The recent Charles Sturt University (Charles Sturt) PhD graduate’s research indicates that the degree to which current pre-service education programs adequately prepare graduates for practice may be questionable.
PhD graduate Dr Greg Auhl, said, “At a time where the capacity of teachers to elicit evidence of positive learning outcomes in classrooms is coming under close scrutiny, this study contributes significantly to what we know is required for effective teacher preparation.”
A resident of Bathurst, Dr Auhl graduated at the Faculty of Arts and Education ceremony at Charles Sturt in Bathurst on Thursday morning 12 December.
His PhD thesis, ‘The development of pre-service teachers’ schema for teaching students with diverse learning needs’, sought to extend knowledge and understanding of how teacher preparation courses impact the cognition of pre-service teachers for teaching students with diverse learning needs in mainstream classrooms.
Dr Auhl said the completion of his PhD is the pinnacle of a journey in ‘life-long learning’ that began in 1978 at one of the University’s predecessor institutions, Riverina College of Advanced Education in Wagga Wagga.
“Since then, I have completed a master’s degree (in special education) at Charles Sturt University and now the PhD, and I also completed a number of other diplomas at other institutions along the way,” he said.
“My family hope this is at least the last formal learning for me, as the PhD has taken about a decade of part-time study during which I lost both parents and have seen all three of my children complete their secondary schooling.
“I’ve also seen my two sons continue on and complete their tertiary qualifications, and to them it seems as though I have been studying in one form or another the whole of my life.”
Dr Auhl’s PhD research employed three separate yet linked studies to investigate schema development in pre-service teachers.
He used a number of theoretical perspectives to frame the research, including schema theory, along with theories of complexity, self-organising systems, and communities of practice to provide a structure around which the investigation developed.
Dr Auhl explained that in this context the term ‘schema’ relates to a concept from cognitive psychology, and refers to the way that we learn and remember information.
“Basically, ‘schema’ is a way we build knowledge through repeated experiences of anything at increasingly complex levels, based on our experiences such that many activities become effectively automatic and we don’t have to consciously attend to them,” Dr Auhl said.
“It refers to everyday aspects of life − such as, for example, driving − as well as more complex areas, such as practice of a trade or profession.”
Dr Auhl said research on successful self-organising systems shows the centrality and importance of a shared schema, allowing agents within a given system or community of practice to work together in meaningful ways.
“My research examined the extent to which a professional schema for practice develops as a result of pre-service teacher participation in a program of professional preparation,” he said.
“The research sought to determine the extent to which pre-service teachers build such a schema over time, and graduate with an entry-level schema for working with students who have a range of learning needs.”
Dr Auhl’s study produced a robust assessment instrument with high validity and reliability capable of measuring schema development.
His three intertwined studies show that the degree to which current pre-service education programs adequately prepare graduates for practice may be questionable.
“Despite a strong literature base describing what works in classrooms, perhaps it could further be argued that current standards may lack sufficient specificity to allow for the comparability and visibility of practice necessary to promote the professionalism of the field,” Dr Auhl said.
“As such, my study provides an impetus for the jurisdiction to revisit the way teacher-preparation programs are constructed to meet standards, and to address questions of whether their scope, coherence and depth is adequate to ensure that students graduate with basic schemas for practice that represent those standards.”
Dr Auhl said while it may seem a bit of a cliché, one cannot complete an undertaking such as a PhD without significant support, and he received this from both his family and from colleagues across the institution.
“In particular, I’d highlight the ongoing support and encouragement from colleagues in the School of Teacher Education and the Division of Learning and Teaching, and suspect that in different environments, this PhD would never have come to fruition,” Dr Auhl said.“I also highlight the patience and unfailing support of my supervisor, Associate Professor Alan Bain, who was always there and understood that sometimes, life just gets in the way.”