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International Journal
Learning, Teaching
Educational Research
p-ISSN: 1694-2493
e-ISSN: 1694-2116

Vol.15 No.8
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VOLUME 15 NUMBER 8 July 2016

Table of Contents
A Primer about Mixed Methods Research in an Educational Context ........................................................................... 1
Elizabeth G. Creamer

The Pursuit of Balance by a Greenhorn Supervisor ...................................................................................................... 14

Mark Prendergast

Language Barriers in Statistics Education: Some Findings From Fiji ............................................................................. 23

Sashi Sharma

The Conundrum of Handling Multiple Grouped Statistics Class at a Tertiary Education and the Impact on
Student Performance ........................................................................................................................................................... 35
Victor Katoma, Innocent Maposa and Errol Tyobeka

Exploring Estonian Students Ability to Handle Chemistry-Related Everyday Problem Solving ........................... 49
Klaara Kask

The Importance of Educational Technology to Pedagogy: The Relevance of Dewey ................................................. 58

Jamie Costley

Bridging Research and Practice: Investigating the Impact of Universally Designed STEM Curriculum on the
Concept Acquisition of At-Risk Preschoolers .................................................................................................................. 65
Michelle R. Gonzalez, PhD

An Education Leadership Programs Continuous Improvement Journey Toward a StandardsBased System ...... 79
Peters, R., Grundmeyer, T. and Buckmiller, T.

A Survey on Assessment of the Prevailing School Fees for Private Secondary Schools in Tanzania ....................... 97
Veronica R. Nyahende & Benedicto C. Cosmas

International Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Educational Research

Vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 1-13, July 2016

A Primer about Mixed Methods Research in an

Educational Context

Elizabeth G. Creamer
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg, Virginia, USA

Abstract. Changes in the academic enterprise, including the growth of

large-scale team-based research, likely account for the growing presence
of projects that are framed to involve mixed methods. This
methodological essay provides a non-technical introduction to mixed
method approaches. It is directed toward an audience motivated
primarily by content area, rather than methodological, interests.
Different methodological constructs are illustrated by using a single
mixed methods study about promoting active play in school
playground. A distinction is made between mixed and multi-method
research, with the recommendation that the mixed method label is most
appropriate when there is the intent to communicate that the interface
between qualitative and quantitative strands is key to understanding the
way the research was executed and the conclusions that are drawn.

Keywords: mixed method; visual methods

Changes in the academic enterprise likely account for the growing

presence of projects that are framed in a way that involve mixed methods.
Part of this may be related to the gradual reconfiguration of long-standing
disciplinary boundaries and to an increase in interdisciplinary research
that incorporates expertise from multiple content areas. It is also related
to the ever-expanding role of external funding sources in shaping the
agendas of research scientists. The growth in team-based research and the
use of large data sets also can be linked to increasing interest in mixed
methods research, as can be the higher expectation for repeated
experiments and ever greater competition to secure access to publication
space in the most the highly ranked journals. Technological innovations,
such software that allows for the analysis of data generated from social
media or that pinpoints geographical location, has also opened the door
for the investigation of more multi-layered and innovative research
questions about social phenomenon.
The purpose of this methodological essay is to provide a non-
technical introduction to mixed methods approaches to research that is
directed toward a broad cross-disciplinary audience motivated by content

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area interests rather than methodological ones. My intent is to address an

audience unfamiliar with mixed methods. I will provide a broad
overview that distinguishes mixed method from multi-method research
without itemizing the traditional set of mixed method data collection and
sampling procedures and incorporating a lot of specialized jargon. The
kind of overview provided by the article will make it useful as a reading
assignment in a survey course designed to introduce a variety of methods
or as background reading for a general audience interested in learning
some of the basic methodological assumptions of mixed methods
After first considering evidence about the prevalence of mixed
methods research across a variety of academic fields, the paper identifies
different ways that mixed methods research has been defined and how it
is distinguished from multi-method research. We then move to consider
different ways that both qualitative and quantitative approaches can be
used to create a more nuanced and comprehensive picture of a
phenomenon. Next, I offer the architectural arch and keystone as a
metaphor for mixed methods research and the types of inferences that are
drawn from the integration of the qualitative and quantitative strands.
Different ways that integration across phases can be accomplished are
explored next. Throughout, different methodological constructs are
illustrated by using a single mixed methods study about promoting active
play in school playgrounds in Australia (Willenberg et al., 2010). These
authors used multiple methods that integrated data from observational
methods and a photo ordering technique to identify characteristics of
school environments that promote physical activity.

Prevalence of Mixed Methods Research Across Disciplines

Available evidence does not entirely confirm the alarm that is
occasionally voiced that mixed methods has become the "gold standard"
or "best practice" in social and applied research. Content analyses of the
characteristics of the mixed methods literature conducted in a variety of
disciplinary contexts do not support the idea that there has been an
explosive growth in articles reporting research in ways that are indicative
of a mixed methods approach. What these analyses support, however, is
that it is an approach more likely to be utilized in applied disciplines, like
education and the health fields, that value the perceptions of patients or
clients, than in "pure" fields that are more theoretically driven (Alise &
Teddlie, 2010).
Accumulated knowledge from an ever-growing number of reviews
of the literature provides conclusive evidence that while the label is used
in many different ways, research bearing the mixed methods label
appears in an astonishingly diverse array of academic fields. Multiple
content analyses about the prevalence of the approach provide evidence

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that is being used in academic fields as diverse as library science,

business, marketing, education, health sciences, family science, school
psychology, library science, counseling, construction engineering, and
sports management.
A seminal piece by Alise and Teddlie (2010) convincingly
documents that the dominant approach remains quantitative. Based on
Alise's ambitious content analysis of 600 publications from 20 prestigious
journals in applied (i.e. education and nursing) and non-applied
disciplines (i.e. psychology and sociology), their analyses demonstrate
that quantitative approaches retain the hold as the research approach
used in the majority of publications (69.5%). Qualitative research is used
second most frequently (19.5%), followed by mixed methods approaches
(11%). Figure 1 uses a pie chart to summarize the prevalence of
qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches reported by
Alise and Teddlie.

Research Methods Pie Chart


11% Mixed Methods


Figure 1: Research methods used by pure and applied disciplines as reported by Alise
and Teddlie (2014)

Definitional Issues
Experts define mixed methods research in many different ways
(Johnson, Onwuegbuzie, & Turner, 2007). The label was originally
conceived to apply almost entirely to studies undertaken to enhance
validity by triangulating results from more than one source of data for
purposes of confirmation. In variations that might be used to study
children's activities on school playgrounds, triangulating data collected

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through self-reports of preferred activities and observational methods to

confirm the types of equipment used would reflect the long-standing use
of multiple sources of data to enhance validity.
A second common way to define mixed methods research is in
terms of analytical procedures. This definition envisions mixed methods
research as a combination of a qualitative or inductive approach to
analysis with a quantitative, hypothesis testing or deductive approach.
Yet others simplify the definition by focusing on the types of data
collected. From this perspective, qualitative research is delimited to the
collection of textual data or symbols, such as might be found in
transcripts from individual or group interviews or by accessing entries in
social media. A quantitative approach is simplified to the collection of
data in the form of numbers.
In terms of definition, one can be sure that the term mixed methods
is used to mean many different things. Where there is agreement,
however, is that it involves a combination of qualitative and quantitative
approaches to data collection and/or analysis.

Distinguishing Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches

There are both qualitative and quantitative approaches to making
sense of most phenomena that involve people. In research about
playground equipment, for example, a qualitative approach to data
collection and analysis is more likely than a quantitative one to yield
information about contextual factors that mediate how and when children
use equipment. Variations in weather, type of surface, presence or
absence of other children, and supervision or participation of adults
might all emerge as unexpected results with this type of approach. A
quantitative approach, on the other hand, might pinpoint that the most
active children are using loose equipment, like soccer balls, and that they
almost always are using them in concert with other children.
Different strategies for coding photographs of children on
playgrounds can be used to illustrate qualitative and quantitative
approaches with visual methods. Figure 2 is a photograph that can be
coded using both a qualitative and quantitative approach.

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Figure 2: Photograph to illustrate qualitative and quantitative ways to code (Used with
permission from Cherie Edwards, Doctoral Student)

Using the quantitative schema applied by Willengberg et al. (2010) to

capture behavior at carefully timed intervals, the two boys in the
photograph would be coded as active. In their schema, behaviors like
sitting, lying, and standing but not moving, were coded as sedentary;
walking or climbing were coded as moderately active; and children that
were running, jumping, skipping, or hopping were coded as active.
A qualitative approach to coding the photograph showing the two
boys with a soccer ball could consider both what is present and what is

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missing, but might be expected, in the photograph. For example, codes

might be developed to single out elements of the environment that might
influence activity levels. For example, the presence of another child as
well as the soft surface might encourage active play. Fitting with a
qualitative mindset, our imaginary researcher coding this photograph
might also take note of what is not present, but might be expected. This
could include consideration of the absence of near-by adults in the
Our imaginary researcher now has both qualitatively and
quantitatively derived data that are linked because one answers a
descriptive "what" question and the other addresses the conceptual or
"why" question. Linking of conclusions from the different strands of a
study to create an explanatory framework is one way to integrate the
qualitative and quantitative strands of a study. The same example can
illustrate other ways that mixing is accomplished in mixed methods

Integrating the Qualitative and Quantitative Strands

A principal characteristic that distinguishes mixed method from
multi-method research is the extent that a conviction about the co-
mingling of the different strands of the study is embedded in the
methodological assumptions. The multi-method label is the more apt
description when a study has more than one strand but the strands are
only loosely linked. This is referred to in the literature as the concurrent
or parallel design (Creswell & Plano-Clark, 2009). One ready way to
distinguish this type of research is that different individuals often execute
the different strands of the study and analysis is conducted separately.
Another way to distinguish this type of research is that it is readily parsed
into separate publications without any loss of explanatory power. This
could occur, for example, when a team is divided up in to one group that
is responsible for the qualitative phase of a project and a second that is
taking the lead on quantitative data collection and analysis.
Mixing at sampling. The example of research about playground can
also be used to envision classic ways that linkages occur between the
qualitative and quantitative phases in mixed methods research. One of
these is mixing through sampling. In this scenario, researchers often use
quantitative markers to identify a sample for a second phase of analysis.
In the example of the playground information, research might use
quantitative data collection to identify the children that were consistently
active and those that were consistently inactive across the time intervals
studied to organize focus groups to interview the two groups of children.
In this example, the two phases of data collection are quite distinct. It is a
minimal type of mixing because while sampling strategy has a direct role

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in the claims that can be made about generalizability, it does not have a
direct impact on the explanatory framework that is produced.
Mixing during analysis. A second strategy that might be applied to
the study of playgrounds is to mix during analysis. This is done by
linking qualitatively and quantitatively derived variables in the analysis.
This is the most instrumental type of mixing (Greene, 2007). Willenberg et
al. (2010) mixed during analysis by using a statistical procedure to test for
the relationship between looses and fixed equipment and activity levels.
This generated the conclusion that the most active children were playing
with loose equipment, like soccer balls, and that they preferred soft
surfaces. Results derived from mixing during analysis are often displayed
visually in manuscript through tables or figures (Plano-Clark, 2015).
Because it plays such an instrumental role in constructing the final
conclusions, this is the type of mixing that maximizes the value added of
a mixed method approach.
Mixing during the process of drawing conclusions. Mixing most often
occurs at the inference level (O'Cathain, Murphy, & Nicholl, 2008) where
conclusions from the qualitative and quantitative strand are compared or
linked. While common, this approach does not take advantage of the
explanatory power that can be gained from a more creative interchange
between the qualitative and quantitative strands of a study.
The interplay between the qualitative and quantitative strands has
been depicted in a number of creative ways (Bazeley & Kemp, 2012). In a
recently completed textbook (self cites omitted), I have found it useful to
use the metaphor of an architectural arch to represent key features of a
mixed methods approach.

Mixed Methods and the Metaphor of the Architectural Arch

There are multiple parallels between the way an arch is
constructed and the execution of a mixed methods study with one
qualitative and one quantitative strand. In a perfect arch, each of the
building blocks is wedge shaped and added one at a time, working from a
base toward the apex where the final wedge is dropped into place. This is
like the systematic, step-by-step process of executing a research
procedure, such as occurs by using the constant comparative method to
develop a grounded theory. The metaphor is probably most effective in
capturing the end product of a research study as it is represented in
published form than the actual process of conducting research about
complex questions, which is inevitably far messier and more
unpredictable than textbooks communicate.
Another direct connection between an ideal architectural arch and
the essence of a fully integrated approach to mixed methods research
where mixing occurs through multiple stages of the research process, lies
with the keystone. In the metaphor, the keystone represents the meta-

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inferences that are drawn by considering the results from the qualitative
and quantitative analysis together. Camouflaged by artistic
embellishments or visible to the naked eye, a keystone is the apex of an
ideal arch. Figure 3 is a photograph of an arch with a keystone taken at
the site of Roman ruins in Lyon, France.

Figure 3: Roman arch in Lyon, France (photograph by author)

Once the keystone is set in place, vertical and horizontal forces

keep the structure erect. Each wedge shaped piece shares the load
equally, which makes it a highly efficient structure. This is like "pure"
mixed methods, where the qualitative and quantitative strands are given

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equal priority (Johnson, Onwuegbuzie, & Turner, 2007). There are a

myriad of examples of arches dating back thousand of years where the
tension is so well distributed that it remains standing while the building it
supported deteriorated over time.

Acknowledging Paradigmatic Challenges

Mixed method researchers are most decidedly members of the
community who are committed to the idea that empirical qualitative and
quantitative approaches have distinct qualities, but share much in
common. Unlike purists, members of this group take the position that
qualitative and quantitative approaches are not driven by different
paradigms that are inherently incompatible.
Researchers who proclaim pragmatism as their paradigmatic
grounding account for much of the mixed methods research that is
published. As a group, pragmatists are inclined to be interested first and
foremost with what works for the setting and intended audience.
Pragmatists argue that purpose always drives the selection of methods.
They tend to be eclectic in the palette of methods they chose for different
projects. They are driven to finds methods that match the purpose and
context of their research project and inclined to leave arguments about the
incompatibility of qualitative and quantitative approaches to those with a
more philosophical bent.
Sidestepping the argument that qualitative and quantitative
approaches are incompatible, Greene (2007) coined the expression "a
mixed method way of thinking" to refer to a philosophical mindset that
deliberately sets outs to acknowledge complexity and to engage multiple
viewpoints. In contrast to positivist who view reality as singular, a mixed
method way of thinking reflects view of reality as inherently multiple.
This is a perspective implicitly shared by researchers who pull together
members of a team in order to integrate knowledge that emerges from
diverse disciplinary approaches. An axiological or value-driven
commitment to respecting diverse viewpoints is evident in Greene's
position that: "A mixed methods way of thinking aspires to better
understand complex social phenomenon by intentionally include multiple
ways of knowing and valuing and by respectfully valuing differences"
(2007, p. 17).
Greene's mixed method way thinking is highly compatible with a
paradigmatic stance referred to as dialectical pluralism. The most
important feature of this paradigmatic position is its de-emphasis on
consensus and convergence and its emphasis on the knowledge and
insight that can be gained by thinking dialectically and engaging multiple
paradigms and mental models (Greene & Hall, 2010; Johnson &
Schoonenboom, 2016). This can be achieved through negative and

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extreme case sampling or by the intentional pursuit of what at first

appears to be contradictory, unexpected, or inconsistent.
A dialectical approach readily could be mirrored in initial plan for
sampling employed in a study of children's behavior on school
playgrounds. For example, a study could be designed that purposefully
set out to compare the behaviors and attitudes of the most and least active
children in order to identify the type of equipment and environmental
conditions that promote the highest activity levels.

Expectations for Methodological Transparency

The choice to label one's research as mixed methods comes with an
expectation for methodological transparency that is not applied to work
that is satisfied with a multi-method label. This reflects the mandate to
communicate the results of a study with enough precision and clarity to
allow for reproducibility that is one of the defining features of science
(Open Science Collaboration, 2015). Methodological transparency
promotes replication by reporting details about the steps taken to
complete data collection and data analysis, as well as in specifying which
results came from the qualitative analysis and which came from the
quantitative analysis.
The central role the documentation of methodological procedures
plays in the ability to have confidence in the results of a study is evident
in the most widely used evaluation framework for mixed methods
research publications. That is a six-item set of evaluation criteria proposed
by O'Cathain, Murphy, and Nicholl (2008) and referred to as the Good
Reporting of a Mixed Methods Study (GRAMMS). The criteria identified
in the GRAMMS specify dimensions of the methodological procedures
that should be addressed.
The GRAMMS framework defines quality by stipulating explicit
references in a publication to criteria related to different phases in the
design and execution of a mixed method study. Two criteria are related to
how a study is designed, one is related to sampling, one to an
acknowledgment of limitations, and two to the process and product of
mixing. The criteria in GRAMMS framework are paraphrased in Table 1.

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Table 1: Summary of the Criteria in the Good Reporting of a Mixed Methods Study
(GRAMMS) Developed by O'Cathain, Murphy, and Nicholls (2008)
Phase of the Research GRAMMS Criterion
Design Provides a justification or rationale for using a
mixed methods approach.
Specifies a mixed method design and
identifies the timing of the qualitative and
quantitative data collection and their priority.

Procedures Describes the qualitative and quantitative

methods for sampling, data collection, and
Mixing Explains when and how mixing occurred.
Explains the value-added of mixing.
Limitations Describes the limitations of each method.

The GRAMMS offers a helpful set of guidelines for anyone trying

to write up the results of a mixed methods study in a way that helps its
readers understand how the results were derived and why they are
significant. Its limitation is that the type of methodological transparency
prescribed offers no assurance of the overall quality of the research and
its results. It does not account, for example, for the very items that lead to
why an article is cited by others. Most importantly, these include the
innovative use of methods, the originality of the insight gained, or the
potential of the results to make a significant contribution to what is
known about a theory or phenomenon.
It is difficult to find a publication that simultaneously meets
standards for transparency put forward by methodologists specializing in
mixed methods research designs while demonstrating the type of
innovation and originality that signals out the authors of a publication for
unusual attention. The Willenberg et al. (2010) article about increasing
physical activity on school playgrounds, for example, is innovative in its
reporting about a mixed methods approach to visual methods and in
providing research with such direct implications for practice. It would,
however, score poorly on a rubric derived from an evaluation rubric, like
the GRAMMS, that rests entirely on methodological transparency.
The discrepancy between the originality evident in the Willenberg
et al. (2010) article and how poorly it would fare under an evaluation
system that rests on mixed methods reporting standard can be attributed
to its purposes and intended audience. Authors of the playground study
had a content-oriented, rather than methodological purpose. All of the 29
items in the reference list are about playgrounds and children's activity

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levels. They referenced no literature to support their methodological

expertise, but nevertheless managed to demonstrate a a creative and
useful way to use a mixed methods approach that is well worth
The criteria in the GRAMMS mirror the authors' guidelines for the
specialized, methodologically oriented Journal of Mixed Methods Research.
Like the shared terminology, the guidelines provide a short hand for
methodologically oriented readers to quickly pinpoint the contribution of
an article. Manuscript writers targeting methodologically oriented
journals or those writing with the purpose of highlighting innovative
approaches using mixed methods, will extend the breadth of their
audience by incorporating the expectations for methodological
transparency evident in the GRAMMS.

Applying the Mixed Method Label

The logic of mixing methods and types of data is inherent in many
research approaches (Sandelowski, 2014) and, consequently, not a
characteristic that is useful to identify them. Rather than to use it to signal
the combination of multiple types of data when the multi-method label is
most apt, affixing a mixed methods label to a publication is a way to
declare that the logic of mixing is central to the purpose of the study and
for understanding its conclusions. The mixed method label is helpful with
the playground study because it communicates that mixing occurred
through multiple stages of data collection and analysis and is essential to
understanding the conclusions.
The intent to engage diverse viewpoints is consistent with Greene's
(2007) mixed methods way of thinking and the paradigmatic assumptions
of dialectical pluralism (Greene & Hall, 2010; Johnson & Schoonenboom,
2016). As noted above, dialectical pluralism is characterized by the belief
that reality is multiple, constructed, and ever changing; a respect for
diverse viewpoints and ways of knowing, and the motivation to pursue
contradictory or unexpected results that is similar to an engagement with
multiple, competing hypothesis that is so central to the scientific method.
This affiliation negates the argument that a mixed methods approach
involves a type of paradigm mixing that is intellectually dishonest. It also
challenges the long standing framing of mixed methods as best
understood simply as the combination of qualitative and quantitative
Research methods and practice are ever changing (Hesse-Biber,
2010). Adopting the logic that mixed methods produces a synergy or a
quality that is unique beyond its qualitative and quantitative components
makes it possible to be open to new and innovative approaches to
defining it. It creates an openness to the possibility of mixing two types of
qualitative data, that is different from a mindset that, as Creswell (2011)

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has suggested, a method like content analysis cannot be mixed methods

because it begins with data that is entirely in the form of words. It also
downplays the binary logic that questions the appropriateness of
applying a mixed methods label to a report of a set of results that
emerged unexpectedly. This kind of definitional adaptability is consistent
with Guest's (2012) proposal that a mixed methods label may be a helpful
way to understand a series of inter-linked publications from a larger
research project, even when it is not reflected in an individual publication.

Bazeley, P., & Kemp, L. (2012). Mosaics, triangles, and DNA: Metaphors for integrated
analysis in mixed methods research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research 6 (1), 55-
72. DOI: 10.1177/1558689811419514.
Creswell, J. W. (2011). Controversies in mixed methods research. N. K. Denzin and Y. S.
Lincoln (Eds.), SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research (pp. 269-283). Thousand
Oaks, CA. SAGE Publications.
Creswell, J. W., & Plano, C. V. (2007, 2011). Designing and conducting mixed methods
research. Thousand Oaks, CA. SAGE Publications.
Greene, J. C. (2007). Mixed methods in social inquiry. San Francisco, CA.: Wiley Publishers.
Greene, J. C., & Hall, J. N. (2010). Dialectics and pragmatism: Being of consequence. In A.
Tashakkori and C. Teddlie (Eds.), SAGE Handbook of Mixed Methods in Social and
Behavioral Research (Second Edition) (pp. 119-144). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE
Guest, G. (2012). Describing mixed methods research: An alternative to typologies.
Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 7(2), 141-151.
Hesse-Biber, S. (2010b). Emerging methodologies and methods practices in the field of
mixed method research. Qualitative Inquiry, 16(6), 415-418.
Johnson, R. B., Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Turner, L. A. (2007). Toward a definition of mixed
methods research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 1 (2), 112-133.
Johnson, R. B., & Schoonenboom, J. (2016). Adding qualitative and mixed methods
research to health intervention studies: Interacting with differences. Qualitative
Health Research, 26 (5), 587-602.
O'Cathain, A., Murphy, E., & Nicholl, J. (2008). The quality of mixed methods studies in
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Open Science Collaboration, Science 349, aac4716 (2015. 10.1126/science.aac4716.
Plano Clark, V. L., & Sanders, K. (2015). The use of visual displays in mixed methods
research: Strategies for effectively integrating quantitative and qualitative
components of a study. In M. T. McCrudden, G. Schraw, and C. Buckendahl
(Eds.), Use of visual displays in research and testing: Coding, interpreting, and
reporting data (pp. 177-206). Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Publishing.
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Willenberg, L. J., Ashbolt, R., Holland, D., Gibbs, L., MacDougall, C., Garrard, J., Green,
J. B., & Waters, E. (2010). Increasing school playground physical activity: A
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2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


International Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Educational Research

Vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 14-22, July 2016

The Pursuit of Balance by a Greenhorn


Mark Prendergast
The University of Dublin
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Abstract. This article explores the transition process from being a

research supervisee to being a first time doctoral research supervisor.
This is a difficult and trying endeavour. The lack of previous
supervision experience at this level results in many supervisors referring
to their own time as doctoral students and supervising in the same
manner as they experienced. It is important to break this cycle and
realise that just like teaching, there are many different models of
supervision. Much of the research conducted in the area draws
conclusions about the type of characteristics or traits that make a good
supervisor. This article takes a different point of departure and gives a
personal account of the authors thoughts and experiences in attempting
to make the transition from supervisee to supervisor. These experiences
are explored with reference to existing literature with the intention of
unearthing and documenting key issues for first-time supervisors to
consider and develop their own understanding of effective supervision
practice. The author hopes that documenting these issues through a
personal, reflective account will help others who decide to continue the
journey and make the transition from supervisee to supervisor.

Keywords: Research Supervision; Higher Education; Reflective Practice;

Research Experiences

Insufficient attention has been given to research supervision as a topic requiring
scholarly investigation (Armstrong, 2004; Halse, 2011). This is best summed up
by Park (2007) who described supervision as a secret garden where student and
supervisor engage with limited outside interference or responsibility. This is
regardless of the argument that effective supervision is one of the most
important reasons for the successful completion of research theses (Jonck, &
Swanepoel, 2016; Lee, 2008; Sambrook, Stewart & Roberts, 2008). Given such
importance, the supervision of PhD students needs to be enhanced to reduce
withdrawal rates and improve the quality of research (Maor, Ensor, & Fraser,
2016; Bastalich, 2015). Without doubt I wouldnt have been awarded a doctorate
five years ago without the help, support and guidance of my supervisor. Since
then the wheel has turned full circle and I am now at the stage of my academic

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


career where I am supervising a PhD student. However despite the complexities

and challenges of such a role (Stephens, 2013; Hockey, 1997), advice for new
supervisors is scant in the literature (Gordan, 2003). The doctorate is a learning
process for students but also for doctoral supervisors (Halse, 2011). There is a
growing body of research around PhD supervision (Berry & Batty, 2016).
However much of this research draws conclusions about the type of
characteristics or traits that make a good supervisor. This article takes a different
point of departure and aims to give a first-hand account of my personal
thoughts and experiences in attempting to make the transition from supervisee
to supervisor. These experiences will be explored with reference to existing
literature with the aim of unearthing and documenting key issues for first time
supervisors to consider and develop their own understanding of good
supervision practice.

