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Academic-Occupational Integration as a Reform Strategy for the Community College: Classroom Perspectives

by Dolores Perin - 2001

Community colleges play an important role in educating the nation's workforce, and many students go to these institutions for occupational instruction in order to enter or advance in the labor market. However, community college occupational programs have been criticized for being narrow and insufficiently concerned with literacy and critical thinking. At the same time, academic instruction has been characterized as being irrelevant and unmotivating to students preparing for careers. Integrating occupational and academic instruction may help overcome these problems. A case study examined curriculum and pedagogy in integrated classrooms in seven community colleges in several states. Interviews with faculty and administrators identified purposes, advantages, and disadvantages of this approach. Drawbacks such as the large amount of effort needed to integrate instruction appeared to be outweighed by increases in student learning and faculty motivation. Classroom observations indicated variation in strength of integration, extent of student-centeredness, and explicitness of teaching. Findings suggest that integrated instruction has potential as an educational reform in community colleges but needs to be systematically evaluated. Further, the purposes of academic-occupational integration appear to overlap with those of remediation, suggesting that integrated instruction may be a productive way of addressing literacy weaknesses that are ubiquitous in community colleges.

The research for this paper was supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation through a grant to Teachers College, Columbia University. Daniel Ness assisted in gathering data. Tom Bailey, Norton Grubb, and members of the Community College Research Center's Workgroup made helpful comments on an earlier version of this paper. The suggestions made by Gary Natriello and anonymous reviewers are also greatly appreciated.

Community colleges play an important role in educating the nation's workforce, and many students go to these institutions for occupational instruction in order to enter or advance in the labor market. However, community college occupational programs have been criticized for being narrow and insufficiently concerned with literacy and critical thinking. At the same time, academic instruction has been characterized as being irrelevant and unmotivating to students preparing for careers. Integrating occupational and academic instruction may help overcome these problems. A case study examined curriculum and pedagogy in integrated classrooms in seven community colleges in several states. Interviews with faculty and administrators identified purposes, advantages, and disadvantages of this approach. Drawbacks such as the large amount of effort needed to integrate instruction appeared to be outweighed by increases in student learning and faculty motivation. Classroom observations indicated variation in strength of integration, extent of student-centeredness, and explicitness of teaching. Findings suggest that integrated instruction has potential as an educational reform in community colleges but needs to be systematically evaluated. Further, the purposes of academic-occupational integration appear to overlap with those of remediation, suggesting that integrated instruction may be a productive way of addressing literacy weaknesses that are ubiquitous in community colleges.

Huge numbers of people who hold mid-level jobs in the United States receive their highest level of education in community colleges (Dougherty 1994; Grubb 1996), and a major function of these institutions is to provide occupational education1 (Callan 1997). However, many community college students lack basic skills in reading, writing, English language, math, and critical thinking needed for college-level study (Cohen and Brawer 1996; O'Banion 1994), This problem is particularly acute among students in occupational education programs, since histories of academic failure or lack of previous schooling may lead them to shun academic courses altogether.2 Avoiding such courses not only affects their ability to learn in occupational classes, where reading, writing and other skills are needed, but reduces their ability to meet increasingly complex literacy demands of the workplace, such as the solving of problems using written text (Bailey 1995; Hart-Landsberg and Reder 1995; Mikulecky 1998; Murnane and Levy 1996). While work requires a widening of competencies, vocational education programs have been criticized for an overly narrow focus on job skills, with insufficient academic content (Grubb 1996). Few would disagree with the contention that occupational education should be just as concerned as other programs to prepare students to read, write, and think in ways that enrich their lives, stimulate meaningful involvement in society, and ensure workforce participation. Indeed, the reading and writing practices in today's career-related classroom are no less sophisticated than those in academic education (Grubb and Associates 1999). Therefore, to be effective, vocational programs must have an academic dimension.

However, academic instruction in community colleges often does not satisfy the needs of career preparation, and faculty and administrators in occupational programs have described the content of general education courses as irrelevant to students' job goals. For example, writing extended text in freshman composition classes or learning to solve abstract word problems in mathematics courses not only has limited applicability to job preparation but is uninteresting to students (Perin 1998). Whether academic courses should focus specifically on occupational preparation or should be used as an opportunity to broaden students' basic reading, writing, or math skills and critical awareness in general is an expression of the age-old debate regarding the purposes of education, and lies at the heart of arguments about the direction of community college education (Brint and Karabel 1989). Some authors have refused to dichotomize academic and career goals and see them as equally important in larger vision of education (Dewey 1916; Jones 1998). A response to criticisms of occupational and academic education is to reform both areas by bringing them closer together. Calls to connect academic and vocational education emanated from Dewey's (1916) philosophy of education and were most recently reincarnated in federal legislation that attempted to restructure vocational education (Bailey and Merritt 1997). An effort known as "academic-occupational integration" (Grubb et al. 1996), initiated in high schools and seen increasingly in community colleges, makes academic courses more occupational and occupational education more academic (Stasz 1997). For the community college, academic-occupational integration represents significant change, since these institutions tend to shy away from instructional innovation (Callan 1997).

A variety of integration models used in community colleges have been described in previous research (Grubb and Kraskouskas 1992; Badway and Grubb 1997; Illinois Task Force on Integration 1997), but there has been a lack of analysis at the level of individual classrooms. For example, it is not known how occupational and academic content are actually combined in the classroom, nor do we know the extent to which integrated instruction is student-centered rather than traditional (Illinois Task Force on Integration 1997).

The research reported in this article is a qualitative, instrumental case study (Stake 1995; Yin 1994) that extends the previous work by entering classrooms. The study focused on three career areas that currently attract large enrollments in community colleges: health care, business, and technologies. Classrooms were observed, curriculum materials and other documents were examined, and faculty were interviewed in order to gain an understanding of teaching and learning in an integrated setting. In particular, the study attempted to determine the reasons for integrated instruction in specific colleges, weigh the advantages and disadvantages of this reform effort, and compare classrooms on several instructional variables.


Besides broadening training in job skills, integrated instruction permits the contextualization of academic skills, as found in "content area literacy" in secondary education (Bean and Readence 1989), and "workplace literacy" in job settings (Mikulecky and Drew 1991; Perm 1997; Sauer 1998). Academic-occupational integration is the fusion of reading, writing, English language, math and/or critical thinking skills with career-related instruction.3 In some instances, academic discipline areas such as biology, philosophy, and social science are integrated with occupational content. Integrated instruction is typically accomplished either by aligning two or more courses, or combining academic and occupational instruction in single courses. Actually, integrated instruction is not confined to occupational education, nor to the community college. For example, aligned courses are increasingly common in programs in liberal arts, social sciences, and sciences, in both community colleges (Tinto 1997) and four-year programs (Gabelnick et al. 1990).

