10 SES 16 C, Self-Study, Supervision and Practice-Focussed Research
The current study is a self-study focusing on how we as a group of teacher educators at a university in Norway tried to improve our teaching through working with cases. While teacher educators are increasingly encouraged to be research active student teachers ask for practical ideas about how to master the teaching role (Ellis, McNicholl, Blake, & McNally, 2014; Ulvik & Smith, 2016). As a result, a common criticism among student teachers is a perceived gap between practice teaching (knowing how) and the university coursework (knowing that) (Korthagen 2010, Kvernbekk, 2012).
We, the teacher educators involved in the study wanted to create a connection between the university course work and the practice field and overcome the tension between the two arenas through case based teaching. Connecting the two facilitates the development of professional knowledge and pose a starting point for further professional development. The research question is:
How can we as a group of teacher educators help students to connect practice and theory through case based teaching?
Working with cases is recommended as one way to overcome the tension between practical and theoretical knowledge in teacher education. However, even if our students enjoyed discussing cases and found it useful, it was not easy for us to make students connect practice with theory in their discussions and thereby to move beyond the specific story. In order to increase the transfer value of cases, we wanted the students not only to discuss how they would like to act in particular situation, but also to give reasons for their actions underpinned by theory, and to discuss alternative solutions.
Case-methodology is used in different professional studies and the conceptual framework and purpose of it might vary. In contrast to a more limited understanding of case methodology, we chose a rather eclectic way of using cases which made it possible to compare the impact of different forms and kind of cases. Initially we had no strong opinions on what a case should be, but understood it as a real or realistic situation from the practice field that was presented and discussed at campus. The cases we used followed two common approaches: brief vignettes or rich, complex and holistic narratives (Florez, 2011).
The research literature provides several positive reasons for case-based teaching. It is regarded as a way to prepare student teachers for work and to bring together theoretical and practical knowledge (Gravett et al., 2017). Working with cases gives the student teachers vicarious experiences. They have to put themselves in the shoes of a teacher and thereby get a nuanced understanding of the complexity in teaching (Gravett et al., 2017; Merseth, 1996). In line with our experiences, cases can serve as ‘emotional hooks’ that make student teachers engaged and motivated (Gravett et al., 2017).
While we experienced challenges when working with cases, the use of cases is almost exclusively presented in a positive and beneficial way in the literature. Mostret (2007) is a researcher t who points to a number of challenges related to cased-based teaching, like matching the course content, that it is time consuming and that student teachers might be unfamiliar with the approach. He also emphasizes the importance of good communication.
In order to develop as teacher educators and to be role models for our student teachers we also needed to question our practice related to case based teaching. Consequently, we should consider not only what to do in our teaching, but also how and why. To increase our learning outcome, we decided to investigate our implementation of case based teaching through a collective self-study.
Self-studies are part of the wider concept practitioner research. Self-studies is about teacher educators researching their own practice (Smith, 2016). It is the teacher educator’s self-understanding that is made visible, and it is teacher educator’s own practice that is investigated. Self-studies has been criticised for being individualistic and not creating knowledge the profession can benefit from (Cochran-Smith, 2005; Loughran, 2010; Zeichner, 2007). In order to be acknowledged and generate new knowledge, self-studies need to move beyond the local practice and be linked to research on a national and international level. Telling stories is helpful for sharing practice, but are not enough in terms of the development of knowledge (Loughran, 2010). Following Kemmis (2010), a collective study of own practice is a self-reflective enquiry that includes a variety of perspectives. We became each other’s critics and we also found it crucial to include student teachers voices. Our first step, which is presented in the current paper, was to open a space for the university based teacher educators to reflect. The student teachers’ voices were included by means of course evaluations and oral feedback. A next step will be to include student teachers more actively and to include school based teacher educators voices. By creating a reflective space and talking with colleagues, teachers might be more aware of what underpins their own practice (Penlington, 2008). Because of our eclectic approach, the collected data was a range of different documents developed during the project like minutes, different kinds of logs and group works, an audio tape and student teachers evaluations of the courses. The self-study can it-self be described as a case study – a generic term for investigating a group or phenomenon. Case studies can be advantageous when the aim is to understand the extension of an experience (Stake, 1978). Here we wanted to learn from our mutual experiences with cases. Case studies are often eclectic and rely on multiple forms of data, which can make the analysis challenging (Bassey, 1999). Doing interpretive research, we chose an interpretative analysis (Hatch, 2002). The approach implied that we all read the written material, first as a whole, then thematically, all the time moving between parts and the whole, between working individually and as a group. What we present as findings is what came up in a moderation process among the authors of the article.
