Melbourne Graduate School of Education - Theses
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Translating neuroscience and psychology into education: Towards a conceptual model for the Science of Learning
This thesis reports on an empirical comparison between disciplines of educational psychology and educational neuroscience. an integrated conceptual model for the emerging field of the Science of Learning that subsumes both disciplines. After developing a conceptual framework that divides educational phenomena into five discrete layers, and a translation schema, the thesis reports the results of a systematic review of 548 studies in the educational neuroscience literature. To compare this impact with that of Educational Psychology, the thesis reports on two empirical reviews of the educational psychology literature: first, a meta-analysis of 10 well-established learning strategies, and second a meta-synthesis of over 42 learning strategies and their moderators, which formed the basis of a proposed Model of Learning. Finally, the respective strengths and limitations of both disciplines formed the basis for an integrated conceptual model for human learning – the Pedagogical Primes Model for the Learning Sciences. This model provides a means by which all learning-related disciplines (including but not limited to neuroscience) can meaningfully communicate with each other, and in so doing enhance the valid translation of Science of Learning research into educational practice.
Positive psychology and the purposes of schooling: A qualitative exploration of the role of positive education in nurturing eudaimonic conceptions of prosperity and success
Positive education emerged from positive psychology and its aims include expanding the metrics in education to encompass flourishing: defined for this thesis as the achievement of Aristotelian eudaimonic happiness. This goal aligns with educational philosophies that espouse education for happiness, citizenship and collective wellbeing. However, the philosophical foundations of positive education may diverge, in part, from the ideas of normative ethicists like Aristotle, and its aims may be impeded by societal beliefs about the purpose of education as well as narrow definitions of success, goodness and prosperity. In this thesis qualitative methods are used to explore these concepts through the writings of 431 students. Using thematic analysis as well as the PERMA, PWI and Aristotelian frameworks, across three studies, this thesis examines: a) whether positive education can achieve an ideological shift towards education for collective flourishing, and b) whether positive education may be a vehicle for augmenting a more social purpose of education. Studies found that students of positive education may be more likely than comparison groups to attribute prosperity to relationships and less likely to discuss money as indicative of success and that students in all groups view relationships and positive emotions as important. Social equity, health, moral goodness and collective wellbeing did not feature prominently in student responses, and most students emphasised the credentialing role of education, suggesting potential for further development of positive education programs to nurture flourishing and engender a more social purpose of schooling.
Collaborative Problem-Solving and Academic Performance of Adolescents: The role of activity achievement emotions
This thesis examined the relative incidence, origins, and influence of achievement emotions in academic performance, including collaborative problem-solving (CPS). A theoretical model was tested to investigate whether individual differences in the intensity of achievement emotions experienced by students while completing CPS tasks would be linked to their effort regulation, which in turn, would predict CPS social and cognitive performance. It was also hypothesised that students’ achievement emotions would influence their levels of participation, responsiveness, and perspective-taking during the activity affecting, in turn, their final social CPS performance. The sample consisted of 100 adolescent dyads (n = 200) who completed a series of five computer-based CPS tasks while self-report questionnaires measured their enjoyment, boredom, and anger responses. Regression analysis revealed that enjoyment was associated with higher performance on both social and cognitive CPS tasks by predicting participants’ effort and social interactions between problem-solving partners during the CPS tasks. This contrasted with the experience of negative emotions, including boredom and anger, which was associated with lower motivation to invest effort, which in turn was linked to more reduced cognitive CPS task performance. These findings expand existing knowledge by highlighting the importance of commonly experienced discrete achievement emotions in predicting complex students’ abilities such as the critical skills for 21st-century schooling: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity, grouped within CPS.
