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UWS: A success story in teacher education and educational research November 18, 2014

Posted by Editor21C in Community Engagement, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Steve Wilson

It has been a good year for the University of Western Sydney (UWS). Recognition of the university’s reputation as a quality institution has recently been captured by the recent publication of the Times 2014 World Higher Education Rankings. Here, UWS is noted as being amongst the top 100 of the world’s ‘young’ universities (under 50 years of age). It has also been included for the first time in the rankings of the top 400 universities in the world, marking it in the top 2% of all universities around the globe. These are great achievements for a university marking just its 25th anniversary in 2014.

There is also reason for the academics and professional staff in the School of Education at UWS to be justly proud of their own achievements in teacher education, research, and their engagement and leadership in the community. This is because a 2013 Report resulting from a high level external cyclical review of the UWS School of Education (2012), has concluded that:

The School of Education at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) has evolved into what can be considered a success story in terms of education faculties in Australia (Report, p.i).

In their report the review panel, comprising highly placed Education senior managers from other Australian universities and education systems, provides advice to the School on ways it can improve: this is, after all, a fundamental purpose of such reviews. Significantly, having consulted with UWS university students and graduates, school principals, teachers and community members during the review process, it congratulates and validates the School for the quality it is achieving, and points to a number of features of the School’s degree and research programs which have led to highly successful outcomes in teacher education and educational research being achieved by the School.

It is this success I wish to focus on here, particularly as teacher education programs across many universities often receive bad press from detractors (particularly some politicians and people in the media) who seem to often lament the quality of graduates of university teacher education, but who do not usually take the opportunity to investigate and understand what really happens in university teacher education. This is an alternative, and evidence-based good news story, from UWS.

The features of the UWS School of Education programs which are evaluated and praised by the review panel in its report include the following.

UWS’s ‘clever’ and effective course design
UWS has a postgraduate model of teacher education, meaning that students enter teacher education having completed a Bachelors degree. Through this pathway they bring an experience and maturity into their teacher education which assists them in becoming critical and classroom ready teachers. At UWS, facilitated pathways through Bachelors programs leading into the Master of Teaching degrees provide students with certainty in accessing postgraduate teacher education. According to the Review panel,

Introduction of the Bachelor of Arts pathway into the Master of Teaching was an especially smart move as this helps to prevent large numbers of students completing four years of study in education only to realise that they do not want to become teachers. This is a powerful model for linking undergraduate to postgraduate courses (p.22).

Course content and teaching approaches are also recognised by the panel as high quality features, and are addressed below.

Engaged learning and teaching
The panel’s Report commends the School on the experiences it provides to its student teachers through its program of service learning. Describing service learning as “one of (the School’s) great strengths” (p.7), and quite distinctive to what is offered in other universities, it praises the School for the range of community service projects in which student teachers can participate, and for the vast numbers of student teachers engaged in these programs (who each gain course credits for undertaking voluntary work). Commenting on the value of student teachers having the opportunity for deep engagement with people in the community, it notes that:

The Panel heard that the process of ‘getting to know people one-on-one’ through programs can be transformational – both for the UWS students and for the members of the community participating in the program (p.7).

The panel also notes the very positive responses to these programs from both student teachers, and community agencies and their clients. It notes the positive outcomes these programs achieve, including, as just two examples of many, preventing high school students from dropping out, and helping refugees improve their learning success through tutoring programs. The panel notes that feedback from external agencies and individuals involved in the service learning programs is extremely positive:

Feedback from this group was overwhelmingly positive, with many expressing gratitude and thanks to the School (including its students). One external partner that has received over six hundred student volunteers from the School spoke of the “clear commitment of UWS to build capacity in the region” … It became clear to the Panel that exemplary results are being achieved through community and regional engagement and the Panel wishes to congratulate the School on its outstanding engagement performance (p.i).

High graduate satisfaction
A clear outcome of the review is recognition that the School of Education is marked by outstanding teaching, indicated by high levels of student satisfaction with the programs and teaching. In expressing this, the panel notes that:

The Panel received many reports of the School’s outstanding learning and teaching performance, including the programs, focus, quality of teaching, and content of curriculum. The School has strong results in the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) [an Australia-wide instrument for measuring graduate satisfaction with university teaching] and Student Feedback on Units (SFU) surveys, as well as excellent scores on the My University Website (p.21).