My progress onto the rungs of the supervision ladder have been slow and
unhurried. It began with the supervision of undergraduate students theses,
Masters students and then onto a single Ph.D. student. Each of these steps has
given an insight into the processes involved in thesis completion and the role the
supervisor is expected to play in such processes. Perhaps the most helpful step
of all was my enrolment in a Research Supervision in Higher Education training
course provided in the university where I work. This six week professional
development course broadened my thinking and encouraged me to reflect upon
many alternative aspects to supervision. Up until that point I had considered my
own personal supervision experiences to be the norm. It was enlightening to
hear others recall their own paths, both positive and negative. Everyone has
their own individual journey of research and it is important to learn from each
other (Dash & Ponce, 2005). During the training course the literature around
Ph.D. supervision and the different models of supervision which have been
developed were considered. If I could sum up in three words the most important
thing I learned regarding research supervision thus far, it would be to find a
balance. There are an indefinite number of aspects to supervision. However
finding a balance between the key aspects is vital. In this article I aim to outline
and discuss five important aspects to PhD supervision which I have encountered
and which I hope to draw upon to help me become the type of supervisor that I
aspire to be. Each of these aspects will be addressed through the lens of finding a

Balance of Supervisory Styles

There are many different styles of research supervision (Boche, 2016). At their
broadest these can be referred to as direct (hands-on) and indirect (hands-off)
styles of supervision (Gurr, 2001). A balance in the selection and appropriate use
of these styles is important and should be appropriate to the students overall
level of development. Gurr (2001) argues that at the beginning of the supervision
period a more hands on style is needed. For example at the beginning of my
PhD, my supervisor would organise regular meetings in which he would offer
support and feedback. However in the latter years my supervisor had adapted a
much more hands off approach and it was up to me to organise a meeting if, and

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only if, I needed some advice. At this stage it was my responsibility to make the
everyday, run of the mill decisions regarding my research.
Although supervisory styles can be further broken down into more
detail, the need for balance is just as important. For example, supervisors need to
find a balance between supporting and challenging and between guiding and
critiquing their students work. In one instance the role of a supervisor is to offer
direction to students on their research. However supervisors are also the
primary critic and are obliged to ensure the student produces work which meets
the requirements of a PhD thesis. This is a difficult balance to strike and
highlights the complexity of the relationship that exists between the supervisor
and the student. Supervisors need to become aware of how to limit the help they
give to their students while at the same time balancing this with support and
constructive critique of their students work (Hockey, 1997). Easterby-Smith,
Thorpe, and Lowe (2002) acknowledge that there is a fine line between
providing feedback, which highlights flaws, and providing praise and
encouragement to try harder. The way in which everyone engages with such
critique and feedback, whether it is the student or the supervisor, is important
and will often depend on the existing relationship between them.

Balance of Relationship between the Supervisor and the Student

This relationship between supervisee and supervisor has been described as one
of the most essential components of successful doctoral completion (Orellana et
al., 2016; Bastalich, 2015; Ives & Rowley, 2005). The development and
maintenance of a helpful, and constructive relationship over time is central in
producing a good quality thesis (Wisker, 2001; de Kleijna et al., 2015). I was
fortunate to have such a relationship with my supervisor. We had very good
rapport, communication and mutual respect. However this seemed to happen
naturally and I had not considered the situation if this was not the case.
Listening to others recall some of their negative experiences of PhD supervision
has led me to believe that very careful consideration must be given to this
relationship. There are two sides to the coin. It is essential that you develop a
good interpersonal working relationship but also ensure that there is a balance
between the professional and social aspects. Perhaps one the most important
aspects here is the selection and allocation of supervisors and students.
Supervisors and students should have a choice of whether they wish to work
together and should not just be matched because they share the same research
topic. In an Australian study carried out by Ives and Rowley (2005) supervisors
and students noted that when it comes to supervisor allocation, it is much more
important to get the interpersonal aspects aligned rather than assigning on the
basis of expertise in the content area. This is backed up by Phillips and Pugh
(1994) who state that the selection of supervisor and student is probably the
most important step that each will take.

Balance of Control
Many supervisors struggle to find a balanced equilibrium in the freedom and
control they express towards the progress and development of their students
work (Hockey, 1997). This is difficult for any supervisor. It is a hard balance to
strike because different students respond so differently (Supervisor interviewed in

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Hockey, 1997). On the one hand it is important that supervisors enable students
to take sufficient control of their own research. This allows them to develop
intellectually and to produce innovative and original research. On the other
hand many students struggle, at least initially, with such freedom. For example
students coming directly from undergraduate programmes often struggle with
the apparent lack of structure within PhD programmes (Gurr, 2001). It is
important to help the students to develop from an initial state of dependency to
relative independence over time (Gurr, 2001). This is where the balance of
control has to be achieved between giving well-timed help in some instances,
and not interfering in others. This balance of control varies from supervisor to
supervisor. Some supervisors have rigid regimes - we see them monthly and they
produce 500 words before each meeting (Supervisor interviewed in Lee, 2008). In
my own experience as a PhD student, there was much a freer rein. Work was
submitted to my supervisor when I had it complete but there were very rarely
any deadlines. While this particular model worked well for me I can see issues
where student motivation begins to falter. Perhaps the findings of Hockey (1997)
are advisable in which supervisors initially impose a strict degree of control over
their students work. The can be relaxed through positive student performance,
with a more balanced input from all parties driving the research forward
(Hockey, 1997).

Balance of Expectations
Similar to any form of teaching and learning, it is important for supervisors to
set high expectations for their students. Research has found that such
expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies (Muijs & Reynolds, 2001).
However it is also important that such expectations are realistic and achievable.
These expectations might be regarding the standards of academic writing,
critical thinking or even dissemination skills. While I was doing my PhD, my
supervisor also had four other doctoral students at the same stage. He was
aware that we all had our individual strengths and weaknesses and so set
individual, realistic, yet challenging expectations for each of us. For example at
the start of the PhD process the supervisor said he expected each of us to start
presenting our work at conferences as soon as possible. This is a challenging
expectation to some, but perhaps not to others depending on life experience.
However the supervisor, using an array of institutional, regional, national and
international conferences, tactfully pointed us in different directions ensuring
that each of us were challenged sufficiently, without being entirely outside of
our comfort zones. This balance of expectations proved an invaluable experience
for each of us in building confidence while sharing our research and gradually
opening the gates to the academic community.

Balance of Workload
Undoubtedly, the central aim of both the supervisor and the student is thesis
completion and this requires a huge workload. One of the main responsibilities
of the supervisor is to ensure a balance to this workload. There are many
milestones to be met throughout the process and a well-planned and thought-
out workplan can ensure that each of these milestones are reached in a timely
and balanced manner. As a novice researcher, this is an area of concern. More

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


experienced supervisors are more likely to predict the time required for
literature reviews and the collection and analysis of data (Hockey, 1997).
However it is difficult starting out to foresee how much time and output is
needed in each case. The student often looks to their supervisor for guidance in
such matters. In the first year of my PhD, I can recall constantly asking my
supervisor am I doing enough?, how long should I spend on this section?,
how many words are needed here? Novice supervisors need help and guidance
themselves in answering these queries. This is where the importance of
mentoring and collegial support comes to the fore. It is important that there are
opportunities for informal interactions where novice supervisors can access the
tacit knowledge of their peers on an on-going basis (Stephens, 2012). This will
ensure that there is a balance provided for students not just in workload, but
also in many other aspects of the supervision process.
This balance of workload does not only apply to the students. It is just as
important that supervisors strike a work balance. Many supervisors fall into the
trap of taking on too many PhD students (I know of places where there is a PhD
factory - Supervisor interviewed in Lee, 2008). This is not fair to the supervisor
who has an unsustainable workload or to the students as they vie for individual
time and attention.

Discussion and Going Forward

Finding a balance in each of these five aspects to PhD supervision is a complex
endeavour and highlights the difficulties and challenges that lie throughout the
doctoral supervision process. Guthrie (2007) puts forward the notion of a PhD
student embarking on a journey. However I would argue that this journey does
not necessarily end when their PhD has been awarded. For many, this is the first
cycle as they continue into the supervision process. When I completed my PhD I
had no intention of continuing on such a journey. Its not that I was against the
idea, simply the thought had not crossed my mind. In my opinion it is
impractical to think you can become an effective PhD supervisor the moment
you make it through your own Viva examination. As mentioned previously I
have worked my way slowly onto the rungs of the supervision ladder. I agree
with Hockeys (1997, p.47) assentation that you cannot learn to be a supervisor
without actually doing it and in this sense my experience in supervising
undergraduate and Master students theses has been invaluable. It has given me
confidence. Confidence in imparting domain specific knowledge and
methodological guidance, but more importantly confidence in guiding students
through the research process, from the development of a proposal to thesis
submission. There were a plethora of different emotions present when these
students graduated in their respective programmes. Having worked closely with
the students over a number of months, there was obvious joy that the hard work
and endeavour had been rewarded. However as a greenhorn supervisor my
overarching feeling was one of relief. Relief that the guidance, direction and
feedback I had given students had not been wide of the mark. Relief that an
examiner and external examiner had deemed the work to be satisfactory.
Nevertheless, through these experiences I learned a number of important
supervisory lessons.

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


Perhaps the most important lesson was that I had been overly involved
in the supervision process. I had yet to find a balance in my hands-on
supervisory style and my control in the management of students progress. As
mentioned previously, supervisors need to find a balance between supporting
and challenging and between guiding and critiquing their students work. I must
admit that in the early stages of my supervision journey I found this difficult. I
had an attitude and ethos that is best summed up in a statement from Anderson
(1988) No that is not the way to do it. Do it this way. This attitude resulted in
my students developing little autonomy or creativity in their work through my
over involvement. It goes against the advice of Philips (1992) who stated that
supervision is about helping the student to be their own supervisor. Ultimately a
students research thesis is their own work and it is their responsibility for
arriving at the destination (Lee, 2008). Research supervision is a facilitative
process (Pearson & Kayrooz, 2004) and in many cases supervisors need to curb
the assistance they provide and ensure they act as first line examiner of their
students work (Hockey, 1997). This highlights the importance between striking
a balance between intellectual involvement and supervisory styles and control
and is a valuable lesson as I take the next steps in my supervisory journey.
The key for me in recognising this lesson was reflecting on my
experiences as a supervisor. Such reflection was facilitated through my
enrolment in a Research Supervision in Higher Education course. This was a
voluntary training course offered free to charge to staff members by the
university. My only issue with the course is that it was voluntary. It is unnerving
to think that I could have begun doctoral supervision without receiving some
kind of formalised training and broadening my thinking regarding the
supervision process. I signed up to the course with some very clear objectives in
mind. I wanted to know the university supervision policy, its plagiarism policy,
and its preferred referencing style. I wanted sample timeframes that I could
share with students and examples of successful ethical approval applications.
Thankfully the six week course did not provide any of those nuggets of
information. Such information can easily be accessed online. Instead the course
encouraged me to reflect upon my own understanding of supervision and what
alternate understandings were possible. I have since realised that reflection is
one of the key processes of developing an underlying understanding of
supervision. This reflection can take place individually or collectively through
discussion with colleagues (Wright, Murray & Geale, 2007).
The support of experienced colleagues is crucial for the greenhorn
supervisor. Traditionally a supervisors learning process was a solo journey
(Hockey, 1997) and was essentially trail by error (Becher, 1996). Learning from
making mistakes was the norm (Halse, 2011). In recent years there has been
considerable effort to enhance the quality assurance of research supervision
(Maor, Ensor, & Fraser, 2016). Training courses such as the one I attended are
one facet of this effort. Mentorship between experienced and less experienced
colleagues is another. Many issues and concerns be critically analysed through
mentorship (Hockey, 1997). Perhaps the most extreme form of mentorship is
joint supervision with an experienced colleague.
I am currently in the initial few months of supervising my first PhD
student. However again I am doing this taking small steps as I am co-

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


supervising the student with an experienced member of staff in our faculty. This
has provided huge support for me personally. As the focus of the PhD is in my
research area, I have been designated as the main supervisor. However it is
reassuring to know that there is someone to discuss key decisions with and seek
assistance, when and if required. Co-supervision is becoming more and more
common (Guerin & Green, 2015) and there are lots of advantages, not only for
inexperienced supervisors, but also for the students (Ives & Rowley, 2005). An
Australian study conducted by Pearson (1996) found that students who were
receiving regular supervision from more than one supervisor had higher levels
of satisfaction. The concept of a "developmental niche" for researchers (Dash,
2015) extends mentorship and joint supervision even further and recommends
several people and processes to be involved. Such collaboration would dispel
the myth of supervision as a solo journey and would further lend to the pursuit
of balance in each of the five areas that have been outlined in this article.

Until recently, few researchers have studied the transition from supervisee to
supervisor (Rapisarda, Desmond, & Nelson, 2011). This is an important
transition and many testing and important decisions have to be made by the
supervisor throughout this process. Hockey (1997) determines that the ability to
make many right decisions in PhD supervision is often acquired by previous
experience. Unfortunately for novice researchers such as myself, the main
experience we have is to refer to our own time as a doctoral student. This may be
one of the main reasons why, similar to teachers teaching the way they were
taught (Lortie, 1975), many supervisors tend to supervise in the same manner as
they experienced (Lee, 2008; Doloriert, Sambrook & Stewart, 2012). It is
important to break this cycle and realise that just like teaching, there are many
different models of supervision. These models and decisions relate to each of the
aspects outlined in this article and will vary depending on each individual
supervisor, student and situation.
Thus far, I feel my transition from supervisee to supervisor has gone
relatively smooth. However I am in no doubt that challenges lie ahead. Whether
or not I am equipped to deal with these challenges, only time will tell. Through
completing the training course and reviewing literature for this article I have
acquired valuable knowledge on many aspects of the supervision process.
However I have also learned that perhaps the most valuable and meaningful
knowledge can only be generated through continuing and reflecting on my own
journey of doctoral supervision.
There is no perfect model of supervision which can be applied in all
situations (Beddoe & Egan, 2009). However ensuring that there is a balance of
styles, relationships, control, expectations and workload will go a long way to
improving a greenhorn supervisors experience of supervision, and that of their
students as well. It is my hope that by documenting some of my own thoughts
and experiences, this article will help others who decide to continue the journey
and make the transition from supervisee to supervisor.

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


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International Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Educational Research

Vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 23-34, July 2016

Language Barriers in Statistics Education:

Some Findings From Fiji

Sashi Sharma
The University of Waikato
Hamilton, New Zealand

Abstract. Despite the fact that language plays a crucial role in

mathematics education, not much research has been carried out in
documenting the problems of learning statistics in a second language.
This paper reports on findings from a larger qualitative study that
investigated high school students understanding of statistical ideas.
Data were gathered from individual interviews. The interviews were
audio recorded and complemented by written notes. Two major themes
that evolved from the analysis of data were the confusion among
registers and the interpretation of the tasks. Moreover, students lacked
verbal skills to explain their thinking and interpreted the tasks in ways
not intended by myself. The findings are compared and contrasted with
relevant literature. The paper ends with some suggestions for practice
and further inquiry.
Keywords: English language learners; high school students;
implications; language barriers; mathematical language; socio-cultural

Imagine a teacher running her fingers across the pages of the textbook and
telling her students, When numbers or objects are chosen at random they are
chosen freely without any rule or any obvious bias. The whole class listens in
silence, but one of the shy students is thinking, I thought it was something that
was rare like the possibility of an earthquake.
A common view about mathematics is that it is a universal language and is
culture free (Barwell, 2012; Bishop, 2002; Borgioli, 2008; Brown, Cady, & Taylor,
2009; Hoffert, 2009; Meaney, 2006). It uses a variety of symbols that are common
across cultures and therefore easily accessible to language learners. From this
perspective, mathematics learners anywhere in the world can access
mathematical concepts using any language (Barwell, 2012; Bishop, 2002).
However, as the text above illustrates, the language of statistics can sometimes
be challenging for students (Bay-Williams & Herrera, 2007; Boero, Douek, &
Ferrari, 2008; Borgioli, 2008; Campbell, Adams, & Davis, 2007; Lavy & Mashiach-
Eizenberg, 2009). Many statistical words are unusual, some terms such as
random and normal have a range of interpretations in everyday
communication, and some have more than one meaning in mathematics and

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved


statistics (Kaplan, Fisher, & Rogness, 2009; Lesser & Winsor, 2009; Rubenstein &
Thompson, 2002; Watson, 2006; Winsor, 2007).
According to a number of authors (Goldenberg, 2008; Halliday, 1978;
Moschkovich, 2005), mathematics is strongly connected with language and
culture. To be able to do well in mathematics, students must be proficient in the
language of instruction and use language effectively in diverse contexts (Borgioli,
2008; Kotsopoulos, 2007; Morgan, Craig, & Wagner, 2014; Nacarato & Grando,
2014; Xi & Yeping, 2008). This situation may present some unique challenges for
students as they must simultaneously learn ordinary English and mathematical
English, and be able to differentiate between the types of English (Abedi & Lord,
2001; Adler, 1998; Bay-Williams & Herrera, 2007; Kaplan et al., 2009;
Moschkovich, 2005; Winsor, 2007). Students must be able to move between
everyday and academic ways of communicating ideas and relate these
expressions to mathematical symbols and text (Goldenberg, 2008; Kotsopoulos,
2007; Morgan et al., 2014; Salehmohamed & Rowland, 2014). Students in an
English medium classroom may undergo more processing than native English
speakers (Bay-Williams & Herrera, 2007; Bose & Choudhury, 2010; Clarkson,
2007; Latu, 2005; Meaney, 2006; Nacarato, & Grando, 2014; Salehmohamed &
Rowland, 2014). These students can miss out on mathematical learning because
they may be spending too much time trying to understand the problem.
Furthermore, to be able to perform competently, students must understand the
highly technical language used specifically in mathematics (Bay-Williams &
Herrera, 2007; Brown, Cady, & Taylor, 2009; Goldenberg, 2008; Xi & Yeping,
2008). This language is not used in everyday English, and therefore is less likely
to be familiar or understood by English language learners.
The technical language and vocabulary mathematics has is not only essential
for students to be able to understand and access the mathematics they are
learning now, but has a significant influence on their future mathematical
development and careers (Borgioli, 2008; Hoffert, 2009; Morgan et al., 2014;
Neville-Barton & Barton, 2005; Xi & Yeping, 2008). Teachers need to be aware of
issues surrounding mathematical language acquisition and develop pedagogical
strategies to address students difficulties in making sense of mathematical
language (Bay-Williams & Herrera, 2007; Campbell et al., 2007; Salehmohamed
& Rowland, 2014).
The vital role that language plays in mathematics education is evident in a
number of studies (Barwell, 2012; Bose & Choudhury, 2010; Goldenberg, 2008;
Halliday, 1978; Pimm, 1987; Planas & Civil, 2013; Salehmohamed & Rowland,
2014). However, according to Lesser, Wagler, Esquinca and Valenzuela (2013, p.
7) there have been a few research studies about language issues in statistics
education but these did not involve students learning in a second language.
The conclusions are consistent with the conclusions reached by Kaplan et al.
(2009) and Lavy and Mashiach-Eizenberg (2009). It is important to gain insights
into how English second language students learn statistics and probability
(Kazima, 2007; Lesser & Winsor, 2009). Moreover, probability context is
regarded as the biggest challenge for teachers since it has previously belonged
only in the high school curriculum (15-17 years old) (Nacarato & Grando, 2014,
p. 13). In addition, most of the studies in statistics have been done in western
countries with elementary students rather than secondary students. Like

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Shaughnessy (2007), Sharma (2012, p. 33) noticed a lack of research in statistics

education outside of western countries. Given the lack of research on English
language students learning statistics, Sharma (1997) study addressed these gaps
in literature. It provided an awareness of how other countries and cultures teach
statistical concepts.
This paper has four sections. The first section reviews mathematics and
statistics education research literature to discuss the challenges faced by English
Language Learners. The next section reports on data gathered from a larger
qualitative study that investigated high school students ideas about statistics. It
discusses examples from a Fijian study to explain the impact of language issues
in statistics education. The findings are compared and contrasted with relevant
literature. The final section provides directions for instruction and future studies.

Problems faced by English Language Learners in Mathematics

Language plays an important role in any learning area in the classroom. It is a
tool that can develop student understanding and helps them communicate their
thinking to others. Language also provides a medium by which teachers can
assess student learning (Bay-Williams & Herrera, 2007; Bose & Choudhury,
2010; Kaplan et al. 2009; Mady & Garbati, 2014; Rubenstein & Thompson, 2002).
Indeed there is a growing demand on students' linguistic skills in mathematics
lessons (Bay-Williams & Herrera, 2007; Cobb & McClain, 2004; National Council
of Teachers of English, 2008). Pupils at all levels are not only expected to listen,
talk and to read, but also to write about their work using mathematical language
(Franke, Kazemi & Battey, 2007; NCTM, 2000). However, research shows that
communicating mathematically poses many challenges for students due to
interference from everyday language and within the mathematical register
(Barwell, 2012; Bay-Williams & Herrera, 2007; Boero, Douek, & Ferrari, 2008;
Borgioli, 2008; Cobb & McClain, 2004; Ferrari, 2004; Kotsopoulos, 2007;
Rubenstein & Thompson, 2002). Cruz (2009, p. 1) argues that one of the goals of
mathematics instruction for bilingual students should be to support the
participation of all students, regardless of their proficiency in English, in
discussions about mathematical ideas poses many challenges for students.
Some of the challenges of language learning and mathematical understanding
with particular reference to English language learners is explored below.

Language Syntax and Translation

Language is a vehicle through which students learn and communicate
mathematical concepts (Barwell, 2012; Boero et al., 2008; Kaplan et al., 2009;
Moschkovich, 2005). However, English is a complex language with a complex
syntax (sentence structure) and semantic properties (process of making meaning
from the language). Sometimes, the structure of natural English is at odds with
the conventions of mathematical language structures. Students need to be able to
make an appropriate translation from the words of the problem into the
symbolic representation of the solution. Latu (2005) claims that difficulties arise
when the mother tongue does not have the vocabulary to express the idea being
studied. The same points were made by Fasi (1999) and Sharma (1997) in their
studies with Tongan and Fijian-Indian students respectively. Some students in
Sharmas study translated the term sample into Pasifika Hindi equivalence.

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Mathematical Register
According to a number of authors (Barwell, 2012; Boero et al., 2008; Bose &
Choudhury, 2010; Goldenberg, 2008) multiple registers are used in mathematics
classrooms. For a student to succeed in a mathematics classroom, they not only
need to be familiar with and competent in their ordinary English register, so
they can communicate with their classmates, but must also have fluency in what
can be multiple mathematical registers (Barwell, 2012; Boero et al., 2008;
Halliday, 1978; Setai & Adler, 2001). The mastery of the mathematical registers,
and the strong ability to switch between them, requires strong linguistic and
metalinguistic skills. This is necessary for students to be able to cope with more
advanced mathematics (Bay-Williams & Herrera, 2007; Boero et al., 2008; Kaplan
et al., 2009; Meaney, 2006; Moschkovich, 2005).
For a student from an English speaking background, mathematical registers
can pose a significant challenge, as a new form of language must be learned and
mastered (Bay-Williams & Herrera, 2007; Meaney, 2006). Not only must an
English language learner try to learn in English whilst concurrently learning to
speak English, they must also be working within the English mathematical
registers without yet having mastery of ordinary English. Furthermore, it is
common for a lot of processing to occur so an English language learner can work
within English and their home language (Moschkovich, 2005; Parvanehnezhad
& Clarkson, 2008; Setai & Adler, 2001). They must be able to understand the
mathematical register, translate it into ordinary English, then translate that into
their own language, before translating it into one of the mathematical registers
used in their home language, before going through the process again in reverse
to enable the student to express their thinking or answer in the appropriate
English mathematical register (Lager, 2006). Therefore, even if an English
language learner is competent in using the ordinary English register, the use of
the mathematical register provides extra difficulties for English language

Reading Mathematics
The language of mathematics is expressed in mathematical words, graphic
representations and symbols (Kenney, 2005). Reading mathematical texts
provides the learner with an extra challenge over reading English (Latu, 2005).
The learner must simultaneously comprehend and process in both English
language and the discipline language (mathematics) (Kester-Phillips, Bardsley,
Bach, & Gibb-Brown, 2009).
Redundancy is one characteristic of ordinary English that has a significant
influence on how students (mis-) read mathematical English. Ordinary English
has a high degree of redundancy; consequently students learn to skim read,
sampling key words to get the key point, e.g. when reading a novel. In
comparison, mathematical English is concise, each word has purpose with little
redundancy, and a large amount of information is contained in each sentence
(Padula, Lam, & Schmidtke, 2001). Students who transfer their reading skills
from ordinary English to mathematical English texts may be disadvantaged by a
tendency to overlook key information. Cultures with less redundant natural
languages are more likely to pay attention to every word and therefore

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understand better some forms of mathematical English despite this being their
second language (Mady & Garbati, 2014; Padula et al., 2001).

Code Switching
Code switching involves the movement between languages in a single speech
act and may involve switching a word, a phrase, a sentence or several sentences
(Adler, 1998; Bose & Choudhury, 2010; Salehmohamed & Rowland, 2014; Setati
& Adler, 2001). English language learners may code switch for various reasons,
including to seek clarification and to provide an explanation (Bose & Choudhury,
2010; Moschkovich, 2005). Code switching promotes both student-student and
student-teacher interactions in classrooms involving English language learners
(Salehmohamed & Rowland, 2014; Setati & Adler, 2001).
In the mathematics classroom, English language learners often employ code
switching to clarify their understanding and as a way to express their arguments
and ideas (Bose & Choudhury, 2010; Clarkson, 2007; Moschkovich, 2005;
Parvanehnezhad & Clarkson, 2008; Salehmohamed & Rowland, 2014). Moreover,
in mathematics code switching not only occurs between languages but also
between registers. This can add an extra layer of challenge to the English
language learner, as they may find themselves working between a multitude of
registers in both English and their home language (Bose & Choudhury, 2010;
Lager, 2006). In a study of Australian Vietnamese learning mathematics, in
Australia, Clarkson (2007) found that some of these students switched between
their languages, when solving mathematics problems, individually, because
solving problems in their first language gave them more confidence (p. 211).
Sometimes these students switched their languages because they found the
problem difficult to solve in English. This linguistic complexity English language
learners face further demonstrates the need for mathematics teachers to have the
tools and training to effectively work with English language learners.