VCAL: growth and performance
This thesis examines a major curriculum innovation that was introduced into the upper secondary curriculum in the Australian state of Victoria in 2002 – the Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning (VCAL). Victoria is the only state in Australia which has developed a separate senior secondary certificate, a vocational certificate to sit alongside the general Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE). The VCAL claims to be a comprehensive attempt to anchor vocational learning within the secondary school environment in Australia. The aim of this study is to investigate whether the VCAL has delivered on its promise to provide an educational opportunity for students for whom the VCE is not appropriate; an opportunity to experience success and move into appropriate pathways into further education and training and employment. It is important to assess the educational impact a vocational program like the VCAL has had within the senior secondary curriculum. To see this in context, the research literature on vocational and applied learning in schools is examined through various approaches that are used in the delivery of vocational and applied learning to school-age students internationally and in Australia. The research focuses on two main models of differentiation – whether they are predominantly school-based or employment-based and the age at which differentiation into academic and vocational programs occurs. The research also examines the effectiveness of these programs and their impact on school retention, student engagement and their ability to create effective pathways into a range of destinations, including further education, training and employment. The story of vocational education and training (VET) in the Australian state of Victoria is seen in an historical context as the researcher explores the history of curriculum change in Victoria over many decades, leading to the senior secondary offerings available today. The thesis concludes that the VCAL has on the whole been successful in engaging the VCAL students who participated in this study. It has also provided strong pathways in apprenticeships. However, pathways into employment in particular, full-time employment are less than optimal. The VCAL also continues to face many challenges, particularly in terms of perceptions and ownership at a local level. The thesis argues for a new educational philosophy and a redefinition of upper secondary curriculum to place VCAL as a credible alternative to the VCE. It argues for a redesign of the VCAL program requiring all VCAL students to enrol in the VCAL as an apprentice or trainee. Finally, it argues for a whole school approach and commitment to the VCAL program with strong leadership support and active involvement in the VCAL program.
Developing defensible criteria for public sector evaluations
Criteria convey dimensions of quality and goodness as relevant for a program and its context. They also provide the first of two value premises from which one can reason to an evaluative judgement (the other value premise being standards). Selecting and justifying relevant criteria is critical to defensible evaluative reasoning, especially so in evaluations of publicly funded programs. Yet to date, much of the theory on evaluative reasoning has been at a general level, with little focus on the individual elements of reasoning, including the development of defensible criteria. The aim of this study was to identify characteristics of defensible criteria for program evaluations. It also sought to understand how criteria are currently managed in Australian and New Zealand program evaluations. The study exemplified research as an emergent process, with findings from an initial phase of the research informing the development of an evidence-informed tool for establishing defensible criteria. The study contributes to closing a significant gap in research on evaluation, specifically as it concerns valuing. Three characteristics were identified as important for developing defensible criteria. Two of these - inclusion of all relevant dimensions of value and authoritative sources - are required to justify criteria. A third, full description, has a role in supporting the first two characteristics, as it is only when abstract value terms are explicitly defined or described that criteria can be assessed for comprehensiveness and authoritativeness. The first phase of the study included an in-depth systematic examination of criteria development in Australian and New Zealand program evaluation. This occurred through a survey of 137 evaluators and a review of 47 published evaluation reports. It found that explicit criteria are not routinely included in evaluation reports. The survey research provided empirical evidence that a critical element of evaluative reasoning is weak in Australian and New Zealand program evaluations. The findings provided an evidence-based platform from which to develop a theory-informed framework for developing defensible criteria. In the second phase of the study, a conceptual framework was developed that makes several novel and significant contributions to the field of evaluation. It provides a way for practitioners to engage with value theory and specifically normative ethical principles which deal with conceptions of good and bad. The conceptual framework was developed into a criteria matrix tool, along with a handbook to support evaluation practitioners to engage with normative ethical perspectives. Initial field testing provided proof of concept that the tool could support evaluators to identify dimensions of value that might otherwise be ignored.
