Mandatory vocational internships as elementary building blocks of vocational competences

For young people, vocational internships are an important resource for consolidating the knowledge acquired in school and for the further development of their competences.

The PEARL Project investigates the mandatory vocational internships of pupils in secondary vocational schools in Austria. Our knowledge of internships and their quality features as well as their learning dimensions is characterized mostly by retrospective and quantitative surveys of educational researchers. PEARL attempts to approach the topic through "internal perspectives" of internships by means of autoethnographic research conducted by pupils, which is a new form of how vocational internships can be analyzed scientifically.

What are the objectives of PEARL?

With PEARL, a Sparkling Science Project, pupils and researchers together investigate what the relationships are between knowledge acquired in school and the specific requirements made by vocational internships. On this basis, consequences are determined for both the curricular integration of internships and the discussion of internships in education theory. The objective is to map the educational and experience-related space of vocational internships from the point of view of the interns, leading to suggestions for the quality development and quality assurance as well as didactic support of vocational internships. This includes the development of materials and continuing education measures for teachers and internship coaches.

PEARL centers on working together with the young people

Two fourth-grade classes and their teachers from each the "Höhere Technische Lehranstalt (HTL) Innsbruck" (secondary technical school) and the "Höhere Lehranstalt für Tourismus (HLT) Bludenz" (secondary tourism school) co-operate intensively with the business education research team of the University of Innsbruck.

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Phase I

From the very start, the pupils involved participate actively in working out the details of the research question and the concrete research design for PEARL. In three workshops in the 2015 summer semester, they get to know not only principles of the social sciences and research processes, but also begin to work on appropriate method design (app programming, central interview questions, auto-photography). In the course of the workshop, pupils are equipped with a social science "toolbox", which they can use as a method pool for researching their internships. The third, full-day workshop will take place at the University of Innsbruck to familiarize pupils with the research climate and environment of the university. This will also enable them to transfer their competence to conduct field research acquired as part of PEARL to their own, smaller research projects (particularity the NEW diploma project implemented at secondary vocational schools).

Phase II

From June to September 2015, the pupils involved will turn into field researchers of their own learning process and experiences during their internships. The pupils themselves will - with the support of the university - investigate their internships as "individualized cases". Within the framework of this research project (whose content is defined together with the pupils), the pupils use the "qualitative social research toolbox" to collect diversified, qualitative data about the internship at their workplace and generate descriptions of their experiences.

The pupils' autoethnographic approach in the PEARL Project provides "documented internal perspectives" of learning processes in internships. By scientifically researching their internships, participating pupils are able to turn cursory experiences of the working process into reflected experiences, substantially contributing to consolidating and developing their professional competences.

Phase III

The data collected will be analyzed and interpreted in cooperation with the participating pupils in the fall of 2015. The resulting knowledge of internships as learning space will be used both scientifically and didactically.

Phase IV

Research papers, conference papers and conference contributions, as well as the development of materials and continuing education methods for internship coaches will enrich the pedagogic discussion of mandatory internships. Additional measures planned at this point include an internship fair organized by the pupils and other forms of public relations.

Phase V

The two-year period of the Sparkling Science Project PEARL offers the opportunity for an additional group of pupils to evaluate results from the first group in their own internships in the summer of 2016.

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