The case study concentrated on five different integration models, previously identified by Grubb and Kraskouskas (1992), in use in community colleges:

Model 1. Linked courses, also known as paired or tandem courses. A cohort of students takes a pair of courses in which curricula are aligned. The academic course may be a general education course given for college credit, such as Freshman Composition or Introduction to Social Sciences, or a remedial course that does not bear college credit, such as English as a Second Language.

Model 2. Course clusters, also known as learning communities. A cohort of students takes a set of three or more courses in which curricula are aligned. As in model 1, the academic courses may or may not bear college credit.

Model 3. Infused occupational courses. Single occupational courses incorporate instruction in academic skills, such as writing—as in writing-across-the-curriculum approaches (McGrath and Spear 1991)—or math. Although academic skills are included, the primary objective of these courses is to teach occupational content.

Model 4. Infused academic courses, or applied academics. Single academic courses teach reading, writing, math, or critical thinking using occupational themes. Although career-related content is utilized, the primary objective of these courses is to teach academic skills.

Model 5. Hybrid courses. Single courses have a dual emphasis on occupational and academic content.


Besides differences among models, variation would be expected in the ways in which specific instructors apply the same model. Academic and occupational material could be related to each other superficially or closely. "Treatment quality" may vary so that integrated instruction could be implemented along a spectrum from mechanical linking to close interweaving of academic and occupational topics. Mechanical linking would represent a weak form of integration while a close relationship of content would constitute strong integration. One of the benefits of integrated instruction is that it presents ready-made connections between academic and occupational content that students might have difficulties making for themselves (Grubb et al. 1996) and in this sense, strong integration would be preferable to weak forms.

Strong integration should promote generalization of learning between academic and occupational contexts. Many learners seem to show poor transfer of skills from school to workplace (Mikulecky and Drew 1991). In fact, early cognitive researchers found that transfer from one learning situation to another was rare (Thorndike and Woodworth 1901). However, more recent studies indicate that transfer will occur if the context of learning and practice are highly similar (Detterman 1993). When academic and occupational instruction are linked, contexts of learning necessarily become closer, promoting generalization of skill across the two contexts. For example, nursing vocabulary learned in a freshman composition class may be expected to generalize to a nursing class, and experience in using computers or applying accounting concepts in business classes should enhance ability to write about these topics.


Previous researchers have claimed that one of the advantages of academic-occupational integration is an increase in student-centered instruction (Grubb et al. 1996; Illinois Task Force on Integration 1997). It is necessary to clarify the meaning of this term because it has been used in at least two different ways in the literature. On one hand, Cuban (1993) focuses on the managerial and communicative aspects of instruction, such as the amount of teacher talk, level of student involvement in planning the use of class time, group work, and arrangement of classroom furniture. On the other, Grubb et al. (1996) focus on the content of instruction, characterizing education as student-centered when what is taught is perceived by students as being interesting and useful (p. 15). However, in principle, it is possible to teach material of high interest and utility by means of formal lectures and boring material in a cooperative learning environment. As one of our objectives is to describe classroom process, the current study applies Cuban's rather than Grubb's characterization to distinguish teacher- from student-centered classrooms.

While levels of student involvement seem generally low in college classrooms (Nunn 1996), student-centered instruction appears to benefit cognitive processes and motivation. Active involvement in learning enhances the ability to remember and apply information when needed (Bransford 1979; Auster and MacRone 1994), and when learning in groups, students build more knowledge than they could when learning alone (Resnick 1989). Helping the teacher design instruction rather than being a passive recipient of instruction may increase motivation to learn (Cordova and Lepper 1996). Student-centered learning may be particularly appropriate for diverse student populations (Perry et al. 1996) who have experienced little academic success.

However, while student-centered learning appears to be beneficial, more formal, teacher-centered instruction provides structure that may be necessary to ensure curriculum coverage. Further, some content areas may lend themselves better to lecture formats and some to experiential modes (Achtenhagen and Grubb 1998). In fact, Cuban (1993) advocates the combination of student- and teacher-centered learning, that is, a "hybrid" in which the teacher dominates but where students have an important role to play in planning and participating in instruction (p. 11).


Another question addressed in this study concerns the way in which academic skills are treated in integrated instruction. As alluded to above, it is widely recognized that community college students need to improve their reading, writing, math, and critical thinking skills in Order to prepare for increasingly sophisticated tasks in today's workplace. However, there has been little systematic study of how these skills are taught (Grubb 1996). It has been suggested that vocational students need explicit instruction in literacy skills in a way that emphasizes their importance in the workplace (Achtenhagen and Grubb 1998; Stasz 1997). Earlier, Bloom (1956) emphasized the need for explicit learning in general, arguing that the higher cognitive processes of analysis, synthesis, and evaluation could not be left to implicit learning. The value of explicit instruction has been demonstrated in areas as diverse as the teaching* of reading (Harris et al. 1998) and high school physics (Huffman 1996), and has been advocated for students who have special learning needs (King-Sears 1997).

Explicit instruction includes explaining and demonstrating new content and skills, requiring frequent guided practice using the new material, carefully checking students' understanding, and allowing time for independent practice. Stasz (1997) emphasized the value of combining explicit instruction and authentic materials for occupational students. Achtenhagen and Grubb (1998) lamented the lack of explicit instruction in vocational education, but the problem extends more broadly; elementary and secondary school teachers have also been criticized on the same grounds (Rosenshine and Stevens 1986; Peverly and Kitzen 1998). Ideally, when academic and occupational instruction are integrated, direct instruction should be provided in both areas. Simply assigning math or assessing learning by means of report writing does not constitute literacy instruction; rather, students would need explanations, demonstrations, and guided practice in these skills. In community colleges, effective learning in both academic and occupational education may hinge on explicit instruction in the reading of symbolic systems such as codes, diagrams, notation, and extended text (Grubb and Associates 1999).


It is important that students understand the nature of academic-occupational instruction. Grubb (1996) pointed out that when programs "integrated" education merely by requiring that vocational students take general education courses, the connections were lost on the students. The contention that occupational education students should not be left to integrate the two areas themselves is supported by studies that suggest that low-achieving students lack the metacognitive skills to monitor their own learning processes (Brown et al. 1996) or coordinate information from various sources (Meltzer 1993). Even in models that are designed to integrate academic and occupational subject matter, such as linked courses or applied academics, students might not be fully aware of the instructional intent unless they are explicitly informed. Generalization of learning may be enhanced when curriculum materials, such as course syllabi, clearly specify that instruction is being integrated.