Investigating the effect of mathematics problem context on the performance of Year 10 students
This thesis is to revisit and scrutinise a possible effect of problem context familiarity, context engagement, and levels of context use on the performance of Year 10 students in PISA and PISA-like problems. Two research phases (i.e. a quantitative phase and a qualitative phase) shaped the design of this study. These research phases adhere to the mixed methods explanatory sequential design. The quantitative phase investigated whether an alteration of students' context familiarity and context engagement influenced the students' performance when solving PISA and PISA-like problems—that were controlled, to the best extent possible, in their textual and problem core features. There were two experiments that differed in the criteria for choosing the problem contexts (expert judgement vs students judgment). Then, students' performance was compared at different levels of context use. Later, the relationship between students’ performance and degrees of context familiarity, degrees of context engagement, and levels of context use was examined, principally using an ordinal logistic regression model. The qualitative phase used stimulated recall interviews to understand how students interpreted and experienced context familiarity and context engagement as well as the students' behaviours towards the accessibility of problems and the solution methods to the problems, and therefore students’ performance. The results of the quantitative phase showed that more familiar and engaging contexts did not improve students’ performance in either experiment, that the performance decreased as levels of context use increased, and that neither higher degrees of context familiarity nor higher degrees of context engagement affected the students' performance but higher levels of context use did. Added to this—and as part of the research work involved in the quantitative phase— a system to classify mathematical problems in terms of levels of context use was developed theoretically and validated statistically. Main results of the qualitative phase indicated that although students appeared to have a well-established understanding of context familiarity this was not strong enough to influence the use of the problem context as a resource to solve a problem that required the students’ interaction with the real-world context.
Transnational networks and teacher professional learning: A case study of the Australia-Asia BRIDGE School Partnerships Project in India
The quality of teacher professional development in India is at best uneven, despite Government’s efforts to promote reforms in this area. However, recent trends in globalization and communication technologies have opened up new possibilities for teacher professional learning. In this study, the potential of transnational networks for teacher professional learning in India is explored through an illustrative case study of the Australia-Asia BRIDGE School Partnerships Project. Based on data collected from interviews with teachers and principals from eight BRIDGE participating schools in the Delhi region, as well as observations and analysis of relevant documents, the study attempts to identify how and why teachers participated in the BRIDGE program; provide an account of their experiences; and determine the ways in which it shaped their professional practice. Data suggests that while the teachers and principals had positive attitudes towards the program, they viewed it to be mainly useful in ‘internationalizing’ teaching practices and student learning. Moreover, it seems that only those schools that were already ‘transnational’ in their dispositions, aspirations, and arrangements could take advantage of such networks. This implies that programs, such as BRIDGE, might contribute to the prevailing unevenness of teacher professional development opportunities in India.
An Examination of Indigenous Australians who are Flourishing
In response to the high levels of disadvantage that is experienced by Indigenous Australians, consecutive Australian governments continue to pursue an approach that primarily focuses on Indigenous Australian disadvantage - which is commonly pursued in isolation of their strengths and the solutions they may hold to improve their own lives. Given the limited research into the strengths of Indigenous Australians, this thesis sought to contribute to research about Indigenous Australian strengths. Two primary research questions were explored to understand how Indigenous Australians employed in a tertiary education institution were flourishing in their lives. The first question was: What characteristics, beliefs and behaviours are used by a group of Indigenous Australians that enable them to function effectively and live with purpose? The second question was: To what extent does the practice of the participants’ Indigenous Australian culture enhance their wellbeing? The sample group comprised of 11 participants. To be selected for this study, the participants had to identify as an Indigenous Australian, be employed by an Australian tertiary institution and have experienced high levels of wellbeing in periods throughout their lives. This thesis drew on an interpretive phenomenological methodological framework that is informed by contemporary research in positive psychology and Indigenous Standpoint Theory. Three major findings arose from this study. First, participants have a shared understanding of how Indigenous Australian wellbeing is conceptualised. Second, participants access an inventory of known Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian personal characteristics, subsequent beliefs and behaviours that enable them to function and be effective in their lives. Lastly, the practice of Indigenous Australian culture is central to the health and wellbeing of many of the participants.
