen Publisert: Oppdatert:

Sullivan mener at en av profesjonsutdanningenes store utfordringer er at studiene ofte er mest fokusert på pensum, og mindre på det yrkeslivet studentene skal ut i. Dette gapet mellom teori og praksis er den største utfordringen for profesjonsutdanningene.

Han advarer mot at gapet blir så stort at studentene ikke lenger forstår hvorfor teori er viktig for yrkesutøvelsen. Studentene kommer til å bevege seg mellom disse kontekstene gjennom studiet og hele yrkeslivet, og det må de gjøres klar over allerede når de starter på utdanningen, mener Sullivan.

Les hele intervjuet her, på engelsk.

William Sullivan

Professional practice and institutional challenges

Visiting professor William Sullivan reflects on the challenges for the professional educations in this interview.

William Sullivan visited the Centre for the Study of Professions for the first time in 2013, when he was asked to bring his research expertise into the Preparing for Professional Practice Program. Since then he has visited HiOA several times as a Professor II at the Centre. We had a talk with him during his latest visit to the Centre.

Perspectives from Carnegie Foundation

– What has been your main contribution to the Centre during these years?

– My work is heavily concerned with professional education. The link here was that I had written several things involving the Carnegie Foundation, studies of professional education. And since the Centre is about that it seemed like an easy fit. I was asked to bring the perspectives I developed at Carnegie here.

This period surely has brought a lot of new insight to HiOA and SPS. Did you learn anything useful for your own work?

– Yes, the biggest thing was simply direct contact over time with a different institutional context and a different national context. I used at lot of time during the first visits to understand what Norwegian academic life was about and the social services sector in Norway. That was a useful and interesting part for me. I also very much enjoyed getting to know staff at the Centre.

Visits at HiOA

You’ve spent some time talking with people at different institutes of HiOA. Would you like to share any general observations from those visits?

– The goal was to introduce more coherence into the education of professionals. To me it was a surprising introduction as to how really different the different faculties of HiOA are. They had a different notion of what they were doing and where their emphasis was. This provoked my sociological or anthropological interest. It became very interesting.

Did you feel that you could contribute with anything to the people you met?

– In the typical session they would describe to me how they do things, and I would tell them about what I find important in the work that I’ve done. How do you make the professional education experience more coherent for the students? Whether or not that was of great use to them I don’t know.

– What was encouraging is that several of the faculties had read news from the Carnegie Institute that I was part of. That was a very confirmatory experience, they actually using the books, talking about the books. I did not have a feeling I needed to do a lot to convince them.

Professions in a changing world

What will be the greatest challenges for the professions in the time to come?

– I think the biggest challenge for professions anywhere is the rapid change in the worlds of work and social life. Since the professions were designed, they evolved to support certain kinds of social activity. As those things change, it’s difficult for professions to adapt. A lot of the graduates from this institution will be working in the public sector, which is highly rule governed, controlled, and the context with the unions play a large role. It’s a very complicated kind of field.

– Engineering operates in a very different kind of context. Their partner is the industry, to a lesser degree the State. That’s a different notion, how the industry sets the pace which the engineering world has to adapt to. For them, that raises another question about the relationship between the educator and the changing need of the profession itself.

– I think most of the education here, as in most institutions, is not primarily focused on what the profession is doing at any given time. It’s focused on the curriculum. Determined by what the educators are concerned with. And that creates a lot of tension. It’s also, I think, a lot of complexity and challenge for students to be able to navigate through this. Because what’s attracted them is not so much the educational emphasis but rather the actual profession itself.

Better relationships between theory and practice

Do you see any ways to overcome these challenges?

– To some degree, what needs to be overcome is the relative isolation of professional education from the actual experience. That’s only relative, because in all these programs there are clinical and practical kinds of experiences, where students are directly under supervision of practicing professionals.

But it’s the improving or enhancing of the relationships among the different kinds of instruction that are really crucial. Ranging from the more academic instruction all the way out to the placement supervisor and cooperating teacher and so on. Who themselves are not very connected at all to the educational institution. So it’s making that more flexible and interactive, I guess. I think it’s really the solution to that problem.

Bring experience into the classroom

William Sullivan på HiOA

Did you talk to HiOA-colleagues about this?

– Yes, and certainly the heads of the programs understand that as a difficulty. But the modern world is a world of specialization. So the people who are specialists in the educational end of it have their hands full just trying to do that. They’re often not in a lot of communication, they don’t have the time or interest, with the people in the other end, who are actually doing it, in the field.

– One of the things we did talk about in these sessions would be how to bring the experience of the practitioner more effectively into the students’ daily experience in the classroom. But even with the best of intention that’s still a difficult activity if you don’t have much daily experience of the professional field.

To bridge the gap

There is a general idea among the students when they’re asked “where, or how do you learn best”, they describe the practice part of the curricula as the most relevant, and don’t see the theoretical part as relevant. Do you have thoughts about that? How do you bridge this gap?

– That’s the essential question. This is the most fundamental issue in professional education. The reason it doesn’t go away is that the institutional context in which education takes place is structured around what I in my work refer to as Academic Apprenticeship – the learning of theory and concepts that are what institutions such as this really exists for. To keep those concepts alive and develop them and teach them. The other institutional context, in which the professionals are working – is very different.

– What’s bad is when that gap results in students’ disability or unwillingness to understand the theoretical contribution to their practical experiences. A lot of my work has been concerned with both looking at examples of and trying to figure out better ways to keep that dialogue going.

– Students have to be told from the very beginning that they’re going to be moving back and forth between these contexts. Not just as students, but for their whole professional life. That’s a disposition they have to start working on now if they’re going to have happy and successful careers. It’s very hard to explain that to someone who’s just beginning their academic journey and doesn’t know much about either the academic world or the professional world.

How to be a university

HiOA is on it’s way to becoming a university. Any thoughts or advises to HiOA in this regard?

– I’m not putting myself forward as a consultant on how to become a university. But I’d like to hold on to the same thought that we just had.

– I think the dilemma is, to put it differently; educational institutions are a particular sector in society. The pressure of the institution is to be as fully and as competitively best it can be in that institutional sector. So universities are trying to be universities. They’re not essentially trying to be banks or television outlets or something.

– The inherent challenge is that universities have charters from society, and for the last few hundred years their function has been to develop science and academic concepts. And to disseminate those, both through the education of students into that and also by their various activities in society to apply the ideas.

– The difference between the university as typically conceived and the college or technical institute or number of other such examples is that these have been institutions whose main function, according to the social charter, has not been to develop the concepts, but to apply, to extend, to concretize those concepts. These institutions are now gradually more oriented towards the knowledge production function of the traditional universities.

Don’t forget the social function of the institution

– I think the challenge for this institution, as for others of its kind, is to find a way to strengthen its social purpose of actually being able to apply knowledge more effectively in the education of people who are actually going to use the knowledge.

– Not primarily people who are going to be researchers, or scholars or theorists. I think that is what’s unknown.

– This is also a worldwide phenomenon – a kind of inflation of currency; everybody becomes a university, but does that mean that everybody is doing exceptional inventions? If they are, what happens to this important social function that the institution originally was established to have?