SFU Faculty of Education-Camosun Partnership Takes Vocational Instruction to New Levels

"This ain't your grandfather's training anymore,” quips Dr. Tom Roemer, Vice President of Strategic Development at Camosun College.

Simon Fraser University's Faculty of Education took a bold step forward in Vocational and Practitioner Instructional training when they launched their Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on Post-Secondary Instruction. The program ran out of Camosun College in Victoria, BC.

The program's 11 students from trades, nursing, accounting, personal fitness and sports management programs graduated on June 13, 2014 with a Master of Education degree from SFU. They also joined in Camosun College’s convocation ceremony dressed in their SFU M.Ed. regalia on June 20th.

John Gordon, instructor and chair, Plumbing and Pipe Trades, found getting a master’s degree at SFU enticing as well as challenging. “Although having a trade certificate can be seen as a career itself, I have pursued and achieved five trade certificates and consider myself a life-long learner. The option to enter SFU as a non-traditional student (without a bachelor’s degree) into a program that aligned with my needs and would be delivered at my home institution was the icing on the cake. As a non-traditional student, I was surprised by the level of literacy required.  The expectations of the professors was legitimately quite high so I personally worked very hard to bring my skills up to the required level.”

Roemer believes that because this program offers a high level of academic rigour coupled with hard work, these graduates can be considered “Master Instructors” within their respective disciplines. "It will create a cadre of highly qualified master vocational/practitioner instructors that have the skills to develop new methodology and infuse modern educational philosophies into vocational and practitioner training."

“The program enabled understanding of the multifarious complexities of education and curriculum, which has prompted me to have a much more reflective pedagogical practice.  I am stepping into the classroom with greater awareness for what must transpire in order to enable and promote learning, because of this my lesson planning and delivery methods have become more flexible to meet the needs of the students,” shares Camosun Automotive Instructor and M.Ed. student, Patrick Jones.

Albert van Akker, Chair of the Architectural Trades Department and Carpentry Apprenticeship Instructor at Camosun College and fellow M.Ed. student shares a similar sentiment, “I have learned a lot about the many philosophical underpinnings and cultures of curriculum that frame and define the educational context in which I work. I have a greater understanding of my students’ educational experiences to date, which helps me to relate to them and more effectively mediate the new material that they learn in my program.”

Dr. Larry Johnson, Assistant Director, Community Graduate Programs is impressed by the levels of commitment the students studying in this program had for their own students. “What was surprising about this program was that all of our students are not only interested in learning how to teach their programs… but also how they can help make their own students better citizens in the world, socially, ethically and with respect to the diversity that these individuals bring to their classrooms daily. These were issues the students identified and worked on throughout the program.”

“The individuals in the M.Ed. program agonize over how their own students are going to not only learn the skills of the trades and the content of the courses, but also how they as instructors can also teach the communication, teamwork and leadership skills necessary for day-to-day living and working.”

The interdisciplinary approach to learning was one of the strongest aspects of this program. Many students began the program with the assumption that they had little in common with their classmates from different disciplines. Yet, as they began talking about the theories of education they were learning, reflecting upon and clarifying, they found that with the exception of content, they actually had more in common with their peers than they had initially believed to be the case.

“I didn’t realize I was prejudiced against the trades and tech instructors" said Tana Kristjanson, instructor at the School of Business at Camosun and M.Ed. student.,"I discovered that they are so wise and insightful, and really care about their students. They are an amazing group of guys. I now realize that I’m basically a trades instructor as well because I don’t teach a lot of theory at the introductory accounting level, it is rather a lot more skills. Their problems are my problems and I will continue to support them as I know they will support me, too.”

This deep level of understanding was made possible because the program was structured in a cohort format. Sheryl Cooper, a nursing instructor in the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program at North Island College and M.Ed. student found that the “cohesiveness of the cohort” was the most rewarding element of her experience because it “lead to stimulating and enjoyable discussions with peers and professors. I will miss our bi-monthly Saturday sessions!”

This was a sentiment echoed by fellow student, van Akker, “The biggest appeal was the cohort model; that I would be going through this program with a group. I found that very motivating, because there was an accountability inherent to working with colleagues.”

Both Roemer and Johnson have found that students are very proud to have been in this program and they’re becoming educational leaders, implementing their new approaches to teaching and learning in their respective departments and classrooms.

Since engaging in this program, some instructors have now become program and department chairs, moved into advanced teaching positions, and all have developed new goals for their respective education careers:

“The M.Ed. program has enhanced my philosophy of active student-centered learning and further developed my ability to utilize a wide range of pedagogical strategies which foster a safe and collaborative environment encouraging critical thinking and evidence-based problem solving. It has increased my passion for guiding and enthusing further generations of future nurses and learners,” noted Sheryl Cooper.

John Gordon plans to “share my knowledge with my peers, allowing them to enhance their own pedagogical content knowledge, which will benefit the students in trades training at the institution.”

“I plan to continue instructing and work on my writing skills to continue publishing textbooks to influence accounting educational practices,” shares Tana Kristjanson.

Patrick Jones also plans on improving trades curricula in B.C. “I am excited about putting my recent education and research into practice in my automotive technology classroom. Beyond this initial goal, I hope to be able to provide input to future curriculum change in trades education in BC.”

Albert van Akker also has plans to take his career further, “A few more years teaching and working as department chair, hopefully followed by a stint as Dean, VP, or even President, who knows?”

SFU Faculty of Education and Camosun College are partnering to offer another Curriculum and Instruction: Post-Secondary cohort beginning in Summer 2015 with classes held at Camosun College in Victoria, BC. 

The initial graduating class offers a ‘proof of concept' that integrating disciplines, having non-traditional students and academic rigour can bring world-class training to the next generations of skilled labour, vocations and professional practitioners in BC.