Supporting social skills development through a targeted intervention using cooperative videogames in a Special Development School
Students with autism and Down syndrome can experience a range of social-emotional challenges manifesting from differences in social understanding and norms. While there are existing social skills interventions, until now the use of videogames and gamer culture as tools for facilitating the development of these skills has been largely unexplored. In spite of a wealth of research investigating principles of cooperative game design, there is limited reported research that specifically focuses on digital games-based learning for students with social emotional challenges. The research reported here sought to address this gap in the literature. A design research methodology was used to develop a new social skills intervention that built upon the interest of participants in videogames. Working with the teaching staff and five students at a Special Development School, ten iterative versions of an intervention were planned, implemented and evaluated. Data generated during the implementation of each version were inductively analysed, to investigate the relationships between the social skills performance in the physical and virtual environments, interactions with the teaching staff, and the role of game design in creating the conditions for player interaction. The analysis of this data informed modifications to the social skills being prioritised by this intervention, as well as the methods of instruction used to teach these skills and increase their frequency of performance. Findings from this study offer insights to both educators and videogame designers. The data led to the identification and refinement of 18 teaching strategies for optimising the acquisition and performance of social skills during cooperative gameplay. Strategies were identified for encouraging participation in group play, supporting students to consider perspectives of others on fairness, and for assisting students in recognising when to give instructions and share information. In addition to the teaching strategies, 39 game design recommendations for creating the ideal conditions for game-based collaboration were developed. The recommendations relate to leveraging player identity within the team to increase collaboration, specific rules of play that increase interactions between players, the characteristics of level design conducive to social skills performance, and games features that enable all players to be included. These teaching strategies and game design principles provide new understandings of how cooperative multiplayer games can serve as tools for social skills interventions, and how the systems of intervention can be optimised to take advantage of the affordances offered by these tools.
Pedagogic possibilities of diasporic texts in a contemporary literature classroom: a postcolonial analysis
Over recent decades, the demography of Australian classrooms has changed considerably. This is evident in the increased mobility, cultural diversity and transnational connectivity that students live and experience. However, the literature curriculum continues to maintain a focus on the English canon. It tends to ignore the diverse knowledges and literatures within the students’ cultural repertoire. This project, therefore, seeks to respond to this anomaly by examining the ways in which a text produced by an Australian-Asian diasporic writer has the potential to contribute to the development in students of ‘transnational literacy’ (Spivak, 1992). It investigates how diasporic texts might help contemporary students to negotiate their identities and understand their ‘worldliness’ (Said, 2003) in relational, critical and reflexive ways. Using a range of critical tools from recent postcolonial theory, this research is based on a pedagogic experiment. It involves the researcher teaching a postcolonial text to Year 11 students, observing student responses to the text, and interviewing them to generate data that is analysed through a constant movement between theory and data, privileging neither. This data suggests that, within the transnationalised and hybridised space of the contemporary Australian classroom, some students find difficulty negotiating the dominant norms of Australianness, and identify nation-centric narratives as key sources of feelings of confusion and exclusion. Yet, by the end of the course of study, after contesting these norms, the majority of these students reported changes in their epistemic constructions of themselves and of others. As they began to see themselves differently, they were becoming better prepared to imagine the Other who was pushing back at the self. Based on this insight, this thesis shows that the teaching of diaspora literature is a useful tool in steering students towards transnational literacy inasmuch as it highlights the ambiguities, ambivalences, and the hybridities that they experience and gives useful insights into how ‘reading otherwise’ is essential for its development. In conclusion, this thesis proposes a new form of literary pedagogy that takes into account contemporary social changes and recognises that they necessitate a new ethical receptiveness, a transnational sensibility that is disposed towards cultural difference. Achieving such recognition emerges from a deliberate process of slow reading and imaginative training to focus on often overlooked detail, and importantly involves privileged subjects showing awareness of their complicity within transnational hierarchies of power.