The study investigated the integration of academic and occupational instruction in seven community colleges in urban, suburban, and rural areas in four states in the northeast and midwest United States. Sites were selected according to four criteria: (1) the institution was offering one or more integrated occupational courses in health care, business, or a technology area during the data collection period; (2) the college considered the course (s) to be a good example of integration; (3) the course (s) exemplified one of the curriculum integration models identified by Badway and Grubb (1997) or the Illinois Task Force on Integration (1997); and (4) the college was interested in participating in the case study. Cases were sought specifically in two-year, career-preparation programs culminating in the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree, although a one-year, allied health certificate program was also included.

There was unexpected difficulty in finding community college occupational education programs offering integrated courses in the four states targeted. Integrated instruction, where it was used at all, appeared much more prevalent in general education than career-related programs. The search for sites included contacts with national community college leaders, state education administrators, university deans for academic affairs, college academic vice presidents, deans of instruction, department chairs, and faculty in numerous institutions.4 Apart from a few sites that were integrating academic and occupational instruction but did not wish to participate in the study, it was difficult to find colleges where such courses were actually being offered, although at times there was an abundance of plans. This corroborated Badway and Grubb's (1997) experience when following up a mail survey, that it "appeared that the answers to these questionnaires were often exaggerated: in some cases it looked like community colleges reported practices under development, or practices they wanted to develop, rather than examples of curriculum integration already in place" (p. 71). This statement, along with experience in the current study, leads us to conclude that, at present, integrated instruction is relatively rare in community college, career-preparation programs.

Having identified seven sites, visits of several days were made to each, except for one, from which information was gathered by telephone and mail. The classroom was the hub of the inquiry. A total of thirty-three participated; faculty and administrators connected with these classes were interviewed, curriculum documents were examined, and twenty-five of the classrooms were observed. In general, the students at the various sites conformed to descriptions of community college students such as in Cohen and Brawer (1996).

Materials examined included course catalogs, syllabi, textbooks, videotapes, recruitment materials, conference handouts, published articles, professional development materials, faculty handbooks, student assignments and related handouts, samples of students' work, minutes of industry advisory boards and college committees relevant to integrated instruction, and institutional reports. Interviews were conducted with forty instructors and chairs, thirteen administrators, and seven other college personnel.

Classroom observations focused on physical setting, ambiance, instructional approach, factors specific to integrated instruction, students' responses to instruction, student-teacher interactions, types of learning, and attentional, motivational, and emotional factors. A classroom observation instrument was designed containing items based on Bloom (1956), Cuban (1995), Good and Brophy (1987), and Weinstein and Hume (1998), and SCANS (1991) foundation skills. Interview guides5 were constructed to gather information about the college's reasons for integrating instruction and faculty perceptions of classroom practice, professional collaboration, and benefits and drawbacks of this approach.


Integrated instruction represented a way to address a variety of local issues although, overall, there was a tendency for faculty and administrators to see integrated instruction as a solution to the problem of students' need for improved academic and critical thinking skills. Major characteristics of the case study sites, and the problems that integrated instruction was intended to solve, are shown in Table 1. At Alpha Community College, where ESL and computer courses were linked, integrated instruction was intended to stem the tide of attrition created when students with limited English language proficiency entered college expecting to prepare for business careers and instead found themselves in generic ESL courses that they had to complete before taking business courses. At Rho Community College, automotive technology students would delay taking required English courses until the very end of their programs, if they were not integrated with automotive content. At Omega Community College, infusing discipline courses with writing projects aimed at improving students' critical reasoning abilities by increasing the general education component. Previous studies present integrated instruction as a means of addressing several educational weaknesses: overly narrow occupational education, irrelevant academic education, and deficiencies in student performance. When asked for the college's rationale for integrated instruction, community college personnel at the case study sites focused largely on student performance. Fifty-seven statements about reasons for integrating instruction were made by 53 interviewees in the seven colleges (see Table 2). The responses were assigned to five categories (listed in descending order of frequency): student performance (60%), efficiency and college policy (18%), student retention (16%), faculty motivation (4%), and external funding (4%).



Many of the statements about student performance referred to students' need for better academic skills, for example:

Faculty said they were dumbing down their instruction. [Integrated instruction] was a response to this. It was recognized that the great majority of students, not just those who tested into remediation, needed help with academic skills. The idea developed that all faculty had to take responsibility for English skills, especially writing. (GCC administrator)

It (integrated instruction) was driven by the occupational education folks. The students are very comfortable with technical courses but when they get to take general education, they back away. Because of their learning styles, they feel uncomfortable—and because general education teachers teach in an academic style without acknowledging where students came from, the students dropped out. . . . Business stated that students needed just the skills that the students avoided. We can't just force them. Why not just give it to them in the way they understand and are receptive to—to accommodate their learning styles? (Associate Dean, Business, SCC)

Respondents' focus on academic skills suggests that there might be an overlap between integrated and remedial instruction (Perin 1999). Although most of the academic courses examined as part of the case study conferred college credit and were not considered by the faculty to be remedial, they seemed in fact to have remedial objectives. This may have been an example of the evidently widespread phenomenon of "hidden remediation" described by Grubb and Associates (1999). Further, traditional academic instruction, remedial or otherwise, did not meet the needs of many occupational education students. However, when linked to job content connected directly to students' educational and career goals, instruction in basic academic skills became more palatable.


Implementations of the five models of academic-occupational integration reported in previous research were found in the business, health, and technologies programs studied. Course linking and clustering, occupational and academic infusion, and hybrid instruction all provided ways of integrating curriculum across occupational and academic areas.

Integrated courses were offered at introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels. For example, in the nursing area, integrated instruction was offered both at introductory (ECC) and advanced (GCC) levels. Writing-intensive courses (OCC) seemed to be found more at the advanced levels. The learning community and course linking models permitted connections between courses at different levels, such as introductory nursing with a higher-level philosophy course (ECC) and intermediate ESL with introductory business (ACC). Mixing levels had advantages and disadvantages. For example, in the ECC cluster designed for pre-nursing students, the nursing instructor could reduce the amount of time spent introducing the subject of bioethics, since the topic was addressed in the philosophy class. However, the philosophy instructor found the students to be academically underprepared for the discussions and work normally assigned in this class.