The Study
The study (Sharma, 1997) took place in Fiji. As mentioned in Sharma (2014, p.
107) it was designed to explore what ideas form five (Year-11) students have
about statistics and probability, and how they construct these ideas. Twenty nine
students aged 14 to 16 years of which 19 were girls and 10 were boys
participated in the study. Data was collected using individual interviews.
Students could use both English or vernacular to explain their thinking.

As stated in Sharma (2012, p. 36) the advertisement regarding the sex of a
baby (Item 1) explored students understanding of the bi-directional relationship
between theoretical and experimental probability in an everyday life context.
Item 1: Advertisement involving sex of a baby
Expecting a baby? Wondering whether to buy pink or blue?
I can GUARANTEE to predict the sex of your baby correctly.
Just send $20 and a sample of your recent handwriting.
Money-back guarantee if wrong!
Write to...............................................
What is your opinion about this advertisement?
Sharma (2012, p. 36)

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Understanding that a sample from a population can be used to make

estimates of the characteristics of the entire population is key to statistical
inference. Item 2, buying a car (Sharma, 2003) was used to explore students'
understanding of sample size and sampling methods within a meaningful
Item 2: Buying a car
Mr Singh wants to buy a new car, either a Honda or a Toyota. He
wants whichever car will break down the least. First he read in
Consumer Reports that for 400 cars of each type, the Toyota had more
break-downs than the Honda. Then he talked to three friends. Two
were Toyota owners, who had no major break-downs. The other friend
used to own a Honda but it had lots of break-downs, so he sold it. He
said he would never buy another Honda. Which car should Mr Singh
buy? (Sharma, 2003, p. 3)

Results and Discussion

This section discusses student responses to the two items mentioned above.
The main focus is on the language challenges faced by these students. Extracts
from individual interviews are used to explain student thinking.
As mentioned in Sharma (2006, p. 48) one student explained that Item 1 was
really to do with a doctor charging a $20 consulting fee to inform the parents of
the sex of their unborn baby. Even when asked to explain how those involved
in putting the advertisement could benefit, the student could not articulate on
the relationship between theoretical and experimental probability.
Three students thought that the advertisement was placed to make money.
When asked to explain their reasoning, students talked about businesses
putting advertisements to sell their products. There was no evidence of students
integrating theoretical and experimental views of probability(Sharma, 2014).
It appears that for these English language learners working in different
contexts and registers posed challenges, students were not able to shift between
informal and formal ways of expressing their thinking. The findings resonate
with the conclusions of (Bishton, 2009; Boero et al., 2008). For the students to
succeed in the problem they needed to not only be familiar with both ordinary
English and mathematical registers, but they also needed strong ability to switch
between them in order to cope with different interpretations of probability
(Parvanehnezhad & Clarkson, 2008; Padula et al., 2001). Additionally, not
having the necessary technical, mathematical vocabulary may have hindered
students mathematical communication.
To buy a car based on a report of 800 cases (Item 2) represents the statistically
appropriate response because it represents the population more reliably.
According to Sharma (1996, p. 5) nine students did not use sample size
information on the car problem (Item 2), they based their responses on their
cultural beliefs and experiences. Rather than referring to 800 cases in a
consumer report, three students in this study said that Mr Singh could buy
either car because the life of a car depends on how one keeps it (Sharma, 1996).
They did not apply the idea that a larger sample will produce more accurate
estimates of population characteristics. For example, one student explained:
He should buy any of the cars Honda or Toyota; it depends on
him how he keeps and uses the car Ah Because it depends

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved


on the person, how he follows instructions then uses it. My father

used to own a car and he kept it for ten years. He sold it but it is
still going and it hasnt had any major breakdowns. (Sharma,
1996, p. 6)
As stated in Sharma (2003, p. 4) four students based their thinking on their
everyday experiences with consumer reports. Students thought that Mr Singh
should take advice from a consumer report because they were the right people
to consult or they felt that Mr Singh should not take advice from the consumer
reports because consumer people often give misleading information.
Two students thought that Mr Singh should buy a Toyota. They drew upon
information given in the consumer report as reflected in the following transcript;
S; Mr Singh should buy Toyota.
I: Why do you think Mr Singh should buy Toyota?
S: Consumer people did the survey with 400 cars. They used a big
I: But here it says Toyota had more break-downs.
S: Sorry, Madame did not read the question properly. He should
buy Honda Toyota more break-downs.
The student quote above reinforces to us that students can struggle with
thinking of the sample size in relation to the population, rather than in relation
to the representativeness of the sample. It appears that everyday reading
strategies of skimming and using the context or knowledge of the world to
support comprehension are insufficient for reading statistical English. As a
result, students constructed responses based on these unintended strategies.
The above findings concur with the findings of Padula et al. (2001) and
Kester-Phillips et al. (2009). The authors stated that reading mathematical texts
provides the learner with an extra challenge over reading English because they
have to simultaneously comprehend and process in both the language of English
and the language of mathematics.
When asked to define the word sample, five students based their ideas on
previous everyday experiences. They thought that a sample is any small
quantity, or an example of something. For instance, a student explained,
Eh sample. Sample is like in the body you take a small
amount of blood to test whether a person has some disease or not.
If a person wants to give blood to other person, they take out a
sample and test in the lab.
When asked whether he thought a blood sample is different from a sample
that is selected for research, he said,
In the maths text book taking a sample means taking small
amount. If you are doing a research like the one you asked me in
the last interview, so you ask each and every student.
The particular problem here is that the two meanings are not far apart; the
differences are quite subtle. The word sample has a wide general interpretation,
being met in such contexts as a sample survey, free samples of consumer goods,
and samples of blood and urine in medical investigations.
A small number of students used their prior school experiences in
constructing a meaning for range. The students used an algebraic context and
thought of the range as the set of second elements in an ordered pair. They

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved


appeared to relate their relations and functions knowledge to this statistics

When asked to find the range from a data set (nine weights recorded in
grams), two students said, that the range was the second element in the data set.
This is evident in the following interchange (Sharma, p. 2003, p. 5):
I: What is the range for this data set?
S: 6.0
I: Why do you think so?
S: There are two numbers. First is 6.3 and second is 6.0 and the
first number is domain, the second number is the range.
In the supporting documents, special names are given to the set of first
elements used in a relation and to the set of second elements. The domain is the
set of first elements, and the range is the set of second elements. It seems that the
above student tried to use her previous knowledge about relations and functions
to find the statistical range.
The findings resonate with the findings of a number of authors (Barwell, 2012;
Boero et al., 2008; Bose & Choudhury, 2010; Goldenberg, 2008). These
researchers claim that for students to succeed in a mathematics classroom, they
must have fluency in what can be multiple mathematical registers. The mastery
of the mathematical and statistical registers, and the ability to switch between
them, requires strong linguistic and metalinguistic skills.
The vocabulary and syntactical structure used in statistics can present unique
challenges to all learners, due to the frequent use of familiar English words and
phrases that are assigned different meanings (Kostopolos, 2007). This again is
something that all learners need to learn to understand and work with, but gives
added challenge to English language learners as they must simultaneously learn
and work within both ordinary and mathematical and statistical English (Winsor,
According to a number of researchers (Bose & Choudhury, 2010; Clarkson,
2007; Moschkovich, 2005; Parvanehnezhad & Clarkson, 2008; Salehmohamed &
Rowland, 2014), English language learners often employ code switching to
clarify their understanding and as a way to express their arguments and ideas.
None of the students in my study used this strategy although they were told
during the individual interviews that they could explain their thinking using
their home language (Hindi) or English language. One reason for this
discrepancy could be the political role of language and the complexity of the
context in which mathematics is taught and learned(Planas, 2012, p. 337) in Fiji.
Students are not allowed to use their first language in their mathematics classes
as teachers may think that fluency in English has an impact on students access
to higher education and qualified employment. Hence, any behavior contrary to
the classroom norm may have been seen as a sign of disrespect to the teacher.
Indeed the socio-cultural context can have an impact on students mathematics

When planning a unit in statistics, it is vital for teachers to be aware of the
prior knowledge and linguistic ability of their students. Once this information
has been collected, teachers could build on this understanding. Teachers could
use questions such as Item 2 as a starter for discussion of sample size, method

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved


and potential bias. It is likely to generate stories from students family

experiences of buying cars, for example, asking a friend.
In statistics, students need language and statistical skills to relate their
thinking to the real life context and to communicate their ideas both verbally
and in writing. However, teachers may not have the skills to help students
develop communication skills and sound statistical arguments due to a lack of
opportunities to develop their own statistical skills. This has implications for
mathematics teacher educators.
As well as statistical and mathematical knowledge, contextual and statistical
language and English literacy knowledge and skills are important for making
sense of statistical tasks. Students need to have reading, comprehension and
communication skills if they are to achieve statistical literacy. The integration of
these skills can occur in everyday life contexts although a careful choosing of
tasks to accommodate reading abilities is required. Text comprehension support
may be important for helping English learners interpret meaning from the often
unfamiliar, out-of-school contexts and writing styles different to that found in
text books.
Although the range can help provide a more complete picture of a data set, it
has received very little research attention. The findings of this study add to the
research literature. Difficulties may also be caused by students not
differentiating between the meaning of statistics range and function range. It is
evident that students do not properly understand the meaning of the term range
even though they can calculate it using "highest minus lowest".
According to a number of authors (Shaughnessy, 2007; Watson, 2006), context
plays a crucial role in the development of statistical thinking. However,
providing students with an unfamiliar context can make their cognitive loads
more difficult. A child's cognitive load increases when they are exposed to
unfamiliar context whilst also grappling with an unfamiliar language
(Goldenberg, 2008). This has implications in an assessment context, as it further
works to advantage students from English speaking backgrounds who belong to
the dominant culture over English language learners, therefore undermining the
validity of the assessment.
In Sharma study, audiotapes were used to record interview data. However,
this approach did not capture student facial expressions and gestures. In future
research, video recordings could help address these shortcomings.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Educational Research

Vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 35-48, July 2016

The Conundrum of Handling Multiple Grouped

Statistics Class at a Tertiary Education and the
Impact on Student Performance

Victor Katoma, Innocent Maposa and Errol Tyobeka

Namibia University of Science and Technology

Abstract. A learning organization is capable of renewing itself. It

consistently reflects and vigorously seeks improvement. This research
focused on course management of a basic statistics course at a university
in Namibia in which multiple groups were taught by different lecturers,
a setting also known as parallel teaching. The total number of students
was 460 split into five groups. Using multiple comparison tests, results
revealed significant variances in assessment marks within and between
four out of the five groups. This can be attributed to a lack of concrete
coordination among lecturers and a possible deficiency in academic peer
interaction between students in the separate groups. However, when
marks were aggregated according to mode of study, results showed that
part-time students were more likely to pass compared to their full-time
counterparts who took the same course (t = 2.7391). This was in spite of
full-time students having more peer interaction and probably less family
responsibilities. This finding could be an indication that full-time
students needed different levels of motivation or study strategy that
resonated with the predominant class management styles. It is
suggested that research should pay more attention to the qualitative
aspects of the problems facing multiple grouped classes, especially in
statistics in order to optimally leverage learning outcomes.

Keywords: multiple groups; learning; comparison; students



A seemingly bad policy if well managed is better than an inconsistent one when
it comes to managing multiple grouped classes(parallel teaching), especially in a
rapidly changing environment such as the under researched university. All
students, but especially beginning ones, need sustained consistency in course
delivery. It helps them to manage anxiety that university or college-level
learning experiences bring.

While motivated lecturers are likely to consistently achieve course improvement

individually, many course offerings with multiple student groups and several
lecturers pose numerous discrepancies in course management. First, the level of
coordination between lecturers of these groups largely determines the learning
outcomes across the whole course. With diminished lecturer coordination,
individual groups are likely to drift from the common points and intensity of
focus which ultimately affects collective comprehension of course content by
students. The drift stems largely from two (2) secondary-learning experiences:
individual lecturer actors, and delivery methods (Herbert, Joyce, & Hassall,
2008). Such learning challenges have also been noted at course level in business
schools (Nordberg, 2008) and are not unusual in virtual learning environments
(Burridge & Oztel, 2008). Second, the challenges emerging at the course level can
easily accrue to programme level when multiple lecturers attempt to deliver
curriculum courses. Third, persistent course management inconsistencies within
and across groups can lead students to sense a lack of preparation and of
unstiffened course intensity. Subsequently, students would passively disengage
from certain topics (Kerr, 2011), the course and worse still the entire programme.
Strong indication of student indignation would manifest in high failure rates
and sometimes surprise quits or change of study programmes.

In general, the challenges associated with parallel teaching are immense and can
easily be compounded by lacklustre coordination efforts among teaching staff.
However, in this regard, we are motivated primarily by the activist approach
which affirms that organizational members often institute intentional change
effort (Astin, 2001). We believe that at least the career propriety of the lecturing
staff bring along basic class management skills and control mechanisms to build
from. With this in mind this research set out to explore factors affecting teaching
and class management in basic statistics (BBS11S) at a university in Namibia.
The main reason for researching BBS11S was prompted by high failure rates and
the context in which parallel teaching was conducted.

Quality in teaching multiple statistics classes

In statistics, like other mathematically intensive courses, a quality-focused

lecturer is expected to continually improve course content delivery methods
(Beidatsch, 2007). This include re-aligning course content with possible
references to industrial application and providing opportunities for students to

assimilate and absorb content in appropriate time. This is however, hard to

achieve, especially with large classes that are subdivided into smaller groups
and managed by different lecturers. Lecturers usually bring to such classes
different experiences and hence influence these groups in their own rights.
Initial indication of group differences can be noted easily from students
sentiments and speculations about which group they would want to associate
themselves with. These may be expressed in different ways, including
suspicions that certain lecturers teach with an examination in mind.

One natural adage of a multiple group system, however, is that students benefit
from individual lecturer expertise due to student-teacher proximity and easy
peer learning because of reduced social distance. Smaller groups are also less
resource intensive and if well managed are likely to easily fulfil intended
learning outcomes. With smaller groups, Beidatsch (2007) further noted the
ability in developing high order thinking through evaluation and reflection as
the locus of learning easily shifts to interaction.

Quality in teaching large solo classes

Huge solo classes are common in Sub-Saharan Africa mostly because of the
rapid growth in tertiary education enrolment without an equivalent expansion
of institutional capacities (UNESCO, 2010; Yizengaw, 2008). Australian
academics are increasingly faced with similar challenges of managing large
classes (Bradley, Noonan & Scales, 2008). Particularly, large classes are a
common practice for students in first- year in Science, Business and Arts
discipline, as well as courses that are inter-discipline.
Managing such classes effectively require recourses such as high capacity lecture
venues and teaching assistants or co-teachers. In the absence of these
mechanisms, solo classes tend to affirm an overwhelming focus on lectures and
terminal examinations (Rayner, 2012; Tessema, 2009) and less on teaching
facilitation. Additionally, large classes pose obvious challenges such as high
numbers of assessment scripts to mark, and other qualitative problems such as
complexities in continuous assessment and examination management.
Furthermore, the time involved in addressing large numbers of individual
student challenges is significant and if left to course coordinators, can be
overwhelming. However, departments can do much more by supporting their
staff through the provision of administrative support in form of class
management training, sufficient funding for tutors, recognition of the work
involved in workload allocation, credit in performance appraisal and the like.
Large classes, if well managed do have advantages over multiple small classes,
especially through standardisation of the learning experiences (McLeod, 1998).

This paper does not exclusively aim to compare solo and small classes. It seeks
to explore strategies that may be helpful in strengthening the teaching and
learning in multiple grouped classes in statistics. For institutions with limited
resources, the paper attempts to provide ground upon which other appropriate
class management methods can be selected. While some existing literature, for

example indicate nonsignificant relationship between class size and the effect on
learning outcomes (Hancook, 1996; Kennedy & Siegfried, 1997; Hanusheks,
1997a); others support small class size setup (Borden & Burton, 1999; Arias &
Walker, 2004). We are of the view point that course management should be
independently assessed and solutions designed in context to the environment.

In general, all forms of class settings require some specific management styles
although overlaps are inevitable. However, not paying due attention to critical
class management strategies can lead to misapplication of resources or not
committing enough of the same to areas of exceptional importance. Initial
evidence of inappropriate management styles include: the lack of systematic
organisation of course materials, demotivated students, failure to maintain
quality of learning and discrepancies in developing authentic assessment tasks.
Many of these challenges appear to be magnified quickly within large solo
groups. This is largely because large classes lead to increased diversity
complexities, promotes social distance and subsequent reduced frequency of
feedback (Sax, 2002). Bligh (1972) found that students who interacted in class
with the instructor and peers reported higher levels of learning satisfaction. This
view was supported by Kulik & Kulik (1979) and Keup & Sax (2002).

With reduced personal contact between staff and students, intervention in form
of compensational lectures or tutorials is inevitable. It is hence not sufficient to
simply increase what we do for smaller classes. Although there is indication that
students are less likely to achieve higher-order learning goals in larger classes
(McKeachie, 1999); this challenge may be remedied through innovative
modification of teaching strategies to actively engage students.

In terms of costing, there is a concern that university faculties often devote less
money per head to students in large first-year courses than in smaller later-year
courses. This is commonly reflected in the intentional unwillingness by
universities to support casual or sessional staff (Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Husbands
and Davies, 2000; Langenberg, 1998). In Australian universities, there is an
increasing recognition that sessional staff members interact with students more
often and therefore need to be supported (May, 2013).
A knowledge economy and a changing labour market demand that universities
provide appropriate education and ensure that graduates emerge with enhanced
skills and abilities. As such, innovative approach to classroom management and
strategies of knowledge impartation is critical.

Background of the Problem

We premised this research on a first-year basic business statistics course at a

tertiary institution in Namibia and analysed the seminal approaches of course
management opted. The course had 460 students which were subdivided into
five groups. The main reason for subdividing was that the institution did not
have enough high capacity lecture theatres to readily accommodate everyone.
To a certain extent, alternative teaching was also practised in which one teacher

took responsibility of one large group while the other teachers worked with
smaller groups, depending on the venues for that day. Each group had a lecturer
with relatively the same qualifications and all lecture rooms had similar settings
in terms of facilities and teaching aids such as projectors and white boards.

In aiming to reach for a consistent and high-quality course management, the

lecturers addressed each of the primary causes of course quality in common:
time, exercise-and assessment styles. Other, secondary and more personal causes
of course quality such as individual actors, content delivery methods were
addressed adrift. This is expected especially in tertiary institutions with fairly
advanced approaches of promoting academic autonomy as also purported by
Herbert, Joyce, & Hassall (2008). Because of the many class groups of five,
employing station teaching in which a lecturer is required to teach specific
components of course material to different groups seemed not sustainable for

Controversies over the quality and hence the learning outcomes in BBS111S have
been increasing due to high student failure rates. Students normally take
BBS111S because it is an institutional core courses. This, and typically like any
first-year introductory course result in large student enrolment. The same
problem was experienced in other departments where students were allowed to
take optional courses from. Consequently, that cannot be fitted in one or two
lecture theatres. To manage this scenario, the department of mathematics and
statistics split the class into smaller groups which are subsequently allocated to
different lecturers. This seems to be an application of a good concept to a wrong
situation because multiple lecturers in a course are usually utilized within the
same course in the context of alternate or station teaching which aims at
delivering expert knowledge in different sections of the course.

There were also thousands of students who apparently could not graduate due
to failing some of the courses which were managed in this manner. Regardless of
the opinions of proponents and opponents of the grouping strategy, managing
basic statistics in this way has been daunting probably because it is a statistics
course in which learning efforts need to be complimented by practice and well
guided numerical instructions across the groups. Without this, students are
likely to experience hopelessness as they deal with numerous concepts and a
combination of logic as well as inference. This is exactly what begs the question:
how can lecturers in multiple-groups statistics course achieve greater
programme consistency without increasing their preparation time but still
ensure that each of the groups are motivating and challenging?

Graham & Donaldson (1999) noted that younger students interacted primarily
with peers and in peer-related activities, which older students were less
involved in. Despite this trend, older students demonstrated equal or greater
intellectual growth than younger students. This was also observed by Carney-
Crompton & Tan (2002). It implies that despite the extra curricula activities older

students get engaged with such as caring for their families, they are more
motivated compared to younger students. This raises a question that: do
younger students need a higher threshold of motivation to pass Mathematical
and Statistics courses?

Activities surrounding basic statistics courses

In business statistics courses, students often and correctly approach learning in

the context of life application. While this is generally the intention of service
courses, statistical courses on the other hand require deepened theoretical
understanding prior to any experiential learning or meaningful application.
Premising such a course on assumptions of immediate easy applications
delineates students from a correct path of learning and would lead to frustration
when application cannot be easily found. In any case, a firm grounding in
Mathematical or Statistical principles is a precursor to deepened logic
construction and subsequent intellectual growth. By making connections to
existing broad-based knowledge schemas, students can integrate new learning
with various life roles in a more multidimensional way (Donaldson, 1999). We
believe that the vast knowledge students are expected to assimilate and readily
apply to solve real world problems poses a big challenge. Besides, Namibia is
one country with high secondary mathematics and science deficiencies, ranking
126 out of 144 countries under the global competitiveness report of 2014 to 2015
(5th Economical Pillar).


A case study of basic business statistics course was used in the research of
parallel teaching at the university understudy. During the study, instructors
shared the student marks with the researchers. One of the researchers was in fact
the coordinator of the course.

This research employed a mixture of qualitative and quantitative analyses.

Initial qualitative analyses were conducted using Atlas Ti, which uses grounded
theory techniques (Baskerville & Pries-Heje, 1999). For this part, primary
documents were created from which textual content was conducted and
tabulated in Table1. By synthesising data in themes, an abstraction level of
second order was achieved (super codes). This was to explore the main factors
characterising the teaching and learning strategies at the University. It was also
used to identify possible structural problems to course delivery. For the
quantitative part, the assessment marks were first captured in Excel and later
exported to SPSS for analysis. The main objective for the quantitative analyses
was to provide facts about the differences in assessment results. A two way
ANOVA was conducted to explain for possible differences between class groups
(Montgomery (2001) with respect to assessments.

Qualitative Results

Teaching and Learning

Captured in table 1 below are the super code frequencies of how lecturers
responded to obstacles in teaching and learning.

Table 1: Teaching and learning

Super Codes Occurrences Frequency Occurrences Frequency Occurrences Frequency

Demonstration 6 8%

Facilitation 15 20%
Interaction 16 22%
Teaching 24 32%
Class size 6 12%
Tools 13 26%
Level of students is low 9 18%

Infrastructure 7 14%
Lack of Feedback 5 10%
Materials are shared 11 58%

Shared Experiences 7 37%

Super Codes Occurrences Frequency Occurrences Frequency

Group Discussions 24 61%

Interactions 9 23%
Scenarios 4 13%
Language Barrier 5 29%
Level of Student is Low 3 18%

Infrastructure 4 24%

TL1 (What class approach are you using) revealed that teaching as opposed to
facilitation was still the most predominant way of conducting classes at the
institution (32%). However, there was a tremendous shift as lecturers were
rapidly moving towards student centeredness interaction (23%) and
facilitation (20%) as a mode of conducting classes. This can be explained partly
by the emphasis on student centeredness by top management at the university.
A large number of lecturers were however, caught in between facilitation and

teaching (interaction) which can be partly explained by lack of facilities or

methodology, and other factors important to implementing full flagged student
centeredness mode.

TL2 (What are the impediments in your delivery of cause material) revealed
that the lack of tools to use in lecturer delivery was a major impediment (26%).
This included projectors and access to internet.

Level of students {prior knowledge} (18%) was also perceived to be low, meaning
that students who were admitted in some courses would not comprehend or
understand lecture materials due to their educational background. It could also
mean that the courses were not paged at the right level and therefore the content
was too much for the students. This may have led to the other factors (lack of
feedback from students (10%) which underscored, in general, the lack of
response from students.

Infrastructure (14%) was also a strong indicator of the impediments faced by

lecturers in course delivery. Some classes were far-spaced and students walked
from one campus to another resulting in loss of time. Smaller classes with large
number of students (12%) are also major impediments because students run out
of sitting space. When students are divided into smaller groups and taught by
different lecturers, it can again cause problems as coordination is very hard to
archive, in terms of fair setting of tests and exams as well as consistency in
content delivery. An arguably better approach is for students to be taught by one
lecturer and the rest can be tutors/makers.

TL3 (What methods do you employ to manage bigger classes that are shared)
revealed that lecturers shared materials (58%) and also shared experiences
(37%). This is however very difficult if they (lecturers) have huge workloads.

From Table 2 below: under TL4 (The best ways to handle large classes)
revealed that lecturers, mostly relied on group discussions (61%). They also
somehow interacted with students (23%) and further used scenarios (13%) for
discussion. This may imply that group assignment was predominant. However,
this needs to be investigated further. Table 2 under TL5 (Some of the major
problems lecturers faced in their classes) revealed that language was the major
barrier to knowledge delivery (29%). This means that a lot of students had
difficulties in writing constructive English and hence they were unable to
express themselves accurately. Infrastructure (24%) and the level of students
(prior knowledge) (18%) were still predominant on this construct.

Quantitative results

Average mark of students under each lecturer: A, B, C, D and E.

Table 2: Average marks

Summary of test_mark
Lecturer Mean Std. Dev. Freq.
Lecturer A 60.557692 17.868159 52
Lecturer B 38.607143 16.749437 28
Lecturer C 46.611765 12.870318 85
Lecturer D 56.782609 16.757513 23
Lecturer E 49.822222 14.044395 225
Total 50.140436 15.54791 413

Table 2 above indicates that the average marks of students were affected in some
way by the group in which they belonged to and that included the lecturer who
was instructing them as well as marking their work. The interesting part in this
regard is that the test was standardised and included all the topics that each of
the lecturers had covered in their respective classes. An average mark of 60.56
compared to 38.61 seems too large only to be explained by the difference in
intellectual capacity of students in the different groups thus there must be other
reasons for such vast discrepancies amongst the groups who were enrolled on
the bases of the same qualifications. To further determine some of the possible
causes of variation in the marks, a two-way analysis of variance was carried out
and the results are shown below.

