A design-based approach to introducing student teachers in conducting and using research

P.W.J. Linden, van der

    Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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    Abstract

    In the Netherlands, teaching student teachers how to conduct and use results of research is the responsibility of institutes for teacher education. The context of the study in this dissertation is an institute for primary teacher education, embedded in a university of applied sciences. In many of these institutes several difficulties emerged regarding the development and implementation of research activities, mostly caused by a lack of research tradition and research culture in these venues. In addition, the majority of (student) teachers have misconceptions and negative opinions about the usability and usefulness of research in education. Evidence regarding the ways student teachers can be taught and motivated to conduct and use results of research in their (future) teaching practice is scarce, especially in the context of education for primary school teachers. Background of the study It is important to change student teachers’ beliefs and attitudes towards research, because these strongly influence their intention to conduct and use results of research. Especially the introduction of research, early in the curriculum, might be of crucial importance for the student teachers´ development of positive beliefs and a positive attitude towards research. That is why this study focussed on the introduction of research in the curriculum of an institute for primary teacher education in such a way that second-year student teachers develop: - positive beliefs about research, so that they learn to appreciate the value and applicability of conducting research and using results of research for improving teaching practice; - a positive attitude towards research, in the sense that they learn to perceive research as important and attractive and intend to conduct and use research as a teacher; - research knowledge and skills that enable them to conduct research and use the results of research as a teacher. In this study beliefs are conceived of as cognitions consisting of a mix of generalizations, rules of thumb, expectations, values and opinions grouped in a more or less structured way. Beliefs are strong predictors of behaviour, in this study, thus, pertaining to student teachers conducting research and using results of research. Student teachers’ attitude towards research has been operationalized in this study by four attitudinal aspects described as follows: (1) the cognitive aspect, referring to the fact that student teachers need to understand and perceive the possibilities of conducting and using research as important for them as prospective teachers; (2) the affective aspect, concerning the need for student teachers to enjoy and be attracted to conducting and using research as prospective teachers; (3) the self-efficacious aspect, indicating student teachers’ positive judgement about being able to conduct and use research as teachers in practice; and (4) the intended behaviour, thus when a student teacher plans to conduct or use the results of research or wishes to learn more about it. Finally, when student teachers need to conduct and use the results of research, they need to develop specific knowledge and the skills referring to: - the goals and benefits of research for their functioning as a teacher; - the kind of research topics that are suitable for teachers; - the research process for conducting research and the different phases of research, consisting of the translation of relevant topics via proper problem analyses into research questions, the choice of an appropriate research design and methods for the collection and analysis of data; - the criteria for research quality and the consequences of these criteria for their own research; - reporting research results in such a way that colleagues in education get a clear view of the process, the results and the practical implications of the research. Aim of the study and research questions The study focussed on the introduction of research to student teachers in primary teacher education. The aim was to generate a set of theoretically and empirically grounded design principles that underpin an introductory course that contributes to student teachers’ development of research knowledge and skills, as well as positive beliefs and attitudes regarding research. A design-based research approach was used in order to gain insight in how these knowledge, skills, beliefs and attitudes towards research could be taught effectively. A literature study was done aiming at formulating design principles that in theory positively influence student teachers’ learning about research, followed by an operationalization of these principles into concrete starting points for the introductory course in research. The course was executed and investigated twice: in a pilot study and a study one year later. The main research question of this dissertation was: What design principles of an introductory course in research in an institute for primary teacher education contribute to the development of student teachers’ knowledge, skills, positive beliefs and attitude regarding research and how do they contribute? The main research question was divided into the following five more specific research questions. Research questions of the pilot study: 1. (a) How do student teachers perceive their development of research knowledge and skills, and change in attitude towards research during the pilot of the introductory course, and (b) what elements of the introductory course do they perceive as contributing to this development and change? 