Classrooms were categorized according to four variables, applying an analytical framework developed for this study. There were eight linked courses (four pairs), three clustered courses (one learning community), sixteen infused occupational, three infused academic, and three hybrid courses. Given the lack of representative sampling, it is not known whether the proportion of classes for each model reflects practices nationally, although it appears that infused academic (applied academics) courses might be more common than the others. Table 3 lists the classrooms studied, indicating type and strength of integration, teaching style, explicitness of literacy instruction, and whether the integrated instruction was communicated in the course syllabus. Determinations of the strength of integration, teacher style, and explicitness of literacy instruction were made only for the classrooms observed (twenty-five of the thirty-three studied). Descriptions of classrooms illustrating each variable may be found in Perin (1998).


Strength of integration refers to whether the instructor overtly linked occupational and academic skills in the classroom. A classroom was classified as strong if the instructor connected occupational and academic content during an observation, or connections were demonstrated in at least one student assignment furnished by the instructor. Classrooms where no such connections were detected were labeled weak.

Seventeen (68%) of the twenty-five classrooms observed were strongly integrated. Many vibrant cases of integration were observed, although it is notable that less than three quarters of the classes offered by the sites as examples of integrated instruction were actually integrated, at least in terms of discernable classroom practice, expressed here as strength of integration.

While applied academics and hybrid models virtually dictated strong integration, the strength of integration in the other models varied depending on the teacher and institutions. For example, five of the thirteen infused occupational classes were strongly integrated while the others were weak. This finding was somewhat skewed by the fact that four of the classrooms were within one college, OCC, where college guidelines stipulated that writing was to be assigned but not taught. However, there was some variation even at this campus. In the Principles of Patient Care class (classroom 19, Table 3), the instructor gave students extensive written guidelines on journal-writing for nurses and individual help with writing. There was also variation at another campus, SCC, where a keyboarding class was linked to a speech class (classrooms 3 and 4). In this case, the keyboarding instructor referred to speech content, for instance, by having students make oral presentations concerning computer procedures they had learned. However, the speech teacher did not utilize occupational material, keyboarding or otherwise.


Course-linking did not ensure integration; in some cases cohorts of students were attending pairs of classes but the instructors made minimal reference to each other's work. Integration here would be a hit-or-miss affair since students would have to draw the connections themselves (Grubb 1996). This is particularly risky for students with poor histories of achievement, who tend to have difficulty applying metacognitive skills needed to connect content across courses. Monitoring of instruction via professional development might help strengthen integration in such cases.

In two of the cases of weak integration in linked courses, the instructors may not have been fully aware of the possibilities of drawing in companion content. When interviewed, they were enthusiastic about their students and appeared to feel that they were doing something new. The fact that their instruction was not in fact integrated is reminiscent of the case of "Mrs. Oublier" (Cohen 1990), who thought she had revolutionized her teaching when she was in fact continuing to engage in standard practice. The following descriptions, drawn from field notes, provide examples of integrated instruction.

Examples of Strong Integration

Materials of Industry (linked to Composition I, below). The instructor was employed full time in industry and had taught at SCC for many years because he enjoyed it. He assigned written reports tailored to what was expected in industry. He thought that the students had better skills than other students because they were taking the Composition course at the same time. "These students are stronger—they could write a report on test equipment they could order for their company." He also reinforced speech skills taught the previous semester. Students were required to write a 1,000 word research report (20% of the grade) and make a five-minute oral presentation on a material or group of materials. Written guidelines stipulated that the report must contain a description of the material, origin/ source of the material, chemical composition, how material is made, its uses in industry, advantages and disadvantages, environmental impact (for example, whether biodegradable), cost of material, and supplier information. The student also had to submit an outline of the oral presentation.

Composition I. The purpose of the class session was to develop writing and research skills using books, magazines, and newspaper articles. The students were preparing for a project assigned in the linked Materials course. The teacher distributed an abstract and explained how to cite sources, and then gave a short lecture on plagiarism. Discussion followed. The teacher then talked about abstracts and handed out an example. After a discussion the students left the room to go to the library for the remainder of the session. They were scheduled for a tour, and were going to select resources for the Materials project.

Examples of Weak Integration

Introduction to Speech (linked to Keyboarding II). In the session observed, the students made speeches on intercultural topics. There was no mention of office technology (the linked class), nor were any workplace concepts mentioned. This appeared to be a standard speech class; what made it "integrated" was the fact that the students all attended the same office technology class. Based on the observation, interview, and examination of materials, the speech teacher did not seem to be employing occupational concepts in this class. I observed four speeches, on several topics: (1) the experience a coworker described to the speaker about living in Germany for a year because of a company posting; (2) another speech about Germany, this time about cooking; (3) cults and churches, including the personal experience of a friend of the speaker; (4) how women are treated in Saudi Arabia.

Introduction to Computers (linked to English as a Second Language). In the first part of the session observed, the students copied an elaborate chart spread out over the three panels of the chalkboard, while the teacher took attendance, and called for volunteers to come to his desk to show him that they had done their homework. The instructor then reviewed previous information, discussed new concepts, and went over a homework assignment. Referring to the chart on the board, the instructor explicated concepts such as file management, opening a file, write-protect, file name, extension, save, and save as. While the instructor spoke, the majority of students took notes. They listened closely throughout the hour. Much of the lecture involved terminology such as "equipment," "hardware," and "device." The instructor frequently asked if there were any questions but there were few. When I spoke with the instructor after class, he attributed lack of questioning to shyness. He thought that the students were very strong and might earn better grades than the students in the non-linked classes. During the observation, the instructor did not mention anything specifically related to the linked course although at one point he alluded to the presence of ESL students: "I know many students in here are ESL and may want to ask about terminology." However, although he had a congenial manner, acknowledged the students' language status, and seemed genuinely interested in inviting students to ask questions, he tended to speak rather quickly so that students with lower English language proficiency may have had some difficulty following what he said. At times some of the students had quizzical expressions on their faces. It was not clear whether the students were understanding, because the instructor rarely asked substantive questions to check comprehension.


Style refers to whether instruction in the class session observed was learner-or teacher-centered, or a mixture of the two, with reference to Cuban's (1993) characterizations. In teacher-centered classrooms, the teacher controls the content, timing, and conditions of instruction. Teachers talk more than students; instruction is directed to the whole class, with little use of small groups or individualized instruction; the teacher decides how class time will be used; the teacher relies heavily on a textbook for both course content and teaching method; and the classroom furniture usually consists of rows of desks or chairs facing the blackboard, with the teacher's desk nearby. In contrast, when instruction is student-centered, the students and teacher share responsibility for what is taught and how they will learn it. Students talk at least as often as the teacher; instruction tends to be individualized or directed to groups; the students help choose and organize instructional content; innovative instructional materials are used for at least half the time; classroom furniture is arranged to permit individual, group, and whole class activities; and, at times, students move about the classroom rather than sitting still for long periods of time. Student-centered learning activities include role play, practical projects, the use of cases, and collaborative learning.