Table 3: TWO-way ANOVA for student marks

Source Partial SS df MS
F Prob> F
Model 11463.3591 4 2865.83976 13.27
modecode 4867.97372 1 4867.97372
22.54 0.0000
Lecturer 9677.89607 3 3225.96536 14.93
Residual 88132.4957 408 216.011019
Total 99595.8547 412 241.737511

Table 3 above indicates that there was a significant difference in the marks
lecturers awarded to their students. Furthermore, the effect of mode (modecode)
of study different students were using for their study was also significant. This
result highlights the complex nature of the problem and calls for a holistic look

into these multi-faceted challenges that students were encountering in taking up

this and other courses which were offered in the same way. To further analyse
the differences between lecturers effect on the mark of their group of students,
some post-hoc comparisons were done and results are shown below.

Table 4: Multiple Comparisons for lecturer differences

Dependent Variable: test_mark

Mean 95% Confidence Interval
(I) Difference (I- Lower Upper
Lecturer (J) Lecturer J) Std. Error Sig. Bound Bound
Lecturer A B 21.951* 3.445 .000 15.18 28.72
C 13.946* 2.588 .000 8.86 19.03
D 3.775 3.680 .306 -3.46 11.01
E 10.735* 2.261 .000 6.29 15.18
Lecturer B A -21.951* 3.445 .000 -28.72 -15.18
C -8.005* 3.202 .013 -14.30 -1.71
D -18.175* 4.136 .000 -26.31 -10.04
E -11.215* 2.945 .000 -17.00 -5.43
Lecturer C A -13.946* 2.588 .000 -19.03 -8.86
B 8.005* 3.202 .013 1.71 14.30
D -10.171 * 3.454 .003 -16.96 -3.38
E -3.210 1.871 .087 -6.89 .47
Lecturer D A -3.775 3.680 .306 -11.01 3.46
B 18.175 * 4.136 .000 10.04 26.31
C 10.171 * 3.454 .003 3.38 16.96
E 6.960* 3.217 .031 .64 13.29
Lecturer E A -10.735 * 2.261 .000 -15.18 -6.29
B 11.215 * 2.945 .000 5.43 17.00
C 3.210 1.871 .087 -.47 6.89
D -6.960 * 3.217 .031 -13.29 -.64
*. The mean difference is significant at 0.05 level.

The table above shows comparisons between lecturers marks for their groups of
students. There is a significant difference between lecturers (A, B; 21.951*), (A, C;
13.946*), (A, E; 10.735*), (B, C; 8005*), (B, D; 18.175*), (B, E; 11.215*), (C, D;
10171*) whilst there is no significant difference between lecturers (A, D; 3.775),
(C, E; 3.210). A moderate different result was however recorded between (D,E;

Comparison between performance of part-time and full-time students

Table 5: Comparison based on mode of study

two-sample t test with equal variances

Group Obs Mean Std. Err. Std. Dev. [95% Conf. Interval]
Part time 103 53.74757 1.92861 19.57325 49.92218 57.57296
Full time 310 48.94194 .7830344 13.78674 47.40118 50.48269
Combined 413 50.14044 .7650626 15.54791 48.63652 51.64435
diff 4.805637 1.754475 1.356774 8.254501

diff = mean(Part_tim) - mean(Full_tim) t = 2.7391

Ho: diff = 0 degrees of freedom = 411
Ha: diff < 0 Ha: diff != 0 Ha: diff > 0
Pr(T < t) = 0.9968 Pr(T > t) = 0.0064 Pr(T > t) = 0.0032

Table 5 above indicates that there was a significant difference (t = 2.7391) in

performance between part-time and full-time students. This result shows that, in
spite the notion that full-time students have more peer interaction on campus
and probably more time to study; they lack seriousness in doing their school
work. It further highlights an assumption that part-time students have certain
life experiences that make them serious with studies despite the many
responsibilities they face at work and home, including caring for their families.


Although the problems of handling large classes can be daunting, the difficulties
in running multiple groups with multiple lecturers can even be worse especially
were autonomy supersedes basic control. While smaller groups notion is not a
problem on its own (Borden & Burton, 1999; Arias & Walker, 2004), concrete
planning and superior coordination is prologue to success. Coordination may
include increased consultation, while planning would underpin resource
allocation, effective use of technology, engaging senior lecturers who have prior
knowledge and experience in managing complex course delivery in multiple

It was interesting to note from the qualitative finding that 58% claimed to share
teaching material and only 37% agreed to shared experiences which clearly
shows a lack of the actual experiential learning between staff members. This may
mean that lecturers in these multiple groups actually did not share much as
interaction with students was also very low (23%) and yet the essence of having
smaller groups is to encourage interaction which is the main facet of student
centeredness. Such lapses could have led to significant differences in average

marks between groups. Worse still, differences in individual paper mark reveals
a much more structural problem in running multiple groups at the institution.
Such differences may boarder on lecturer attitudes which may pose even a
deeper problem. A more rational approach would to specifically train lecturers
running such groups on a combination of topics such as academic ethics, class
psychology, interpersonal and even communication skills. However, more
research can be conducted in this area.

A shift from multi groups to large classes is much less complex in terms of
standardised lecture delivery, but effective course management would require
well organized tutoring system as well as coordinated marking schemes.
Research, however provides evidence that reduced class sizes, especially in
introductory courses improves student achievement to, for example, minority
students (Finn, Achilles & Molnar et al, 1999). In the case of Namibia, this
contextual dimension may be a critical component to the success of any mode of
class management style. This is largely because Namibia has one of the largest
Gini coefficient in the world, at .74 in 2014 (Inequality index, 2014). With
qualitative analysis indicating that prior knowledge was lacking among
students, experiential learning is one context that cannot be neglected. The
differences in average mark between full-time and part-time highlight the
importance of career guidance. Full time students are likely to be more serious
with school work if they are given comprehensive career guidance and some
form of work experience through student-internship. Differences in average
marks between on campus and distance students can to some extent be caused
by allowing the two groups siting for the same examination as they do not get
the same exposure throughout the semester. This is an indication of another a
serious problem.


Discrepancies in course management should always be identified and resolved

quickly and effectively. Lapses will always occur but a learning institution
should be in a better position to come out of these problems and adapt without
disadvantaging or taking out a hope of quality education from the students in
the process. Knowing the advantages and cost of implementing any of the
strategies is a precursor to success. At present, the institution would do much
better to run large classes if the course coordination and teacher training in class
management proves to be unattainable, especially with less resources. Where
multiple groups are unavoidable, station teaching should be encouraged.


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International Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Educational Research

Vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 49-57, July 2016

Exploring Estonian Students Ability to Handle

Chemistry-Related Everyday Problem Solving

Klaara Kask
University of Tartu

Abstract. In todays scientific world, it is important to solve science-

related problems, because each person during his/her studies, needs
these skills both at workplace and in every day. Research has shown
that in order to solve everyday science-related problems, it is necessary
to develop an ability to transfer skills acquired in science class. The aim
of this study is to analyse students ability to transfer science-related
skills and factors that affect this ability. A 7-item instrument, related to
an everyday situation and based on chemistry, but including
interdisciplinary elements related to physics and biology, is developed,
validated and administered to 10th grade gymnasium students
(N=1129) at the beginning of their studies in gymnasium and to 11th
grade students (N=953), having completed four compulsory chemistry
courses at the gymnasium level during two academic years. The
findings show that (1) progress in the transfer of problem solving skills
after completing the compulsory chemistry courses involved only a few
science-related skills in addition to academic knowledge and (2) the
transfer of knowledge and skills was most successful in items limited to
one subject chemistry, rather than in an interdisciplinary context. This
suggests the need to review the national curriculum and teaching
methods that are in use in gymnasium chemistry lessons. It can also be
concluded that the ability to apply transfer skills is most successful in
items limited to one subject chemistry, while in an interdisciplinary
context, the transfer of skills in chemistry and physics contexts are
transferred better than a chemistry and biology context.

Keywords: science-related skills; everyday science-related problems;

transfer of skills; interdisciplinary.

Students, in order to become successful citizens, need to possess expertise in a
range of competences. The European Commission (2004; 2007) has adopted this
by broadening its definition of educational goals to being expressed in terms of
competences. Although a range of competences are stipulated in curricula, the
actual selection of competences developed for study, is carried out by the
teacher at school level. Among these competences is the need to achieve the
transfer (or transferability), which, according to the National Research Council

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


(2000), is the generalization of the learning outcomes including knowledge and

skills gained in school to practical environments such as the home, community
and workplace. However, a lack of ability to transfer skills to new situations is
seen as one of the main problems in the teaching learning situation (van Gog et
al., 2004). Unfortunately, the literature points to a multitude of different
treatments with different emphases to describe transfer (Johnson, 1995).
In this article, transferability, as applied to problem solving, is defined as the
ability to transfer acquired problem solving skills learned in chemistry class, to
everyday scientific context which has interdisciplinary and everyday

The main objective of the current study was to analyse the transfer of problem
solving skills, acquired in science class, to solving everyday scientific problems.
The following research questions were posed:
1. What differences in the ability of students to transfer acquired problem
solving skills to new everyday situation occurs after two academic years
of gymnasium study?
2. Is the transfer of problem solving skills to everyday situations context-

Literature review
In todays world, it is important to solve science-related and everyday problems.
Students problem-solving and decision-making skills play an important role in
development of students' scientific literacy (Rannikme, 2016), as well as help to
generate cognitive interest in the lessons (Cdere, Jurgena, Helmane, Tiltia-
Kapele & Praulte, 2015).

Research has shown that in order to solve everyday science-related problems, it

is necessary to transfer skills acquired in science class into new contexts
(Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2001). Contemporary science teaching is expected
to stress the development of skills, which constitute the core of the problem
solving process and also their transfer (Solomon & Perkins, 1987). Some authors
conclude that such skills and their transfer improve (Molnr, Greiff & Csap,
2013) across grades.

Problem solving. The scientific literature identifies problem solving using

different approaches. For example, in psychology, Lovett (2002) defined problem
solving through three key sub processes each involving analysis and
transformation of knowledge and skills. Bransford and Stein (1984) described
the problem solving process as a cyclic higher-order cognitive process. This
approach (this is indicated later) describes 5-7 problem solving stages, including
fundamental skills such as explanation and reasoning. This approach can be
called general or analytical and has found support in a number of studies
(Montague, Warger & Morgan, 2000; Scherera & Tiemann, 2014). However,
Bassok and Novick (2012) reported, that the level of domain knowledge
determines students problem-solving success, especially in knowledge-rich

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academic disciplines. Applying knowledge via explanation plays an important

part in solving problems (von Aufschneider, Erduran, Osborne & Simon, 2008).

However, the success of the problem solving depended on the type of the
problem. Surif and co-authors (2014) reported that students were more
successful in solving algorithmic problems, but have difficulties in solving open-
ended problems. This statement was supported by the results from international
PISA tests (OECD, 2013).

To solve problem, the problem solving skills need to be transferred. These skills
considered to be transferrable based on the literature (Montague et al., 2000).

Transfer. According to Ausubel and co-authors (1978), meaningful learning

necessarily involves the ability to transfer. In the literature, different treatments
with different emphases are used to describe transfer. In this article,
transferability, as applied to problem solving, is defined as a process where
problem solving skills learned in the chemistry class, can be transferred into
new, science related or everyday contexts. Everyday context is rich in non-
routine, ill-defined problems, which may have multiple solutions (Gilbert, 2006;
Chang & Chiub, 2008).

Based on the literature, the success of any transfer depends on the difference
between the contexts of learning and that in which it is used. Johnson (1995)
uses the terms - near and far transfer, referring to students applying their
knowledge and skills to contexts very similar or to contexts where the
performance is very different from the context in which the knowledge and
skills are acquired. Far transfer was more demanding, because it also required
greater modification to the original knowledge and skills (Hung, 2013).
Nevertheless, there is little understanding about the relationship between the
context and transfer that is accepted by all researchers, although most claim that
transfer is context-related.

This study examined student outcomes from a grade 10 and 11 chemistry course
include three sub-sections (two on organic chemistry, one on inorganic and one
on general chemistry).

Sample. The total number of students in the sample was 2,072, of which 1,129
were 10th grade and 953, 11th grade students. As the sample comprised 10th
grade students who had just started gymnasium, their chemistry knowledge
was deemed to have been acquired in basic school. (Data were collected in 10th
grade in autumn at the beginning of the academic year and in 11th grade in
spring at the end of the academic year, after completing the obligatory courses
this is data collection).

Instrument to collect data. The transfer of problem solving skills was measured
by results of solving tasks, needed particular skill. The 7-item a paper-and-pencil
test was used as an instrument. It was considered that the best context to

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measure students problem solving skills is everyday context. The instrument

was created, based on solving an everyday problem, related to a sprained ankle
and the use of a cold bag to reduce pain and oedema. In answer to the questions
posed, students were required to transfer their problem solving skills gained in
science lessons to this new context. The 7 item test comprised:

(a) Three items measured the transfer of applying knowledge from

chemistry to a chemistry context (seen as near transfer) to
interdisciplinary context (seen as far transfer).
(b) Two additional items measured experimental problem solving skills i.e.
posing a research question and planning experimentation (in this case,
choosing relevant equipment for the investigation).
(c) Two further items focused on measuring scientific explanation skill, one
in a chemistry-physics context and the others in a biology-physics

Validity and reliability. Validity of the instrument was determined by using

expert opinions. The reliability of the instrument was proved using Cronbach
alpha (0.734) which value considered to be acceptable.

Procedure. The developed instrument was validated and administered to 10th

grade gymnasium students (N=1129) at the beginning of their studies in
gymnasium and to 11th grade students having completed four compulsory
chemistry courses at the gymnasium level during two academic years.

Data analysis. The first part of the analysis was qualitative. All students
responses were coded and rated analogically on scale 1-3.

I - missing answer, student do not have relevant skill for transfer,

II - partial skill to transfer,
III- maximal transfer

The second part of the data analysis was quantitative. Data was analysed using
IBM SPSS Statistics 20 for frequency distribution, Spearmans rho for correlation
and Mann-Whitney U-test to analyse nonparametric data, because data do not
conform to a normal distribution.

Results and analysis

Table 1 shows results from the test and analyses indicating frequency
distributions and differences in transfer, measured by the Mann-Whitney U-test.

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Table 1. Grade 10 and 11 frequency distribution and differences in transfer

Skill Items Grade 10 Grade 11 Difference and significance
and (n = 1128) (n = 953)
Responses on Responses on U p
Marking % Marking %


Applying I1 Interd 47.0 3.9 49.1 41.6 4.5 53.9 486746.000 0.019
I6 Chem 12.7 57.8 29.5 10.0 52.9 37.1 452538.000 0.000

I2 Interd 73.4 0.3 26.3 71.1 0.5 28.4 451698.000 0.174

Posing RQ I4 Interd 42.7 33.1 24.2 42.0 32.3 25.7 368045.000 0.262

Plan exp I5 Interd 46.2 11.3 42.5 42.8 15.1 42.1 492768,000 0.363

Explanation I3 (Interd 65.2 19.9 14.9 65.0 17.1 17.9 245924.500 0.230

I7 (Interd 76.4 18.8 4.8 69.5 23.1 7.4 336645.500 0.003

Interdisciplinary interd; ch-chemistry; bio biology; ph physics

Data in table 1 showed that the transfer of problem solving skills in current case
is influenced by two factors.

First, the weakness of explanation skill more than 60 % of students is lacking

the corresponding skill. The number of missing and wrong answers clearly
showed, that most difficult for students were items (3 and 7), where the need to
use explanation skills was expected. Thus, the data suggests that an important
skill for successful problem solving in this case is explanation skill and its

Unfortunately, the data in table 1 show that the improvement of explanation

skill is minimal: in a chemistry-physics context (item 3) about 65% of 10th and
11th grade students did not exhibit mastery of explanation skill. Responses to
task 7 (in a biology-physics context) showed a slightly weaker outcome. The data
shows that 76,5 % of 10th grade students and 69,5% of 11th grade students did
not have mastery of explanation skill in the contexts given. As data showed, in
this case by explanation the use of the combination of chemical, biological and
physical knowledge is more difficult than combination of knowledge chemistry
and physics.

Secondly, the inquiry skills. Answering item 4 was problematic. This item
requires skill to pose research question in the context given. Only 24.2% of
students in 10th grade and 25, 7% of students in grade 11th indicated mastery
level of this skill (in this context). A small improvement may be caused by
gymnasium science teachers who do not use open inquiry, through which the
corresponding skill would be developed.

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Table 2. Results of the correlation analysis (only statistically significant correlations)

Grade Correlation between Spearmans
10 posing research question explanation(ch-ph, I3) 0.451**
explanation (ch-bio-ph, explanation(ch-ph, I3) 0.326*
11 applying knowledge, explanation(ch-bio-ph, 0.252*
acquired in gymnasium I7)
posing research question explanation(ch-ph, I3) 0.475**
posing research question planning investigation 0.481**
Significance on level p=0,05 was noted as *, significance on level 0,001 was noted
as **

As indicated above, explanation skill involved applying knowledge. Table 2

showed the difference in explanation: in responses of 10th grade students the
relationship between explanation and applying knowledge did not exist. Where
comparing with data of PISA tests (Estonian students at a similar development
stage as grade 10) what results showed that Estonian students have a good
knowledge, but results of current study suggest that they do not apply
knowledge by explanation. In responses by11th grade students there was a
stronger correlation between applying knowledge and explanation. The body of
students knowledge has grown through two academic years and students in
11th grade can use by explanation more knowledge. That may be one reason for
the improved explanation skill and its transfer by grade 11 students.

Transfer is only possible in cases where knowledge or skills exist for the transfer.
The first finding is related to assessment of students problem solving skills.
Surif and co-authors (2014) reported in their study, that solving open-ended
problems in chemistry is less successful than solving algorithmic problems.
Such a conclusion can also be reached by analysing the results of the Estonian
students outcomes on the PISA test in 2006 and 2009 (OECD, 2007; 2010). It
seems that the level of students problem solving ability mays not have
changed over the last 10 years.

In this study, statistically significant progress was noticeable in the transfer of

three skills: applying knowledge (items 1 and 6) and explanation (item 7). The
improvement in transfer of these skills might simply be caused by additional
academic knowledge e.g. Le Chateliers principle and its application were taught
after testing the grade 10 students, and therefore better understood by 11th
grade students. Transference in other problem solving skills did not show
significant improvement. The results support the conclusion made by Molnr

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and co-authors (2013) that improving skills and their transferring depended on
the academic knowledge.

Table 1 clearly showed that there were little gains in applying skills of posing
research questions and planning investigations (items 4 and 5). This could
suggest that little teaching was included in science lessons in these areas and
could point to a lack of student involvement in determining experimental work
and in gaining problem solving skills.

Results showed that near transfer (into a similar context item 6) was more
successful than far transfer item 2, thus agreeing with conclusions made by
Johnson (1995) and Hung (2013). The analysis suggested that far transfer is more
demanding, because it requires greater modification to the original knowledge.

The transfer of explanation skills through the use of a combination of biological

and physical contexts (item 7) was shown to be more difficult than the
combination for chemistry and physics in the item 3. This indicated that the skill
to use knowledge could be dependent on the context. The inclusion of ethics in
the applying knowledge item 2 suggested that decision making skills were not
strongly promoted in chemistry teaching.

Students learn chemistry, biology and physics at the basic and gymnasium level.
However, the test outcomes indicate that if students dislocate joints during a
situation, such as a workout, and use a cold bag to reduce pain and swelling,
they do not know which ingredients are needed, how to explain the way the bag
work, etc. The results of current study showed that there is a gap between
knowledge and skills needed in this single example of an everyday chemistry
problem solving situation, the knowledge and skills, produced and developed
through formal education are insufficient. The developing of problem solving
skills and its transfer to everyday scientific situations needs more attention in
science education.

This study investigated students progress in the transfer of problem solving

skills to an everyday context. Conclusions were:

progress in the ability to transfer problem solving skills occurred in only

three skills which directly associated with the increase of academic
the development of transfer skills is seen as context-related, transfer of
the skill into contexts very similar is more successful,
according to literature, transfer should be involved in the meaningful
learning. As showed tables 1 and 2 transfer of problem solving skills and
its transfer is poor and their level change may be related to with the
addition of one academic year.

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The results of this study exposed the need for further investigation, especially
related to the effects of the combination of knowledge from different subjects.

The students tested in grades 10 and 11 were not the same, although they were
from the same schools and taught by the same teachers. The number of test
items, per transfer types, were small and may not fully reflect student
achievements when tested on a wider scale.

This study has been supported by European Social Fund programme EDUKO
grant LoTeGm and Estonian Science Foundation grant GLOLO8219.

Ausubel D.P., Novak, J.D. & Hanesian, H. (1978). Educational psychology: a cognitive view.
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, London.
Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L. & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.) (2000). Learning and transfer
(Chapter 3). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC:
National Academy Press.
Bransford, J. & Stein, B. (1984). The IDEAL Problem Solver: A guide for improving thinking,
learning, and creativity. New York: W.H. Freeman.
Cdere, D., Jurgena, I., Helmane, I., Tiltia-Kapele, I. & Praulte, G. (2015). Cognitive
interest: problems and solutions in the acquisition of science and mathematics in
schools of Latvia. Journal of Baltic Science Education, 14(4), 424434.
Chang, S.-N. & Chiub, M.-H. (2008). Lakatos Scientific Research Programmes as a
Framework for Analysing Informal Argumentation about Socio-scientific Issues.
International Journal of Science Education, 30(13), 1753-1773.
Estonian Curriculum. (2011). National Curriculum for basic schools and upper
secondary schools). Regulation of the Government of the Republic of Estonia, RT
I, 14.01.2011, 2. (Accessed 2011-06-27).
European Commission [EC]. (2004). Europe needs more scientists. Report by the High Level
Group on Increasing Human Resources for Science and Technology in Europe.
Brussels: EC.
European Commission [EC]. (2007). Science Education Now: A Renewed Pedagogy for the
Future of Europe. Directorate-general for Research Science, Economy and Society.
Brussels: EC.
Hung, W.(2013). Problem-based learning: A learning environment for enhancing
learning transfer. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 137, 2738.
Johnson, S. D. (1995). Transfer of learning. The Technology Teacher, 54(7), 33-35
Molnr, G., Greiff, S. & Csap, B. (2013). Inductive reasoning, domain specific and
complex problem solving: Relations and development. Thinking Skills and
Creativity, 9, 3545.
National Academy of Sciences (2010). Education for life and work. Developing
Transferable Knowledge and Skills in the 21st Century. Retrieved from (January
20, 2015):

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OECD (2013). PISA 2012 results: What students know and can do (Vol. 1). OECD
Publication. Retrieved from: https://www.oecd.org/pisa/keyfindings/pisa-
Rannikme, M. (2016). Some crucial areas in science education research corresponding
to the needs of the contemporary society. Journal of Baltic Science Education, 15(1),
Salomon, G. S. & Perkins D. N. (1987). Transfer of cognitive skills from programming:
when and how? Journal of Educational Computing Research, 3 (2), 149169.
Surif, J., Ibrahim, N. H. & Dalim, S.F. (2014). Problem Solving: Algorithms and
Conceptual and Open-Ended Problems in Chemistry. Procedia - Social and
Behavioral Sciences, 116, 4955 4963.
von Aufschneider, C., Erduran, S., Osborne, J. & Simon, S. (2008). Arguing to Learn and
Learning to Argue: Case Studies of How Students Argumentation Relates to
Their Scientific Knowledge. Journal of research in science teaching, 45(1), 101-131.
van Gog, T., Paas, F. & van Merrinboer J. J. G. (2004). Process-oriented worked
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Instructional Science, 32(12), 83-98.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Educational Research

Vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 58-64, July 2016

The Importance of Educational Technology to

Pedagogy: The Relevance of Dewey

Jamie Costley
Kongju National University
Gongju, South Korea

Abstract.It is commonly said that instructors must be in control of

technology, and that technology needs experienced skilled
educators with well-developed theories and ideas about its
application. However, it seems that technology itself can be used
as a driver of educational ideas and classroom practice, not vice
versa. This idea can be generally applied to many situations. As
educators we tend to feel that the use of technology must be
subsumed within current educational practice, or that it is a
supplement to already existing classroom techniques, however,
technology is a powerful tool to not only improve education
around the margins, but to drive real meaningful change.

Keywords: Dewey; education; motivation; pedagogy; technology

Since the early 90s the use of computers among the general population has
climbed at a massive rate. This interconnectivity allows individuals from any
part of the world to interact with individuals from any other part of the world. It
allows amalgamations and conglomerations of like-minded people to engage in
a worldwide conversation on topics ranging from sports to international
geopolitical landscapes. This system has been developed through two main
forces, the push from technology developers, and the pull from end users.

The push from technology developers has been large. A multitude of companies
producing a wide variety of versatile, cheap, and easy to use pieces of
technology have transformed most adults in the western worlds pockets from a
jingle of coins and keys, to the soft vibration of a device that can access more
information than that which existed at the library of Alexandria. This
development is unlikely to end or slow down soon. Technology companies are
consistently trying to further their customers abilities to interact and use the
technology that they create. The pull from end users has also been a powerful
force in bringing the varied and powerful types of technology that we have into
the public sphere. People are demanding faster and simpler access to online
services from companies, and any glitch or issue is seen as a major problem for

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end users of technology. We were once happy to send a 100-character text

message cross-country, now we demand HD copies of all new release movies to
be instantly available on our phones.

With this development in the use of technology and the Internet in particular in
society, there has been a somewhat parallel develop in the application of these
technologies to the practice of education. While many educational systems are
somewhat conservative in nature, and the fact that they are large hard to move
bureaucracies, there has been more and more technology put into educational
practice. The application of technology follows a similar process to the process
seen with the technology in the general population, in that, there is a push from
the top, and a pull from the bottom.

From the top down, many large-scale national education systems at many levels
(but especially tertiary) have added more technology into their curriculums,
and/or have used online learning to supplement already existing syllabi. This
introduction of technology has come in many forms, from general
encouragement of teachers to use more technology to technology based lessons
as a formal part of the base curriculum. Furthermore, the distribution of actual
pieces of technology has been varied, with some schools having smart screens
and tablets in every classroom, with others lacking what may be considered
basic in a modern educational institution (wi-fi for example). From the bottom
many teachers and students are taking it upon themselves to enrich their
students and their own learning experiences. Some teachers are simply pointing
learners to resources that might support whatever is being taught in class, while
other teachers are developing complex lesson plans, or modes of internet based
interaction that can further expand their learners understanding of the class
contents and the world at large. From the point of view of the learners, they too
are driving the boom in education technology. Like the population at large they
are demanding high-tech solutions to problems that they face learning complex
topics. Further to this, more and more learners are searching for contents online
that are outside the explicit parameters of the lesson or curriculum they are a
part of.

