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Exploratory study of teacher education students' epistemological beliefs and the relation with their personal theories about teaching and learning

By Kwok-wai Chan


This thesis explored the epistemological beliefs of the Hong Kong teacher education students and the relation with their personal theories about teaching and learning. The study also attempted to investigate whether the epistemological beliefs and the personal theories held by the teacher education students were related to the cultural context, gender and fields of study. As well, a theoretical framework on beliefs structure and system was proposed to seek to clarify the concern of Pajares (1992) about the "mess" of teachers' beliefs and to address the issues raised by Hofer and Pintrich ( 1997) in their review of the area. The proposed nature and structure of epistemological beliefs in the framework also aimed to account for different findings identified in this study from those of Schommer ( 1990) and other researchers.\ud \ud The study began by the application of Schommer's 63-item epistemological questionnaire. Analysis of the responses from about 300 student teachers in Hong Kong cast doubt on the reliability and validity of the scale and also on the general applicability of the scale across cultural groups to measure epistemological beliefs. Therefore, a specifically adapted version of this instrument containing 30 items was developed for the Hong Kong context through repeated processes of item identification, exploratory factor analysis, tests of consistency, follow up interviews with respondents and item clarification with about 300 different students for each trial. The adapted version of scale was validated by confirmatory factor analysis indicating a satisfactory fit of model. A similar process was undertaken to develop a scale to investigate personal theories about teaching and learning.\ud \ud The study identified four epistemological belief dimensions within the Hong Kong teacher education students, viz. Fixed/Innate Ability, Authority/Expert Knowledge, Certainty Knowledge and Leaming Effort/Process. Multivariate analysis such as MANOVA indicated there were no significant statistical differences in the epistemological beliefs of the student teachers with their gender, age and electives groups except the course they were enrolled in (Chinese and English Courses).\ud \ud Multivariate analysis showed that the personal theories of the Hong Kong student teachers comprised two dimensions: Traditional and Constructivist Conceptions. Using these two dimensions the individual belief profile of each student could be constructed. Each student's belief structure could be represented by the scores on each dimension.\ud \ud MANOVA study of personal theories with demographic variables yielded similar results to that of epistemological beliefs. The significant differences in student teachers' epistemological beliefs and personal theories between the Chinese and English Course may be explained in terms of the different exposure to western educational thoughts and practice of expatriate/western scholars who were appointed as lecturers for the English Course. Opportunity was also sought in the discussion of the results to clarify some of the misperception held by westerners toward the learning approaches/behaviour of the Chinese (Hong Kong) students.\ud \ud Canonical Correlation analysis indicated that three epistemological beliefs dimensions, viz. Innate/Fixed Ability, Authority/Expert Knowledge and Certainty Knowledge were related to the Traditional conception about teaching and learning.\ud \ud The other dimension, Leaming Process/Effort was related to the Constructivist Conception. The identified relations could be accounted for in terms of the interaction of the traditional Chinese Confucianism culture and the increasing influence of western thoughts and philosophy on the teenagers and adolescents.\ud \ud Hong Kong is unique in that the majority of the population (over 95%) is Chinese, and yet, it has been a British colony for over 100 years. Subsequently, the people in Hong Kong are subject to the impact of both the traditional Chinese-Confucian heritage culture as well as western thoughts and philosophy. The influences of western culture on the teenagers and adolescents are ever increasing, weakening the traditional Confucian-heritage culture and this may account for some of the unexpected results and misperception held by western educators/scholars toward the behaviour, thoughts and beliefs of the Hong Kong students. The interaction of both traditional Chinese culture and western philosophies in Hong Kong may explain why there are a variation of beliefs and conceptions about teaching/learning within the Hong Kong teacher education students.\ud \ud This exploratory study is the beginning, as a springboard for studies to follow. The instrument for measuring epistemological beliefs is still developing, creating opportunities for tapping the hidden beliefs constructs which are recognized to be difficult tasks by many researchers. Nevertheless, this study contributes to the understanding of student teachers learning how to teach through investigating teachers' thoughts and beliefs which is now agreed by teacher educators to be a powerful and influential factor in determining the classroom behaviour and practice of teachers (both preservice and in-service). The results also facilitate curriculum development of teacher education courses/programmes to make use of epistemological beliefs as a possible way to promote professional growth and development of teacher education students, subsequently enhancing teacher efficacy and quality of teaching/learning, an aim which is pursued by all teacher educators and institutes. Following this study, there will be many alternatives to study teachers' beliefs and other aspects as suggested by the author, which leads to a fuller understanding of the student teachers' process of learning to teach and comparable application studies to different cultures and context

Topics: Student teachers China Hong Kong Attitudes, Learning Philosophy, Teaching Philosophy, thesis, doctoral
Publisher: Queensland University of Technology
Year: 2000
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