If a standard lecture-and-questions format was used exclusively during the session observed, the classroom was labeled teacher-centered. If the teacher utilized any one of the features of student-centered instruction, described by Cuban (1993), the classroom was labeled student-centered; and if at least one feature was used in combination with lecturing, the classroom was labeled mixed.

Seven (28%) of the twenty-five classrooms used student-centered instruction, five (20%) used teacher-centered instruction, and thirteen (52%) were mixed—considered by Cuban (1993) to be optimal. Although previous research suggested that integrated instruction tends to be student-centered, strongly integrated instruction was seen here in both traditional lecture and student-centered formats. The unexpectedly low incidence of purely student-centered classrooms may result from differing definitions of student-centeredness. If the current study had followed Grubb et al.'s (1996) approach of equating student-centeredness with relevance to students of content, a larger proportion of classes in the current study would have been categorized as student-centered. However, when processes such as collaborative learning and the amount of talking students do in class are used as criteria, fewer classrooms can be called student-centered.

Table 3 shows that the student-centered classrooms tended to be weakly integrated. Exceptions included the learning community for nursing students (classrooms 9-11 in Table 3) and Principles of Accounting II (classroom 3). In contrast, in the Materials of Industry course (classroom 1), strong integration was found in a traditional lecture format. Interestingly, the students found this teacher to be "bland" and "boring," preferring the Composition teacher, who used a mixed style. The student-centered aspect of the mixed-style Comprehensive Nursing Care II class (classroom 13) was quite different from the student-centeredness found in the ESL class (classroom 8). In the nursing care classroom, the instructor carefully structured every moment of class time so that even when students conferred in a group activity, they were meant to be accomplishing specific occupationally related objectives. In the ESL class, although the students worked in groups with tutors, the activity was somewhat disorganized. Further, while the ESL class allowed for practice in conversational English, the content was not occupationally related, despite being linked to a business class. Therefore, although student-centered, the ESL class did not maximize the opportunity to reinforce occupational content.

There was an even spread of teacher- and student-centered classrooms across occupational and academic classrooms. While some educators advocate self-paced and collaborative activities that are typical of student-centered instruction, this approach may not be entirely appropriate for students with poor academic histories, who may need more structured, "top-down" approaches. Some commentators have noted that structured instruction was provided year after year earlier in students' educational lives, and did not lead to high levels of achievement. While, certainly, it is inadvisable to prescribe more of the same old thing, structured instruction can be provided in a variety of ways, and does not necessarily entail the fragmentation of skills or use of programmed learning to which critics of structured instruction object. Rather, it is possible to provide structure using authentic text and tasks that are interesting and useful to students. Examples of teacher- and student-centered and mixed classrooms follow.

Example of Teacher-Centered Classroom

Special Radiologic Procedures (infused occupational, classroom 24, Table 3). The instructor began by informing the students of upcoming topics and assignments. For the next half hour, a student presented a topic related to radiologic technology. Then the students looked at slides for twenty-five minutes. Finally, there was a brief practice test consisting of vocabulary matching. Both instructor and student presenter used an expository method of instruction, and there was no group work. The presenter read his paper, not conveying any sign of interest in the topic. The other students seemed to be listening, but not too motivated. Students rarely asked questions. Approximately twenty minutes into the class session, a student asked the presenter a question that revealed a misunderstanding. This was clarified by the presenter. Soon after this, the instructor asked the presenter about "time interval mode obstruction." In responding, the presenter simply repeated the information from his presentation, but in a slower fashion.

Example of a Student-Centered Classroom

English as a Second Language (classroom 8, Table 3, linked to Introduction to Computers). The teacher and two tutors were present in the classroom. Students began by sitting in rows of chairs but soon moved to two circles as directed by the instructor. The instructor began by asking for students' homework. Very few had done it. While the groups were working, the instructor met with individual students to review papers they had written. In the groups, the students worked on The Pearl, by John Steinbeck. They each had a worksheet that listed comprehension questions. The tutor read each question, and a student answered. The teacher did not state the purpose of the class to the students, but the purpose appeared to be language practice and reading comprehension. Many of the students answered the tutors' questions although they rarely asked any of their own except, "Could you repeat?" There was much conversation in the classroom although a few remained unengaged throughout. A few spent much time writing—it was not clear whether this was related to the class. One seemed to be filling out a form. The atmosphere was different from the linked computer class in which students sat largely silent while the instructor lectured. The tutors were very friendly and involved. Two of the students worked together while the others in the group worked with the teacher. Many of the students seemed to have reasonable spoken English fluency although they made grammatical errors.

Example of a Mixed Classroom

Comprehensive Nursing Care II (classroom 13, Table 3, infused occupational). The session addressed a number of topics in obstetrics. The instructor handed out assignments asking students to formulate a nursing diagnosis (identify goal, identify and prioritize interventions). Students were told that they would form groups, each of which would work on a different diagnosis. After working independently for ten minutes on a preliminary assignment, the students met in their groups for twenty minutes to discuss what they had written, and decide on the order of information. In their groups, they used previously taken notes. The instructor circulated among groups asking questions. A spokesperson from each group then went to the board to write the group's material. The instructor led a discussion based on what was written on the board, asking if students agreed or disagreed. Many were highly involved and attentive during this discussion, consulting their notes, offering answers, and asking questions.

The instructor then gave a lecture, using overheads. One of the topics was hemorrhaging in pregnancy. The instructor asked questions during the lecture, including a "bonus" question regarding sending a patient home with a particular Rh status. Assessments were elicited from the students. Students took notes throughout. The instructor asked questions during this time, and called on students for answers. Examples: How would we diagnose this? What do you do for a hemorrhage? There was some discussion of this issue. Only a few students understood fully, and the instructor spent some time clarifying the information. In the middle of the lecture, the students were asked to take a few minutes and list three or four interventions for fetal bleeding, and "put a star next to the priority." The lecture, interspersed with questions and discussion, continued.


Literacy refers to the explicitness with which literacy skills were taught in the twenty-five classrooms observed. Similar to the approach taken in the field of adult literacy, literacy was defined broadly, and included reading, writing, oral language, math, and thinking skills. Classrooms in which the instructor taught any of these skills were labeled explicit. Teaching was defined as discussing a skill or showing students how to perform it, rather than merely having students use the skill. Explicit instruction could be provided through the teacher's explanation or through textbook exercises done under the teacher's guidance. If the skills were not taught, the classroom was categorized as implicit For example, if the students were asked to write a report but the teacher did not discuss procedures for doing this, the classroom was labeled implicit. The classrooms were categorized based only on observations so that instances of explicit instruction were observed by researchers rather than reported by faculty in interviews.

