Thursday, March 5, 2015

NERA 2015 Day 2 #NERA2015GU

The second day of NERA started off with parallel sessions, I chose the one on "Teacher's work and teacher education". First, my colleagues Kirsten Thorsen and Hanne Christensen talked on "Identity forming in teacher education". They are part of a project TPQ (as am I), and their talk is based on data from two of the sub-projects. The data involve surveys  and in-depth interviews with students, mentors and campus teachers. Students describe practice as the terrain - authentic and unpredictable - in particular in the first year. They describe campus learning as the map. The project started out with looking for "the gap" to be able to bridge it - but the "gap" metaphor doesn't really work if it is the terrain and the map. Peers are very important in both areas. The practice mentors are seen as giving solutions, while teacher educators give them theory.

Practice teachers do not feel competent in theoretical themes, so they do not connect practice to theory very much. They tend to focus on practical advice and discussions on what works in practice.

Secondly, Roald Tobiassen had a talk on "Portfolio as practice in teaching practicum: promoting reflection and constructing teacher identity". The project was connected to the teacher education that is called PPU in Norway, and a part-time model. The portfolio was meant to scaffold students' practicum learning and reflection. During the first year, the students had six pedagogical texts to write, starting with "My pedagogical creed". The students meet in groups of 4-6 students which discuss the tasks. This particular project looked at six of the students.

Tobiassen went quickly through a lot of the theory on portfolio. Then to the findings: these six students were positive with regards to the portifolio - they saw it as a way of developing teacher identity - they valued the authenticity. "Portfolios helped me to see where I wanted to go and how to get there". The six students were happy with the structure as well. They saw the portfolio as a tool for connecting what they read about being a teacher and their own experience.

Finally, Jóhanna Karlsdóttir's theme was "Storyline som metode i inklusiv læring og undervisning i praktik hos lærerstuderende". (Even though the title is in Swedish, most of the words are understandable for the English reader, I guess...) The study is based on one course in teacher education in Iceland, with 21 participants (in 6th semester) - the data are interviews, notebooks, discussions etc. The course is focused on inclusive education, which is apparently not taught systematically in teacher education in Iceland. She presented an eclectic mix of theories as a foundation for her work, including Gardner, Johnson & Johnson etc. She then described the storyline process (in the classical way). Her project goes on for one more year, but she has found some room for improvement, for instance in getting to know the method better before using it themselves. But storyline apparently is useful for inclusive education as it is building on pupils' resources.

I do think that I see more of why I do not like such a "broad" conference as much as more focused conferences. I think the variety of participants makes it almost impossible for those giving talks to present their projects effectively - it is impossible to know which theories and concepts and contexts are well-known to the people present. Thus, most presentations either spend too much time on stuff I already know well or jump too quickly over theories I do not know. This is in marked contrast to for instance the HPM conferences I go to every four years.

Jane Kenway, Monash University, had a plenary on "The emotional life of markets in education". She presented a project looking at elite schools around the world (but not generalizing educational policy based on these schools like yesterday's speaker). Elite schools may be fee-based or merit-based (and grant-funded). She talked on concepts such as "emotional geography" (how do feelings connect to places) and "economies of emotion" (the emotions of buying a Nike shoe is not connected to the smell and sound of the shoe factory). What emotions are evoked by certain schools to make parents send their pupils there?

She mocked the way elite schools market themselves with cliche slogans. (It does remind me of a student saying that she was so amazed of how teachers in her school in Uganda always reminded their pupils that they are the future of Uganda. Cliche, yes, but still an important reminder for the children. Isn't there too little - rather than too much - talk of the importance of schooling in western societies?)

While the subject of elite schools is a bit interesting, to me it feels like it is on the edge of what I'm interested in. I'm far more interested in how similar mechanisms are working (or not) when "ordinary" schools are concerned. How do competition for pupils influence the internal life of "ordinary", "non-elite" schools. Perhaps ideas for studying this can be found based on the study of the elite schools? Other characteristica of elite schools are certainly less interesting in that context, for instance how parents use relocation services to set up meetings with potential schools - not a very common practice among parents relocating within Oslo, for instance. The high pressure for performance in elite schools - the fail anxiety - is also something that is far less usual in "ordinary" schools, I would think.

A somewhat relevant feature of elite schools is the development of new "departments" tasked with producing emotions, for instance marketing departments. This is also the case for many Norwegian institutions, for instance my own, with its "avdeling for samfunnskontakt" which is trying to give HiOA a good image and avoid bad press. (While trying to remember that an important part of being a good institution in higher education is to encourage discussions and enjoy the benefits of free speech, even when uncomfortable.)

After lunch, I went to the parallel session on Classroom Research. Ingvill Krogstad Svanes presented "Teachers' instructional practices during students' individual seatwork in primary school". Her research is on six teachers in 3rd grade in Norwegian - one week each. She presented an analytical framework developed through the project. The main codes were instructional support, organizational support, emotional support, monitoring and "no direct interaction with students". One main finding is that there is a huge variation between the teachers in how they spend their time. Two of the six teachers give more instructional support than anything else. Others spend most of their time on organizational support. This seem connected to the clarity of the initial instructions and the choice of activities (scissors and glue lead to more need of practical help, for instance). Emotional support was almost not present, but that may be because only what was spoken was coded. Further subdivisions in the codes show that even within the categories there are important differences - some teachers are mostly telling the pupils, while others are challenging them more. (For the sake of openness: I am Svanes' boss as well.)

