Transforming the pedagogy of STEM subjects

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This study intends to investigate how pedagogy for STEM subjects in a low income, developing nation, Ethiopia, can be transformed from using one-way lecturing and closed teacher questions to dialogical discourse and argumentation, and the effects this generates in improved student learning and attitudes. Over-reliance on didactic teaching apply to any nation or school subject, but is particularly dominant in STEM subjects as these typically teach "facts" "given" to students. It restricts students' learning and impact negatively on student recruitment to and retention in STEM subjects beyond compulsory schooling.

In developing nations, which rely on STEM as means to build economic success, changing pedagogy to an active approach may impact significantly on enhancing the quality of education. The theoretical rational is that participation in social discourse, where norms and arguments are made explicit, helps students appropriate new ideas and internalise them to reasoning on a psychological plane. In STEM education research, one focus is on using dialogical discourse to explore pre- and misconceptions students hold and enabling them to replace these with new, scientifically correct ideas. Another focus has been developing scientific argumentation, where students use scientific norms and reasoning strategies in disciplinary and everyday discourse. Intervention studies gathering empirical evidence about using dialogical teaching demonstrate significant gains, but most studies are small-scale interventions where researchers work closely with volunteer teachers.

The proposed study will test three strategies for changing the pedagogy in a large-scale, realistic intervention: i) introducing a training programme to lecturers at Colleges of Teacher Education (CTEs) to change pedagogy through Initial Teacher Education (ITE); ii) using the same programme in continuous professional development (CPD) to groups of teachers in schools; iii) combining the ITE and CPD programmes. The 30h training programme introduces teachers to dialogical teaching and argumentation in science teaching, and presents scaffolding tasks to change the teaching gradually.

The study will provide evidence for effects on classroom practice; on students' learning; and any social, political, economic and cultural factors moderating outcomes. An important objective is building networks and involving educators in Ethiopia to analyse and improve STEM teaching. The study is carried out by researchers from Addis Ababa University and Durham University and lecturers from five CTEs. MoE is also a partner.

The study is organised in two phases. First, training lecturers from five CTEs and have these implement dialogical teaching in physics course for 150 pre-service physics teachers over the 2015-16 academic year. A similar number of CTEs and teacher candidates will be in a control group. Second, follow the teacher candidates into posts in primary schools and deliver CPD to about 100 physics teachers in 20 schools in 2016-17. Some are teachers not involved in phase 1. Teaching will be for Year 7 and 8 pupils. Lecturers from the CTEs will deliver the CPD together with the researchers and work as research assistants to gather data. The design will allow each of the three strategies (using ITE, CPD or both) to be tested in 10 schools classes with 400 pupils. A control group will have the same number of schools and students (Totally 40 schools and 1600 pupils).

Effects of the intervention on teaching will be investigated with video-recordings from two lessons in all classes. Effects on pre-service teachers' and school pupils' learning will be measured with pre- and post tests, video-recordings of discussion tasks and interviews. School leaders will be interviewed. Dissemination will happen in a series of research meeting, a national conference and in reports and research papers.

The research aims to impact four types of beneficiaries.

Firstly, anyone who benefits from a good educational system. Poor education is detrimental to pupils, to local societies and to a nation's economy. If successful in its objectives, the research will benefit all these groups. Pupils will benefit from better learning and thereby more opportunities in their future, local societies will benefit from an educated population that is more likely to move them forward, and the nation will benefit from more high ability students moving into higher education and jobs. Involving pupils and parents directly in the research, of course, is difficult, but teachers and lecturers from CTEs, as well as members from the MoE have a direct impact on the way the research is conducted. Findings from the classroom observations and from tests and questionnaires will give clear evidence if the strategies that are put on test are beneficial. If this happens to be the case, teaching material, revised after the research, will be published for general use in schools and teacher education. Successful ideas will be also be communicated to the wider educational community in the final dissemination conference.

Secondly, the educational system itself. The research tries to understand educational processes that are important to teacher educators and schoolteachers. If the study is successful in improving students' learning, it will provide material educators can use and advice they can follow. However, even if this does not turn out to be the case, the research will still generate useful information to educators about why the strategies do no work. Having lecturers from many CTEs involved increases the likelihood that the outcome and findings of the research will disseminate into teacher education and further into schools. More articles, however, will be written for educational practitioners about efficient pedagogies to use in STEM education and why these are important.

Thirdly, educational policy makers. A main objective for the proposed research is providing policy makers with evidence for best practice in STEM teaching. The study intends to trial both classroom strategies for efficient teaching and institutional strategies for implementing these large-scale. The findings will include information about social, economic and cultural factors that are important for implementing the strategies. The MoE in Ethiopia is partner in the research and will participate in planning meetings, meetings discussing the outcome of the research and the final dissemination conference, A special report will be written about the outcome of the research for MoE.

Fourthly, research communities for educational research. The major ideas tested in the proposed study are how dialogical teaching can be operationalised into educational practice in a developing nation and what effects this has on students' learning. A specific question is the relationship between dialogical teaching guided by disciplinary norms and development of scientific reasoning skills in young people. The research will be generation significant evidence to evaluate all these questions. Impact will be ensured thorough publishing in high quality journal and research conferences. Independent educational researchers will contribute to the research in an advisory group.

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Research Grant
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Fund Start Date: 
Monday, June 1, 2015
Fund End Date: 
Thursday, May 31, 2018
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