2. (a) What are student teachers’ perceptions of research and how are these related to the cognitive, affective, self-efficacious and intended behaviour aspect of their attitude towards research, and (b) what elements of the introductory course do they perceive as contributing to the positive change of their attitude towards research? Research questions of the second study: 3. Do student teachers develop research knowledge, positive beliefs and a positive attitude towards research during the (improved) introductory course in research? 4. How do student teachers perceive the importance of each design principle of the introductory course in terms of their learning about conducting and using research? 5. What and how are the relations between student teachers’ beliefs about research, their cognitive, affective and self-efficacy aspect of their attitude towards research, their level of research knowledge and their intention to conduct and use research? Pilot study In this first study, a questionnaire was used to gain insight in student teachers’ (N = 81) attitude towards research after having participated in the introductory course, and their perceptions of the development of their attitude, knowledge and skills during the course (see chapter 2). For gaining more insight in how the course elements contributed to student teachers’ development, questionnaire items were used about which elements student teachers perceived to be the most contributing. According to the student teachers, the introductory course contributed to the development of both a positive attitude towards research and research knowledge and skills. The questionnaire results showed a significant difference in the perceived development of aspects of student teachers’ attitude towards research. Student teachers described research as more important (cognitive attitudinal aspect) in comparison to the extent to which they would plan to conduct research or use research results in practice (intended behaviour). The student teachers also stated that research is important, but that they did not equally enjoy conducting or using it as a (prospective) teacher (affective attitudinal aspect). Concerning the development of their research knowledge and skills, student teachers perceived more development in science-oriented topics (like criteria of quality for research and the selection of reliable literature) and less in research methods and research designs. The different elements of the introductory course did not contribute to the perceived development of the student teachers in the same way. ‘Working together in pairs and groups’ on ‘realistic tasks’ derived from and supported by ‘research examples from primary teaching practice’ were rated as the most useful elements in the course for developing a positive attitude towards research and research knowledge and skills. From the results of the questionnaire in the pilot study, questions arose about student teachers’ attitude towards research, i.e., what this attitude comprised and how student teachers could develop a positive attitude towards research (see chapter 3). Six group interviews with (a total of 29) student teachers were conducted to determine what student teachers’ views were on the cognitive, affective and self-efficacious aspects of their attitude and their intended behaviour towards research, and what elements of the course contributed positively to these aspects. The group interviews revealed that the student teachers perceived conducting research and using the results of research as an important professional development strategy to improve their own capabilities as teachers and as an important means to improve lessons (cognitive aspect). They indicated that it is attractive to them that teachers, by conducting and using results of research, have the opportunity to learn more about specific topics of professional interest (affective aspect). However, student teachers’ relatively positive attitude towards research could decrease during the course; some student teachers considered research to be something big, of large scale, and hard to do alongside the teaching job, because it is time consuming and difficult to conduct. Student teachers believed in their own capabilities of conducting research and using research results as a teacher after the course (self-efficacy). They perceived ‘opportunities to practise more during teacher education’ as a good way to increase their self-efficacy. Finally, they intended to conduct and use the results of research in their future profession rather than in their ‘student phase’ (intended behaviour). They stated that they needed to be more involved with the pupils and the school to be able to come up with interesting research topics. Regarding the elements of the introductory course, opportunities to practise different research steps through tasks with a direct link to the teaching practice were perceived as important for the development of a positive attitude towards research. ‘The use of authentic examples from practice’ was specifically mentioned as contributing to student teachers’ cognitive aspect of their attitude. ‘Working together with other student teachers’ in combination with ‘expert feedback’ were most contributing to student teachers’ self-efficacy. Overall, they stated that these elements contributed to the development of a positive attitude towards research by increasing their insight in and appreciation of the value and application of research in primary education. Second study The results of the pilot study were used to improve the introductory course. Results of the pre-and post-test concept map measurements (N = 75) of the study that were conducted the second time the introductory course was executed, showed that the student teachers who participated in the introductory course developed research knowledge, specifically regarding the ‘research process’, the ‘quality of research’ and ‘research methodology’ (see chapter 4). The number of concepts regarding ‘research topics’, ‘goals and benefits’ and ‘participants’ of research by primary school teachers did not