Academic and Vocational Integration

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Academic and Vocational Integration

The integration of academic and vocational education, mandated through the 1990 Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act and supported by the 1994 School-to-Work Opportunities Act, is a concept that has been interpreted and implemented in a variety of ways. As a result, its role in school reform and its effectiveness in modifying curriculum content, teaching practices, and school structure to enhance student preparation for work have become obscured. This Myths and Realities attempts to clarify the importance of academic and vocational integration in relation to emerging pedagogy, teaching and learning practices, and school-to-work efforts.

New Pedagogy and Teaching/Learning Theories Overshadow the Value of Integration

Current research on teaching and learning supports a constructivist pedagogy, which contends that people construct knowledge through their interpretive interactions with and experiences in their social environments. In constructivism, the focus of teaching is on empowering learners to "construct new knowledge" by providing opportunities for them to test academic theories through real-world applications of knowledge in settings that are socially relevant to their lives. Beane (1998) highlights several factors reflecting support of this pedagogy:

1. Growing support for active learning and knowledge construction in place of rote memorization and the accumulation of knowledge constructed by others.

2. Interest in patterns of brain functioning as related to learning.

3. An emerging awareness that knowledge is socially constructed, influenced by ones prior knowledge and social, cultural, and academic experiences.

Student-centered teaching, project-oriented instruction, problem-based learning, and contextual teaching and learning are currently promoted as strategies for implementing constructivism. However, they also reflect the philosophy upon which academic and vocational integration is based: that education must forge connections between knowledge development and its application in the workplace.

In its most basic form, curriculum integration involves the infusion of academic content into vocational programs, often referred to as "enhanced academics." The new vocationalism, however, calls for "enhanced relevance," which is achieved when students engage in learning experiences that are situated in real-life contexts and that afford in-depth understanding and the development of higher-order thinking skills (Pisapia and Riggins 1997; Stasz 1997).

Urquiola et al. (1997) note that curricular integration reflects the process of contextualization by bringing authentic work elements to abstract academic subjects. It contributes to the development of students critical thinking and collaborative skills as well as those that prepare them for skilled jobs. Learning in context and constructing knowledge through socially based experiences are two teaching/learning concepts that draw upon principles of curriculum integration.
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