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Vol.15 No.11
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VOLUME 15 NUMBER 11 October 2016

Table of Contents
Immigrant Student Teachers as Co-researchers ................................................................................................................. 1
Kari Spernes

Personal Anecdotes as a Pedagogical Device to Motivate Introductory Economics .................................................. 16


Vicar S. Valencia

Increasing Support and Job Satisfaction for Program Administrators at the Postgraduate Medical Education
Program at the University of Ottawa: The Program Administrators Perspective ...................................................... 24
Dr. D. Puddester , Dr. C.J. MacDonald, H. Summers, Dr. A. Chaput, Dr. L. Wiesenfeld and Dr. D. Archibald

The Relationship between University Students Beliefs, Engagement and Achievements of Oral Presentation
Skills: A Case Study in Vietnam ......................................................................................................................................... 52
Tran Le Huu Nghia

Factors Influencing College Readiness: A Multilevel Study to Measure School Effects ............................................ 71
Bidya Raj Subedi and Randy Powell

Utilizing Technology to Develop and Maintain Professional Caring Relationships .................................................. 87


Jennie M. Carr

A Qualitative Study of the Perceptions of Special Education Personnel about Inclusive Practices of Students with
Disabilities ............................................................................................................................................................................ 99
Jeanine Birdwell, EdD, Lori Kupczynski, EdD, MarieAnne Mundy, EdD and Steve Bain, DMin

How Employing DuFours Professional Learning Community Guidelines Impacted a Mathematics Professional
Learning Community ........................................................................................................................................................ 111
Janet M. Herrelko, Ed.D., NBCT
1

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 11, pp. 1-15, October 2016

Immigrant Student Teachers as


Co-researchers

Kari Spernes
Ostfold University College
Halden, Norway

Abstract. This study is based on a project in which immigrant student


teachers were involved as co-researchers in a teacher educators research
project. The aim of the study is to highlight the students experiences of,
and their opinions about, participating in a lecturers research project.
The informants are six immigrant students in a teacher education (TE)
program. Three of the students previously had been involved in the
authors research project before they enrolled in this study. Another three
had not been involved, but they had followed the project through their
classmates participation. Through qualitative interviews, the students
reflected on the value of participating in a research project. The study
indicates that immigrant students may acquire valuable knowledge
through participation in teacher education research and that immigrant
student teachers experiential knowledge may contribute to increased
knowledge in the field of intercultural education.

Keywords. co-researcher; experiential knowledge; immigrant student


teacher; intercultural education; teacher education

Introduction
The Bologna Process (Bologna Declaration, 1999), as well as the curriculum for
teacher education (TE) in many countries (Munthe & Rogne, 2015), requires
students involvement in research. A Norwegian white paper also emphasizes
the importance of undergraduate students obtaining practical experience in
research by participating in their lectures research and development work
(R&D) (Meld. St. 18. 20122013, 2013). Guidelines for Teacher Education especially
emphasizes the importance of involving immigrant students in all parts of TE
(Ministry of Education and Research, 2012).

Although students at graduate levels, such as MA and PhD candidates,


collaborate in research with their supervisors, very few scientific papers
acknowledge undergraduate students as contributors to research studies
(Pivikki & Nissil, 2015). If undergraduate students do participate in their
lectures R&D, they generally help with data collection and are not
acknowledged (Pivikki & Nissil, 2015). There are exceptions, however. Curtis

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2

and colleagues (Curtis, Goodson, McDonnell, Shields, & Wyness, 2012), as well
as student teachers, were engaged in collaborative research within an education
studies program. The students were involved in nearly all stages of the research
project. They concluded that the cooperation constituted a valuable learning
experience for both the student teachers and the researchers. It is possible that
undergraduate students are more involved in research, but their participation
has not resulted in published articles. In addition, some studies found that
pupils in primary and secondary schools may benefit from participating in
researchers R&D (Bahou, 2011; Fielding, 2004; Messiou, 2014; Smit, 2013; Smit,
Plomp, & Ponte, 2010). Extensive research revealed that there have been no
studies on the involvement of undergraduate immigrant students in their
lecturers R&D. Although the Bologna Process (Bologna Declaration, 1999) and
curriculums in higher education (Munthe & Rogne, 2015) have demanded
student involvement in research, they have not proposed how the collaboration
between students and researchers can be manifested in practice.

