Learning under time pressure: the synchronizing of learning to various "zeitgebern"

Ingrid de Saint-Georges, Barbara Duc

University of Geneva, Switzerland

WS136: Trajectories of learning in/across contexts of learning

In the Swiss vocational education system, youth who do an apprenticeship move back and forth across places and activities: from the formal education setting of school to learning in the workplace. In their trajectories of learning across these contrasted milieus and communities of practice, apprentices learn to work and behave according to different rules, display distinct situated identities, and tune to different rhythms. Our interest in this paper is to trace the trajectory of one apprentice in auto-mechanics from school to work in order to examine how he adapts and builds coherence across these two settings. The paper focuses more specifically on the temporal constraints set upon his work in the two environments.

Through the analysis of audio-video material, we examine temporal issues as they are made visible and interactionally relevant between the apprentice and his teachers, colleagues and co-workers (Goodwin, 2002) in their exchanges. We draw a “timescape” (Adam, 2007) of each learning environment to compare how time is perceived, lived, used and spoken about at work and at school. The study of excerpts evidences that the two places studied are entrained to the beat of rather different “pace-setters” or “zeitgebern” (Scollon, 2005)

– the fast-pace rhythm set by productivity imperatives in the car-repair shop, which creates emulation but also stress, tends also to favor the accomplishment of repetitive task presenting little opportunities for learning new skills. Speed in that environment can also engender strategies of resistance which creates relational tension not conducive to creating favorable conditions for learning;

– the slower tempo of the school workshop, sometimes associated with boredom but also with opportunities for trial and errors, tends to allow time for exploration. It also permits to deviate from the task and to engage in activities sometimes unrelated to the curriculum when apprentices are left on their own during hands-on experiences.

The analysis of the local situations shows how the temporal organizations prevailing affect not only how or what the apprentice learns, but also determines in part what can be learned in each social setting. Zooming out of the local settings investigated, the paper examines next how the temporal organizations described and the constraints proper to each site are themselves linked to processes on larger time-scale (the institutionalized rhythms of schooling and the historical evolution of the curriculum; clock time and the rhythms of production benchmarked by the car industry). The paper thus addresses the conference theme by showing actions and discourses in educational context to be “layered simultaneities” (Blommaert, 2004)—that is processes on different timescales coming together in specific context, creating specific effects and social organizations. It contends that learning a profession is also learning how to navigate in these temporally diverse environments over time.

Session: Workshop (part 2)
Trajectories of learning in/across contexts of learning
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 04