Research Engagement as Identity Construction: Hong Kong Preservice Teachers’ Experiences of a Compulsory Research Project

May. 02, 2012

Source: Teacher Development, Vol. 16, No. 2, May 2012, 145–160.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article reports the results of a study that examined the experiences of a group of six preservice English language teachers in Hong Kong as they prepared for, engaged in, and reflected upon a compulsory research project during the final year of their Bachelor of Education degree program.

The study was guided by the following research question: What are the ways in which participation in a compulsory research project shapes and is shaped by teacher identity amongst one group of preservice English language teachers in Hong Kong?
The article discusses the experiences of these preservice teachers in terms of the construction of their teacher identities.

The participants were six preservice teachers, three male and three female, who enrolled in the final year of a four-year Bachelor of Education (BEd) program, majoring in teaching English as a Second Language, at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.
As part of the requirements of their degree program, candidates undertake a small-scale research project.
Data were collected through in-depth interviews and methods of discourse analysis.


The results illustrate the identity conflicts the preservice teachers experienced as their research engagement required that they cross institutional and educational boundaries to confront, question, and reject various identity positions, including ‘student teacher’, ‘full-time teacher’, and ‘teacher-researcher’.

The author argues that the engagement of student teachers with research appeared to represent an important part of the participants’ professional identities.
The identity ‘researcher’ was regarded as one that could positively contribute to the construction of teacher identities.
For example, the student teachers created images of teachers and teaching, researchers and research, that transcended their immediate engagement within the classroom and their own research project.
Such images situated the identity ‘researcher’ as contributing to teacher identity by assisting teachers to better understand their learners and overcome problems associated with teaching.

However, the identity of ‘teacher-researcher’ was thought to be problematic for teachers in Hong Kong to take up.
The challenge of aligning with the practices and activities of this identity position was reflected in the participants’ belief that having assumed the identity ‘full-time teacher’ it is unlikely that they would continue to be engaged in research.

The image of the world of teaching, which includes heavy teaching and marking schedules, appeared to preclude the possibility of simultaneously assuming the identities ‘teacher’ and ‘teacher-researcher’.

The collision of these different identities was revealed in the tension which appeared to exist between the participants’ allegiance to their belief in the beneficial consequences of research engagement for their professional development as teachers and their alignment with the aims and objectives of their placement schools.
For the participants in this study, a hegemonic intervention occurred in favor of the identity ‘full-time teacher’, in which research engagement is sacrificed in favor of fulfilling the obligations of this identity position.
Therefore, assisting these student teachers to manage such identity conflicts will be an important task for both schools and teacher education institutions, an issue discussed in greater detail in the following section.

Furthermore, the participants' view of research engagement as social, with teachers working together and outcomes shared across the department and school, challenges the rigid dichotomy implied by the division between identity positions such as ‘Hong Kong teacher’ and ‘teacher-researcher’.
The author claims that an advantage here is that the multiplication of available identities within a school to include that of ‘teacher-researcher’ acknowledges the importance that some preservice and beginning teachers, such as those that participated in this study, may attach to research as one part of their professional identities.


The implications of the results of this study for teacher educators include the need to ensure that teacher education programs which include a compulsory research program encourage student teachers to explore their research perceptions and experiences from the perspective of teacher identity.

By incorporating an understanding of teacher identity into teacher education programs in general, and modules that require students to engage in research in particular, student teachers might be better prepared for the type of identity conflict they could experience as they take on identities such as ‘student teacher’ and ‘researcher’ within their practicum placement schools.
In conclusion, this study suggests that the lens of teacher identity can provide insights into how student teachers’ perceptions and experiences of research shape and are shaped by their understandings of themselves as teachers.

Updated: May. 07, 2014