Next, Malin Norberg talked about "How do children in primary school make use of illustrations in mathematics textbooks?" She chose subtraction as an example (an interesting choice, as it is fairly difficult to illustrate in a static picture). 1742 illustrations from 21 textbooks were the data, in addition to discussions with twelve students about five illustrations. She has looked at two subtraction situations: decrease and compare. 86.5 % of illustrations were illustrating decrease. Sometimes the students need the illustration to do the subtractions, in other instances the illustrations are just illustrating a process.

Students sometimes read more into the illustrations than intended, and sometimes they are able to solve the mathematical task with symbols but not with the illustrations. (Not all illustrations are very good...) The teacher's role is important. In her PhD, she will work on teachers' role and teacher's guides.

For the last scheduled talk in this session I decided to just listen instead of writing notes - sorry...

After a coffee break, I went for the parallel session on Gender and Education again. The first talk was supposed to be by Jenny Bengtsson and Eva Bolander: "What the school can (not) do: Education markets and negotiation on sex, risk and schooling". However, this talk was cancelled...

The second talk of this session was Chie Nakazawa's "Adolescents' norms, attitudes and values regarding sexual and reproductive behaviours from a gender perspective - a comparison between Japan and Sweden." The talk is based on surveys of university students, about 500 in Sweden and about 2500 in Japan. One indication of the difference: about a quarter of Japanese women in the study claim never to have been interested in sex, while only 3.6 per cent of Sweden women claim the same. I am quite sure that this is a cultural and not a biological difference...

Also, only 2.4 per cent of Swedish men say they are homosexual or bisexual, compared to 10.4 per cent of Swedish women. This question was not even asked in Japan. Moreover, it is clear that Swedes find sex to be more enjoyable and less dirty and embarrassing than Japanese, if the survey answers are to be believed. Also on gender roles, the differences are significant.

Thirdly, there was the talk "A hotbed of heterosexuality? On the reproduction of notions of sexuality in language instruction" by Angelica Simonsson. Her talk is based on her ongoing PhD project. Her research question is whether sexuality and gender normativity is constructed in language education instruction in secondary school. She is looking both at teaching materials and at how pupils and teachers relate to these. It is based on two classes (grade 8) in two different schools, and the teaching aids used. Subjects: Swedish and English.

Her findings are that sexuality figure in teaching aids, and these are all hetero. This goes for both non-fiction films, fictional films, short stories and textbooks. There was a total lack of non-heterosexual relationships. (This is quite surprising, as my research show quite a bit of homosexuality in Norwegian textbooks. Does this mean that Norwegian textbooks are more inclusive, or would a study of Norwegian classrooms show a similar pattern, i.e. that teachers choose the heterosexual examples?) (in a comment at the end of the session, it was argued that even when gay characters are portrayed in literature for youth, they are portrayed in a very stereotypical way. I have not looked at that in my material.)

Finally, the fourth talk of the day was Per Nordén's "First Generation Rainbow Children Speak Their Minds - How queer kinship structures matters in education". With "rainbow children", he refers to children with one or more LGBT parent. The talk is based on interviews with 28 rainbow people from age 15-37. He gave long quotes from different stages of history. It is fascinating to see how different experiences are, and that these are intimately connected to changes in law and society. Sadly, he did not have the time to come to the part of their school experiences.

That's the end of the second day of NERA. Time for the last preparations for Friday morning's talk... 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

NERA 2015 Day 1 #NERA2015GU

I will "report" on my first NERA conference in the same way as I report on other conferences I attend - through quick notes written throughout the conference. The conference lasts for three days, and I am having a presentation on Friday morning (and an early version is available on YouTube...) Hesitatingly, I will do the notes in English, as most of the presentations will be in English, even though most participants are Swedish and Norwegian.

After registration and lunch, the first thing on the programme was the opening, of course. Dean Roger Säljö welcomed us and gave a brief introduction to the Faculty of Education at the University of Gothenburg. There was also an introduction into the research activities in the faculty.

The first plenary talk was by professor Hugh Lauder, titled "The Repositioning of Education in the 21st Century and what Can Be Done About It". His starting point was the tightening bond between the economy and education in the 20th century - which he claimed is now eroding. In some countries, education's only goal (in political documents) is the economy. It has been assumed that education leads to upwards mobility, but that is dependent on an increasing number of jobs at the top (or downwards mobility on the top). Education is also seen as important for global citizenship, but this is dependent on children seeing a future, which they don't always see.

Now, there is an increasing polarization in wealth and income, and there is an increasing competition for a decreasing number of top jobs - the corporate ladders are now flat. We see the emergence of a global education system which educates multi-lingual multi-cultural candidates for transnational corporations. Those not "talented" are hitting a glass ceiling. (The argument is unconvincing, as education could certainly be economically worthwhile even though it does not give top jobs in multi-national corporations...)