increase significantly during this introductory course. For determining change in student teachers’ beliefs and attitude regarding research, a questionnaire was used (N = 79). The results of the pre- and post-test questionnaire showed that during the introductory course, student teachers’ positive beliefs about research increased and their negative beliefs decreased. They changed positively in the way they perceived research as a part of the teaching job. The student teachers’ cognitive aspect of their attitude and their intended behaviour did not significantly increase. However, the positive affective aspect of their attitude towards research did increase. Thereby, student teachers’ research self-efficacy had a positive relationship with the change in the positive affective attitudinal aspect. Thus, the more student teachers at the end of the introductory course were convinced of their ability to conduct and use the results of research, the more attracted they were to research as a part of their teaching job. Furthermore, student teachers’ research self-efficacy correlated with student teachers’ beliefs and attitude regarding research; the more student teachers were convinced of their ability to conduct and use the results of research after the course, the more positive were their beliefs and their attitudes towards research. Finally, student teachers’ research self-efficacy also related positively to their intention to conduct and use research in practice. For a second time, group interviews were conducted (with a total of 20 student teachers that participated in the second execution of the introductory course), this time particularly aiming at which design principles were perceived as important in terms of contributing to student teachers’ learning about research, including student teachers’ perceptions of how these design principles contributed to their learning (see chapter 5). The results showed that all the design principles that were derived from the literature contributed in one or more ways to student teachers’ learning about research, except for the principle that prescribed integration and alignment with the overall curriculum. The way the design principles contributed to student teachers’ learning was diverse, particularly with regard to their contribution to their motivation. In this introductory course the following design principles accounted for the increase in student teachers’ motivation: - insight into their own development by comparing this with the development of others in discussing prior knowledge, conceptions, authentic learning tasks and peer-feedback; - a realistic view of the value and applicability of research in general and in their practice schools in particular by getting the clarity on the goals, by discussing worked examples and performing the authentic tasks; - providing a balance between theory and practice in each course meeting by the use of worked examples and performing the authentic tasks; - the possibilities to learn about topics the student teachers were interested in; - the enthusiasm and expert role model of the lecturers. Regarding student teachers’ perceptions of the way the design principles contributed to their knowledge development, it can be concluded that the student teachers needed: - the instruction and discussion with other student teachers to know what was important; - the tasks to discover what they had understood from the instruction; - the cooperation with other student teachers to discover and process new knowledge; - the evaluation and (peer) feedback as confirmation of their developments. The student teachers’ critical attitude changed mostly when they were (constantly) forced to underpin their opinions with valid arguments. Finally, relations between student teachers’ research knowledge, beliefs and aspects of their attitude towards research after having participated in an introductory course were explored (see chapter 6). Structural Equation Modelling on the results of the questionnaire and concept maps from the second study showed that student teachers’ positive beliefs, their cognitive attitudinal aspect and research self-efficacy were positively related to their affective attitudinal aspect. Thus, the more positive beliefs about research student teachers had, the more they thought research to be important (cognitive attitudinal aspect) and the more they judged themselves to be capable of conducting and using research, the more attractive they perceived research (positive affective attitudinal aspect). The results showed also that student teachers’ cognitive aspect of their attitude had the strongest relation to their intended behaviour. Thus, the more student teachers thought about research to be important for a teacher, the more they intended to (learn more about to) conduct and use research. General conclusions In general it could be concluded that it is possible to develop an introductory course in research for student teachers that succeeds in developing research knowledge and skills, together with positively changing their beliefs and attitude regarding research, even in an institute for primary teacher education with a lack of research tradition and culture. The findings of the studies in this dissertation indicate it is important to introduce research in an early stage of a curriculum of an institute for primary teacher education. There seem to be two major characteristics such an introductory course needs to have. Firstly, in the introduction of research, it is crucial to use practical research examples that are embedded in teachers’ daily practice as much as possible. Not only worked examples and authentic learning tasks of research by teachers appeared to be valuable, but also making clear that research knowledge and skills are valuable in the daily teaching job (in for example analysing students’ learning gains, or constructing a valid test). Secondly, student teachers