While there are many and varied ways that technology has influenced and
impacted education, it is certainly true that the Internet especially has changed
our relationship to knowledge and information. This is important in terms of
education especially as formal places and institutions of learning are no longer
considered fonts of knowledge, more varied forms of questioning and
skepticism are considered relevant and there has been a growth in the value of
individual opinion. This has changed the place of the learner in education and
their relationship with their school and their teachers. While informal learning
has always been an important, the availability of complex developed ideas
online has furthered learners academic development outside formal centers of

Formal and informal learning are different from one and other in ways that are
sometimes hard to distinguish, with the most obvious and common point of

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distinction being the institutional setting or framework they occur in. Formal
learning tends to take place in places that are more familiar to us as centers of
education like kindergartens, schools and universities. The education that occurs
in these settings is purpose driven, clearly structured and generally conducted in
a location specifically for the purpose of learning. Informal learning on the other
hand occurs outside of schools and is generally less structured (Dabbagh &
Kitsantas, 2012; Schugurensky, 2000). This can often relate indirectly with
motivation as learners in formal settings tend to be extrinsically motivated,
while informal learning tends to be self-directed and intrinsic motivation tends
to dominate.

It is important to recognize the context that learning is taking place in so that

instructors can develop and administer effective learning practices. This is
particularly true when students will be engaging online, where the lines
between knowledge types and distribution channels can become blurred. As
more and more learners are getting their information from alternative sources
instructors need to be aware of differing learning contexts to benefit from the
Internet as a learning tool (Lange & Costley, 2015).

Dewey and the lack of change

One of the issues in education generally is the lack of change over time. This has
been mentioned by many, but deserves repeating. While, it is often thought that
the field of education in general is progressive, and educators specifically are a
progressive group of people, this for some reason has not led to dramatic
changes in the delivery of the education over time. What this means is that
opportunities to change education systems are few and far between, and further
to that, when given the opportunity to manipulate or improve stagnant systems,
those opportunities should be taken.

As a classic example of this we can look at the most famous of education

theorists John Dewey. In 1897, Dewey wrote My Pedagogic Creed, as excellent and
succinct a treatise on education as one is likely to find. In My Pedagogic Creed, it is
noted that education is in and of itself a social practice, and that practice is not
something we have much individual control over and is unconscious and begins
at birth and ends at death. We can imagine ourselves as a construction of an
individual, generated from social values and social consciousness. This process
while not under our direct control is fundamentally a positive process as it
allows us to become part of human civilization and inherit its knowledge. This
view of education ties in with Deweys views on morality, which can be
summed clumsily into a human quest for a higher spirit and a greater good, as
expressed as part of a society of a greater whole. A human being can only
achieve moral, and educational completeness as part of a society. This empowers
society and also human beings who are a part of it to continuously strive to
generate knowledge and behave in such a way that the races welfare will be
enhanced, which in turn enhances the individual.

While the sociological side of the equation cannot be overstated, there is a

second side to Deweys conceptualization of education, which is the

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psychological process that underpins it. According to Dewey, society is the

context where education will occur and psychology explains and defines the
processes that cause learning to happen. Specifically, Dewey notes that ignoring
either of these features may result in evil occurring and that we must apply
education in a way that is designed to be related to and improve students lives.
We must, according the Dewey avoid focusing on purely academic results as
these are not representative of meaningful or authentic learning. We must use
our knowledge of the whole of a students world and the whole of the students
mind to formulate an effective educational situation that will result in true
meaningful success for the learner. So while, the whole of society is important,
and our values and knowledge are generated from society, we must look at each
learner individually, at what they want, what they need, and what their future
will be to develop meaningful education for that learner. This is empowering the
learner and giving them a real education. For this reason, education should be
practical and hands on, and use demonstration of a skill as the marker for
underlying psychological success (Dewey, 1902; Dewey, 1907).
In terms of school, it should according to Dewey be a simple extension of the
childs life as a whole and be used to build a childs self worth and self-belief. He
criticized schools as they were then (and are largely now) as simple banks of
knowledge, where information is given to the students without meaningful
education occurring. He believed that in its current form it was impossible for
schools to give students real lessons on anything of substance. He views were
critical in regards to assessment as well, feeling that using exams for social
ordering was not appropriate, and that assessment should be used as a guide of
the students individual progress.
Looking at, or thinking about Deweys ideas makes one think that he would not
be so unfamiliar with a modern school. It would look very familiar to him, and
the things he criticized about schools in his day: testing as social ordering,
inappropriate contents, and lack of meaningful engagement with materials are
the problems that still plague education today. To say that education systems are
conservative then, is an understatement, if the most famous of education
theorists can have his central messages ignored for more than a 100 years. This
shows that to try and change education for the better, other strategies beyond
theorizing should be used to try and improve learning and teaching.

Technology as a means to change pedagogy

For the reasons mentioned above one requires a more aggressive or tangential
strategy to implement more progressive educational ideas or concepts into the
classroom. Technology can serve as a kind of Trojan Horse whereby technology
serves as a means to introduce more dynamic modern pedagogical principles
into the classroom. As was written above, educational systems and teachers are
often loath to change their ways, so we must find methods to introduce new
concepts indirectly.

Motivating learners
We have always at least suspected that children learn best through exploring
and playing, but it seems to be true for tertiary students as well. This type of

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learning helps develop individuals cognitive, social, emotional and physical

wellbeing. While traditional classroom methods can work, they often do not give
learners a great deal of enjoyment or fun. Technology can provide a solution to
this, with methods of dealing with new content and information both inside and
outside the classroom. Research has shown that there are many advantages to
using technology in the classroom in terms of developing learners critical
thinking and social development (Costley, 2015; Costley & Han, 2014). This
means that learning can be meaningfully enhanced with modern interactive
learning technology.

Most learners will do better if they can apply what they have learned in a hands-
on way. This type of learning is generally more stimulating, engaging and
attractive to students and allows a greater amount of interaction with others and
learning materials. Technology, if well designed can give students something to
master that they are intrinsically interested in that may make them more excited
to attend class. Much research has shown that more technology in the classroom
motivates students to learn. Students can take control of their learning through
the use of hardware like computers, laptops, tablets and so on, but also through
applying their skills to games, storytelling apps and online media that may
interest them more than the same information being delivered in a traditional
way. This learning can also be personalized and allows students to study at their
own pace. Also, technology can free up the teacher to help students who are
struggling, or give advanced students extra material. The ease that video and
animations can be applied to lessons, also gives teachers a greater ability to
increase the entertainment value of their class. While, there is certainly some
decay in the interest students will have in new pieces of technology, overall the
base variety of instructional media the students will encounter should give them
a more motivating education experience even after the glow of the shiny new
piece of hardware rubs off.

Applying social networks and the Internet in the classroom

One of the main advantages of the Internet in the classroom is that allows
students and teachers more time to work on things that are important. The
Internet and social networks allows students and teachers to interact and
collaborate on any topic, anytime or anywhere. This interaction has many
benefits, for example some software or apps can provide social networking that
allows the sending and sharing of documents, calendars, and grades, and also
homework among student, caregivers and other teachers. This type of sharing of
information is obviously useful and a great time saving device, what might not
be so obvious are the pedagogical benefits beyond efficiency. This type of
sharing has two great benefits to students. First, it allows them to see the
interconnectivity of their teachers world, their world and the world outside the
classroom. It will give the learner a meaningful appreciation of what others in
the same situation are doing and allow a deeper reflection on their place in the
learning process. Secondly, it brings the learner face-to-face with the power of
the Internet to regulate their lives and bring meaningful change through
interconnectivity. Related to this second point, it is important that students are
international online citizens in the 21st century, and having a high amount of

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online interconnectivity will support that goal. It is true to say that technology
has changed society a lot and will continue to do so, students must able to
navigate the future, which will include a heavy dose of technology.

Most homes these days have the Internet and some type of desktop, laptop, or
mobile device. They provide an almost limitless supply of information and
knowledge including: online lesson plans, education apps, interactive education
games, online education videos and infographics, and PDFs. For these reasons,
we must be aware of research into online learning and the use of technology in

It is commonly said that instructors must be in control of technology, and that
technology needs experienced skilled educators with well-developed theories
and ideas about its application. However, it seems that technology itself can be
used as a driver of educational ideas and classroom practice, not vice versa. This
idea can be generally applied to many situations. As educators we tend to feel
that the use of technology must be subsumed within current educational
practice, or that it is a supplement to already existing classroom techniques,
however, technology is a powerful tool to not only improve education around
the margins but to drive real meaningful change.

Regardless of whether or not educators want to deal with developments in

technology, that technology is entering classrooms at an increasing and ever
more pervasive rate. This technology has come in many forms, and not only this,
students are exposed to even more technology outside the classroom than they
are inside it. Students engage with each other on social networking sites like
Facebook and Twitter and it is fair to say that this is a type of technology and
interaction that students find engaging (Davis, 2012). This is a particularly
poignant point when many claim that one of the greatest challenges facing
teachers is trying to get students to engage with learning contents (Shernoff,
Csikszentmihalyi, Schneider, & Shernoff, 2003). As many formal places of
learning in the developed world are becoming more standardized and banal, the
only world that gives young learners a place where they can freely interact with
a wide variety of materials and people is the online one. This contrast likely
drives more learners away from traditional face-to-face modes of interaction and
instruction and towards freer and more interesting online mediums (Davis,

As has been discussed in this paper, there has been limited change in the more
than 100 years since Dewey wrote My Pedagogic Creed (1897), and as this paper
has argued, if these changes are to come, they need to be driven from outside the
centers of traditional learning. There has been a limited amount of effort and
effects from progressive educators to adapt the schooling environment to the
new methods of schooling have been piecemeal and largely ineffective (Collins
& Halverson, 2009).

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A humanistic curriculum as proposed by Dewey, is the most effective way to

develop learners for the 21st century. Learners of all ages need to be able to
engage with a variety of types and levels of knowledge and create their own
meaning of the world in which they live. Further to this point, learners
themselves are different. This is the way in which education should seek to
change learners. On the flip side, in a world of digital natives, education itself
must not only change learners, it must also adapt to them. The learners of today
require a more diverse nuanced and dynamic method of education than they are
currently getting (Prensky, 2001).

Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology: The
digital revolution and schooling in America. New York: Teachers College Press.
Costley, J. (2015). The effects of three types of instructor posting on critical thinking and
social presence: No posting, facilitating discourse, and direct instruction.
International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research Vol. 12,
No. 2, pp. 26-47.
Costley, J. & Han, S. (2014). Mapping changes over time on an asynchronous forum:
Interaction and critical thinking. Information: An International Interdisciplinary
Journal (Education). 6-10.
Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal learning environments, social media, and
self-regulated learning: A natural formula for connecting formal and informal
learning. The Internet and higher education, 15(1), 3-8.
Dewey, J. (1897). My pedagogic creed. School Journal, 54 (3) p. 77-80.
Dewey, J. (1902/2009). The child and the curriculum. USA: Readaclassic.com.
Dewey, J. (1907/2009). The school and society. USA: Readaclassic.com.
Davis, Heather E. (2012) "Technology in the Classroom: A Deweyan Perspective,"
Kentucky Journal of Higher Education Policy and Practice: Vol. 1: Iss. 2, Article
2. Available at: http://uknowledge.uky.edu/kjhepp/vol1/iss2/2
Lange, C., Costley, J. (2015). Opportunities and lessons from informal and non-formal
learning: Applications to online environments. American Journal of Educational
Research. Vol. 3, No. 10, pp 1330-1336.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives,Digital Immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon, 9, 16.
Schugurensky, D. (2000). The forms of informal learning. Towards a conceptualization
of the field. Working Paper 19-2000. Presented at the New Approaches for
Lifelong Learning (NALL) Fourth Annual Conference, October 6-8.
http://hdl.handle.net/1807/2733. Retrieved September 15, 2015
Shernoff, D. J., Csikszentmihalyi, M., Schneider, B., & Shernoff, E. S. (2003). Student
engagement in high school classrooms from the perspective of flow theory.
School Psychology Quarterly, 18(2), 158176.

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved


International Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Educational Research

Vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 65-78, July 2016

Bridging Research and Practice: Investigating the

Impact of Universally Designed STEM Curriculum on
the Concept Acquisition of At-Risk Preschoolers

Michelle R. Gonzalez, PhD

William Paterson University
Wayne, NJ, USA

Abstract. The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of

universally designed STEM curricular units on the concept and
vocabulary acquisition of at-risk preschoolers attending a Head Start
preschool program. A quasi-experimental control group design was
utilized with the experimental group being exposed to the universally
designed STEM curricular unit and the control group taking part in non-
universally designed STEM unit. The control group and experimental
group were randomly assigned to the morning and afternoon class of
the Head Start center for the first unit STEM unit (plants) and then
alternated for the second unit (insects). Participants were administered
researcher created assessments to measure concept and vocabulary
acquisition for each unit. Results of the first independent t-test (plants)
indicated that there was no significant difference between the posttest
scores of the experimental group and the control group (p = .08).
Results of the second independent t-test (insects) also indicated that
there was no significant difference between the posttest scores of the
experimental group) and the control group (p = .29). Multiple factors
may have contributed to these results, such as the complexity of
collecting UDL efficacy data and measuring UDL, participant
differences, and unit implementation. Though no significance was
found, early childhood educators should be encouraged to still apply
the framework to their curricular planning. Infusing UDL through
centers, the use of teacher created eBooks, and student choice are

Keywords: Universal Design for learning; UDL; STEM; Early

Childhood; At-risk.

The diversity of students attending preschools today is ever growing.
These students come to school with diverse learning abilities in the areas of
cognitive, social, emotional, language, and motor development. At the same

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time early childhood centers are serving an increasing numbers of English

language learners, and students with disabilities. The growing diversity in
todays early childhood classrooms poses a challenge for the preschool teacher.
Though a challenge exists, educators still strive to set and meet rigorous
goals. One goal of the preschool teacher is to create and implement a curriculum
that promotes the growth and development of all children (Stockall, Dennis, &
Miller, 2012). Likewise, early childhood educators note an essential goal is to
create inclusive programs for all students and to begin to move away from
specialized programs (Conn-Powers, Cross, Traub, & Hutter-Pishgahi, 2006). A
framework that can help meet these goals and support all learners is universal
design for learning (UDL).
UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development, instructional
design, and assessment for PreK-12 settings that gives all individuals equal
access to learning (Cast, 2011). Based on research in educational practices,
cognitive science, developmental psychology, and neuroscience, UDL helps
teachers respond to and address the diverse learning needs and differences of
students present in todays classroom (Rose & Meyer, 2002). UDL takes a
different approach to curricular planning. Educators using the framework for
curricular and lesson planning consider the diversity of the students up front
rather than as an afterthought that often happens with traditional planning. In
other words, when designing curriculum and daily plans, the teacher thinks first
how she can meet the needs of all of her students rather than making
modifications and adaptations for students after the planning phase, which is
often called retrofitting.
The framework of UDL is guided by three main principles: (1) To
support recognition learning, provide multiple means of presentation, (2) To
support strategic learning, providing multiple means of expression and action,
and (3) To support affective learning, provide multiple means for engagement.
Instructional, material, curriculum, and assessment design that shadows these
three principles can help increase the learning opportunities for all children who
struggle to learn (Edyburn, 2005; Rose & Meyer, 2000).
UDL can easily be applied to the preschool setting. Often an early
childhood educator is implementing ideas aligned with the UDL framework;
however, with additional careful and purposeful planning and thought, more
strategies can be applied resulting in greater access to the curriculum for all
young students. The following examples highlight a few concrete application
ideas of how a preschool teacher can implement the principles of UDL within
her classroom. For example, an early childhood educator can apply the first
principle, provide multiple means of representation, by using eBooks in centers
or during shared reading, using multiple representations of a topic
(book/eBook, poem, song, dramatic representation, stuffed animal/puppet,
illustrations/photos, etc.), and the use of age-appropriate graphic organizers.
Application ideas for the second principle, provide multiple means of
expression, can include providing students choice for how they want to share
their acquisition of concepts (clay, drawing/painting, creating a story using an
eBook, dramatic representation, etc.), the use of partial participation, or
providing multiple opportunities for children to practice skills throughout the
day (centers, small groups, shared reading, circle time, etc.) In the third

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principle, provide multiple means of engagement, the preschool teacher can

offer various creation mediums in centers, use flexible and varied sized groups,
provide multiple levels of challenges (puzzles, traditional games, technology
games, etc.) or design an area in the classroom that limits distractions. Further
application examples can be found on the Center for Applied Technology
(CAST) website (www.cast.org.)
Though the UDL framework can be easily implemented using low-tech
methods, the framework still depends on flexible digital media. The use of
digital media increases the ease of the implementation of the UDL principles
(Rose & Meyer, 2000). For instance, an early childhood teacher can easily use
technology to enhance a lesson using the book Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the
Bed. The teacher can use an eBook version of this book that allows for
enlargement of the text and pictures, which can result in all students having
access to the book. Sound effects and music is often embedded in these eBooks,
which can help keep the attention of students. The teacher than can make the
eBook available later in the Reading center where students can independently
listen to the book because of built in text-to-speech. Students may then decide to
dramatize the book using monkey puppets and with the help of the teacher they
record the play using the camera imbedded in the class iPad. The movie is then
shared with the class during closing circle and emailed to parents. Though these
are just a few examples, it is clearly evident that the use of technology can help
increase access for all students and help improve engagement in comparison to
only using traditional teaching methods.
There is a lack of empirical research concerning UDL in all educational
settings. Few empirical studies can be located that directly measure the impact
of universally designed curriculum on the outcomes of students. For instance,
contributions to literature regarding UDL include only basic descriptions and
principles of UDL (Brand, Favazza, & Dalton, 2012; Edyburn, 2005; Jimenez,
Graf, & Rose, 2007; Spencer, 2011; Wehmeyer, 2006), Other literature centers on
the application of the UDL framework to teacher practices in the elementary,
middle, and secondary settings with few articles focused on the early childhood
population. Specifically, the framework has been applied to literacy (Hall,
Cohen, Vue, & Ganley, 2015; Kennedy, Thomas, & Meyer, 2014; Meo, 2008;
Metcalf, Evans, & Flynn, 2009; Narkon & Wells, 2013) and math instruction
(Hunt & Andreasen, 2011; Selmer & Floyd, 2012; Thomas, Van Garderen, &
Scheuemann, 2015; Zydney & Hasselbring, 2014). The content areas of science
(King-Sears & Johnson, 2015; Kurtts, Matthews, & Smallwood, 2009; Marino,
Gotch, & Israel, 2014; McPherson, 2009; Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Daley, & Lim,
2013) and social studies (Bouck, Courtad, & Heutsche, 2009) also are a focus in
the literature. Other focus areas are STEM education (Basham & Marino, 2013),
the Arts (Darrow, 2015; Glass, Meyer, & Rose, 2013), and culturally diverse
students (Chita-Tegmark, Gravel, & Serpa, 2012; Kavita, 2015; Rice, 2015).
Like in the areas of elementary, middle, and secondary education, there
is little empirical research in the setting of early childhood classrooms.
Specifically, no research could be located that directly investigated the effect of
universally designed preschool curriculum on the learning outcomes of
students. Likewise as in other educational settings, the literature in the early
childhood domain primarily focuses on the application of the framework. For

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


instance, one contribution discusses in general how the UDL principles can be
applied to preschool curriculum development and the classroom environment
(Stockall et al., 2012). Suggestions are provided in how to select appropriate
classroom materials, write goals, set up centers, and integrate technology.
Another author applies the principles to outdoor play and gives examples as to
how early childhood educators can make outside play more accessible by
applying the UDL framework (Harte, 2013). The UDL principles have also been
applied to assessment in early childhood settings (Dalton & Brand, 2012).
Specifically, using a variation of assessment methods, formats, and teacher
feedback can lead to more authentic and accurate assessment results in young
children. On the other hand, a final contribution takes more of a theoretical
approach and discusses how early childhood, inclusive education, and UDL
should be merged to form Universal Design for Early Childhood Education
(UDECE; Darragh, 2007). Overall, the application of UDL principles to the early
childhood settings has the potential to enhance the environment and student
development, but little empirical evidence is available to support this claim.
The UDL framework can be applied to any subject area in the preschool;
however, one area of interest is science. Science is one content area found in the
well-known acronym STEM. The other content areas include technology,
engineering, and mathematics. As a nation-wide initiative, teachers are
encouraged to incorporate STEM into their curriculum in order to increase the
necssary awareness and knowledge to benefit students in everyday situations as
well as students potential in obtaining jobs in STEM-related settings in the
future. The United States hopes that increasing student performance in STEM
will result in more students entering these STEM related professions (Lacey &
Wright, 2009). Therefore, including STEM in the curriculum is beneficial for
students of all ages, especially young children (Katz, Chard, & Kogan, 2013).
There is also a growing needed to incorporate STEM into school curricula
due to recent international assessment data. Internationally, 8th grade students in
the United States rank 10th and 4th grade students rank 7th in Science
achievement (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). Though this is an
increase in ranking from 2007 there is still concern that students in the United
States are not ranking higher. Likewise, because of these recent trends in
international data, there is an ever growing need to design early childhood
environments that address STEM (Aronin & Flyod, 2013).
Some educators hold the fallacy that STEM curriculum is too difficult to
use in preschool settings; however, STEM encourages many key skills, such as
helping children focus, increasing vocabulary, encouraging collaboration, and
creating scientific relationships (Moomaw & Davis, 2010). Skills in STEM are a
fundamental element of a balanced education and essential to effective
citizenship (STEM Education Coalition, 2016). Preschool environments can easily
incorporate STEM concepts throughout the school day. For instance, in the block
center, students can build bridges, ramps, and houses (engineering and math)
and research these structures in the computer center (technology). Outside, a
water center can be set up where children experiment with various containers to
fill and compare (science and math). Simply, a nature walk where students can
collect almost anything, such as rocks, leaves, insects, seeds, etc. can encourage
the development of STEM concepts. With these collections, students can

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practice counting, exploring differences/similarities, and possibly making

hypotheses (math and science).
The design of STEM curricula using the framework of UDL could result
in powerful outcomes. Increasing access to STEM concepts for all students is
important and could lead to increased interest and achievement in this field,
ultimately resulting in more students entering STEM related fields. However,
after the examination of the literature, it is clear that further investigation of the
efficacy of the application of the UDL framework in the early childhood
classroom is needed, especially in Science. Therefore, the purpose of the study
was to determine the impact of a universally designed science curricular units
on the concept and vocabulary acquisition of at-risk preschoolers attending a
Head Start preschool program.

Setting and Participants
The selected site for the study was a Head Start center in the North
Eastern section of the United States. Traditionally, the goal of Head Start centers
is to promote school readiness skills in low-income young children of the ages 3-
5. Head Starts are family based programs that not only support the social and
emotional support of the students, but also provides services and programs to
families to help promote these key areas in a childs development. The Head
Start center was located in a diverse and impoverished urban area with a high
English language learner and transient population. The center consisted of two
classrooms; however, the scope of the study was limited to only one classroom.
The classroom was selected because the classroom teacher implementing the
units was previously trained in the implementation of UDL; thus, enabling her
to have a good working knowledge of the framework.
The selected classroom consisted of AM and PM sessions with
approximately 17 students in each session. The needs of the students in each
classroom were diverse with few meeting expected grade/age level targets.
Thus, the researcher felt these students would benefit from universally designed
STEM curricular units. Each class sized varied through out the entire study due
to the transient nature of the area. The varying sample sizes for each curricular
unit are identified in the results section. Assent was obtained by all participants
included in the study along with parental permission.

Design and Implementation

A quasi-experimental control group design was utilized with the
experimental group being exposed to the universally designed science curricular
unit and the control group taking part in non-universally designed science unit.
The control group and experimental group were randomly assigned to the
morning and afternoon class of the Head Start center for the first unit. After the
first unit, assignment of the control and experimental group was alternated. At
the conclusion of the project, each class participated in one universally designed
unit. The topic of unit one was plants with insects as the second topic. The
duration of each unit was ten school days. Table 1 illustrates the class
assignment for each unit and the total number of children who participated in
the study for each unit.

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Table 1: Group Assignment

Class Plants Insects
AM Control (n = 9) Experimental (n = 8)
PM Experimental (n = 8) Control (n = 14)

Both the experimental and control group units were researcher created
with some input from the classroom teacher. The control group units were
designed using developmental appropriate practices that promoted the main
domains of learning (cognitive, language, motor, self-help/adaptive language,
and social development). The control group units reflected best practices in
early-childhood education. In the creation of the universally designed units, in
addition to the consideration of developmentally appropriate practice and the
major domains of learning, the researcher used the framework and principles of
UDL as a guide. Typical lessons for both the control and universally designed
units consisted of a short teacher lead shared reading, demonstration, discussion
and/or a teacher lead activity. Guided and Independent practice of the unit
concepts occurred in the classrooms Science center. Though the researcher
created the bulk of the units, the teacher was still consulted concerning different
aspects of the units. For instance, the researcher gathered feedback regarding the
appropriateness of specific strategies, such as the use of graphic organizers
(KWL Chart, webbing, etc.) and the length and complexity of the shared
reading, demonstration, discussion, or teacher lead activity.
In order to promote consistency between both universally designed
Science units, the researcher selected key strategies and materials that would be
integrated throughout each unit. Both high-tech and low-tech materials and
strategies were utilized. High-tech strategies and materials were defined as
anything that was electronic, battery and/or Internet based. Conversely, low-tech
was defined as strategies and materials that could be operated without the
dependence on electricity, batteries, and/or the Internet. A summary of the key
low-tech and high-tech materials and strategies utilized in the study can be
found in Table 2.
Detailed unit timelines and plans were given to the classroom teacher for
both the experimental and control group units. In the experimental units, the
UDL components were highlighted to help the classroom teacher differentiate
between the control and experimental units. The researcher maintained an open-
line of communication with the classroom teacher throughout the study, but to
encourage implementation fidelity the researcher checked in with the classroom
teacher mid-way through each unit. The check-in consisted of a discussion of the
implementation of the unit and the answering of any relevant questions. The
researcher also re-demonstrated any high-tech strategies or materials as needed
at the check-ins. All units were reviewed and explained to the classroom teacher
prior to implementation. Technology was also demonstrated prior to unit
implementation. Table 3 provides an overview of each unit.