The project taught us several lessons for how to use cases in the future. Firstly, we discovered that we need to be aware the purpose for working with cases and to share the purpose with our students. Secondly, we saw that different cases work as long as students find them relevant and they are able to identify with the teachers involved. Thirdly, we understood the importance of our facilitation of students’ work. The case and how it is presented influences the discussion. For the future we want to create cases that are focused, but also ambiguous and opens up for alternative themes and solutions. The greatest eye-opener for us was the impact our facilitation had on student teachers discussions. Only to give them time and to expect preparation had an effect. With unprepared on the spot discussions that previous often happened, we could hardly expect students to take their discussions into depth. Furthermore, it is not enough to plan the cases, we also need to plan what literature and theoretical concepts we want to accompany the cases. It is furthermore important what we ask the students to do. Guidelines made it easier for them to learn from cases. In retrospect, we would like to evaluate working with cases more thoroughly and to learn more about how the students value the approach and what they find useful or not. A collective project is time consuming. What did we gain from it? The project put case based teaching on the agenda and made us aware of a practice that we never had discussed. Now we discussed the purpose and outcome of case based teaching. We got access to each other’s perspectives and our courses became more coherent. Furthermore, we developed a common theoretical basis to underpin the approach.
Bassey, M. (1999). Case study research in educational settings. Philadelphia: Open University Press. Cochran-Smith, M. (2005). Teacher educators as researchers: Multiple perspectives. Teaching and teacher education, 21(2), 219-225. Florez, I. R. (2011). Case-based instrution in early childhood teacher preparation: Does it work? Journal of early childhood teacher education, 32, 118-134. Gravett, S., de Beer, J., Odendaal-Kroon, K. & Merseth, K.K. (2017). The affordance of case-based teaching for the professional learning of studnet-teachers. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 49(3), 369-390. Hatch, A. (2002) Doing qualitative research in education settings. Albany: State University of New York Press. Kemmis, S. (2010). What is to be done? The place of action research. Educational Action Research, 18(4), 417-427. Korthagen, F. (2010). How teacher education can make a difference. Journal of Education for Teaching, 36(4), 407-423. Kvernbekk, T. (2012). Argumentation in Theory and Practice: Gap or Equilibrium? Informal Logic, 32(3), 288-305. Loughran, J. (2010). Seeking knowledge for teaching teaching: Moving beyond stories. Studying Teacher Education, 6(3), 221-226. Merseth, K.K. (1996). Cases and case methods in teacher education. In J. Sikula (Ed.), Handbook of research on teacher education, 2, 722-744. Mostert, M.P. (2007). Challenges og case-based teaching. The behavior analyst today, 8(4), 434-442. Penlington, C. (2008). Dialog as a catalyst for teacher change: A conceptual analysis. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(5), 1304-1316. Stake, R.E. (1978). The case study method in social inquiry. Educational Researcher, 7(2), 5-8. Ulvik, M., & Smith, K. (2016). Å undervise om å undervise. Lærerutdanneres kompetanse sett fra deres eget og lærerstudenters perspektiv. Uniped, 39(1), 61–77. Zeichner, K. (2007). Accumulating knowledge across self-studies in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 58(1), 36-46.
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