Investigating higher education productivity and its measurement in Australia
Introduction: This PhD dissertation focuses on higher education institutional productivity. Universities across the globe have met the 21st century with pressure to demonstrate performance and value for money. Yet common institutional performance indicators are the product of controversial choices about what data sources to consider and how data should be treated. Any individual performance indicator may be challenged on the basis of the data used to construct it. This situation raises the question: how should university performance be measured and demonstrated? Methods: This thesis reviews the literature on higher education performance and productivity and documents a research program whose findings offer a novel characterisation of university productivity. Methods focus on developing productivity measures that are fit-for-purpose in context. Primary data comes from the Australian higher education system. The thesis uses a design science methodology to guide enquiry and to structure a multi-method research program that incorporates quantitative and qualitative methods. The research revolves around the development of a quantitative productivity measurement model that is iteratively tested to inform performance and productivity assessment in the Australian higher education context. Qualitative research is undertaken in the form of interviews. The interviews solicit feedback from Australian higher education experts and stakeholders. Participants provide information about the strengths and limitations of the measurement model and its results in context, as well as about opportunities for improving performance and productivity in the Australian system. Findings and contribution: Findings make theoretical, technical, and practical contributions. They have implications for both policy makers and institutional leaders. Findings provide insight on relationships between teaching and research, specialisation of the academic workforce, and the role of performance measures in decision-making. Limitations include the study's intentional focus on dynamics and trends at the institution level, meaning that inter-departmental phenomena and discipline-specific phenomena are not captured. Also, due to the inconsistency of data available on service and engagement, this pillar of higher education is not included as part of academic productivity assessment.
Game-based learning practices and students’ discursive psychological production of meaning
Games are promoted as a classroom learning tool. A considerable literature suggests that games increase student motivation to persevere with their learning. Few studies have explored student agency when using games in the sociocultural space of the school classroom. Existing empirical evidence from studies of digital games used in schools cite increased retention of conceptual knowledge, with claims that such digital games are fun for students and are stealth learning tools that can ‘sneak in learning’ on the teacher’s behalf. Missing from the existing literature is the considered sociocultural student experience of games and a teacher’s’ reasons for selecting specific games as classroom pedagogy. The effectiveness of games needs to be empirically researched to provide an understanding of student and teacher practices with games, beyond being labeled fun. As a teacher I saw a range of benefits for students when using games during classroom experiences, including increased confidence with content knowledge. Students’ and teachers’ practices with games needed to be explored to inform practice and policy. The following research question guided this thesis; How do game-based learning experiences contribute to student perception of self as a learner? There is little empirical research focused on how students carry their actions within site-based performances. Employing a methodology informed by discursive psychology, this study used positioning theory to analyse the teachers’ and students’ fine-grained accounts of their use of different games. Participants reported a range of practices supported by the games involved. Further, underpinned by practice theory, the participants’ accounts suggested that these games offered ontological sites that supported meaning making, the reclamation of agency, and the recovery of change for both students and teachers. The thesis provides insight into the nature of being (ontology) of game-based learning experiences from the perspective of the students and teachers in the study schools. The student and teacher accounts of iPad mathematics applications, Lego Robotics, and Gamemaker: Studio are presented as case studies in a critical realist analysis of the influence of digital games in educational agency and change in schools. Discursive psychology is particularly suited to research conducted in schools as it attends to in-the-moment meaning making that builds domain knowledge between teachers, students, and artefacts. The three empirical case studies presented in this thesis explore the curriculum-making experiences of teachers and students as an agential enactment of their practical intelligence. Insights gained through the analysis of the students’ reflections included their explicit understanding of content knowledge and 21c skills. The reflections illuminate that in game actions support students’ ability to describe their learning as both a process and product, within the sociocultural space of their classroom lives. My contribution to new knowledge includes the construction of a theoretical framework that considers classroom interactions as located in dynamic sociocultural settings. The cogenerated interview data was analysed to attend to the agency of participants in this research and is reflective of the agency students and teachers enact in classroom activities when using games. This discursive psychological approach supported the analysis of the site-based learning practices using digital games. The analysis of the data has supported a new way of thinking about the pedagogy of game-based learning experiences as a practice site where students make connections to domain knowledge and make meaning as agentive learners with valued skills.