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Table 2: UDL High-Tech and Low-Tech Examples

High Tech Examples
Researcher and student made eBooks using Book Creator
iPad apps such as Book Creator, Parts of a Plant, Life Cycles for
Kids, Ladybug, Learn Fruit & Vegetables, Butterfly, Noisy Bug
Internet-based videos such as Time Lapse Growing Plant, Song:
Head, Thorax, and Abdomen, Butterfly Life Cycle (Monarch)
iPad camera to document growth cycle of student plants and
choice of expression

Low Tech Examples

Graphic organizers such as a KWL for each unit, Life Cycle
organizers, and webbing to organize concepts
The use of researcher made games that included multiple levels
of play
Use of picture vocabulary cards to highlight key terms for each
unit in students native language (Spanish) and English
Ability grouping and choice of working independently or
cooperatively during learning centers
Choice of expression in each unit where students could select
how they wanted to demonstrate their learning. E.g. Life Cycle of
Insect Extension: Students had the choice of making a book (print
or eBook), illustrating a picture, utilizing a graphic organizer,
acting out the life cycle (record using iPad), or using modeling
Multiple opportunities to practice skills occurred across the unit
primarily during the learning centers where students could
review information using the selected iPad applications, eBooks,
and learning games
Ability grouping and choice of working independently or
cooperatively during learning centers

Table 3: Overview of Units

Day Plant Unit Insect Unit
1 What is a plant? Types of Plants Introduction to the Unit: Insects
2 Types of Plants What makes an insect an insect?
3 Parts of a Plant Overview Insects All Around Us
4 Parts of a Plant: Roots & Stems Life Cycle of an Insect/Butterfly
5 Parts of a Plant: Leaves & Flowers Ladybugs
Researcher Check-In
6 Seeds Ants
7 Where do seeds come from? Grasshoppers
8 Life Cycle of Plant Bumblebees
9 Life Cycle of Plant Fireflies
10 Life Cycle of a Plant & Closure Closure & Review

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Data were collected using researcher created instruments that measured
the concept and vocabulary acquisition of each participant. The concept
acquisition of the instruments consisted of the participants demonstrating their
understanding of the life cycle of plants and insects. In addition, the researcher
defined vocabulary acquisition as the participants ability to use key unit
vocabulary in their oral responses to questions. A list of key vocabulary terms
was generated for each unit, such as parts of plants and insects and types of
insects and plants. An early childhood science curricular expert reviewed each
instrument for content validity.
Each instrument was designed and administered using developmental
appropriate practices. Each instrument relied on the use of pictures. Some
questions required participants to point to an appropriate picture, while other
questions participants verbally gave their responses. For instance, in the plant
unit pretest and posttest, participants were asked to talk about what a life cycle
is (concept acquisition) and a plant that has a life cycle (vocabulary). Participants
were also asked to point to each stage of the plant life cycle and talk about what
they knew about it (vocabulary and concept acquisition). In the insect unit
pretest and posttest, the participants, where asked to name an insect they knew
(vocabulary), as well as what makes an insect an insect (vocabulary and concept
acquisition). After being presented with various insect pictures, the participants
were asked to name them.
All pretests and posttests were administered individually, in English,
and in a quiet area of the classroom. The researcher used a data collection sheet
to record the participants responses during the administration of the tests.
Participants responses were manually recorded onto the data collection sheets
for later analysis. Identical pretest and posttest were administered. The early
childhood science curricular expert scored all tests.

Participation in the units varied for each class. Parental consent was not
given for all children. A number of children were not present for both the pretest
and the posttest. The researcher made numerous attempts to collect data without
success. At the conclusion of the first unit (plants), the control group had nine
viable data sets and the experimental group had eight. The second curricular
unit (insects) resulted in 14 viable data sets for the control group and eight data
sets for the experimental group.
In order to control for differences between the control and experimental
groups, caliper matching was utilized with a caliper width equal to the pretest
score 1. For the first curricular unit (plants) five of the eight possible pairs of
data (62.5%) remained after matching. For the second curricular unit (insects),
Five of the eight possible pairs of data (62.5%) remained after matching.
After caliper matching, an independent one tailed t-test was conducted
for each unit to determine if any significance difference existed between the
control group and experimental groups posttest scores. An independent t-test
can be deemed appropriate with a sample size as small as two (de Winter, 2013).
However, generalizability of results decreases as sample size decreases. Thus, it

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


can be concluded that a t-test is appropriate in the current study, but results
should be reviewed with caution.
Results of the first independent t-test (plants) indicated that there was no
significant difference between the posttest scores of the experimental group (M =
2.6, SD = 2.42) and the control group (M = .6, SD = .80), t(8) = 1.57, p = .08.
Results of the second independent t-test (insects) indicated that there was no
significant difference between the posttest scores of the experimental group (M =
7.6, SD = 3.24) and the control group (M = 8.8, SD = 2.79), t(8) = 0.57, p = .29. It
can be concluded that the universally designed units did not significantly
change the posttest scores of the experimental group. Multiple factors may have
contributed to these results and will be analyzed in the following discussion.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of universally
designed STEM curricular units on the concept and vocabulary acquisition of at-
risk preschoolers attending a Head Start Preschool Program. Overall, the results
indicate that the universally designed STEM units did not significantly affect
posttest scores of the experimental group. However, a slight increase of posttest
scores was reported for the experimental group in the insect unit. Though, no
significance differences were found in each unit, the value of this study comes
from the additional questions that arose about the implementation of UDL and
how to measure its effectiveness.
UDL is a complex and multifaceted framework (Basham & Gardner,
2010) that is subjective in nature. The framework is made up of three principles
and under each principle there are three main guidelines. Each guideline then
has anywhere from three to five checkpoints. These principles, guidelines, and
checkpoints provide guidance in the development of universally designed
curricula, assessments, and materials; however, there is no standard that states
how much of each component should be incorporated within a lesson,
curriculum, etc. Essentially, student interests, strengths, and needs and the
content that is being taught drive the implementation of UDL. Thus, UDL
operates on a continuum based on these factors with implementation occurring
in varying degrees across various settings resulting in the difficulty of
narrowing down the focus as to what elements are the most beneficial. In the
present study, it is difficult to determine if the most appropriate UDL elements
were selected. Other selected elements may have resulted in different outcomes.
Another important point that arises concerns the use of student
measures. Simply the use of only pretest and posttest scores may not give
researchers enough data to determine the effectiveness of UDL. Besides test
scores, other areas of assessment should include improved fluency, expression,
problem solving, and collaboration (CAST, 2008). Though test scores of
vocabulary and concept acquisition did not improve, it cannot be discounted
that other areas may have improved, such as engagement in the STEM subject
area or greater access to the material.
Besides the complexity of UDL, other factors may have contributed to the
results of the current study, such as participant characteristics and the study
implementation. Even though caliper matching was utilized to help control for
differences between the control and experimental group, all differences could

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


not be controlled for. For instance, the PM class had greater cognitive ability, as
reported by the classroom teacher. In other words, students in the PM class had
more potential in learning, applying, and generalizing the concepts being
introduced in the plant and insect units. Posttest scores were higher in both the
insect (control group) and plant (experimental group) units for the PM class.
The PM class also had fewer English Language Learners, fewer absences during
the units and a lower subject mortality rate, which all possibly influenced the
results. Moreover, the high subject mortality and absentee rates resulted in a
smaller sample size limiting the generalization of the results.
The parameters put in place at the Head Start center may have
influenced results. Other programs needed to be implemented at the same time
due to the nature of the Head Start program, such as a unit on Dental
Awareness. This unit took place at the same time as one of the UDL units, which
resulted in time taken away from the unit. Participants also self-selected centers
and were not required to take part in the Science center, which is a common
practice in early childhood classrooms. The classroom teacher could only
encourage students to visit the Science center. Much of the practice and
application of the unit concepts occurred in this center. Thus, some students may
have frequently visited the center and others may have never chosen it. Data
was not collected on the student frequency or use of the center, though this data
may have been useful in explaining results.
At the conclusion of the study, the researcher gathered informal data
from the classroom teacher in relation to the unit design. The classroom teacher
remarked that some of the activities were too lengthy and complex for her
students attention spans and abilities. The researcher did consult with the
teacher regarding the appropriateness of the unit lesson, activities, etc. prior to
implementation. However, it may have been beneficial to encourage flexible unit
implementation. In other words, the daily unit lessons may have been changed
based on the effectiveness and appropriateness of previous lessons. This
flexibility more closely mirrors daily instructional practices of classroom
teachers, as well as the framework of UDL. The rigidity of the unit
implementation may have skewed the study results. Future research should
allow for more flexibility of teacher unit implementation.
Finally, the units were not researcher implemented, which may have also
impacted the results of the study. The researcher provided detailed lesson plans
for each topic of the unit and explained each lesson thoroughly to the classroom
teacher. However, implementation of these units was dependent on the integrity
of the teacher. Even though mid-unit checkpoints were put in place, researcher
fidelity checks did not occur. Because fidelity checks did not occur, it is
unknown to what extent the units were implemented as planned. Furthermore,
the classroom teacher was versed in the UDL framework due to taking a
graduate level course on this topic; however, additional researcher feedback
may have been beneficial in regards to how the teacher was implementing the
UDL principles. Ideally, researcher implemented units would have been the
most effective and would have reduced threats to internal validity.

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


Implications for Early Childhood Educators

Though significant results were not found at the conclusion of the study,
there are still implications for early childhood educators. Early childhood
educators should continue to design early childhood environments and
curricula using the UDL framework. Benefits of using the UDL framework other
than improved test scores are apparent, such as the possibility of improved
engagement and increased access to the curriculum and classroom environment.
Early childhood educators may consider implementing the following ideas
drawn from the implementation and results of the current study, as well as UDL
best practices in the literature. Implications should be viewed with caution being
that no significance was found in the current study. Further research should be
conducted before these suggestions can be considered evidence-based practices
in the early childhood classroom.
First, classroom centers are the ideal place to implement UDL principles.
Centers are the best place to encourage persistence with students on a concept
across time. Centers also allow for multiple exposures on a concept and give
students multiple opportunities to practice a skill. Student needs can easily be
met in centers by using flexible grouping and changing or adapting materials. At
the same time, STEM concepts can seamlessly be integrated into centers.
The use of eBooks, especially teacher made, is recommended. The use of
teacher created eBooks allow for educators to explain any topic in the manner
that they decide. The use of eBooks is appropriate for various student abilities.
Books can be shortened or adapted for those students with shorter attention
spans, lower cognitive ability or for those learning English and easily made
more complex for those students more advanced. Videos and engaging photos
can be incorporated into the eBooks. Likewise, the classroom teacher can
provide the audio recording of the text being read. The eBooks can be placed in a
center where students can independently review the topic. Recommended book
creation Apps are Book Creator, Book Writer, and Scribble My Story.
Finally, it is recommended that teachers implement student choice.
Students should be given a choice in how they want to show their knowledge,
which benefits various ability levels and student interests. In the current study,
students were given the choice in how they wanted to demonstrate their
knowledge of the plant life cycle by either drawing, making an eBook,
completing a graphic organizer, using clay, or dramatizing the cycle. These
choices can be placed in a Science Center. Some students may be overwhelmed
with the number of choices; therefore, the teacher should make modifications
where needed. Two choices may be appropriate for some students, while other
students may be able to handle five. Choice is both powerful and engaging for

Recommendations for Future Research

It is recommended that researchers collect additional data besides
student outcomes when investigating the efficacy of UDL. This additional data
may yield useful information regarding the best implementation practices of
UDL. Specifically, it is recommended that classroom level data should be
collected. For instance, researchers should collect observational data on the
actual implementation of UDL and to what extent UDL is being implemented in

2016 The author and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


the classroom. Researchers can observe classrooms and rate the level of UDL
using tools such as The Universal Design for Learning Measurement Tool 1.0
(Basham & Gardner, 2010). This information can then be correlated with student
outcomes and level of engagement. Classroom level data may give greater
insight into what level of UDL is most effective. At the same time, classroom
observations may yield richer student outcome data. Observational data may
allow researchers to determine more closely if proposed student outcomes were
effectively reached in comparison to solely using closed and open-ended
instrument formats.
The collection of teacher level data is also recommended. For instance,
collecting perceptual data regarding how teachers implement UDL and how
they change their instruction and classroom environments based off of student
strengths, needs, interests and lesson content would be useful in uncovering
information about what elements of UDL are the most feasible and appropriate
to implement in the early child classroom. Nevertheless, results of the current
study indicate more research needs to be conducted to determine the efficacy of
UDL in early childhood environments. This research can only occur with a
strong partnership between early childhood educators and researchers.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Educational Research

Vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 79-96, July 2016

An Education Leadership Programs Continuous

Improvement Journey Toward a Standards-
Based System

Peters, R., Grundmeyer, T. and Buckmiller, T.

Drake University
Des Moines, IA. U.S.A.

Abstract. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to evaluate the
perceptions of graduate students enrolled in an education leadership
program that used standards-based grading (SBG), about their
perceptions of the effectiveness of SBG and their inclination to use it
later in their own classrooms. Data and conclusions from this study will
help the authors refine the ways they are using SBG in their courses and
programmatically. Results indicated that SBG facilitated ownership of
learning and deep levels of thinking and engagement. Students
observed that they benefitted from the ongoing and substantive
formative feedback, which they report is often neglected, even in their
professional evaluation processes. Further, they reported the ability to
better track their progress toward standards. In spite of these benefits,
students were mixed in their predictions as to whether they would
ultimately incorporate SBG in their own classrooms. As such, the
authors have committed to a more comprehensive transition to a
standards-based learning, assessment, and grading model in their
educational leadership program. They have expanded their inquiry of
SBGs effects, and have advanced discussion about its appropriateness
in other areas of the university. Ultimately, they encourage others in
higher education to become more conversant in SBG principles and to
conduct classes in a manner consistent with preparing educators for
standards-based environments.

Keywords: Standards-based grading (SBG); higher education; education


With the emergence of the Common Core State Standards and a heightened
emphasis on 21st century skills, what PK-12 schools and districts want their
students to know and be accountable for has perhaps become clearer than it has
ever been. However, in our roles as professors of education leadership, working
with teachers and administrators from across our state, it is evident that, while
much work has been done to align local curricula and instruction with the
standards, the methods of assessing, grading, and reporting students progress

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80 80

toward these learning targets often remain mired in outdated, highly subjective
practices devoid of any research base. Further, it has become obvious, the more
we examine the literature and engage with students, teachers, and
administrators, that these practices are not just benign vestiges of past models,
but are actually counterproductive to students intrinsic motivation to learn and
even, perhaps, to efforts to diminish the achievement gap.

As such, we set out to study exemplars of grading and assessment that were tied
to progress toward standards, and thus were more conducive to student
ownership of learning and consistent with Dwecks (2006) concept of growth
mindset. One of our articles based on case studies of these early adopters, Our
Grades Were Broken: Overcoming Barriers and Challenges to Implementing Standards-
Based Grading (Peters & Buckmiller, 2014), revealed a couple of key issues that
were particularly relevant to our work: 1) Schools and districts attempting to
innovate with standards-based models viewed institutions of higher education
as potential obstacles to such efforts, based on a perception that college and
university admissions offices and learning environments were generally averse
or disadvantageous to students coming from these schools; and 2) School
administrators were finding a dearth of educators and leadership candidates
with prior training or background in standards-based practice.

In our subsequent work with K-12 school leaders who are adopting standards-
based grading initiatives, we have consistently had this reinforced for us by
these practitionerssimply put, they and their stakeholders tend to view
institutions of higher education more as hindrances to implementation rather
than facilitators or partners. As a result of this feedback, our education
leadership faculty felt compelled to explore the relative merits of utilizing
standards-based assessment and grading strategies as part of our own
continuous improvement efforts. It has been a gradual process, influenced by
emerging reform initiatives, a critical literature base, and our own research on
the topic. As our program continues its transition to effective formative and
summative assessment and grading methods that are conducive to learning, we
have had success with such exploratory practices in our individual classrooms.
The purpose of this paper is to describe the empirical research data gathered
thus far and discuss its implications.

Review of the literature

It stands to reason that, as learning and professional standards are increasingly
being developed and promoted in content areas and professional realmsand
as curricula and instructional methods are increasingly being aligned with these
standardsthat assessment, grading, and reporting of student proficiency
should similarly be aligned. Without this alignment to standards, what grades
signify is blurred by the many purposes they serve. This conveys the basic
problem inherent in a single letter grade: It must communicate such a range and
mlange of informationabout achievement, effort, and behaviorthat it is
often impossible to discern its real meaning (OConnor, 2009).

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Reeves (2013) asserts that our underlying purpose in assessment and grading
should be the improvement of teaching and learning and that, to achieve this,
educators at all levels must provide information that is precise and relevant to
student success. By using standards as a conduit for assessing and reporting
student achievement, instructors are able to provide students with more
accurate and actionable information about what their grades signify and how to
improve. This practice of providing more actionable feedback is also an issue of
fairness, which Reeves identifies as the foundational quality upon which
educational decisions should be established. He goes on to note that student
achievement in a fair system should be associated with proficiency in
identifiable standards versus wading through mysterious, changing
expectations (p. xiv). While acknowledging the right of academic freedom for
teachers, Reeves (2013) warns that this does not include the freedom to ignore
standards that have been established as explicit targets for student learning. He
also adds that higher order thinking and intellectual growth are best advanced
via clear objectives, frequent formative feedback, and an expectation for students
to edit and revise work that is less than proficient.

While still in the minority, ever-increasing numbers of progressive secondary

schools have begun to adopt such standards-based assessment and grading
models. In spite of this growing popularity in the K-12 ranks, this research
suggests a dearth of evidence for corresponding efforts in institutions of higher
education. As Beattie (2013) notes, grading practices at the post-secondary level
continue to vary widely from instructor to instructor and often obscure
academic achievement by incorporating components like class attendance and
participation, or by norming practices that compare students to each other rather
than to a standard (OConnor & Wormeli, 2011). Guskey and Bailey (2009) found
such practices unreliable and lacking in clarity about student skill attainment or
understanding. This variance between levels and instructors practices is also
problematic in that it holds the potential to complicate the transition of students
from standards-based high schools into college, and may thus provide a
deterrent to the broader propagation of SBG principles (Peters & Buckmiller,
2014). Certainly, it at least presents a discontinuity for high school graduates
who have learned to self-assess and been acculturated to direct, actionable
feedback on their performance relative to learning standards. Such students,
upon entering college, are often confronted with a system in which grades are
again meted out in a variety of subjective, non-standardized formatsa
developmental step back toward an inordinate sense of dependence on the
teacher. Further, by perpetuating the practice of blending assessment of content
knowledge and skill with unrelated behavioral components, professors may be
exacerbating the systemic problem of grade inflation (Johnson, 2003). And the
absence of SBG in colleges of education may ultimately have the effect of
limiting the prospects of aspiring teachers and administrators when they enter
the job candidate pool.

Rundquist (2012) presented a rare exception to this lack of reported standards-

based grading efforts in higher education, noting positive results after
implementing SBG design in an upper-level physics course. All assessments

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incorporated student voice and choice, allowing students to demonstrate

proficiency of their learning standards by means of oral exams, face-to-face
discussions with the professor, or submission of videos in which they narrated
proofs or problem solutions. Beattie (2013), too, reported on the implementation
and subsequent positive effects of SBG during the course of an introductory,
calculus-based university physics sequence. He described his standards-based
design and the students reactions, as well as successes and challenges of the
process, in an effort to generate conversation about the prospective benefits and
drawbacks of such initiatives in higher education, and to aid professors who
might be inclined to attempt a standards-based model.

In a similar vein, the current study was designed to examine student

perspectives and lived experiences with regard to standards-based grading
principles introduced in a university graduate level education leadership course
on research, measurement, evaluation, and planning. It sought qualitative
responses from students as they engaged with a standards-based classroom. The
employment of student voice is critical; as Mitra (2004) pointed out, students
particularly those at the graduate levelshould have meaningful input in
reform efforts. If the intent is to understand a process and its prospects, it defies
logic to ignore those who will soon be directly responsible for decisions
concerning its application in the field. Further, research shows that such efforts
can empower students, as well as enhance classroom practice and
student/teacher relationships (Cushman, 2000; Daniels, Kalkman, & McCombs,
2001; Kincheloe, 2007).

The origins of, and rationale for, standards-based grading

Students have the right to a clear understanding of their level of progress.
Grades are not only the primary source of that understanding, but a sacred
tradition in education that has largely gone unchallenged and is highly resistant
to change (Olson, 1995; Marzano, 2000). Yet, traditional grades issued in most
university classes do not offer enough specificity regarding student
performance. Unfortunately, according to Bailey and McTighe (1996), without
this, gradings other purposes cannot be effectively carried out.

Marzano (2000) has observed that our current grading system is over a century
old and has evolved without a meaningful body of research to support it. He
notes that fundamental problems associated with gradings traditional use by
instructors include merging behavioral factors with academic knowledge and
skills, arbitrarily weighting assessments, and blending a wide range of divergent
elements into single assessment scores. And due to a lack of professional
learning and development concerning the grading process in higher education,
most of what faculty members do in this regard likely reflects what they
themselves experienced as students or as new faculty, thus perpetuating what is
arguably a broken system. This dysfunctional and outdated model of assessment
and grading seems difficult to justify, given its residence in academic institutions
that are founded on empirical principles, statistical data, and a charge to explore,
describe, and explain existing ideas and practices. OConnor (2009) concurs,
advocating for a general examination of grading practices and challenge of long-
held beliefs. Without such scrutiny, grades will likely continue to serve as

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83 83

inadequate reports of inaccurate judgments by biased judges of the extent to

which students have attained undefined levels of mastery of unknown
proportions of indefinite amounts of material (Dressel, cited in Kohn, 1999, p.
201). Marzano (2000) echoes this, asserting that traditional grades are so
imprecise as to be practically meaningless.

This challenge to the relevance or defensibility of traditional grading is

reiterated by Guskey (1996), who has criticized assigning zeros to late or missed
work, which is a reflection of student effort and organization, as opposed to
learning. He notes the disproportionally negative effect this practice can have
when averaging, since outlier scores can significantly skew final grades. Further,
penalties for late work create disincentives for students to complete work and
often cause them to miss opportunities to learn. Such practices deter the most
important purpose of gradesproviding timely, accurate formative feedback to

OConnor (2009) cites the inclusion of more formative assessment relative to

standards as another best grading practice, since making all assignments
summative (by assigning them points that contribute to the final grade) can
inhibit students from taking risks or being creative, as they become overly
focused on accumulating points instead. Research clearly supports the
significance of such formative feedback to achieving specific learning goals.
Hattie (2009), in a comprehensive review of meta-analyses on achievement,
reported that providing students with frequent and specific information about
their performance relative to standards led to significant learning gains. Further,
grades should be updated regularly to reflect the most recent evidence; since
learning is a continuous, iterative process, its level of quality should be
prioritized over when it occurs.
In addition, OConnor (2009) recommends thorough conversations with students
concerning the assessment and grading process at the beginning of instruction,
since one of the primary aims of education should be to have students gain the
capacity to self-evaluate. Standards-based grading can provide a structured
framework for such meaningful conversations about student work and
opportunities for self-assessment. This, in turn, provides students with the
feedback they need to ensure that their efforts at improvement are better focused
and more likely to succeed (Guskey, 2001).

A growing consensus seems to be that it is time to de-emphasize traditional

grades, to better align and systematize the grading process and refocus on the
learning and progress of individual students (McTighe, 1996). As this occurs,
teachers will be better positioned to integrate assessment and grading into
instruction so that it does not merely measure students, but becomes part of the
learning process itself (NASSP, 2016).

Purpose of the study

The purpose of this study was to evaluate the perceptions of graduate students
enrolled in an education leadership (school principal preparation) program that
used standards-based grading (SBG), about the processes involved in SBG, their

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84 84

general effectiveness, and students inclination to use it later in their own

classrooms The authors of this paper all use some variation of SBG in their
graduate courses. Data and conclusions from this study will help the authors
refine the ways they are using standards-based assessment and grading
strategies in their individual graduate courses and help determine to what
extent the processes should be used programmatically.

Research questions
The researchers in this qualitative study sought to understand how students in a
graduate school principal licensure program perceived the processes involved
with standards based grading. To that end, the primary research question was:
What are the perceptions of education leadership students enrolled in a course
that utilizes SBG, about the effectiveness and defensibility of the model? Sub-
questions were: Did the students think SBG was a fair means of assessment?
Compared to other university courses using a more traditional, points-based
grading system, what were the relative strengths and weaknesses of SBG in this
course from the students perspective?

The researchers used qualitative case study methodology to study Dr.
Buckmillers use of SBG in his Research, Measurement, Evaluation and Planning
course. The course took place in the in the fall of 2014 at a mid-sized Midwestern
university. The researchers used a qualitative approach in this study to obtain
rich and naturalistic data (Stake, 1995). This approach is most appropriate when
it investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life contexts
(Yin, 2003). The phenomenon under investigation was graduate student
perceptions of SBG processes in a higher education graduate class.

Participants and confidentiality

The bound system for this case study was a graduate course. The units of
analysis were the students in the course. All 17 students in the class agreed to
participate in the study and were consented via the process approved by the
university IRB. Of the 17 students, ten were female and seven were male. Nine
of the students were teachers in an elementary setting, six worked in secondary
schools and two worked as education consultants. Each of the students held
current state teaching licenses; four had completed a previous masters degree.

Data Collection
The students were assured that participation or non-participation in this study
would not affect their final grade. The instructor did not have access to the
qualitative data until after the final grades of the course had been given. To add
further confidence, we ensured that when the instructor did look at the data, it
was de-identified.

Data were collected at three different points: on the first day of class, at the mid-
point of the class, and on the final day of the class. Data were collected via
various student writing responses to prompts by using Qualtrics. Another
source of data included the final course evaluations (quantitative and
qualitative); these were triangulated to provide a rich understanding of the

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perceptions of students in this course. The data from the Qualtrics writing
prompts were organized for analysis and the names were eliminated in order to
ensure confidentiality. In total, every student participated in three such surveys
(each with 4 or 5 prompts/questions).

