Challenges for Irish teacher educators in being active users and producers of research

Countries: 
Published: 
2019

Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 42:4, 492-506

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper explores current teacher educators’ positioning in the Irish context as active users and producers of research through in-depth interviews with ten experienced teacher educators.

Method

Participants - A sample of ten higher education teacher educators in Ireland were sourced after completing a European survey that set out to establish the professional learning experiences and needs of teacher educators (Czerniawski, Guberman, and MacPhail 2017).
The sample of teacher educators in this study resulted in a range of demographics across age, gender, qualifications, years of experience as a teacher, years of experience as a teacher educator, academic roles and responsibilities and future aspirations as a teacher educator.

Interviews - The semi-structured interview questions closely mapped the sections of the previously completed survey and constituted questions on (i) background and demographics, (ii) professional learning opportunities and (iii) teacher education and research.

Data analysis - The interview data were analyzed thematically. Initially, the two researchers identified themes related to the teacher educator as researcher.
A coding process, used in identifying similar text units, followed by linking and retrieval of similarly coded segments (Mason 1996), was standardized. Two themes are explored in the results section, (i) teacher educators’ perceptions of autonomy in engaging with research activity and (ii) their perceived links between the roles of being a teacher and researcher.
The authors discuss each theme by exploring (a) shifting goalposts and related tensions and (b) levels of professional community and self-initiated support.

Results

Autonomy in engaging with research activity

Shifting goalposts and related tensions
The authors report that a strong research discourse was prevalent across the sample of teacher educators.
It was apparent that some teacher educators had very quickly engaged with the research metric culture of their institutions, availing of numerous opportunities to learn about improving their research profile.
They realized the necessity to become more involved in research-related activities if they intended to progress their academic career.
There was a sense from the more established teacher educators that the focus of higher education institutions had shifted significantly from prioritizing and valuing teaching and supporting students to attracting research funding and undertaking research.
These teacher educators were fearful that such a shift would diminish not only the focus on teaching as a successful academic career but the standing of teaching which was traditionally the central aspect of teacher education.
Others noted the difficulty and frustration in defining research-related activities specific to the content of their subject-disciplines.
 

Levels of professional community and self-initiated support
Some teacher educators appeared resigned to having a research expectation as part of their role.
Others conveyed a genuine excitement around research.
Teacher educators conveyed a preference for many of their teacher education activities to be undertaken with teacher education colleagues as part of a learning community.
This was also pertinent to research-related activities with teacher educators valuing a supportive environment that created the space and opportunity to engage with peers and colleagues around academic writing.
While teacher educators were aware of how their respective institutions defined research and associated outputs, they conveyed different degrees of flexibility in pursuing research activities and being held accountable.
Some teacher educators admitted to deliberately becoming more aggressive in terms of meeting the output requirements of the institution, specifically with regards to publishing in academic journals that were internationally renowned.
In some instances, teacher educators explained that research was built into their job descriptions when they worked in institutions that enacted a 40% teaching, 40% research and 20% service weighting to their work as an academic.
There was also the opportunity for teacher educators to consider requesting extended time to undertake research-related activities through special research leave and sabbatical leave.
It was also clear that many were left to their own devices, without a close-knit teacher educator community or indeed institutional support, in their pursuit of research.
Another teacher educator reported that while her institution expected all academics to have individual research plans, they were simply filed and consequently considered as a ‘box-ticking exercise’ providing no meaningful dialogue on progress or targets toward a research agenda.
Only one teacher educator alluded to concentrating on building groups of research-active teacher educators and lead them in their research endeavors.

Nature of the links between the roles of teacher and researcher

Shifting goalposts and related tensions

The authors report that the teacher educators who were interviewed were clear advocates for the inextricable link between teaching and research, noting that research activity was integral to the role of being an academic/teacher educator and that there was an expectation from universities that academics be research-active. Interestingly, teacher educators chose to discuss how research informed their teaching practices rather than how teaching informed their research (the latter perhaps assumed in their use of the ‘teaching-research nexus’ phrase).

The importance of doing research with children, teachers and student teachers to generate new knowledge to inform future practice as teacher educators (commonly referred to as ‘practitioner research’) was acknowledged.
Different to those teacher educators who were categorical in their belief that to be a teacher educator you had to be a researcher, some teacher educators implied that while they were an active ‘user’ of research they were not an active ‘producer’ of research.
This was not to say that such teacher educators did not appreciate the link between teaching and research but rather that their reliance on the relationship was in sharing research with their students.
The same teacher educators believed it was essential to be research informed and aware of current developments, thinking and practices in teaching and teacher education.
They commented on the excessive time commitments in their role as a teacher educator and perceived lack of funding for education research (particularly practitioner research) as two key barriers to being research active.

Levels of professional community and self-initiated support
The conversation that ensued regarding the link between teaching and research reflected a discourse that was reliant on teacher educators working individually, while seeking to access more communal research opportunities.
Teacher educators also noted the lack of a shared academic community conversation that accommodated their interest in ensuing a teacher-researcher identity.

Conclusion
The authors conclude by saying that this small Irish teacher educator cohort was an active and engaged group of academic staff who were practicing teacher educators.
Their commitment to preparing teachers for contemporary schooling was evident and they were not afraid of hard work.
However, their frustrations with local working conditions reflected a level of academic freedom to follow their research interests but with limited supports, recognition or research funding for the teacher research they valued (action research with students, teachers and school partners (Forfás and Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation 2011).
These teacher educators were clear about expectations for research productivity and building a national and international research profile, securing grants to support their research yet without the necessary national/university level infrastructure for teacher education research.
There is little value for research autonomy among academics if the absence of appropriate infrastructures makes for little more than benign neglect (Tom 1997).
Consequently, the necessity (posed by Sahlberg, Furlong, and Munn 2012) for a national research institution for educational research funded by the government continues to be a welcomed, and hoped for, research infrastructure for teacher education and teacher educator research.

References
Czerniawski, G., A. Guberman, and A. MacPhail. 2017. “The Professional Developmental Needs of Higher Education-Based Teacher Educators: An International Comparative Needs Analysis.” European Journal of Teacher Education 40 (1): 127–140.
Forfás and Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. 2011. Report of the Research Prioritisation Steering Group. Dublin: Forfás. Accessed 19 July 2018. https://enterprise.gov.ie/en/Publications/Publication-files/Research-Pri...
Sahlberg, P., J. Furlong, and P. Munn. 2012. Report of the International Review Panel on the Structure of Initial Teacher Education in Ireland: Review Conducted on Behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. Dublin: Department of Education and Skills.
Tom, A. 1997. Redesigning Teacher Education. Albany NY: State University of New York Press 

Updated: Apr. 23, 2020
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