Reflections from the field

I have now been following students and teachers from the Teacher Education Programme for three months and I am now beginning to see some contours of my forthcoming analysis. I still have a few weeks left of the first iteration so nothing can be concluded yet, but I thought I might share some of my thoughts here.

Huge amount of data

First of all, I am as most other Design-Based Researchers will recognise “drowning” in data. Sound recordings, video recordings from the camera and video glasses, observations logs,  photos, drawings, study objects are all piling up, at I barely get to systemize them before going on the next field trip.

As a researcher in an anthropological and ethnographic field, I’m obliged to create “thick descriptions” of my experiences.
What are my anticipations before entering the field, what do I see, how is my positioning in the social construct, how are the relations amongst the participant evolving over time, what activities do we undergo and what are my in situ reflections. Just naming a few.

Reading through a lot of DBR literature and research using this methodology I find the lack of these descriptions problematic. Problematic because the focus is much more on hard evidence and results, than actually taking the aim of the methodology seriously enough, that is the developmental and anthropological parts, as well as taking the complexity of social situations serious.  Countering that tendency of cause takes up much time. But I think that the research, the findings and the sharing of my research will benefit from it.

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The Learning Design

The overall learning design has shown to have both some beneficial elements and some elements that need further improvement.

First, I can already now conclude that the students in broad terms see the possibility to visit and revisit practice as part of their teacher’s education programme as a strengthening of their professional acting and noticing in different ways.
As the students revisit them I can observe differences in how they plan, implement and reflect on their learning designs. I need to invest this much further, but it seems quite clear, that students actively transfer and transform knowledge and experiences from different situations in practice when planning for their next visit. Knowing the students, the learning environment and the social dynamics (although it’s very briefly) that is constituted in the class is of high value for the students when preparing their next visit, or (in a Bransford & Schwarts, 1999 term) when they prepare for future learning situations.

Secondly, it is also clear to me, that students, when transforming knowledge, across contexts, draw on many different domains. Previous experiences from practice, friends who are already teachers, online communities, learning resource, other students (through observation), other courses, again just naming a few.

To use Marton’s “Double Transfer Paradigm”:

“This seems like a more complete model of transfer, because it considers both the “transfer in” that helps people to learn and the “transfer out” that helps them apply that learning. Were we to widen the scope of the concept of transfer, such an effect could be called transfer: One learns something in some situations, and the one becomes better at learning something else in other situations.” (Marton, 2006)

In addition to Wagner’s “Transfer In Pieces” approach:

“Transfer is revealed not as rooted in the acquisition of increasingly abstract mental representations, but through the incremental refinement of knowledge resources that account for—rather than overlook—contextual variation.” (Wagner, 2006)

You could say that students “transfer in” from a complex of various situations, experiences or contexts, that combined (both consciously explicit and implicit tacit) construct their thinking, noticing and sense-making. This will maybe become my biggest challenge in the project. How do I identify, from where student draw the knowledge and the different dynamics of transformation, when they, themselves, are not able to explain it?

Thirdly, and last, for now, it has shown off great value to work with observation groups* in the design.  Although it was needed to refine the design of the group (aims of observation, getting them more actively involved and supporting them through a designed artefact) the students are very positive about the concept and have outlined different potentials:

  • By observing others, the students are inspired to design their own lessons. By looking at fellow students they get ideas, tools and inspiration.
  • The observation group is valuable because the provide feedback and reflections, that the teaching students are not able to notice in action. These reflections relate to the student’s performance, classroom management, ability to build relations with students, communicative skills etc.
  • The opportunity to observe pedagogical practice is valuable from a theoretical point of view. Learning to observe classroom dynamics through their first-hand experiences adds a valuable perspective to their education and processing theoretical concepts. Being able to relate to real examples makes it easier to comprehend and discuss theory.

We do as if we are at schools!

I already encountered this term used on several occasions during the first session. Both the students and the teacher were quite aware of the simulation of practice, as a part of the educational setting. Very often the students and the teacher referred to, how the theoretical knowledge could be applied in school settings. As the teacher put it: “Here we often do, as if we are at a real school”.

Throughout my classroom observations at the Teachers College and following the lessons I’ve come to reflect upon the different activities the students participate in. The teacher is not only very aware of the simulation of practice in schools, she is also very aware of repeatedly referring to the pupils and the school the students are visiting, trying to make the students take the setting and the students into account when engaging in her planned activities. Furthermore, she plans a variety of activities, that I, for now mainly put into three categories regarding transformation and transfer :

  1. Activities that help students construct concepts. These activities mainly focus on academic knowledge about a topic and provide students with kinds of knowledge, that is not directly applicable to practice, but needs to be transformed in the sense of becoming part of the student professional identity. These activities rely very much on meta-reflections and knowledge valuable for theory and discussions withing the educational setting around the subject. An example here would be discussing potentials of multimodal representations in communication.
  2. Activities that act as an inspiration can be applied in practice. These activities need to be redesigned to be used and draw on general concepts that can support different kinds of teaching methods and learning approaches. The students need awareness on how to resituate and apply the activities in schools. An example here could be  “a reading theatre”, where pupils read a story out loud by playing different roles.
  3. Activities that are directly usable in practice. These activities are not tied to a specific theme but can be directly used as independent activities in class. An example of this kind of activity could be “hangman”.

Although the above is just a brief description, that deserves much a much more detailed explanation, it gives a rough picture of the way students a scaffolded to think and implement practice into their education. I will return to this typology of activities since they will be a part of my analysis on designing for transformation.

100 min. is a long time!

As the last point of this post, I want to mention an issue that came to me as a surprise.
The students in my project find that planning and teaching for 100 min. is a long time.  They argue, that more professional experience is needed to teach for such a long period of time. We, therefore, reduced the timescale to approximately 60 min. I was quite surprised that this would become an issue since the students were grouped and could split up the time between them and thereby reduce the load. But the students felt it hard to produce learning designs that meet their own quality demands if they had to prepare longer periods.  Also, one student argued:

“Since we are experimenting with fragments of what we learn in our own classes, it is hard to create a design, where activities are coherent and not just loose pearls on a string. If we want the pupils to get the point and learn, what we want them to, it’s better to have shorter sessions. Less is more, so to speak”.

The student has a point, I think, and furthermore brings up the issue, that other students address as well, namely that the experiments are short and limited to a specific topic over a short period of time. It hereby does not resemble what the students are doing, when they are attending their mandatory practice periods. It is some ting else.

At the same time, the students find that working in groups around planning and teaching prove very difficult. They cannot point at specific reasons other than organisational circumstances. But I think there is more here to investigate from an anthropologist perspective that I will not get further into here.

Never the less the students have proven to manage fine with the  60 min. of teaching time and it has shown sufficient enough to base both findings and reflections on.. for both the students and me.


* When the student goes into practice they are grouped into two. One group is teaching (e.g. Group 1), and the another group (e.g. Group 2)is observing the teaching group. Afterwards, during a reflections session and my interviews with the teaching group, the observing group provides feedback and reflections due to their observations.


References:

Bransford, J. D., & Schwartz, D. L. (1999). Rethinking transfer: A simple proposal with multiple implications. Review of Research in Education, 24, 61–100.
Marton, F. (2006). Sameness and differences in transfer. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(4), 499–535.
Wagner, J. F. (2006). Transfer in Pieces. Cognition and Instruction, 24(1), 1–71.

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