32 percent of the poorest 10 per cent of British people are graduates - meaning that graduation is not guarantee against poverty. An increasing percentage of graduates are poor. (But again, this does not mean that education is not worthwhile for the individual. And it certainly doesn't mean that education is not good for the economy as a whole.) There is an insufficient supply of high skilled work.

(By the way, Lauder is the kind of lecturer who has a Powerpoint with huge amounts of text which he shows as he is saying something else. This doesn't work very well for me, maybe because I'm not a native English speaker and reader...)

He ended by saying that we cannot claim that education is there for the economy, what is then the purpose of education and how can we then get funding for it? (But of course humankind have discussed for thousands of years what education is for, so we do have plenty of non-economic answers to that question.)

As I have said, I don't find the arguments in this talk convincing - the numbers don't seem to add up to the conclusions he is stating. The data are on the outcome for the individuals, not for society. Perhaps the reasoning is better explained in his book(s). (But as was commented later in the day - in that case it would be good if he put his best arguments into his talk.)

Then, after a coffee break with a conspicious lack of coffee, there was the first parallel sessions. I went to the ICT & Education session, where three of my colleagues from Oslo presented. But first, Ann-Katrin Perselli had a talk entitled "From computer room to one-to-one". She described a phenomenological study with four teachers from two upper secondary schools, in which all students had their own computers. Among her findings: each student having a PC meant less fighting for the computer lab, while PCs were also disturbing. Teachers based their teachings on tips from colleagues, trial and error and websites - this was time-consuming for inexperienced teachers. Good relationships with students and teachers were a help. The study apparently shows how teachers' "lived experience" influence their approach to using IT in teaching. School leaders need to be aware that teachers are different.

Then, Bård Ketil Engen and Louise Mifsud presented work on an online course on collaborative learning activities - on master level. The course has been held for four years. They discussed different ways of engaging students online, now using Adobe Connect and Second Life. Asynchronous student collaboration was mediated via Etherpad and Wiki. The semester is designed with student activities alternating with online synchronous lectures, and finally there is an exam where students write a paper on the work they have been doing.

Technology influences communication. Students often get more passive online, and maybe a bit uncertain. Asynchronously, we see that students start out cooperating (dividing the labour) instead of collaborating. Overall, students are learning about CSCL activities while learning about CSCL. (I happen to be the boss of these fine teacher educators, a fact there's no reason to hide.)

Finally, Marianne Vinje had a talk with the title "Teacher Strategies for Meaningful Learning in a Blended Environment". Many challenges are facing higher education - resources are moving away from teaching, and research is rated higher than teaching. The role of instruction gets less important, teaching complex (higher-order) thinking is more important. Technologies give endless opportunities which have to be developed. One such opportunity is blended learning, which is what Vinje has been working on, using a community of inquiry (CoI)framework.

Teaching online is something else than traditional teaching - other factors are important than in traditional teaching. Studies show a change of many teachers from an instructional mode of teaching to a more Socratic mode of learning. Also, many teachers are more precise in their messages/information. Vinje thought blended learning gave her more classroom time to get to know her students.

As the last stop of the day, I chose the parallel session on Gender and Education. The first talk here was by Ingólfur Ásgeir Jóhannesson on "Does the National Curriculum Guide 2011 pave way for gender and queer studies in Icelandic schools?" The Icelandic National Curriculum has six fundamental pillars, one of them is equality. This talked is based on text studies and interviews of teachers. There is a focus on equal opportunities in the rest of the curriculum, but rarely on gender studies. Sexual orientation is mentioned, queer and queer studies are not mentioned. One of the books analysed was "I, You and We All" (for 6th to 8th grade) in this, intersectionality is clearly used, and there is a social understanding of gender.

Gender studies is an elective course in some upper secondary schools in Iceland. This is a course without a textbook or final exam. Queer studies is not a specific course anywhere, but is a part of gender studies. The inclusion of gender studies as an elective course is the result of a spontaneous movement among upper secondary teachers, supported by student interest. In one school, Pink Holocaust is taught.

The second part of that parallel session was Anja Kraus' talk on "'Gender' as a Tacit Dimension of Pedagogy". Her starting point was that the the aim of pedagogy is to set people free, the idea of Bildung. Gender can be seen as an analytical tool, helping to understand the constitution of practices and knowledge domains. Traditional pedagogy tends to rely on logic and on concepts that are supposed to exactly fit reality, she argued. Postmodern approaches rely more on self-interpretations. "Bring the body into the discussion" was one expression used. Queer theory, Butler's performativity and body-phenomenological concepts were contrasted, and apparently the latter was the preferred one.

As far as I understand it, a text is seen as problematic because it imposes logic on the world, which makes it a bit problematic to give a talk (a text) on a postmodern approach (or on anything, really).

Thus ended the first day of NERA 2015. A very varied day - a bit more varied than I prefer, I guess. But I do bring some interesting points with me from this day.