With regard to thematic analysis, the researchers employed a range of successive
and complementary elements rooted in the grounded theory tradition (Glaser &
Strauss, 1967), with the intent of highlighting themes to better understand how
students perceive SBG as an assessment strategy in a graduate class. First, the
researchers worked through the transcribed data systematically using a constant
comparative method (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), giving attention to each item and
identifying interesting aspects that formed repeated patterns. Patton (2002)
described this as "the data [being] spread out for examination" (p. 486). The next
iteration involved thematizing the data in order to grasp the greater structure
and meaning of the responses (van Manen, 2003). In this case, the process meant
clustering invariant elements of data from the research into thematic labels. This
logical shift from the raw dataincluding the participants' original language
to the newly created thematic descriptions was accomplished via individual and
shared analysis (Polkinghorne, 1989) in order to better triangulate and audit the
data. The new themes captured important aspects of the data relative to the
research questions and represented a more refined level of patterned response
within the data set (Braun & Clark, 2006).

The next analytical step employed a textural-structural synthesis, which

integrated previous themes and descriptions into an account of the ranges of
experiences representing the group as a whole (Moustakas, 1994). In the end, our
analysis sought to grasp and elucidate the meaning, structure, and essence of the
challenges and solutions of the study participants, many of whom were
experiencing SBG as students for the first time. Finally, word clouds were
generated to provide visual representations for the researchers so that common
themes were made evident or reinforced.

Case (Course) Context

Standards based assessment and grading principles were utilized to more
effectively communicate students strengths and areas for growth relative to the
learning standards of the course. At the time of the data collection, Dr.
Buckmiller was an assistant, tenure track professor in his fourth year at the
University. Dr. Buckmiller s graduate level Research, Measurement,
Evaluation, and Planning class was based on six course standards and met over
the course of three weekends during a semester. Students were required to
complete assignments that encompassed one or more course standards. The six
course standards were based on the following topical areas: basic educational
research statistics, basic qualitative research, basic quantitative research,
standardized test interpretation, planning, and data presentation. Throughout
the course, the instructor used various formative assessment technics including
practice tests, class discussions, small group projects and individual
conversations. The instructor designated a summative assessment to determine
whether or not students demonstrated proficiency in each of the standards. As a

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concession to convention, the summative assessments were transformed to a

letter grade for the purpose of reporting the students progress to the University
for record keeping. In order for a student to receive an A for the class, he/she
needed to demonstrate proficiency in all six standards. If a student
demonstrated proficiency in five of the six standards, it would result in a B for
the final grade. If the student demonstrated that they were proficient in four of
the six standards, he/she would receive a C.

Three of the course standards were assessed using short answer tests. For a
student to reach proficiency on the written tests, he/she was required to answer
more than 90% of the answers correctly. Rubrics were developed to assess the
projects associated with the other three standards.

Generally re-assessment and re-submission are foundational elements of SBG. If

a student initially failed to demonstrate proficiency on a test or assignment, re-
assessment was an option. To encourage students take greater ownership of
their learning, the re-assessment was offered at students requests and with a
learning plan for addressing the previous gap area(s). Re-assessments were held
on the final day of class.

Another component of SBG is the separation of academic and non-academic

factors in the assessment process. The education leadership program created a
Professional Habits Matrix to assess non-academic behaviors such as integrity,
growth mindset, preparation, and collaboration. Program leaders have
identified these habits as being essential for future successful school
administrators, and although they are not directly related to the course content
standards, students are still held accountable for them. As non-academic factors,
the results on this matrix do not impact in the final academic grade for the
course, but the feedback from this assessment plays an important role in the
development of the aspiring administrator. Professors and program advisors
will have crucial conversations with students who do not meet the proficiency
mark on the Professional Habits Matrix as this instrument is leveraged to help
the program faculty make decisions regarding clinical placement and final

Data was collected at the beginning, mid-point and end of the course. Many of
the graduate students in the course had experience with standards-based
grading practices in at least one other graduate course. A number of students
also had experience in their own K-12 school setting with standards-based
grading practices to varying degrees. To fully understand the perceptions of
students and their understanding of SBG this section will highlight the data as it
was gathered chronologically throughout the course.

Preliminary Student Report

An initial question asked students, In looking at the six learning standards for
the course, which one or two will be the easiest for you to demonstrate? The
overall perception was that basic education research statistics would be the
simplest part of the course to learn. Conversely, another question asked the

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students to consider what would be the most challenging part of the course. The
data suggested that students perceived the topic of basic qualitative research
as posing the greatest challenge. These responses may reflect the fact that, while
most teachers have dealt rather extensively with statistics and other data in this
era of accountability, many have had comparatively fewer experiences to learn
about and generate formal research, in spite of the fact that much current
educational legislation places the burden of being research based on K-12
educational practices. Other initial thoughts expressed by students about SBG
were instructive, as well; respondents seemed both eager for and, at the same
time, somewhat anxious about, a new type of grading for their higher education
graduate course. Three general themes emerged from the first set of student
responses that are substantiated with a representative sample of their clarifying

The initial response was that being graded according to the standards was
intimidating and pressure inducing.
A number of students reported that the prospect of being graded in a standards-
based fashion felt somewhat more intimidating and imbued with pressure than
grading methods that they had previously experienced in traditional graduate
courses. One student noted, with a vague sense of unease, that, relative to prior
grading experiences, the standards-based approach would really hold me
accountable for understanding the content. One of his colleagues observed that
the idea of any new grading system was nerve-wracking, even given her prior
knowledge of SBG, because of the different set of expectations for her as a
student. She elaborated, It is a gut reaction to worry about my grade because I
dont yet know how to succeed in the new system. There was not complete
consensus in this regard, however; a minority of these respondents peers
remarked that they believed the process would actually diminish the pressure to
achieve a good grade, since they would have more ownership of their learning
outcomes. The apprehension from some students seemed to be self-induced
since at the time of the survey, minimal information about the course or course-
assignments had actually been shared yet.

Greater focus on learning as opposed to grades

Another theme that emerged in initial thoughts about SBG was that students
valued the potential for an increased emphasis on learning in the new system.
Various students commented optimistically on this theme, with one surmising,
I think I will like itMore of a focus on learning rather than the grades being
issued is good. Another noted, Im excited about SBG because I believe it
shows the growth in learning. A colleague with prior experience in a standards-
based district enthused, Im a huge fan of SBG because to a teacher, parent, or
student, a letter grade doesnt really mean anything. Standards-based grades
allow all stakeholders to understand how much the student knows. Yet another
student with little previous exposure to SBG observed that, it seems to make
more sense than just taking a few tests and being done with it.

Experiencing SBG from the students perspective

An interesting subset of data was related to feedback from multiple students
who were well acquainted with SBG principles but who were nevertheless

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excited about the prospect of engaging with SBG from the student perspective in
a university level course. Many of these graduate students were utilizing SBG in
their own classrooms and had clearly embraced the new grading model. A
typical insight was that of a teacher who remarked: This manner of assessment
in a university course will assist me in gaining the perspective [of my students]
and will help me grow in this style of grading myself. This sentiment reflected
a common theme of empathy for, and solidarity with, the students these teachers
work with each day. Another educator reiterated this, noting, I am a huge
proponent of SBG and am implementing it in my classroom next year so I am
glad we are using it here. The comments pertaining to this overall theme might
be summarized with a final observation from a practitioner who endorsed the
process: I love standards-based grading and am excited to be on the student
side of assessments for a new perspective.

Perceived strengths of SBG

The majority of students perceived the strength of the SBG model of assessment
to be the feedback they would presumably receive throughout the learning
process. This, in some cases, was noted as being in marked contrast to the
relative lack of feedback that participants reported being given in their own
teacher evaluation processes. Examples of this were seen in appreciation for
feedback on learning and the ability to better understand strengths and
weaknesses, as well as an enhanced knowledge of the areas I will need to
improve on and [an acknowledgement] of what I already know. Another
interviewee predicted that SBG would provide students with a more accurate
picture of their learning and abilities, and a more objective portrayal than
traditional grading. And a peer expressed a preference for getting constant
feedback throughout the class so the end result can be the best possible

Another common theme was that students perceived a high value in being
encouraged and empowered to discern their own strengths and areas for growth
through SBG practices. One participant observed that, SBG allows both
teachers and students to determine where exactly [students] performance
strengths and weaknesses lie, while others appreciated the opportunities this
presented for productive formative discussions. Another one pointed out that,
knowing specific strengths and weaknesses is a good starting point for
improvement and as students we will be able to better balance our strengths
and weaknesses. Comments such as these suggested that most students
appreciated the chance to be more personally engaged and invested in assessing
their levels of skill and understanding.

A student who noted, It is comforting knowing we have multiple chances and

methods to show what we know, exemplified a third, but less frequently
mentioned, benefit to standards-based assessment and grading practices. This
decidedly non-traditional component of SBG is a departure for most professors,
and it is ironic that many teachers had heretofore expressed grave reservations
about the concept of retakes and redos of work, in spite of the many instances
of such iterative practices in the real world of most modern workplaces. It is

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also reflective of the idea that the act of learning should take precedence over its

Drawbacks of SBG
Perceived drawbacks of an SBG grading model in a university graduate course
were also solicited from students by way of an open-ended response format. A
number of students did not list any perceived drawbacks to the system, while
the ones who did provided responses that could be reduced to a pair of
overarching themes. The first was a fear that they would not be able to master
everything expected of them throughout the course. Although, as previously
noted, students appreciated the anticipated feedback inherent to SBG as a
strength, they also recognized that a corresponding reality meant that such
feedback would come with an implicit expectation to act in a manner that would
not only be challenging at times, but would also demand learning and growth.

The other perceived drawback was related to the unique format of the course,
which transpired over the course of three full weekends spaced two weeks
apart. One student voiced this concern, worrying that in a short three weekend
course, it might be difficult to [have] ample time to meet standards. Another
observed that, being new to both the students and the professor, the
implementation of SBG may bring with it some glitches, as youd expect with
any new initiative. The course model of weekend classes, however, was a fixed
model that could not be changed for this graduate course.

Mid-course Student Report

At the mid-point of the graduate planning, research, measurement, and
evaluation course, students were asked to complete another short survey to
provide feedback about the grading practices to date. The data provided was
used to generate the following mid-course themes:

Student ownership of learning

In a multitude of ways students had begun to recognize and communicated that
their levels of empowerment and self-actualization were generally higher with
the standards-based approach than in traditional grading practices. One student
remarked, I think it (SBG) is valuable because it forces student ownership of
learning. Others made similar comments, such as, More students will reach
proficiency and understand the standards, and I feel like you will actually
learn the content and keep it rather than forget it after the class is over.

Effectively tracking progress

Another theme that emerged from the data concerned students ability to track
their own progress relative to the course objectives. Because routine feedback
and expectations for regular self-assessment were part and parcel of the grading
process, students were better able to reflect on and gauge their own learning and
proficiency. The value of SBG is clear criteria and expectations for each
standard, not to mention where I stand in relation to those criteria, one student
asserted. Another student expressed appreciation for the chance to narrow his
learning needs and priorities based their progress in the course: I am tracking

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my own proficiency. I can pinpoint specific standards where I need to


Concerns about SBG

Students were again asked to provide feedback regarding concerns they had
regarding the use of SBG in class. Almost a third of the classmore than at the
beginningresponded with No concerns. Of those who responded with
specific concerns at this point, most again conjectured as to whether they would
be able to meet all of the course standards and/or whether they would have to
redo assessments to accomplish this.

Post Class Report

At the conclusion of the course, students were asked to complete a post-class
survey instrument. The researchers were interested in getting student
perception data after they had experienced all aspects of standard-based grading
throughout the entirety of the course. A range of themes emerged from the data,
to be further outlined in this section.

Improved learning through SBG

Students, more strongly and in even greater concentrations than before,
indicated that they had felt more ownership of their learning. One explained, It
(SBG) allowed me to focus and reflect on the learning and put more application
to the content instead of just checking things off. Consequently, because of this
self-actualized approach to learning, the instructor reported that students
seemed more motivated to learn new ideas and embrace areas that had
heretofore been needs for growth and development. Students expressed
appreciation for being encouraged, empowered, and indeed, expected to
monitor their progress and self-assess their learning relative to the course
objectives. One reiterated this, noting: I liked the standards-based evaluation
because it allowed me to self-assess and know exactly where I was at. The
rubrics used in class were also highlighted as effective learning tools. A student
emphasized this, pointing out, Clear rubrics and quality feedback helped me
know exactly how I was doing and what I needed to know.

Clearer direction toward standards

The majority of students reported clear direction toward course standards
because of the SBG practices utilized in the course. Multiple students addressed
this concept in their surveys, including one who noted simply that he knew and
understood the goals for the class, as well as his progress toward those goals.
Beyond mentioning the clarity of the formal course standards, students also
remarked that informal and developmental expectations were also clearer. It
(SBG) allowed me to know exactly what was expected and how I was going to
be assessed [in all areas], commented one student, while another added, I just
like it because the learning targets are clear and its about masterynot failure.

It should be noted that not every student expressed unequivocally that the SBG
strategies in the course always provided clearer direction for him or her. One
responded, I do not think the SBG process necessarily helped my progression
in this course, yet the same student mentioned later in his survey that he did

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gain an awareness in the course that, I can achieve and my grade is actually the
one that I earned.

Big ideas about an SBG class

One reflective question posed to students in the survey pertained to big ideas
they might have taken away from being in a graduate class that used SBG
assessment strategies. Students provided ample communication regarding their
thoughts and ideas with this prompt. One student stated succinctly, It is about
growth in my learning and meeting the objectives. Such sentiments, taken in
the context of a student having completed the course, might help future
graduate students become less anxious about standards-based practices. A
colleague identified his big idea as being that, You always know where you
stand as far as proficiency toward the standard. Another student substantiated
this, when she observed, I think it is easier to understand the goals professors
have. Also, it is clearly outlined with expectations so that students are not afraid
to [make mistakes] because the feedback will help them get back on track.

Transferring SBG to their classrooms

A final question on the post-class survey prompted students to provide feedback
about how a graduate level class utilizing SBG strategies might be useful to their
own professional practices as educators. Answers ranged from, I like that SBG
provides feedback to students about learning versus collecting points to I
believe SBG could be used in the classroom; however, I also believe behavioral
aspects that might otherwise be missed are important in the development of
students. In the end, it was apparent that the takeaways from students in the
class were diverse and related to some degree to the students own learning,
perceptions, and readiness to apply new concepts in grading.

Discussion and implications

As we strive to build a leadership preparation program that is rigorous,
defensible, and supportive of student learning, our aspirations and commitment
are, in part, to practice what we preach by leveraging effective assessment and
grading practices that clearly communicate student achievement through
formative feedback relative to standards, which is consistent with Hatties (2009)
powerful findings on this practice. We hope that, as students experience SBG in
the role of learners, they will be better prepared to thoughtfully advise and,
potentially, train their future faculty members on this topic.

Moving forward, as this study suggests, instructors in leadership preparation

programs and practicing school leaders alike will need to be aware of the
general anxiety surrounding reform of assessment, grading, and reporting
processes, and work to alleviate it. It will take ongoing engagement with current
and future teachers and administratorsnot to mention community members,
college and university admissions personnel, decision makers in the state
department of education, and even legislatorsto build consensus that SBG
potentially offers a more fair and accurate assessment and reporting model. As
Heflebower, Hoegh, and Warrick (2014) observe, because of the magnitude of
this work, it is not for the faint of heart. It requires long-term commitment, a
tenacity to do what is right for students, and a strategic, well-planned approach.

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This is evidenced, to some degree, by the following inconsistency: Most

interviewees in this study were clearly, repeatedly, and articulately able to
convey that SBG facilitated more ownership and deeper levels of thinking and
engagement in their own learning. They observed, further, that they benefitted
greatly from the ongoing and substantive formative feedback throughout the
course, a responsibility that they report is often ignored or neglected even in
their professional evaluation processes. They reported clearer direction and
enhanced progress toward their personal and professional goals. And perhaps
most significantly, they acknowledged that the model encouraged productive
risk-taking, in an educational climate that is otherwise rife with constructs that
inordinately discourage and even penalize mistakes, first efforts, and
innovation. Somehow, though, in spite of all of the evidence of obvious benefits
gained from this model, a number of students nevertheless felt unable to fully
endorse its immediate implementation in the K-12 ranks. The only apparent
reasons for this irony that come readily to mind are that the respondents either
felt that the cultural and historical barriers to implementation were too great, or
that they themselves were so fully immersed in, invested in, and products of, the
existing model that change would be difficultif not impossibleon a personal

With these deep, systemic challenges in mind, we have committed to an even

more comprehensive transition to a standards-based learning, assessment, and
grading model in our educational leadership program. We have formalized this
to a degree by documenting these efforts in advance of our impending
accreditation site visit. We have also brought in a series of nationally recognized
speakers, and facilitated faculty conversations, on the topic of standards-based
grading and assessment models. These conversations have had the involvement
of everyone from new faculty to administrators, and have been well received in
our institution.

Further, we have expanded these professional conversations into the realm of

academic inquiry, beginning with the aforementioned examination of how
schools and districts are overcoming barriers and challenges to implementing
standards-based grading (Peters & Buckmiller, 2014). With a like-minded
colleague who has integrated standards-based principles into his classes at our
university, we have undertaken a study using student voice (from interviews
and focus groups involving his students) to assess the lived experience of a
college student in a teacher preparation program. We have also submitted an
article based on similar student survey data from a high school in the state that
has been an early adopter of SBG at the secondary level

Finally, in response to the feedback mentioned earlier from K-12 practitioners

with whom we have worked, we have engaged in inquiry of college and
university admissions offices, to determine their attitudes, policies, and practices
toward grades, transcripts, and applications from schools employing standards-
based models. The intent of this endeavor was to help either dispel or confirm
the perception that colleges and universities policies and practices are obstacles

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to SBG models. And, using the results of these studies and our own experiences
as a foundation, we have expanded our network and continued to collaborate
extensively with schools, districts, and individuals who are investing in the
implementation of standards-based models.

Recommendations and questions for future consideration

As this study illustrates, in spite of extensive advocacy for standards-based
approaches, the logic of the systems alignment with learning and professional
standards, and the positive results experienced by the participating students,
further acceptance of, and adherence to such models will continue to pose
formidable challenges. It is within the context of, and in order to encourage
resolution to, these challenges that the authors submit recommendations and
questions/implications for further research and practice. As we have noted
previously (Peters & Buckmiller, 2014), in order to enhance the likelihood of SBG
practices being implemented with integrity in any setting, a purposeful plan
carried out within a reasonable timeline, high quality professional development
and collaboration, and effective two-way communication about their underlying
philosophy and purposes are needed. Aspiring teachers and administrators,
such as those in this study, need opportunities for safe, honest conversations
about their beliefs relative to the process, blended with a low-risk environment
to experiment with and pilot innovative grading practices to merge with those
beliefs. Ultimately, grading and assessment reform will require generating a
sense of urgency and mission around the essential goals of educationincluding
that the work of fostering learning for a lifetime is the right work. And based on
our experiences with the individuals in this study and many other educators,
educational leaders, and professors of education, advancing the discussions and
practice surrounding SBG seems to require a growth oriented mindset or

Working from that assumption, and based in part on the general dearth of extant
research conducted on the use of, and instruction on, standards-based grading
and assessment at the post-secondary level, we submit that those individuals in
higher education who are charged with preparing teachers and school and
district administrators should consider a number of actions. First, they should
accept the challenge to become more conversant in SBG principles and practices,
while exploring the feasibility of working with colleagues in higher education
and K-12 practitioners/early adopters alike to better ensure effective transitions
for students from high school to institutions of higher education. The rationale
for this is, regardless of ones perspectives on standards-based practices, that
without question there will continue to be ever-growing numbers of students
entering college after having been immersed in, and accountable to, standards-
based grading and assessment systems. Without efforts to reconcile these often-
divergent structures, these same students may face unduly difficult transitions,
lose ground academically, become less engaged in their learning, and experience
diminished chances for success.

Secondly, professors should make a commitment to conducting their classes in a

manner that will adequately prepare educators for standards-based
environments. Again, regardless of ones philosophical leaning, there is a

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responsibility to create knowledge and opportunities that are conducing for

aspiring teachers and administrators to thrive in the school and district settings
where they will soon be seeking employment. As they gain confidence in
standards-based grading principles, such instructors may decide to progress
toward offering standards-based assessment and grading for their own
postsecondary students.

As the number of districts and schools enacting standards-based assessment and

grading practices increases, another worthwhile contribution will be to engage
with PK-12 partners in research collaborations, regular review of the literature,
and the lending of expertise in SBG to districts implementing the model. Finally,
university personnel are encouraged to become better connected to the small-
but-growing national network of SBG work being done in higher education.

To guide this work, we will conclude with some questions that are conducive to
advancing the reform of assessment and grading practices, and that may suggest
potential areas for further inquiry:
1. Based on what we have discerned from schools that are early adopters of
SBG regarding their successes, challenges and ongoing questions and
concerns, how can we, and our institutions, become catalysts in
supporting their efforts?
2. Most secondary schools and practically all colleges and universities
continue to utilize traditional grading and assessment practices. If we
continue to use archaic means to assess, grade and report while
promoting innovative methods for teaching and learning, what are likely
to be the consequences? To what extent do changes in assessment and
grading models have the potential to become key leverage points for
effecting systemic change?
3. A student-centered system should develop self-efficacy/agency,
engagement, ownership of learning, and intrinsic motivation. It is rare to
see most or all students demonstrating these qualities across most of
their schooling. What actions need to be identified and leveraged in
order to develop these types of environments, and what role can SBG
play in such environments?
4. What are the gaps between the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that
new teachers and administrators bring into their respective K-12
environments and those that are needed to advance success in standards-
based initiatives? How can and should these gaps be addressed?
5. What are the gaps between knowledge, skills, and dispositions being
used in our college and university classrooms and those that are needed
to advance success in standards-based learning? How can and should
these gaps be addressed?
6. What successes and advancement are observable in postsecondary
institutions knowledge, dispositions, and use of principles related to
standards-based education, particularly as they relate to admissions and
financial aid? How might these be expanded or further developed?
7. What questions, reservations, and concerns do you have about
standards-based education models, including those featuring standards-

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based grading and assessment? How might these be addressed or


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International Journal of Learning, Teaching, and Educational Research

Vol. 15, No. 8, pp. 97-114, July 2016

A Survey on Assessment of the Prevailing School

Fees for Private Secondary Schools in Tanzania

Veronica R. Nyahende & Benedicto C. Cosmas

Department of Planning, Research and ICT,
Higher Education Students Loans Board,
Dar es salaam, Tanzania

Abstract. Higher Education Students Loans Board (HESLB) has been

using secondary school fees as a key component in determining
neediness for loan applicants at Higher Education (HE). Such fees are
used as proxy indicator of the ability of parents/guardians to meet the
costs of higher education in complementing the Government effort. This
survey was conducted to assess the actual schools fees charged per
student in the private secondary schools. The survey was geared
towards achieving the following objectives (i) to examine the amount of
school fees charged per student by private secondary schools (ii) to
assess the components of school fees for private secondary schools (iii)
to determine schools with special scholarship/grants programmes and
the criteria thereof.

This survey was conducted in all regions countrywide after being

clustered into 5 groups (5 zones), Dodoma, Mwanza, Zanzibar, Arusha
and Mbeya. Private secondary schools were visited in which data were
collected from 260 respondents. Data collected were analyzed using
Excel and Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS). Results were
summarized in Tables, Figures and in Narrative form.

The study concluded that currently private secondary schools are

charging school fees at a range of Tshs. 500,000 and Tshs.1,000,000. It
was further concluded that the components of the school fees as shown
by most of the private secondary schools visited includes examination
fees (Mock, National Examination Council-NECTA), Caution money,
Admission fees, Identity cards, Registration fees, Medical fees and
Boarding fees. It was further concluded that selection of students for
financial support is basing on the orphanage status, family background
and academic performance of the students. It was recommended that
the Government should set standard of the amount of school fees to be
charged in all private secondary schools as it is for the Public secondary
schools. It was further recommended that Private secondary schools
should ensure that components of school fees which do not directly
relate to the learning process are treated separately and not as part of
school fees for example inspection/ audit fees. It is also recommended
that the Government should set rules to ensure that there is a specific

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number of students to be financially supported by any established

private secondary school hence adequate participation of each private
secondary school in provisions of scholarships and/or grants

Keywords: Higher Education Students Loans Board(HESLB); Public

secondary school; Private secondary school; Government; School fees.

HESLB Establishment and the need for Survey

The Higher education Students Loans Board (HESLB) is a body corporate

established under the Act No.9 of 2004, (CAP 178) with the objective of assisting,
on a loan basis, needy Tanzanian students who secure admission in accredited
Higher Learning Institutions (HLIs), but who have no economic ability to pay
for the costs of their education (HESLB,2014). The Board is also entrusted with
the task of formulating the mechanism for determining amount of loans payable
to students and advice the government accordingly (HESLB, 2016a). Currently
the Board issue six loanable items to domestic students namely Meals and
accommodation, Tuitions Fees, Books and stationary, Special Faculty
Requirements, Field Practical Training and Research (HESLB, 2015). Three
loanable items namely Tuition fees, Special faculty requirement and Field
practical training are issued based on the means testing grades (HESLB, 2016b).
Tuitions fees is an important component among the means testable items, this is
because it changes frequently due to changes in the economic conditions hence
the need for frequently review (Nyahende et al, 2015).

The Board (HESLB) has been conducting surveys to ascertain the actual costs
incurred by students/parents/guardian in their secondary schools hence
establishing the levels of neediness among prospective loans applicants. The
previous survey was done in 2011/2012 financial year which enabled the Board
to review the rates of all means testable items. The revised rates were adopted
and put in use beginning 2012/2013 financial year to date (HESLB, 2014)

HESLB has been using secondary school fees as a key component in determining
neediness for loan applicants at Higher Education (HE). Such fees are used as
proxy indicator of the ability of parents/guardians to meet the costs of higher
education in complementing the Government effort (Nyahende, 2016). However,
over the four years of usage, almost all schools have reviewed their fees. It is
therefore imperative that a study was conducted to ensure that the same are
reviewed in the database of the Board (HESLB) and hence ensure reasonable
amount which is closer to the abilities than the current ones which do not reflect
the close to reality case.