A notable element of this feedback from the panel is that it took the opportunity to meet with many present students and former graduates before making this assessment of the quality of UWS courses and teaching. Some of the comments from present and former students relayed in the report include: ‘the course was wonderful’; ‘our tutors are excellent and provide the most unbelievable amount of resources’; ‘lecturers go out of their way’; ‘teaching is excellent at this university’; ‘some subjects are cutting edge’; ‘academics try so hard’, and that the School is ‘such a better atmosphere than my first (other) university’ (p.24).

More generally, the panel reports that student comments noted

The outstanding support provided by academics within the School, including the levels of empathy and understanding shown to students experiencing stress and/or personal difficulties (p.24).

In a summative comment, the panel notes that the “overall quality of the School’s teaching and learning is excellent” (p.21). This is something about which the School’s staff should be very proud. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from the Review indicates that while some politicians and others may choose to criticise and even disparage university teacher education programs, the quality of their graduates, and point to low levels of student satisfaction with their teacher education programs, this is certainly not the case with UWS, as just one example in the university sector.

High employer and community satisfaction
While staff in the School of Education have always felt that the quality of their graduates was high, the review and report confirms this. Noting that many UWS graduates find employment in highly culturally diverse areas of Sydney, the Panel notes that:

feedback from external partners also testified to the quality of the School’s graduates and their work-readiness for highly diverse settings … (and) it was impressed that students were confident of their preparation for the diversity of the region” (p.21).

The general capacity of UWS graduates, as identified in both classroom practicum and service learning settings, is praised by external stakeholders. Some of their comments tendered to the review, as mentioned in the report, include:

The Panel also heard that that the School’s students and graduates are viewed as being enthusiastic, caring and “very knowledgeable about the needs of children”. Others commented that “UWS students are of a very high standard”; “students are fantastic”; “I am amazed at the quality and enthusiasm of the students”; and that students on practicum “know what they are doing” (p.3).

Quality and engaged research
The UWS School of Education has built up a strong research program which is both theoretically sound and of high relevance and impact (particularly, though by no means exclusively, through its engagement through research with social and educational issues in the greater western Sydney region). In reviewing the scope of educational research conducted within the School and research centre, the panel’s report

notes that the School’s research concentrations focus on: educational psychology; global children, families and communities and education; transnational knowledge exchange; equity of educational outcomes; youth transitions and high school completion; and, social ecology (p.13).

More recently, the Centre for Educational Research in the School has strengthened its research program by adding in the theme of sustainability through education.

Endorsing the quality of educational research at UWS, the panel comments that “the School has on its team a number of the best educational researchers in Australia (and in one or two cases with global reputations)” (p.13). It also notes that, relating to results in the national Excellence of Research in Australia (ERA) 2012 research evaluation process:

It is the Panel’s view that research in the School is being done well … and the Panel congratulates the School on achieving an improved overall ranking of ‘3’ … which is classified as average performance at world standard, and … now clearly above the sector average of 2.4 (p.15-16).

The panel also comments on the School’s “good reputation for graduating” students undertaking research higher degrees such as doctorates, and on the “high degree of support provided to them”, including “regular meetings with mentors who were clearly busy; opportunities to attend conferences and workshops; and, opportunities to take part in project planning of programs” (p.17). The panel concludes that “overall, the message from research students was that the School has a strong focus on the future and is “a fantastic place to be a researcher” (p.17).

The motivation for reporting these achievements at UWS is that teacher education within universities is sometimes subject to uninformed, and often quite negative, criticism. This is a good news story out of UWS which is worth reporting because, as just one example in the higher education sector, it shows a different and successful narrative for university-based teacher education. Such stories enable those who work within universities to be proud of what they do, and those outside of them to have confidence in what universities are achieving.

The message from this review of the School of Education at UWS and its recent report is that academics and professional staff in the School of Education at UWS are achieving quality outcomes. They should feel justly proud that they have a good, successful model of teacher education, supported by outstanding university teaching, and a world class program of educational research. They are achieving high quality outcomes in each of these areas.

