Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 28, Issue 4, p. 609-617. (May, 2012)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This study examined the inquiry processes of two research groups in teacher education with the aim of answering the following research question:
To what extend and in what way do student teachers, in the context of a research project, engage in elaboration and decision making during the research process?
The authors report on the collaborative research processes of two groups of student teachers in a university teacher education program in the Netherlands, focussing on elaboration and decision making.
They studied the ways in which the groups engaged in these processes within subsequent research steps (designing and writing a research proposal, gathering data, analyzing data and deriving results and conclusions, and reporting the research results).
Both of these groups consisted of three group members from different school subjects, two female and one male.
The two groups were supervised by different teacher educators, both male.
Data were collected through video and audio taping most of the meetings of both groups, their email correspondence and the electronic learning environment that was used during the workshops.
The first research group demonstrated an inquiry process which included both decision making and elaboration.
Because of the difference in preferences between the group members towards the two research processes, decisions were based on thorough elaboration.
During the second and third phases, the whole group shifted towards decision making after short phases of elaboration automatically, because of the time frame of the activities in these phases.
The group members indicated that during these phases they felt a tension between spending time on thinking through and discussing alternatives (elaboration) and making choices in order to proceed (decision making).
Nonetheless, this tension was resolved in a productive way by shifting between the two processes when necessary.
This enabled the group to meet the requirements of the program, producing the desired (in between) products as collaborative products.
It also led them to feel positive about their research process at the end of the project.
In contrast with the research process of first group, in the second group both thorough and deliberate decision making and elaboration were scarce.
The second group was inactive for long periods during several stages of the project, especially at the beginning of the second phase, and when they were active they were mostly focused on an undirected form of discussion, as a result of group members not having completed their individual tasks.
This group had difficulty meeting the requirements of the program from the beginning, when their research plan was disapproved.
After receiving negative feedback on their worksheets, and later again from the supervising teacher educator, even less time was dedicated to exchange and thorough and shared elaboration.
During the final phases, the group was trying hard to fulfil the requirements of the program, which they did mostly by performing parts of the research independently.
At the end, this group told the supervising teacher educator that they were not interested in conducting educational research in the future.
This indicates that they, both during and afterwards, did not develop an inquiring stance but only saw this as an inquiry project that they had to do for their diploma.
The results of both of these research groups exemplify how both decision making and elaboration are necessary elements to reach the full potential of a collaborative research project. The second group engaged in neither of these processes in a deliberate and thorough way throughout their research project, which caused their project to be arduous and seems to have led to a negative stance towards conducting research.
The first group, on the other hand, engaged in elaboration and decision making in an iterative way throughout the whole project.
The first group that was studied showed that it is possible to maintain inquiry as stance and even to develop a positive attitude towards research in the context of a time-bound research project.
However, the second group showed that this cannot be expected automatically, and a great deal seems to depend on the group members and their collaborative process.
The authors have shown that a research activity in which student teachers are supposed to collaborate is challenging and requires hard work.
Alongside everything else that student teachers have to do for both the institute and at school, they experience much time pressure.
At the same time, the demands of the research project were quite high, and the student teachers had not been involved in this type of research before, so they had to find out how educational research is conducted as well.
Based on the results of this study, the authors propose that group members should be aware of the fact that focussing too much on elaboration can lead to not making decisions, and thus not attaining any outcomes, while focussing too much on quick decisions is a threat to thorough elaboration.
Thus, a group should be attentive in creating a good balance between elaboration and decision making.
They expect that when group members are aware of the potential of both thorough elaboration and informed decision making within research projects can greatly increase the potential of such projects for the learning of teachers, student teachers and pupils.