Based on the need by HESLB to have an accurate and updated secondary school
fees data to enhance evaluation of applicants for 2016/2017, survey was
conducted to an agreed sampling of Private secondary schools to determine the

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actual school fees charged per student so as to prepare an accurate input for
means testing regarding tuition fees to be adopted for the year 2016/2017.

Survey Objectives

General Objective

The general objective of this survey was to assess the actual schools fees
charged per student in the private secondary schools.

Specific objectives:

(i)To examine the amount of school fees charged per student by private
secondary schools.
(ii)To assess the components of school fees for private secondary schools.
(iii)To determine schools with special scholarship/grants programmes and the
criteria thereof.

Survey Questions:

(i)What is the amount of school fees charged per student by private secondary
(ii)What are the components of school fees for private secondary schools?
(iii)How many schools with special scholarship/grants programmes and the
criteria thereof

Pretesting of the Questionnaires
Prior to conduct actual study, the tools were pretested at Feza Boys School, and
Makongo Secondary school in Dar es Salaam and the findings was used to
improve the tools.

Survey on the prevailing secondary school fees per student

The survey adopted two main approaches in order to collect data.

Primary Information

Structured questionnaire
Structured questionnaires were provided to all
administrators/headmasters/headmistresses of the selected private secondary
schools. Furtherance to questionnaire responding, the researchers were required
to request for any guideline (including samples of admission letters which
indicates the school requirements which requires each student to submit.

Direct observation,
A researcher observed how the secondary school set up can affect the school fees
charged for example the newly established secondary school may attract more
school fees.

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Verbal Probing
A cognitive interviewing technique were used, the researcher was required to
administers a series of probe questions specifically designed to elicit detailed
fees information from students/parents beyond that normally provided by
teachers and or schools management.

Secondary Information

Secondary School fees per student

In order to identify the secondary schools fees, all secondary schools were
extracted through the Government Open Data Portal (both schools existing and
non-existing in the HESLB database) and their locations identified. The survey
team used the list of schools and identified locations for collection of data
obtained from the National Examination Council.

Survey Approach
Data collection involved physical visit to the secondary schools by the
researcher, whereby interviews was conducted using the structured
questionnaires developed as well as the datasheet forms developed by HESLB
for data collection. All regions countrywide were clustered into 6 groups (6
zones), with each group surveyed by the zonal manager assisted by zonal offices
staff. The activities were supervised by the staff responsible for research from
the Directorate of Planning, Research and ICT.


Data collected was analyzed using Excel and Statistical Package for Social
Science (SPSS). Results were summarized in tables, figures and in narrative
form (Saunders et al, 2012).

Sample Characteristics

The researcher distributed questionnaires to 260 private secondary schools, in

which all the questionnaires were properly filled and returned to the researcher.
The characteristics of the respondents were categorized in term of Ownership of
the school, Distribution of secondary school by Regions, Type of the school,
School fees charged per year, Changes in the amount of school fees charged,
Availability of students financial support, Students receiving financial support,
sources of finance for the support and the trend of payment. In order to
understand well the collected data, the researcher need to carry out the
descriptive analysis as a first step. The detailed sample characteristic is as
depicted in Table 1 to 10.

Distribution of School Ownership

Questionnaires were randomly distributed to all private secondary schools

regardless of ownership. The findings shows that about 40% of the secondary
schools visited were owned by private individuals, 1/3 of the secondary schools

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were owned by Christian societies while 10% of the secondary schools were
owned by Muslim societies. This indicates the secondary school distribution as
expected by the researcher. The researcher expected to find less secondary
schools which Muslims are owned compared to Christian owned. The sample
represents the population as expected and the results imply that there was fair
ownership distribution among private secondary school. This indicates a good
sample from secondary school ownership. Table 1 below explains.

Table 1: School Ownership

Frequency Percent

Private Individuals 102 39.2

Private companies 47 18.1
Valid Donor agencies 1 .4
Muslim Societies 26 10.0
Christian Societies 84 32.3
Total 260 100.0
Source: Survey data (2016)

Distribution of Secondary Schools by Region

20 regions were visited within the country in which a total of 260 secondary
schools were distributed with questionnaires. The results indicates that 11% of
the respondents were from Dar es salaam city, followed by Kigoma and Arusha
which consists of 10% and 9.2% of the total population, Iringa ranked the last
with about 0.4% respondents. The researcher expected to find more secondary
schools in Dar es salaam city compared to other regions, because being the
administrative city with high population compared to other regions it attracts a
lot of private individuals, private companies, donor agencies, Muslim societies
and Christian societies to invest in education through establishment of
secondary schools. The sample represents the population as expected and the
results imply that there was a fair distribution of secondary schools by region.
This indicates a good sample from secondary school distribution by regions.
Table 2 below explains.

Table 2: Secondary School by Region

Frequency Percent
Dar es salaam 30 11.5
Njombe 20 7.7
Mbeya 21 8.1
Iringa 1 .4
Valid Ruvuma 14 5.4
Kilimanjaro 13 5.0
Bukoba Town 9 3.5
Mwanza 16 6.2
Mara 14 5.4

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Geita 4 1.5
Shinyanga 14 5.4
Kigoma 27 10.4
Mtwara 7 2.7
Tanga 13 5.0
Zanzibar -
22 8.5
Zanzibar -
6 2.3
Arusha 24 9.2
Lindi 5 1.9
Total 260 100.0
Source: Survey data (2016)

Distribution of the secondary school by Type

Questionnaires were evenly distributed among the secondary school regardless

of the type of the school. The results of the analysis indicates that nearly 80% of
the secondary schools visited were for core education, where by 15% of the
respondents were from the secondary school with only girls and nearly 6% were
from only boys secondary school and a few of respondents were from secondary
school with special needs to the tune of 0.4%. The sample represents the
population as expected, the researcher expected to find more core education
secondary schools because it accommodates both female and male students to
avoid segregation within societies. Also the researcher expected to find more
girls secondary schools than boys due to the government policy to empower
women through education. Therefore the results imply that there was a fair
school type distribution. This indicates a good sample from secondary school
distribution by school type. Table 3 below explains.

Table 3: Type of the School

Frequency Percent

Core Education 205 78.8

Only Boys 15 5.8
Valid Only Girls 39 15.0
School with Special Needs 1 .4
Total 260 100.0
Source: Survey data (2016)

Distribution of school fees Charged per Year

Questionnaires were evenly distributed to determine the amount of school fees

charged in each private secondary school within the sample selected. The results
of the analysis indicates that more than 1/3 of the secondary schools are
charging school fees at the range of Tshs.500,000 and Tshs.1,000,000, 1/5 of the

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secondary school are charging school fees at the range of Tshs.1,500,000 and
Tshs.2,000,000, while 4% and 2% of the respondents are charging their school
fees at the range of Tshs.3,500,000 and above or at the range of 0 and
Tshs.500,000. The researcher expected to find few secondary school charging
school fees at the range of 0 and Tshs.500,000 due to the increase in the cost of
living within the country, all the school running cost such as meals and
accommodation, electricity and water bills has been risen up compared to
previous years, and few secondary schools were expected to charge school fees
at Tshs.3,500,000 and above because it is unaffordable by most individuals
within the country. Therefore the results imply that there was fairness in the
distribution of school fees charged per year. This indicates a good sample from
secondary school distribution by school fees charges per year. Table 4 below

Table 4: School fees charged per year

Frequency Percent

0 - 500,000 5 1.9
500,000 - 1,000,000 87 33.5
1,000,000 - 1,500,000 77 29.6
1,500,000 - 2,000,000 57 21.9
2,000,000 - 2,500,000 16 6.2
2,500.000 - 3,000,000 9 3.5
Valid 3,000,000 - 3,500,000 4 1.5
3,500,000 - 4,000,000 1 .4
4,000,000 - 4,500,000 1 .4
5,000,000 - 5,500,000 1 .4
7,500,000 - 8,000,000 1 .4
9,000,000 - 9,500,000 1 .4
Total 260 100.0
Source: Survey data (2016)

Distribution of the Review in the Amount of School fees Charged

The results from the sample selected indicates that nearly 1/3 of the respondents
secondary schools review their school fees charges after every three years, where
by 1/5 of the secondary schools selected indicates that they review their school
fees after every one year or two years and about 13% of the respondents
secondary schools indicates that they dont have specific period to review school
fees they charge, all the changes are depending on the situations for example
changes in the cost of living due to inflation. Therefore the results imply that
there was a fair distribution in the review of the amount of school fees charged.
This indicates a good sample from distribution of secondary school by changes
in the amount of school fees charged. Table 5 below explains.

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Table 5: Review in the amount of School fees charged

Frequency Percent

After every one year 55 21.2

After every two years 55 21.2
After every three years 71 27.3
Valid More than three years 43 16.5
Others e.g Not more often 34 13.1
Not applicable 2 .8
Total 260 100.0
Source: Survey data (2016)

Distribution of the Availability of Students Financial Support at School

The results from the sample selected indicate that 60% of the secondary schools
visited provide financial support to students who are needy while nearly 40% do
not provide financial support to students who are needy. The researcher
expected to find many secondary schools which support the needy because it
has been specified in the secondary school development programme II policies(
July 2010 June 2015) as the requirement in establishment of any private
secondary school in Tanzania. Therefore the results imply that there were fair
distributions among the secondary schools which provide financial support to
the needy. This indicates a good sample from secondary school distribution by
availability of students financial support at school. Table 6 below explains.

Table 6: Availability of Students' financial support at school

Frequency Percent

Yes 156 60.0

No 103 39.6
Not Applicable 1 .4
Total 260 100.0
Source: Survey data (2016)

Students Receiving Financial Support

A total of 260 questionnaires were evenly distributed, the results from the
analysis indicates that students who are given financial support in various
secondary schools are very few compared to the total students enrolled in the
school. The results show that nearly 1/3 of the secondary schools visited provide
financial assistance to the needy students at the range of 0 to 10 while only 8% of
the secondary schools provide financial assistance to more than 50 students. The
researcher expected to find few secondary schools providing financial support to
the needy students because most secondary schools are resistant to this policy,
they say its expensive. Therefore the results imply that there was a fair

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distribution among students receiving financial support. This indicates a good

sample from students receiving financial support from the selected secondary
schools. Table 7 below explains thus:

Table 7: Students receiving financial support

Frequency Percent

0 10 71 27.3
10 20 34 13.1
20 30 13 5.0
30 40 7 2.7
Valid 40 50 5 1.9
More than 50 22 8.5
Not Known 5 1.9
Not applicable 103 39.6
Total 260 100.0
Source: Survey data (2016)

Distribution in the Criteria for Financial Support to Students

Results from the analysis indicates that more than 1/3 of the secondary schools
select students for financial support basing on the following criteria (i)
orphanage (ii) poor family background (iii) high performance, while 7% of the
secondary schools selection is basing on academic performance, albinism or
whether they are staff children as they use it as incentives to staff/ teacher
within the school. The researcher expected to find this kind of results because
poor orphans and children from poor family have got obvious evidence that
they are needy students. Therefore the results imply that there was fair
distribution among the criteria used for financial support to students. This
indicates a good sample selection. Table 8 below explains.

Table 8: Criteria for Financial support to Students

Frequency Percent

Academic Perfomance/ Albinos/ Staff

19 7.3

Poor Orphanage/ poor family/high

85 32.7
Valid Religious groups 10 3.8
Others e.g confirmation from ward
34 13.1
secretaries and Historical Background
Not applicable 104 40.0
Not known 8 3.1
Total 260 100.0
Source: Survey data (2016)

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Distribution for the Source of Finance for the Support of the needy students

The results in Table 9 below indicates that more than 1/5 of the secondary
schools visited is financing the needy students using funds from other sources
such as donors and owners income where by 18% are financed from school
fees. Most secondary schools do not have enough fund to finance needy
students; they depend much on school fees to run the school, therefore the
researcher expected to find most secondary schools depending on donors and
owners income to finance needy students. Therefore the results imply that there
was fair distribution among the secondary schools regarding the sources of
finance to support the needy students. This indicates a good sample to
secondary schools regarding sources of finance for the support of the needy

Table 9: Source of finance for the Support

Frequency Percent

School Using School fees 47 18.1

School using other sources e.g. donors 64 24.6

Owners income/ contributions from
37 14.2
Valid donors
Not applicable 103 39.6
Not known 7 2.7
Others 2 .8
Total 260 100.0
Source: Survey data (2016)

Distribution of the Trend of payments of School fees

The results of the analysis indicates that nearly 50% of the secondary schools
visited are experiencing delays in school fees payments while only 41% are
experiencing timely payments and 4% of the secondary schools are experiencing
failures on payment of school fees. The researcher expected this trend because
most family in Tanzania are of middle income earners, so because of the
competing needs they have, it takes longer to clear their obligations most of the
time they pay in piecemeal, they preferably pay by installment on delays and
few of them are managing to pay timely. Therefore the results imply that there
was fair distribution among the secondary schools regarding the sources of
finance to support the needy students. This indicates a good sample to
secondary schools regarding sources of finance for the support of the needy
students. Table 10 below explains.

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Table 10: What is the trend of payments (Students)

Frequency Percent

Timely 107 41.2

Delays 125 48.1
Postponement 12 4.6
Valid Failure 1 .4
Not known 13 5.0
Timely/ Delays/Postponement 2 .8
Total 260 100.0
Source: Survey data (2016)

Survey Results

In guiding this survey questionnaires were used to assess the viability of the
actual schools fees charged per student in the private and public secondary
schools. These questionnaires were as mentioned below:

(i)To examine the amount of school fees charged per student by private
secondary schools.

(ii)To assess the components of school fees for private secondary schools fees

(iii)To determine schools with special scholarship/grants programmes and the

criteria thereof

The following are the survey results in respect of each individual questionnaire

To examine the amount of school fees charged per student by private

secondary schools.

The research questions concerning this objective were answered through

collection of data from various private secondary schools visited in which the
responsible officers responded to the questions regarding school fees prevailing
in the school. The results of the analysis indicates that more than 1/3 of the
secondary schools are charging school fees at the range of Tshs.500,000 and
Tshs.1, 000,000, 1/5 of the secondary schools are charging school fees at the
range of Tshs.1,500,000 and Tshs.2,000,000, 4% and 2% of the secondary schools
are charging their school fees at the range of Tshs.3,500,000 and above or at the
range of 0 and 500,000 (Table 4). Therefore the result suggests that school fees in
most private secondary schools are charged at a range of Tshs.1,000,000 and
Tshs.1,500,000 while very few at the range of Tshs.3,500,000 and above.

Furthermore the results also indicates that nearly 1/3 of the respondents
secondary schools review their school fees charges after every three years, where
by 1/5 of the secondary schools selected indicates that they review their school
fees after every one year or two years and about 13% of the respondents
secondary school indicates that they dont have specific period to review school

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fees they charge, they just review at any time when need arises; example
changes in the cost of living due to inflation. Therefore the results suggest that
most of the secondary schools are reviewing their school fees charges after every
three years (Table 5).

The results of the analysis also indicate that 1/3 of the respondents secondary
schools were from Dar es Salaam city, followed by Kigoma and Arusha which
consists of 10% and 9.2% of the total population, Iringa ranked the last with
about 0.4% respondents (Table 2). Therefore the results suggest that Dar es
salaam is the city with high economic power, high standard of living which
attracts high costs in all the necessary items to run the school. Therefore most
private individuals, companies, religious groups are attracted to establish
secondary schools in Dar es salaam city; this attracts school fees charged to be
high in most secondary schools.

The results of the analysis also indicate that more than 50% of the students in the
secondary schools respondents come from within the region and only 22%
comes from neighborhood, enrolling students far from school attracts a lot of
cost such as Medical costs, boarding fees ( Table 11). Therefore the results
suggest that most students are enrolled on boarding hence this attracts high
school fees to be charged.

Table 11: Where are students coming from

Frequency Percent
Neighborhood 58 22.3
Within the Region 152 58.5
Outside the Region 34 13.1
Allover the country 13 5.0
Within and Outside the Region 3 1.2
Total 260 100.0
Survey data (2016)

To assess the components of school fees for private secondary schools fees

The research questions concerning this objective were answered through

collection of data from various private secondary schools visited in which the
responsible officers responded to the questions regarding the assessment of the
components of school fees for private secondary schools. The results of the
analysis indicates that components of school fees are many and they differ from
one school to another; about more than 50% of the secondary schools visited
indicate that the components of the school fees include examination fees
(Mock,NECTA),Caution money, Admission fees, Identity cards, Registration
fees, Medical fees, Boarding fees, 26% of the schools include Uniforms,
Stationaries & internal examinations,Sports uniforms fees, Meals costs,
Transport fees, 3.4% of the secondary schools include Practical fees, School
emblem fees, Shamba dress costs, Ream paper costs, Registration fees. 6.5%
include Remedial classes fees, exercise book fees, school tour fees, slasher/hoes
costs, 7.6% include Security costs, Maintance fees, Inspection/audit fees, Medical

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insurance fees and 5.3% include Library costs, Project fees, Teaching aids,
utilities cost, bible costs, food items (Table 12).

Table 12: Components of School Fees

Frequency Percent
money,Admission fees,Identity 133 50.6
cards,Registration fees, Medical fees,
Boarding fees
Uniforms, Stationaries & internal
examinations,Sports uniforms fees, 70 26.6
Meals costs, Transport fees,
Practical fees, School emblem fees,
Shamba dress costs, Ream paper 9 3.4
Valid costs, Registration fees,
Remedial classes fees, exercise book
fees, school tour fees, slasher/hoes 17 6.5
Security costs, Maintance fees,
Inspection/ audit fees, Medical 20 7.6
insurance fees
Library costs, Project fees,Teaching
aids, utilities cost, bible costs, food 11 4.2
Total 260 100.0

Survey data (2016)

Also the results of the analysis indicate that nearly 50% of the secondary schools
visited are experiencing delays in school fees payments while only 41% are
experiencing timely payments and 4% of the secondary schools are experiencing
failures on payment of school fees (Table 10). Nearly 25% of the schools visited
are reporting the failures to the parents, the school board and/or school
management. Nearly 14% of the schools visited are holdings students
certificates to ensure payment after graduation (Table 13). Therefore the result
indicates that most students are paying their school fees on delays and few of
them are failing to pay the school fees.

Table 13: Where do you report on failure in paying school fees

Frequency Percent
To the Owner of the school 63 24.2
Discussion with parents/School
63 24.2

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Report to school Board/ School

90 34.6
Head of the school is responsible 7 2.7
Others/ holding of academic
36 13.8
certificates/ Payment is done timely
Not Applicable 1 .4
Total 260 100.0
Survey data (2016)

To determine schools with special scholarship/grants programmes and the

criteria thereof

The research questions concerning this objective were answered through

collection of data from various private secondary schools visited in which the
responsible officers responded to the questions regarding availability of
financial support at school. The results from the analysis reveal that 60% of the
secondary schools visited provide financial support to students who are needy
and nearly 40% do not provide financial support to students who are needy
(Table 6). Therefore the results indicate that most private secondary schools do
provide financial support to the needy students.

Furthermore the results of the analysis indicates that nearly 1/3 of the secondary
schools visited provide financial assistance to the needy students at the range of
0 to 10 while only 8% of the secondary schools provide financial assistance to
more than 50 students (Table 7). Therefore the results suggested that most
private secondary schools do provide financial support to a small number of
students while very few secondary schools provide financial support to many
needy students.

Also results from the analysis indicates that more than 1/3 of the secondary
schools visited select students for financial support basing on orphanage, poor
family background or whether these students are high performers with good
grades while 7% of the secondary school visited are selecting students basing on
academic performance, albinism or whether they are staffs children as they use
it as incentives to staff/ teacher within the school, selection basing on Religious
groups forms nearly 4% (Table 8). Therefore the results suggested that most
private secondary schools choose students for financial support basing on
orphanage, poor family background or whether these students are high
performers with good grades.

The results of the analysis also indicate that more than 1/5 of the secondary
schools visited is financing the needy students using funds obtained from other
sources such as donors and owners income where by 18% are financed from
school fees (Table 9). Therefore the results suggested that most private
secondary schools are financing needy students using funds from other sources
apart from school fees example donors fund and owners income.

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More than 1/3 of the secondary schools visited reveal that students support are
given at 100% (Full support) of the amount required for the student to study
while 10% of the schools provide partial support. Some secondary schools
provide semi partial/ full support, this forms about 18% of the secondary
schools visited (Table 14).

Table 14: Extent of support given

Frequency Percent
Full Support 82 31.5
Partial Support 28 10.8
Not known 1 .4
Not applicable 103 39.6
Full support/ Partial Support 46 17.7
Total 260 100.0
Survey data (2016)

It was concluded that private schools are charging school fees at a range of Tshs.
500,000 and Tshs.1, 000,000, this is contrary to the school fees charged in year
2011/2012 in which school fees were charged at the range of Tshs. 0 to Tshs.
500,000 as shown in the last survey for ascertainment of school fees done in year
2011/2012 HESLB (2012).

It was concluded that inflation is affecting the school by increasing the running
costs of the school such fuel costs for standby generator, food, electricity costs,
teaching and non-teaching staff salary e.t.c, hence school fees are reviewed after
every three years to corp with the changes in the cost of living.

It was further concluded that the components of the school fees as shown by
most of the private secondary schools visited includes examination fees
(Mock,NECTA),Caution money, Admission fees, Identity cards, Registration
fees, Medical fees, Boarding fees. Other private secondary schools includes the
following components; Uniforms, Stationaries & internal examinations, Sports
uniforms fees, Meals costs, Transport fees, Remedial classes fees, exercise book
fees, school tour fees, slasher/hoes costs, Security costs, Maintance fees,
Inspection/audit fees, Medical insurance fees, Library costs, Project fees,
Teaching aids, utilities cost, bible costs, food items. While the least of the
secondary schools include Practical fees, School emblem fees, Shamba dress
costs, Ream paper costs, Registration fees. These components results into many
schools experiencing delays in school fees payments because it causes the
increase of school fees to the level which is unaffordable by most parents/

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It was further concluded that private secondary schools always fulfill their social
responsibility by providing financial support to the needy students. Students in
need are always given full support to enable them attain their secondary school
education, the selection of the students to be provided with financial support is
basing on the orphanage status, in combination of whether the student come
from poor family as well as the students academically ability is also considered.
Sources of fund to finance the needy students are always from other sources
apart from school fees, these include donors fund and owners income.

It was also concluded that most of the secondary schools establishment is

aiming at fulfilling the social responsibility as part of their obligations by
proving financial support to the students who are needy from the surrounding,
for example Feza schools are providing scholarships to students from
neighboring primary schools, the selected students has to be not only needy but
also high performer.

Finally it was concluded that most secondary schools visited ( more than 80%)
have no consideration for students with disability while less than 20% have
consideration for students with disability this is due to lack of teaching
materials, teachers and conducive environment for disable students.

According to the conclusion derived above, the study recommends the

The Government through the ministry of Education, Science and Technology

should set standard of the amount of school fees to be charged in all private
secondary schools, as it is for the Public secondary schools. The Government has
to request for the justification in case of any suggestions regarding what to be
charged as a school fees.

Private secondary schools administration should scrutinize the components of

school fees to ensure that those components which does not directly relate to the
learning process has to be treated separately and not to be included as part of
the school fees for example inspection/ audit fees and project fees, these has to
be separately treated and they should bear a separate name.

The Government should set strict rules to ensure that for any private secondary
school set up, there must be a certain number of students required to be
supported financially. This will help to increase the number of the needy
students who will have financial aid, currently the study shows that a few
number of students are sponsored ranging from 0 to 10 students which is too
low compared to the number of the needy students we have in the society given
the population in Tanzania.

The government should give equal priorities to both public and private
secondary schools because private schools also contributes to the public by

2016 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


providing the economy with a well educated graduates and also through
payments of taxes as it is for the Public secondary schools.

The Government should set standards for any secondary school establishment to
include features to accommodate students with disabilities because these disable
students are part of the society and they need education equally as other

HESLB to introduce a window on website where headmasters/ headmistresses

will be required to fill online all the candidates information such as orphanage
status and sponsorship particulars (poor students) which will help during the
loan allocation process.

HESLB is advised to work as a bank i.e. HESLB should follow bank steps during
provision and collection of loans. Also the Government to create employment to
the graduates so that they can have income to repay back the loans

Finally the board should continue to issue loans to the needy Tanzania as it is
helping in ensuring expansion of higher education to the whole Tanzanian
society regardless of economic abilities.

Our sincere thanks should go to the Management of the Higher Education students
Loans Board (HESLB), for giving us support in term of funding and permission. Mr.
Venance Ntiyalundura, Ms. Emma Sabaya, Ms. Joyce Mgaya, Mr. Ezra Ndangoya (Our
co worker), and all selected officers at our Zonal offices at Dodoma, Mwanza, Arusha ,
Zanzibar and Mbeya they participated well in collection of the appropriate data which
were compiled timely. Lastly many thanks should go to all officials in the private
secondary schools visited, these include Headmasters/ Headmistresses, Administrators,
Academic officers and Teachers on duty who provided valuable information through
interview and filling of questionnaires given.

HESLB (2004). Act number 9 of 2004 CAP. 178, Dar es salaam, Higher Education
Students Loans
HESLB (2014). Survey report on Assessment of the prevailing School fees for Private
Secondary School,
Dar es salaam, Higher Education Students Loans Board.
HESLB (2015). Guidelines and Criteria for granting loans in the academic year
2015/2016, Dar es
salaam, Higher Education Students Loans Board.
HESLB (2016a). Guidelines and Criteria for granting loans in the academic year
2016/2017, Dar es
salaam, Higher Education Students Loans Board.
HESLB (2016b). Allocations and Disbursement Manual, Dar es salaam, Higher Education

2016 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.


Loans Board
Nyahende V. R., Bangu A.N. & Chakaza B. C. (2015). Survey on assessment of the
current actual
expenses incurred by students on the meals and accommodation within and
around the campuses: The case of Tanzania Higher Education Students Loans
Beneficiaries: The Journal of Higher Education Studies 5(4), Pp. 56-85.
Nyahende V. R. (2016). Implementations of the Best Practices in Repayment, the way to
Collections of the due Students loans in Tanzania: The Journal of Higher
Education Studies 6(1), pp. 60 86. http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/hes.v6n1p60.
Saunders, M. N. K., Lewis, P., & Thornhill, A. (2012). Research methods for Business
students (6th ed).
Harlow, England: Pearson Education.

2016 The authors and IJLTER.ORG. All rights reserved.