appreciated the ‘inquiring’ set up of the meetings, which means that they were stimulated to express their prior knowledge and conceptions, discuss about their opinions and ‘forced’ to underpin their opinions with valid arguments. This research culture in the meetings not only contributed to student teachers’ knowledge and skills development, but also to the development of a critical attitude and their insight in the value and applicability of research for their future teaching practice. Lecturers in institutes for teacher education that are responsible for designing and the execution of courses in research have to be experts in practitioners’ research in the educational field on the one hand and be able to translate this expertise to a ‘researching/inquiry’ environment in the course meetings on the other. Limitations and directions for future research A first limitation pertains to the generalizability of the results. The findings of the studies presented in this dissertation are all based on two cohorts of second-year student teachers from one institute for primary teacher education in the Netherlands. We suggest to further research the impact of our introductory course in a wider context, thus testing our design principles in other institutes for primary teacher. A second limitation relates to the fact that the groups of student teachers who participated in the course and the subsequent studies were not very large, especially the number of student teachers who participated in the group interviews. In addition to the suggestion for further research mentioned above, it might be useful to investigate the impact of the course on a larger scale, including comparing subsamples of participants from different contexts. Thereby, only the introductory course for second-year students is involved in the studies. It would be very useful to investigate student teachers’ intentions about conducting and using research in the rest of the curriculum provided in the students’ third and fourth year and beyond. A third limitation pertains to the kind of data collected and the way they were collected. The focus of the measurements in the studies in this dissertation was mostly on student teachers’ perceptions of their development and the way the introductory course contributed to this development. It would be interesting to use (also) instruments that are less depending on student teachers’ subjective perceptions such as observations of video-taped course meetings and more indirect analyses of student teachers’ products or results of assignments. In addition, it might be considered to study the use of concept maps for knowledge measurement more closely. A last limitation to be mentioned here might be the lack of a control group; consequently the impact of other influences than those intended by the course could not be excluded. For example, it would be interesting to more explicitly investigate the influence of experiences in practice schools and different approaches of lecturers in teacher education on the contributions of an introductory course in conducting and using research. Implications for practice Institutes for teacher education might use the findings of this study for their research activities. The design principles might also be applicable in other contexts, like institutes embedded in universities of applied sciences that also have no or little experience with research activities in their curriculum. Another important implication for practice is that, if we want student teachers to really become competent in conducting and using research, just paying attention to research in an introductory course is not enough. On the one hand, attention must be paid to how in the rest of the curriculum valuable research activities can be implemented in a way that student teachers have the opportunity to practise and refine their research knowledge and skills. On the other hand, attention needs to be paid to the ‘research culture’ in the entire curriculum of the institutes for teacher education and in primary schools as well. When examples of research by lecturers in teacher education institutes and by teachers in primary schools are scarce, and opinions about the value and applicability in these venues continue to be rather negative, student teachers’ positive intentions towards conducting and using research will most likely decrease. One of the implications for practice from the study in this dissertation could be to redesign the introductory course for practicing primary school teachers and lecturers in teacher education in a way that they develop the same important elements as the student teachers: positive beliefs and a positive attitude towards research and the knowledge and skills to conduct and use research. Finally, the results of both studies in this dissertation showed that the second-year student teachers preferred learning in an ‘inquiry’-environment that was focused on strategies to develop own knowledge regarding topics of own interest. They perceived the set-up of the course meetings as contributing to the development of knowledge and a critical attitude. Lecturers in teacher education must be aware of this preference and adapt their course meetings to these findings. They need to become a role models of critical, almost provocative teachers, who provide insight to the student teachers in what way they use (results of) research in their own teaching and stimulate student teachers to always underpin their opinions with valid arguments.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Eindhoven School of Education
    Supervisors/Advisors
    • Beijaard, Douwe, Promotor
    • Bakx, Anouke, Copromotor
    • Ros, A., Copromotor, External person
    Award date20 Dec 2012
    Place of PublicationEindhoven
    Publisher
    Print ISBNs978-90-386-3311-4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2012

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