Ten (40%) of the twenty-five classrooms provided explicit instruction in literacy, while fifteen (60%) were implicit. As might be expected, the classes labeled explicit tended to be academic (for example, ESL and English composition), although five were occupational or hybrid. Seven of the twenty-five classrooms (28%) demonstrated strong integration with implicit literacy instruction. In these instances, pedagogy seemed to be lagging behind curriculum.

A lack of direct instruction in basic academic skills was found even in strongly integrated classrooms, supporting the call for more explicit instruction in occupational education (Achtenhagen and Grubb 1998; Grubb and Associates 1999). In the Retail Merchandising class (classroom 15, Table 3), the instructor taught applied math skills in an individualized manner, using computers and a textbook. Active learning methods (classrooms 12-15) were designed to provide explicit teaching of literacy skills, although one of the active learning classrooms observed, Physical Therapy Assistant I, provided implicit rather than explicit literacy instruction.

Clarity of Curriculum Materials

Syllabi for the thirty-three classes in the study were examined regarding whether or not they stated that instruction was integrated. Seventy-one percent of the syllabi clearly mentioned integrated instruction, either by cross-referencing topics and skills or referring to learning strategies. For instance, accompanying the syllabi for the courses in the learning community for nursing students was a calendar showing schedules for the three classes on one sheet. The learning community was described as follows:

This unique course gets you started by offering you the following: integrated learning—ideas and assignments are shared and/or coordinated to maximize learning and minimize stress; convenience— classes meet in blocks on two days of the week in the same classroom; community—students work, study and learn together, developing close personal ties and future professional contacts; academic success— learning community students achieve higher grade points than students in other courses.

While the majority of syllabi specified that instruction was integrated, approximately one-third contained no mention of this fact, so that, especially in cases of weakly integrated classrooms, instructors may have inadvertently been leaving it to the students to make the connections for themselves (Grubb 1996). In some cases it might not have been Advantageous to mention integration in course descriptions as it may have implied a watering-down of instruction, jeopardizing transferability of courses to four-year institutions.


Since colleges were selected for the study based on their positive experiences with academic-occupational integration, it is not surprising that much enthusiasm was expressed for this approach by the faculty, administrators, and students interviewed. Although interviewees described substantial costs in terms of administrative attention and faculty workload, many thought that the effort was validated by gains in student motivation and performance and, in turn, retention. Perceptions of positive outcomes were categorized in terms of benefits to students, faculty and quality of education, the college, and employers.


Students who typically shun general education will voluntarily swallow a larger dose of academic instruction when it is linked to career education. They become more motivated, which improves retention in programs. Previously hard-to-motivate students, such as in the automotive area, are happier to engage in academic tasks than before. For example, an instructor in applied English for automotive students at RCC reported that his students were reading more than required.

Several other advantages to students were described. Skills improved and were applied on the job as a result of integrated instruction. Linked courses gave students a sense of community: they interacted more with each other and supported each other's learning. For example, faculty at ACC were gratified to see students working together in the library. In another example, the certificate program at LCG, "every single faculty member is familiar with every single student... there is a very intimate environment." When faculty collaborated to integrate instruction, students received extra attention, which increased motivation. However, it must be said that other factors beyond integrated instruction may also enhance motivation. For example, at LCC, students were screened for motivation prior to program acceptance. Also, students in highly competitive health programs appear to be motivated to learn, irrespective of the teaching methodology.


An important benefit of integrated instruction was an increase in faculty motivation. Given the strong relation between teacher enthusiasm and teaching quality (Brophy and Good 1986), such increases in motivation can be seen as a critical factor in reforming community college education. Much of the increase in motivation seemed to derive from greater opportunity for faculty interaction. Interviewees stated that integration paved the way for intellectual and personal communication in a normally isolating profession. The opportunity to collaborate with other instructors was described as exciting by faculty both at ACC and ECC. For example, an ECC English teacher said that she was "excited by widening horizons" when she had the chance to observe a nursing teacher in a clinical setting—"it is refreshing... You form friendships in a learning community." At GCC, a dean thought that the most important effect of integrated instruction had been "faculty renewal." Some interviewees stated that the chance to interact with other instructors offset the problem of increased workload that accompanied integrated instruction.

Integrated instruction can be motivating to highly educated instructors who are teaching poorly prepared students. However, not all faculty were motivated by integrated instruction, and collaborations might not always be effective. A chair of English at ACC pointed out that instructors may not be interested in the content of a linked course but still have to teach it. In particular, this issue may affect occupational instructors who are not interested in teaching academic skills. Further, faculty motivation may be traced to non-instructional issues. For example, at ACC, the business chair asked a computer instructor to link his course to an ESL class not only because the instructor's native language was other than English, but because involvement would aid his bid for promotion and tenure.

Another benefit of integrated instruction was an improvement in faculty teaching skills and awareness of other disciplines. Both occupational and academic faculty expanded their horizons beyond their own disciplines. A social science instructor, who had been fairly traditional prior to involvement with academic-occupational integration, described changes in the way he thought about his subject matter: "I'm more aware of concrete applications. I brought this back to other classes I teach. I'm more aware of teamwork and learning styles." He described a site visit to a factory, where

the Human Resources director showed us the factory, work stations, and computers on the floor. The employees deal directly with customers from the shop floor. There is no middle management. This is why they want Communication skills. There is no assembly line.... Teamwork allows things to happen that can't happen when you work alone.

The instructor subsequently began assigning work to teams of students, and reduced the time spent in traditional lecturing.


Several institutional benefits were noted by interviewees. Academic-occupational integration may lead to curricular modification. Colleges develop relationships with industry. Colleges become known as state leaders. A senior administrator at SCC thought that integrated instruction was valuable to the college because it had stimulated an updating of curriculum. Another administrator reported that local employers were forming relationships with the college under the aegis of the integrated instruction. Integrating academic skills via writing-across-the-curriculum could draw faculty's attention to the quality of general education.


While most faculty and administrators focused on benefits to students, faculty, and the college, some interviewees also saw value for employers. As reported above, a number of rationale statements mentioned that students needed academic skills to meet increased workplace needs, implying that industry could benefit from having a better educated workforce.


Despite the enthusiasm for academic-occupational integration, obstacles, pitfalls and pressure points were also noted, which, when considered alongside the benefits described above, can be treated as costs of integrating instruction. Costs can be defined in terms of time, effort, and payment necessary for professional development and instructional planning, or administrative attention to changing classroom procedures and promoting integration. Challenges for education generally and integration specifically were encountered. General issues included effort needed to implement student-centered instruction, such as the teacher learning to give up power in the classroom, and the students learning how to work in groups. Another example of a general issue of concern was seen at ECC, where an automotive instructor needed to spend extra time to plan distance learning.

