10 SES 17 C, Research on Values, Beliefs & Understandings in Teacher Education
Educational psychology, philosophy, sociology, and history are all frequent features of the curriculum of Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes and, collectively, this knowledge is often referred to as ‘Education Studies’ (Furlong 2013). The ‘perennial problem’ for teacher education globally is that such knowledge is often perceived by teachers to be of little value to their professional practice (Korthagen 2010; Gleeson 2012). Despite a growing understanding of the issue, it is as present today as it was over a century ago (Author et al. 2017a). New perspectives are, therefore, necessary to understand and address this complex issue.
Epistemic beliefs (i.e. an individual’s beliefs about the nature of knowledge and nature of knowing) have been identified as important in learning to teach because they filter new information being encountered (Hofer & Pintrich 1997; Fives & Buehl 2012). In science education, teachers’ understanding of the epistemic nature of their subject discipline has also been identified as needing development for the improvement of science teaching and learning (Lederman et al. 2002; Author et al. 2007). However, as pre-service teachers often study their subject discipline alongside other areas of professional knowledge in teacher education, like Education Studies, they can often struggle to reconcile the two bodies of knowledge, particularly when their epistemic beliefs between the subject discipline and other professional knowledge clash (Lofstrom & Pursiainen 2015). This is to say that these epistemic beliefs, about their subject area and about other areas of professional knowledge may be at odds and that these comparisons may influence their evaluations of knowledge as useful or not (Author et al. 2017b).
This paper draws upon a larger study which used a longitudinal qualitative design to examine pre-service teachers’ epistemic beliefs in science and Education Studies, as well as their perceptions of Education Studies, during their final year of ITE and one-year post-ITE (Author 2018). This paper focuses on the challenges that some epistemic beliefs pose for pre-service and newly-qualified teachers in evaluating Education Studies as useful for their practice. The findings show particular epistemic issues which operate as ‘tipping points’ for the participants in their evaluations of Education Studies, where they may initially communicate positive dispositions towards Education Studies but these are later negated, hinged on an epistemic consideration. The implication for ITE is that a focus on epistemological development, both in the subject discipline and Education Studies, may be needed as one facet of addressing the perennial ‘theory-practice divide’ (Darling-Hammond & Baratz-Snowden 2005). This paper will provide teacher educators with examples to illustrate the issue and a new way to conceptualise remarks which they may encounter with pre-service teachers.
Twelve participants engaged in detailed multi-component interviews at the beginning of their final-year of a 4-year concurrent science ITE programme. Six of these were re-interviewed twice more; at the end of their ITE and one year after graduation. The interviews probed for experiences and aspirations of teaching and learning, as well as asking participants to respond to concept cartoons and positions statements derived from Hofer’s (2000) Discipline Specific Epistemic Belief Questionnaire. Each component of the interview was designed to provide opportunities for participants to demonstrate their epistemic beliefs and perceptions, which are often difficult to explicitly articulate (Joram 2007). The data were analysed using deductive coding of epistemic beliefs based on the Hofer & Pintrich (1997) model of epistemic belief dimensions and inductive open-coding of perceptions of Education Studies (Braun & Clarke 2006). Following initial coding, each participant transcript could be refined to a narrative profile containing only the most pertinent information. This allowed for a closer examination of the connections between the epistemic beliefs and their perceptions of Education Studies, not across the cohort, but within the individual. For the purposes of this paper, individual profiles were initially categorised based on the positivity or negativity of their perception of Education Studies. Four participants with the most clearly negative perceptions were categorised as “Disengaged and Dismissive”, while 2 participants with the most positive perceptions were categorised as “Passionately Positive”. The majority, 6, were categorised as “Betwixt and Between” because they held mixed or even positive perceptions of Education Studies, but where something – some sort of tipping point in their evaluation - negated this positivity. This group, in contrast to those who are clearly positive or clearly negative, is of particular interest for this paper. If these ‘tipping points’ could be addressed for these teachers in ITE, it may help to prevent their rejection of Education Studies and the perpetuation of the theory-practice divide. In exploring these ‘tipping points’, this paper does not report on the change over time, but rather draws on data across all timepoints to demonstrate the mechanisms of the ‘tipping points’ in action. Given the focus of the larger study, only the tipping points which are of epistemic nature are described, though it is acknowledged that other reasons may exist for pre-service or newly-qualified science teachers to reject Education Studies. A number of examples will be provided within the full paper, one of which is provided here.
Preliminary analyses provide a number of examples of ‘tipping points’ of an epistemic nature. The “Betwixt and Between” group are often indicated by “It is good, but…” arguments. (e.g. “It is good, but… stuff can happen that makes it kind of moot” [Harvey] or “very useful. But again, there is the whole contradicting of ideas” [Lisa]). Without considering these evaluations from the perspective of epistemic beliefs, it might be possible that the underlying root of the rejection is missed. In the case of Harvey, above, the ‘stuff’ he referred to ranged from pupils’ behavioural challenges to health issues (i.e. contextual differences of classrooms). These sorts of concerns could be viewed from the perspective of “Classroom Press” (Huberman 1983) or “Transition Shock” (Veenam 1984) to explain a dismissal of Education Studies. However, when exploring his entire profile in terms of epistemic beliefs, it is seen that Harvey compares science and Education Studies as epistemically similar. For example, he believes knowledge is justified in the same ways, where Education Studies aims to provide certain, universal knowledge through experimentation: “If you approach educational studies in the same way that you approach a scientific study. You should be able to, after years of testing, arrive at a law.” Epistemic inaccuracies aside, Harvey’s belief that Education Studies aims to produce universal knowledge like science clashes with his view of classrooms as contextual. This creates a ‘tipping point’ that facilitates his conclusion that Education Studies is “moot” or “idealistic notions”, despite being originally positive. This rather succinct example, and others, will be explicated in full detail within the ECER paper. These will contribute rich contextualised data that teacher educators can compare against their own settings and provide a new framework with which to view student perceptions of Education Studies, and the theory-practice divide in ITE.
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