Archive for April 2010

A few months back my reflection on my PhD research project took me into a space where I started to explore in realistic terms about its contribution to knowledge, its usefulness for improving educational practice and my personal growth after completing the study.  I found holes of all sizes in my original proposed study, which left me with more questions than answers.

But it was a good thing… it was new learning, new reading, more consultations with a new group of critical friends. In this process, I found my place in education research, which according to my supervisors crosses boundaries between curriculum studies, sociology in education and ‘new educational psychology’ (whatever the latter means – I’ve never heard of it). They said the true focus is likely to emerge as I progress with the study.

One of my new critical friends asked me to write the problematic  in ‘plain’ English, which proved quite an arduous task but I pushed on. Several iterations later, I nervously presented the draft below, which he approved and later on so did my supervisors! I was happy… my motivation has been reinvigorated.

I guess this bit of framing shall remain in draft form until I’m done with the new literature review. As I read new materials, new angle emerges or I discover a new way of framing the questions. Such is the nature of conceptual framing I suppose… but here goes, inspired by the wisdom of Lee Shulman:

The educator in a profession is teaching someone to understand in order to act, to act in order to make a difference in the minds and lives of others– to act in order to serve others responsibly and with integrity.- Lee Shulman

Herein lies an extraordinarily complex but fascinating role of university teachers in educating competent graduates for their chosen professional careers and, equally important, for developing good citizens able to contribute to better societal good. But to what extent do university teachers appreciate such complexities?

My work as a curriculum designer has led me to believe that understanding the university teachers’ conceptions of ‘competence’, and their role in constructing curricula, is critical in understanding the productive preparation of students for professional practice. This was borne out of my interest in understanding how university teachers in different disciplinary fields make curriculum decisions. Using Basil Bernstein’s work on pedagogic practice, I hope to understand disciplinary ‘pedagogic discourse’ and its link to the teachers’ epistemological views.

It is my observation that the university teachers’ idea of competence may underpin their understanding of pedagogic discourse in their discipline, which then impacts on their role in the curriculum process. As such, the manner in which they conceive and enact the curriculum may have a link to the degree in which student abilities are cultivated and developed in higher education. By exploring how the teachers’ notions of competence are shaped, their identity, space and agency in the curriculum design and development process may provide insights into understanding what is being done and what needs to be done in improving professional education in the university setting.

Accordingly, the goal of my study is to understand the university teachers’ conceptions of competence and how this influences their thinking about the curriculum. Hence, the questions guiding this study are:

1) What do university teachers understand about the notion of competence?
2) What influences their understanding of competence in their discipline?
3) And how does it shape their curriculum decision-making?

The educational motivation of this research is to point the way to more effective educational practice by university teachers, to assist in developing the confidence and competence of students in preparation for professional practice and beyond. It is hoped that the exploration and analysis of the symbiotic relationship between university teachers’ conceptions of competence and curriculum thinking will increase understanding of factors that contribute to better educational outcomes in professional education.

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