Obstacles, pitfalls, and pressure points were classified into several categories, from general to specific: (1) issues that arise in trying to initiate a new approach in general; (2) dependence of a new approach on a campus leader; (3) problems in integrating instruction, whether academic-occupational or within general education alone; (4) problems specific to academic-occupational integration.

Initiating a New Approach

Initiating a new approach depended on faculty energy and interest. Some faculty were unwilling to integrate instruction, either because of lack of interest or because it might hurt their chances of tenure or promotion. At some institutions, instructional reform was the province of less senior faculty.

Faculty who are younger in outlook are more interested in course linking than others.... The pioneering of new ideas is left to the younger faculty. The older faculty... were involved in (previous efforts to change curriculum)—they're now nearing retirement, and backing away from involvement. (Administrator, ACC)

In some cases, the effort was dependent on external funding. Sometimes, instructors were chosen for the new initiative simply because they were willing to volunteer, not necessarily because they were good teachers:

(I got involved) because the college asked for volunteers. No one else wanted to do it. I had some experience teaching vocational English. I may not want to stay involved... [but] I like the smaller classes and the schedule. (English instructor, SCC)

In several cases, integrated instruction was begun with the support of external funding. It was expensive for the college to pay for the release time and incentives necessary to initiate and maintain integrated instruction: "Being completely grant funded puts us at a level of instability" (ESL instructor, LGC).

At SCC, faculty new to integration received release time for two four-hour modules of staff development, and four hours to work with a partner. Funds that might have been spent on evaluating the effectiveness of integration were spent on professional training. An initiative might depend for its strength on ongoing attention or funding. For example, at OCC, the writing intensive model seemed to be losing its impetus because faculty workshops and release time for coordinators had been discontinued. Faculty at LCC felt that their model was vulnerable because of the unpredictability of funding.

Importance of a Faculty Leader

In most cases, the initiation and maintenance of integrated instruction seemed to depend on individual leadership. At ECC, a popular English faculty member, with the support of a Vice President, was able to recruit growing numbers of colleagues and students for involvement in integrated instruction (although, as indicated above, involvement of occupational education was minimal). GCC institutionalized "active learning" over a ten-year period, and its longevity was attributed to the attention given to it by the Vice President, whose support and style of leadership was seen as conducive to faculty involvement.

At ACC, a senior administrator mandated the linking of ESL and content courses after a successful three-year pilot led by two English instructors. His endorsement and support were critical, because he had the authority to make funds available for faculty to attend regular full-day staff development meetings. At LCC, the director of the certificate program spent considerable time building faculty relationships and communicating with the senior administrators about the program. In contrast, no one in particular was at the helm of OCC's writing-across-the-curriculum effort at the time of the study, and possibly as a consequence, it seemed to be losing power. For example, an interviewee indicated that some of the instructors teaching writing-across-the-curriculum courses either were not actually incorporating writing, or were only doing so if there was time at the end of the course; there was no penalty since no one was monitoring the use of writing.

New efforts can be overly dependent on a single leader and if that leader is removed for some reason, and if the program is not sufficiently institutionalized, it can weaken. This may have been a threat at SCC, where the person who initiated the Integration Center and was its central source of energy was about to move to a higher level position in the college. Among our sites, this person was unusually dynamic, and spent much time developing relationships with faculty and business. It was not clear that the Center was sufficiently institutionalized in the college's operations to be able to withstand the removal of his attention, especially because the Center's nominal director was assigned only part time and had many other responsibilities in the college:

The president wants to adapt the whole system. Right now, there's an "indispensable person" [but] the initiative can't depend on an indispensable person or it will go away. It should be the norm. (Dean for Student Affairs, SCC)

Integrating Instruction

Obstacles to integrating instruction, whether it involved occupational education or not, included faculty workload, curriculum coverage, and in cases of aligned courses, creating effective faculty collaboration. Increase in faculty workload was by far the most often mentioned drawback of integrated instruction, although many said that the advantages outweighed this disadvantage:

A learning community is not for everyone. The time investment is huge. You have to change the way you do things, if you're a lecture type person. You have to take the lecture material to the bare bones. There is more group work and discussion. You have to shop around for others with similar interests and teaching styles. Some are resistant to change, especially if they are near retirement or busy. (Chair of Integration Committee, ECC)

Designing a course is a lot of work. But there is less lecturing, more group work, fewer questions.... The faculty are not interested in trying anything new. It's hard enough without trying something new. (Math instructor, SCC)

Integrated instruction depended on a high level of faculty commitment. Instructors who were personally devoted to teaching were willing to spend additional time preparing for instruction, and in the case of writing-across-the-curriculum instruction, were capable of evaluating students' writing. The move to integrate instruction may not be feasible for marginally committed faculty such as adjuncts or individuals with low motivation.

Another drawback of integrating instruction is that less of the curriculum may be covered, either because additional topics and skills are being taught, or there is an increase in time-consuming group work:

(Integrated instruction) is more appropriate for courses where the amount of coverage is flexible. If you study a play by Shakespeare it doesn't matter if you only do Act 1: but with nursing you need to cover the whole syllabus. If the course is content specific, you need to cover a given amount. Lives are at stake. (Integrated instruction) is harder in content-intensive courses. (Nursing instructor, GCC)

Further, interviewees indicated that integrated instruction was perceived by critics as reducing educational quality because it was applied. However, in some cases, student workload increased. Students may have to prepare for collaboration in the classroom by doing a great deal of homework, as in the GCC accounting course, although this issue relates more to student-centered learning than integrated instruction in itself.

Another pressure point concerned the ways in which faculty worked together. Collaboration does not come easily to postsecondary faculty, who are more used to working independently. While faculty collaboration was a great success in most cases, there were a few problems that illustrate issues that can arise. For example, difficulties may arise in linked-course models because instructors have different perceptions of the same students, which may emanate from the different disciplinary backgrounds. For example, a nursing instructor at ECC thought that the integrated students showed better attendance and performance and were more committed than her other students. But she thought that the philosophy instructor, who was teaching a linked course, felt that the students were below the level of the students in her other classes. While it was not possible to ascertain whether differing teaching styles were responsible for the differing perceptions, difference of opinion between faculty could result in mixed messages to students.

Another issue is that different instructors may have different standards for the same work. For example, at ECC, students began by writing papers that they handed in to both nursing and English instructors who each graded them, the English instructor for style and mechanics and the nursing teacher for content. Because students were becoming confused by differing evaluations of the quality of their work, the instructors began to assign different work.

