Teaching Geoscience Out-of-Field with Digital Technologies: Understanding Agency through Positioning Theory
AuthorRochette, Emily Elizabeth
AffiliationMelbourne Graduate School of Education
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2019 Emily Elizabeth Rochette
The professional rights and duties science teachers ought to attend to as skilled members of the profession are evident from roles specified by initial teacher education, registration authorities, subject-specific teachers’ associations, education policy and state- mandated curriculum documents. Of particular interest are the assumptions made by stakeholders within and beyond the community of professional educators about both digital technologies and teachers’ capacity to incorporate them into their practice. Research literature suggests that teachers’ use of digital technologies varies considerably and depends on a number of factors (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2013; Inan & Lowther, 2010; Somekh, 2008; Waight, Chiu, & Whitford, 2014; Zhao & Frank, 2003). In addition, for multi-disciplinary subjects like general science the accepted reality is that teachers may be highly accomplished in some areas but not others (Carlsen, 1992; Kind, 2014; Nixon, Campbell, & Luft, 2016; Nixon & Luft, 2015; Sanders, Borko, & Lockard, 1993). Geoscience is a sub-discipline of science largely taught by non-specialists (King, 2008, 2013, 2015) or science teachers teaching out-of-field (OOF) (Hobbs, 2015). This qualitative research sought a more empowering and useful understanding of teachers’ lived experience teaching with digital technologies in the Australian state of Victoria. Positioning theory (Harre & van Langenhove, 1999) was the overarching philosophy and methodology for the research design. Ten science teachers from an inner- city school in Melbourne were invited to reflect on their lived experience teaching with digital technologies. Constructivist grounded theory coding procedures (Charmaz, 2014), pronoun grammar analysis (Muhlhausler & Harre, 1990; Redman, 2013a; Redman & Fawns, 2010) and the positioning triad (Harre & van Langenhove, 1999) were the analytical tools used to methodically code data to better understand extent to which teachers perceived themselves to be permitted and/or empowered (Foucault, Martin, Gutman, & Hutton, 1988) to act autonomously before, during and after teaching geoscience with digital technologies. Prior to offering teachers support to teach OOF with digital technologies, two notable conclusions emerged from the data analysis. First, teachers did not make connections between their institutional and subject-specific duties to utilize digital technologies. Second, without a formal program of digital experiences for students and teachers’ varying degrees of personal and professional history utilizing digital technologies, the sign systems (Foucault et al., 1988) were not yet in place for most of these teachers to identify the pedagogical possibilities for digital technology use. Notably early-career teachers who trained as scientists could not be assumed to intuitively draw on their transferrable skills to teach for technology-enabled learning (Brantley-Dias & Ertmer, 2013; Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2013). In addition, most teachers did not readily identify their existing digital practices as transferrable and linked to teaching OOF. Four teachers participated more extensively by teaching a year nine geoscience unit designed to support their personal and pedagogical growth to use digital technologies in the OOF area. External and internal factors that both strengthened and compromised teachers’ evolving sense of personal agency are identified and explained. Notably, science teachers cannot be grouped as homogeneous users of and teachers with digital technologies. Teachers’ interpretations of their professional rights and duties to utilize digital technologies must be understood for effective, differentiated professional growth to occur across both subject-specific and institutional expectations. The range and complexity of competencies for which teachers are personally and professionally accountable are explained and the research is shown to make unique contributions to the fields of OOF teaching, digital technology use in education, better understanding the experiences scientists who became teachers and research methodology. The Explicit Personal Pragmatic Approach (EPPA) to professional learning is a three- dimensional model offered that illustrates the relationships between subject-specific and institutional expectations placed on teachers. The EPPA may also hold value if applied to other occupations where workplace professionals change roles and are required to continually refine their knowledge and skills in unfamiliar contexts. Finally, recommendations are made for implementing school-wide use of digital technologies which may have international implications, particularly in a time when a variety of stakeholders rely on teachers’ digital technology use to help combat global health issues.
KeywordsPositioning Theory; Digital Technologies; Geoscience; Earth Science; Professional Development; Professional Learning; Out-of-Field; Curriculum
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