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Ruksana Osman, Shirley Booth and Hamsa Venkatakrishnan University of the Witwatersrand
Themes: internationalisation of the curriculum, the student experience and learning, lifelong learning, skills development
Wednesday 3 September 2008, 09.00-10.00 in Penthouse A
South African education is in a period of transformation, from a historically divided education system where some received the finest available and others received minimal training for what was considered suitable employment (Sedibe, 1998). The school system is intended to move towards an equitable curriculum where critical understanding and life long learning are two of the key concepts. This means, in its turn, a change in curriculum for pre-service teacher education as well as a long-term programme of in-service development.
This paper concerns the changes made in pre-service teacher education at one university in South Africa, intended to start such a transformation in thinking and ways of working. Under the heading “Scholar, researcher, life-long learner” in the Norms and Standards for Educators (2000), it states that one among several of the roles of pre-service teacher education is that “The educator will achieve ongoing personal, academic, occupational and professional growth through pursuing reflective study and research in their learning area, in broader professional and educational matters, and in other related fields.”
We are carrying out a quasi-longitudinal study of how students are meeting curricular attempts to achieve this goal, which are intended to bring transformational aspects of learning into the schools of the future (Zeichner, 2007; Wang & Odell, 2007). Students from the first, third and final year of a teacher education programme are being interviewed by teacher educators about their experience of research and its role both in their own education and in their future professional lives (Diezmann, 2005). The empirical research is phenomenographic, and the analysis is being carried out in a group where phenomenography and variation theory, critical theory and activity theory are all represented. In the first year, focus is on how students are experiencing their introduction to independent study as research, while in the third year their subject specialisations are also brought into focus. In the final year, after their final year dissertation study and after extensive school-based experience, they are again interviewed about their experiences of practical research and their expectations and experiences of research in the teaching profession.
The purpose of this research paper is to present the overall programme of research and the results of two studies (cf. Reis-Jorge, 2005; Joram, 2007). The first, of first-year students, has resulted in three main categories of experiencing research. There is a dimension of meaning making, which is in the first category restricted to finding out facts and information in order to know more and do things right in an externally imposed situation, a task-oriented approach to research. A second category relates to meaning as preparation for tasks that are also externally imposed, but now being outcome-oriented with a desire to do things well. And thirdly, there is a category of understanding, where research is related to development, going beyond the known in a situation one identifies for oneself.
In the first year study focus was overwhelmingly on self as researcher, whether fact finding or coming to understand. In the third year study we see a shift of focus to the other as researcher, which has implications for transformation to life-long learning in the schools.