Science Teachers’ Thinking

Science Teachers’ Thinking: A longitudinal exploration of the relationship between personal epistemologies and perceptions of educational theory.

Abstract: A personal epistemology is an individual’s set of beliefs about the nature of knowledge and knowing (Hofer 2000; Brownlee et al. 2011). These beliefs address questions such as: Where does knowledge come from? What counts as knowledge? Does knowledge change? Is knowledge isolated and simple or integrated and complex? One might expect that science teachers would have sophisticated beliefs about the nature and knowledge and knowing, but some researchers have found that the opposite appears to be the case. Recent research suggests that pre-service (student) science teachers tend to hold more naïve personal epistemologies when compared with other undergraduate students of science, students in other disciplines (Kang 2008; Liu and Tsai 2008) and pre-service teachers in other disciplines (Sjølie 2014). It has been acknowledged that personal epistemologies act as a filter for new information and a guide for action (Fives 2011). Many researchers noted the existence of a relationship between personal epistemologies, teachers’ ‘teaching beliefs’ and their actual practice (Muis 2004; Brownlee et al 2011), however very few turned the epistemological research lens on the century-old issue of the theory-practice divide that is experienced in the teaching profession (Joram 2007; Sjølie 2014).

Educational theory, often referred to as education research or education studies, is widely viewed as core and fundamental to the education and to the work of a teacher (Furlong 2013). However, concern has existed for decades regarding student teachers apparent dismissal of this element of their teacher education (Dewey 1903; Korthagen 2007; Anderson and Freebody 2010). In the Irish context, there has been a dearth of research about student teachers perceptions of educational theory (Clarke et al. 2012) and internationally attempts to ‘bridge the divide’ in teacher education appear to have had little impact (Brower and Korthagen 2005). Only Joram (2007) and Sjølie (2014) have questioned the need to examine and develop personal epistemologies of teachers as a way of addressing this issue, but considerably more research is required.

In addressing this gap in the research literature, this project will longitudinally explore pre-service science teachers’ personal epistemologies and perceptions of educational theory. Initially, at the beginning of their final year in teacher education and prior to their final school placement, a written instrument will be administered to an entire cohort of pre-service science teachers. This will include a Discipline Focused Epistemic Belief Questionnaire (Hofer 2000) and two written responses. A sample of 10 participants will then be selected for interview to probe these responses and garner a deep qualitative description of participants’ views on knowledge in science and education studies. This process will be repeated at the end of the teacher education degree programme and after one year of in-service teaching experience. Data from these 3 time points will be analysed to explore and understand any changes that occur in participants thinking over time and if any relationship exists between changes in their personal epistemology and how they perceive educational theory at various times.

Researcher: Liam Guilfoyle
Commencement Date: 2014
End Date: 2018