This review indicates that current UWS students, former graduates, schools and learning institutions who employ these graduates, teachers who work with them, and the community at large, have every reason to be confident in the education that graduate teachers and researchers who have attended UWS have received. They should be equally as confident in the capacity of these graduates to make lasting, positive impacts on their professions, on the lives of children and the general population, and on the world, during their professional lives.

 

Steve Wilson is Emeritus Professor at the University of Western Sydney and Adjunct Professor in the School of Education at UWS.

There’s more to education than spelling and numbers November 4, 2014

Posted by Editor21C in Directions in Education, Primary Education, Secondary Education.
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from Associate Professor Sue Roffey

Headlines in newspapers on a recent Monday morning said much of the curriculum review that has been welcomed across Australia. The removal of the four “general capabilities” from the curriculum is a travesty many are yet to recognise.

The four “general capabilities” are personal and social capability, critical and creative thinking, ethical understanding and intercultural understanding. Are thinking and creativity now considered irrelevant for education?

Research suggests these are critical skills for innovation, problem-solving, empathy, evaluation, knowledge application and mental health. These skills are also necessary for the promotion of a democratic society. Young people need to be able to think for themselves and make up their own minds about their values, who they become and what they do.

The reduced focus on personal and social capability also makes little sense.  Relationships are not the soft and fluffy end of education; they are the central plank of how we learn and how well we live our lives. They determine our ability to contribute to both the world of work and society.

Confederation of British Industry director-general John Cridland says that over half of British firms are concerned about the self-management and resilience of school leavers, who must be better prepared for life outside the school gates.

Eton College headmaster Tony Little has expressed concern over the narrowing of the curriculum:

A sharp focus on performance is a good thing, but there is a great deal more to an effective and good education than jostling for position in a league table … Most of us as parents want our children to become capable adults, able to look after themselves and their own families, but we want them to be good citizens, too.

The US Department of Defence funded research leading to the Wingspread Declaration on School Connections, a document highlighting the need for a sense of belonging for effective education.

There is now a raft of Australian and international evidence  for what constitutes authentic well-being for young people and how a focus on student well-being underpins universal learning outcomes, mental health for the vulnerable and pro-social behaviour. Healthy relationships with teachers, families and peers are integral to this.

Many of our young people are not learning the values and skills needed outside of school. Most teachers are doing a great job, despite the pressures on them to focus on test results. The evidence for the benefit of social and emotional learning in the curriculum is overwhelming. In the US a meta-analysis of 213 social and emotional learning programs showed that academic outcomes for participating students had an 11% improvement in academic skills compared to control groups.

It is hardly surprising that some of our most privileged and advantaged schools are taking student well-being – “learning to be” and “learning to live together” – seriously. Prestigious and successful schools such as Geelong Grammar, The Knox School and St Peters in Adelaide have a heavy focus on these attributes.

We need to go beyond the economic, rote-learning mindset, which is singularly concerned with the acquisition and regurgitation of facts. There is great concern that the race to the top in PISA rankings is undermining the education our children and our country really needs. What is the point of top marks in all subjects if you are unable to live a fulfilling life?

And what about valuing all of those children who are never going to be academic stars, but have other things to offer? Don’t they count?

Our education system is about the future of Australia, our democracy, our future mental health and our ability to contribute within our community. Relationships matter, resilience matters. Teachers, researchers and many parents know this, so why don’t the reviewers?

Sue Roffey is an adjunct associate professor in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. She is also Chair of Wellbeing Australia and co Lead Convenor of the Student Wellbeing Action Network which is part of the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Teachers and Pavlovian ideals October 21, 2014

Posted by Editor21C in Social Justice and Equity through Education, Education Policy and Politics, Teacher, Adult and Higher Education.
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from Associate Professor Carol Reid

Professor Stephen Dinham of the University of Melbourne was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald saying: “It is quite unethical to let people train in an occupation profession [sic] they are not going to be employed in”. Hot on the heels of this piece was another in Campus Review with the strapline ‘Teachers say training leaves them unprepared’. This foray into such ‘hot’ topics is to highlight a central problematic. The notion that teachers are to be ‘trained’. Like dogs you think? Rats on wheels? Think of the discourses around teachers. Rewards for getting scores up. Penalties for not doing so. The list is extensive and conjures up a plethora of metaphors.