Faculty disagreements could cause a breakdown in communication, threatening the quality of the integrated instruction. This was a threat at ECC where the college did not provide any support for teacher collaboration. Problems in faculty interaction were described by the English chair at ACC ("teachers can come to dislike each other") where, nevertheless, there were ongoing faculty development meetings devoted to course linking. Carefully planned professional development is an important element in creating the collaborations needed to begin to integrate instruction disciplines (Perin and Boehlen 1999).

Academic-Occupational Integration

Faculty resistance was a major issue in interdisciplinary education, as well as in integration within general education. There seemed to be basic differences of opinion about the nature of instruction among faculty in career-related and general education programs:

The people who really have to change, who really have to do something different, are the arts and sciences people. They need to think out of the box.... We spent time on getting buy-in from faculty. (Dean for Student Affairs, SCC)

Occupational faculty may not wish to teach academic skills, and academic faculty may feel that the integrity or standards of their courses were threatened. At OCC, for example, faculty who set up the writing-across-the-curriculum program were sensitive to the strong dislike of content faculty for the idea of being responsible for writing instruction. The guidelines for employing this approach in the courses carefully stated that writing was to be used only for evaluative or self-learning purposes, and that the content teacher was not responsible for teaching writing skills. Occupational faculty may have been at a loss regarding how to evaluate writing skills.

Another obstacle concerned the transferability of integrated courses to the baccalaureate level. For example, at SCC many students in a program of integrated courses had difficulty completing the prerequisites for a required transfer-level math course, but faculty were unwilling to change the requirements or course content, fearing a lowering of standards:

You can't change the courses. They need to transfer.... We can't be all things to all people. .. . The AAS program is trying to meet 4-year needs, too. You're starting out with a camel and trying to make a race horse. The camel was happy. It's difficult to introduce an associate's-level course, because it's not transferable. There is a question of how many students will transfer—probably very few. (Associate Dean, SCC)

Several faculty members from the English and math areas at the same campus expressed doubts about being able to integrate academic courses to transfer level. Another issue faced by those who wished to integrate occupational and academic education was the need to keep up with industry changes:

The people we serve... are constantly changing, so we have to change with them. Hospitals, too, change their so-called skill mix—the equipment as well as people's skills. Skills change as hospitals change their policies. (ESL instructor, LGC)


Overall, the findings of this case study suggest that improvements in teaching and learning justify the considerable amount of faculty effort and administrative attention needed to integrate academic and occupational education. However, these findings can only be taken as preliminary, given the paucity of institutional data that would shed light on the effectiveness of integrated instruction. The study sites could not offer quantitative data concerning attendance, completion, or grades that would help determine whether integrated instruction was as effective as its adherents claimed. Systematic evaluation of this teaching reform is needed to determine whether the benefits of this effort are in fact worth the costs.


The curriculum and pedagogy of academic-occupational integration seemed to vary more within than between models. The ways in which instruction was delivered at the case study sites appeared to be more a function of institutional and teacher preferences than characteristics of the model. An , analytical framework developed to make sense of classroom observation and interview information had utility in describing variation among classrooms, and as such seems to hold promise for future research into academic-occupational integration. In particular, the framework may lend itself to quantitative research, sorely needed in this field. Taking the models and teaching, variables together, there are sixty cells (five models, two levels of strength, three levels of teacher style, two levels of literacy instruction, and two levels of curriculum clarity). Analyzing the effects of students and faculty by looking for interactions between variables would allow for substantiation of opinions expressed in the current and previous research. Further, several issues that emerged in the current study need elucidation.

First, academic-occupational integration appears rare in community colleges. Lack of communication across career-related and general education disciplines may be a barrier to implementing this reform. Occupational faculty may see general education instructors as unsympathetic and out of touch with the career interests and experiences of these students. For their part, academic faculty may be predisposed, as a result of their own educational experiences, to teach in a traditional manner. In particular, they may perceive the incorporation of applied career topics as a watering down of curriculum. Professional development that is sensitive to both sets of concerns seems critical to bringing general and career-related education closer together.

Second, the purposes of academic-occupational integration and remedial instruction may overlap. Interviewees tended to focus on integrated instruction as a way to improve student performance. Given this emphasis, academic-occupational integration as a curricular and pedagogical reform may have the potential to overcome some of the problems associated with remedial education at the postsecondary level (Shaw 1997; Zeitlin and Markus 1996). As traditionally taught, remediation is intended to develop skills that will be available at some later time, rather than applied during the learning cycle. Students may be bored by this type of instruction and, consequently, do not learn the skills at a deep enough level to generalize them when they need them later in the content classroom. In contrast, academic-occupational instruction teaches both the skills and their application in the same time period, either in the same classrooms (infused occupational, applied academics, and hybrid classes) or during the same semester (linked and clustered courses). Further, linking academic and occupational instruction presents literacy skills as another aspect of career preparation rather than as a set of skills whose lack is a source of embarrassment. The shift in emphasis dignifies literacy instruction and circumvents "deficit" thinking (Hull 1997).

Finally, evaluation research is needed to confirm the positive effects of academic-occupational integration claimed by practitioners, and pinpoint the source of the effects. The case study sites had little quantitative evidence for the benefits described. If the positive effects are substantiated, they may be found to result from a variety of sources beyond the integration itself. Integrated instruction was accompanied by a variety of practices considered effective in education in general^ such as smaller class size; less use of lectures; more student involvement; more writing; supplementary educational software; tutoring, counseling and peer mentoring; faculty release time; and college recognition of participating faculty. Holding classes at the worksite, as in one of the cases, may have enhanced both student and teacher motivation. In particular, many of the classes used a mixture of teacher- and student-centered instruction, which may be optimal for a variety of student populations. Also, the faculty who were involved in the colleges' integration projects seemed to be excellent teachers in general, who might be able to make a success of a variety of different instructional reforms of which integration is only one.

While it would be difficult to disentangle the effects of the different instructional strategies accompanying academic-occupational integration, it appears that this educational innovation facilitates best practice. However, whether or not the positive effects turn out to be caused in turn by a wider set of variables, the findings of this study suggest that the benefits to students of this reform make it well worth the time and effort needed to implement it.


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DOLORES PERIN is associate professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has interests in curriculum and pedagogy in community colleges, the acquisition of literacy by children and adults, and learning disabilities.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 103 Number 2, 2001, p. 303-335
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10728, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 5:18:45 PM

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  • Dolores Perin
    Teachers College, Columbia University
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    Dolores Perin is associate professor of psychology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. She has interests in curriculum and pedagogy in community colleges, the acquisition of literacy by children and adults, and learning disabilities.
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