Posts Tagged ‘Thesis

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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Twelve months into my doctoral candidature, I experienced an inner turmoil, uncertainties, self interrogation, critical reflection and finally elation for having eventually understood that there was indeed a bigger problem that needed addressing. This meta problematic will bear a critical part in my research agenda not only during my candidacy but also beyond. It now points me to the direction I can hopefully pursue, having recognised the narrowness of the conceptual frame I initially proposed. Yes, there is a bigger problem and deeper questions that at this point I cannot begin to imagine what likely answers I may uncover.

This new discovery has reinvigorated me, within which came a new goal for the project. Previously, if I were to be honest, my goal was to complete within my nominated timeframe… I knew what I was doing, my longitudinal design experiments more or less gave me the answers to the problem, therefore I can finish as scheduled. However, moving my candidature to The University of Newcastle had changed all these. My new supervisors asked me to 1) articulate where I see myself in 5 years time, i.e. what work would I be doing; 2) identify the place of my research in a specific field of education; and 3) explain what I will be contributing to knowledge. I now have answers to all these questions, which concurrently came about as a result of thinking in a larger frame about my thesis and reflecting on my true goal and aim for undertaking the project in the first place. I no longer care if I finish in 3, 5, or 8 years’ time because what I hope to discover is knowledge not yet known to anyone.

And so here I am with a re-framed thesis which is exciting and scary all at once. I like the analogy I used in one of my learning designs a few years back, that of being a tourist in a learning journey… a journey to the unknown, full of anticipation and excitement, and with it comes risks and maybe some disappointments along the way. I guess I need to practice what I preached… feel the fear but do it anyway!

I will share my re-framed thesis in my next post.

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