Yet it isn’t really very funny as the idea that teachers receive ‘training’ goes to the heart of the professional identities of teachers. Teachers are educated. Just like anyone who enters a university. This means that they take a course and yes, sometimes they don’t end up doing what the course was focussed on. Sometimes teacher education leads people into totally new directions – like the Wiggles.

Why do we see teacher education graduands who don’t end up in schools as waste? Apart from the argument that Dinham mounts about numbers games in universities, which is another argument altogether, in our part of the world, Greater Western Sydney, a teaching qualification will open up a new life for someone who is the first in their family to go to university. While a teaching degree may not lead to standing in front of a classroom it may well lead to knowledge that is less quantifiable. It may create further opportunities for family members and contribute to social and cultural capital in communities. A teaching degree may lead to empowered parenting. How is this waste?

It’s only a small word but it carries so much veiled power in its clutches.

Carol Reid is an associate professor in the School of Education  and a senior researcher in the Centre for Educational Research  at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.

What are the big questions in equity in education right now? October 15, 2014

Posted by Editor21C in Social Justice and Equity through Education.
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from Associate Professor Susanne Gannon

One year after an important Equity in Education symposium at UWS  raised this question, a new scholarly book has been published with an international publisher. Contemporary Issues of Equity in Education (Cambridge Scholars Press, Oct. 2014) includes research from scholars in Queensland, NSW and Victoria encompassing primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of education.

According to the editors – Associate Professor Susanne Gannon and Professor Wayne Sawyer of the Centre for Educational Research at UWS – education is one of the “great social justice projects of modern democracy”. They suggest that high quality education must be underpinned by “equity principles” including “access to good schools, challenging and engaging curriculum, committed teaching and engaged learning and appropriate resourcing”. However, they argue, these principles are “currently under assault” from a wide range of directions. The chapters in the book demonstrate some of the ways that researchers are exploring these dilemmas.

Chapters address a wide range of issues including international league tables and testing regimes and their impacts; everyday language and literacy practices of multilingual children; sexuality education in PDHPE curriculum; the assets, resources and experiences of refugee students in schools and universities; high demand pedagogies in low SES schools across diverse curriculum areas; the use of technology for community building; young people’s aspirations and anxieties about their futures; the impacts of increased school leaving ages on young people in single sex, ethnically diverse schools; innovative teacher education for high poverty contexts; beginning teacher experiences in the profession and suggestions for the redesign of secondary schools. 1

Participatory and collaborative research that has been co-designed and conducted with teachers, schools and education systems features throughout the book, with one of the chapters directly addressing the complexities and rewards of ‘teacher-as-researcher’. Throughout the book teachers are understood as intellectual workers, who have much more to offer educational debates than the low-level compliance required by externally designed and imposed assessment and curriculum regimes.

As well as reporting on current research into educational equity, the symposium and book also identified areas that require prioritising in future research. For example, at the upper end of secondary schooling we need to know much more about issues pertaining to school retention and transitions to post-school contexts including further study, training and work. How are these experienced by young people, what are their particular needs and how well are these understood by educational and employment sectors in volatile labour markets? How are senior schooling curriculum and opportunities serving the needs of young people and building and extending on the ‘funds of knowledge’ that they bring with them to school and to the work place? In teacher education, we need to understand how tertiary courses can balance disciplinary expertise with social justice imperatives that ensure beginning teachers are willing and able to support quality outcomes for students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. How might we develop beginning teachers’ capacities to understand and undertake research in collaboration with experienced colleagues and mentors?

More broadly, research agendas need to focus on unpacking the complex factors that contribute to the persistence of educational inequality in Australia and to better understand how schools and teachers can intervene to improve educational engagement and success for young people, their families and their communities. Future networks and activities will respond to these areas of concern. The first of these is the upcoming Equity! Now more than Ever!” conference run by the Centre for Professional Learning/ NSW Teachers Federation, and the University of Western Sydney, on Nov 7th.

The book Contemporary Issues in Equity in Education can be ordered from the publisher online  where you can also access an excerpt comprising the Editorial and the first chapter ‘Equity in Australian Schooling: The absent Presence of Socioeconomic Factors’ by Professor Bob Lingard and Dr Sam Sellar of the University of Queensland.

 

1. Note that, as well as those already named, authors include Robert Stevens, Carol Reid, Jacqueline D’Warte, Margaret Somerville, Tania Ferfolja, Jacqueline Ullman, Florence McCarthy, Margaret Vickers, Katina Zammit, Loshini Naidoo, Jo Lampert, Bruce Burnett, Eve Mayes, Leonie Arthur, Joanne Orlando, Anne Power, Lew Zipin and Iris Dumenden. You can find details of their chapters in the Extract available on the CSP website link above.

 

Susanne Gannon is an associate professor and ‘Equity’ research theme leader in the Centre for Educational Research and the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney, Australia.

 

A Pedagogy of the Streets November 19, 2013

Posted by christinefjohnston in Directions in Education, Education and the Environment, Engaging Learning Environments.
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 by David R Cole

 When we exit the university or school and walk down a street we are still learning. Some of us may wander and stare at our mobile devices, musing at the latest posting on Facebook or the info-feed on Twitter. Others, perhaps more like myself, may look outwardly at the particular scene in which we find ourselves and try to take in the atmosphere of the ‘street situation’. You might be surprised to hear that on one such an occasion I was stopped in my pondering by a street performance, that has made its way into my thoughts as a professional educator and researcher, and I would like to share with you now. Many municipalities in the UK sponsor festival ‘street artist’ events, which are specifically designed to shake us out of our subjective shells and make us think about what is happening ‘in the moment’ and in reconciliation of our relationships with the streets. I had stumbled unwittingly into one such scenario, and was forced to reconsider many of my assumptions and beliefs out there, ‘on the streets’, away from the safety of controlled pedagogic action, assessment and institutional regulation.

Who is Jeremy Farquhar? This was the first question that I was made to confront. My cynical self could say that he is just another street performer, a character created for general amusement purposes. But if I permit myself to be moved more deeply, I could wonder how and why a clown should confront me on the street and simultaneously have knowledge of the workings of global capitalism. The truth is that if we are to be able to appreciate the ‘pedagogy of the streets’ we need to set aside the conditioning and anaesthetic of professional learnt knowledge and the networks that keep this knowledge in place. The edifice of our shared culture shields us against questioning the deeply held assumptions that ironically we want our students to be able to engage with and learn about. The clown said to us: “you are not watching T.V.”

Once I had let my guard down and allowed myself to engage with the ‘pedagogy of the streets’, I could ride with the ideas that were presented. For example: we communally commit war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq by not questioning the continued use of force in those lands. One may counter, “well it is better there than here”. But is the war on terror really better if it is fought overseas? How and on what grounds can we make such a judgement? Jeremy Farquhar didn’t give me the answers; he just provoked the thought, and took away the comfort of living in a privileged country far from the battlefield for an instant. It turns out that Farquhar is a butler, who listens into the conversations of those in power without making any decisions or affecting a singular course of action. In short, Farquhar is a corridor, an ear, a portal to a place where the truths of our globally unequal society are understood and enacted.

We are all walking on a tightrope. On one side of the rope is the continued reliance on debt to make everything in our world work, and the so called inevitable “fiscal cliff” that the debt produces. On the other side of the rope are the consequences of the evolution of a ‘one world system’, and the mono-culturalism that this system ultimately entails, including environmental disaster, over-population, and the global mass movement of people away from places of shortage, war and conflict and in search of a ‘better life’. What is the possibility of resistance to falling off the rope? What can we do in the face of such negative, unwholesome and divided options? Farquhar transforms himself into a sadhu, a modern Gandhi figure, advocating non-violent revolution and the counteraction to the ‘politics of fear’. I let myself be transported to a place where a solution to the current predicaments was possible, where politicians did listen to the facts of environmental science, where the education system teaches wisdom in preference to personal efficiency and the fundamentals of fitting into ‘one world capitalism’. If there is hope today, it lies in ‘a pedagogy of the streets’ and communally thinking through the real conundrums that face us in a profound and deep manner, rather than the continued farce and cover-up of political life. Thank you Farquhar, whoever, and wherever you are…     

David Cole is Director, Acting, RHD & Academic Course Advisor Honours  in the School of Education, University of Western Sydney   

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