The basis of this study is a previous, initial research project, entitled project1,i in
which three immigrant student teachers were co-researchers. The theme was the
low percentage of immigrant students in TE which had special relevance for the
immigrant student teachers. Data in project1 were collected in focus groups in
upper secondary school, and the students were involved in all phases of the
research project. The students could use data collected in project1 in their own
bachelors theses. Before continuing, it must be clarified that the interest of this
paper is not project1, but student teachers opinions, both students that were
involved in project1 and students that were not, about the knowledge that may
be acquired when students collaborate in lecturers R&D. The manner in which
knowledge can be developed through students participation in research is
further examined, and the following research questions were addressed:

Main research question:

What knowledge may be acquired when immigrant student teachers participate


as co-researchers in teacher educators research?

This question is further developed into the following sub-questions:

- What knowledge may students acquire as co-researchers?


- What knowledge may be provided to the field of intercultural
education research based on the immigrant students experiential
knowledge?

The concept of co-researcher, in the context of this study, does not mean that the
students were the actual researchers, but rather that they acted as the
researchers assistants. The primary reason for involving immigrant students in
project1 was to offer them a rich learning experience and to enable them to
acquire knowledge to use for their own bachelors theses. In addition, the
researcher understood the students perspectives, as immigrants, to be valuable
to project1, and assumed that the experiential knowledge of the informants in
project1 (the immigrant pupils in secondary school) were identifiable by the

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3

participating immigrant student teachers and vice versa. They shared the
experience of being immigrants. The researcher, was a native.

The analytical framework of this study presents four reasons, or motives, for
why students should collaborate in research: legal, social, educational, and
innovative motives. The informants are six student teachers whose details will
be presented in the method section. The method section also presents the data
collection and the data analysis information. After the method session the data
are analyzed in light of the theoretical framework to determine why students
should collaborate in a lecturers research. Based on this analysis, the research
questions are ultimately discussed. The paper argues that students collaboration
in research may expand the horizons of the student teachers. In addition, the
argue is that student teachers experiential knowledge may promote new
interpretations in the field of intercultural education.

Motives for Students Participation in Their Lecturers Research


This study adopted a sociocultural framework. People learn through
communication and reflection in social interactions, and students may reach
their zone of proximal development in collaboration with a more competent
person (Vygotsky, 1978). In this context, immigrant students could reach their
zone of proximal development as co-researchers together with a more competent
person; as in this case, the researcher. The analytical framework utilizes a
research project which presents four reasons that students should be involved in
research (Smit, 2013; Smit et al., 2010). Smit and colleagues involved pupils in
primary and secondary schools in their research projects. They highlighted four
motives for involving pupils as co-researchers as legal, social, pedagogical, and
innovative. The terms pedagogy and pedagogical are not common in TE in all
countries, so, for the purposes of this work, education and educational will be
used. To distinguish between school levels, the term pupil refers to primary and
secondary schools, and the word student refers to higher education. However,
even if Smit and colleagues study had been done in primary and secondary
schools, the same motives would have been legitimate for involving student
teachers in research. The educational and the innovative motives have special
relevance for the research questions and will be emphasized.

The Legal Motive

Smit and colleagues (Smit 2013; Smit et al., 2010) claim that the legal motive to
involve pupils in research is based upon The Convention on the Rights of the Child
(UNCRC, 1989), and the participation is a goal in itself. For achieving effective
teacher education, the Bologna Process (Bologna Declaration, 1999), as well as
the curriculum for TE in Norway and other countries (Munthe & Rogne, 2015),
requires students involvement in research. According to the white paper cited
above, students involved in research will develop analytical and critical thinking
skills. The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research (Meld. St. 18. 2012
2013, 2013, p. 66) cites a number of learning outcomes to show why students
should participate in research: a) increased knowledge of scientific research

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methods, b) increased ability to think critically, c) deeper insight within the field,
and d) an ability to search the scientific literature and conduct research at a later
stage in their professional lives. Moreover, to involve immigrant student
teachers in research contributes to satisfying the governments requirement of
facilitating study for immigrant student teachers (Ministry of Education and
Research, 2012).

The Social Motive

The social motive for involving pupils in research focuses on the community
aspect. According to Smit (2013), pupils in primary and secondary schools will
obtain experience in democracy and citizenship through involvement in
research. Involving pupils in research also makes education more inclusive
(Messiou, 2014). The social motive for involving students in research is to
include them in the actual research activity. Previous research shows that
immigrant students can be isolated (Naidoo 2015) and segregated (Catarci, 2014)
in schools, and that native students lack of knowledge about immigration may
be transferred to their immigrant classmates (Pagani, 2014). In this study, the co-
researchers were immigrant students themselves, and previous research indicate
that immigrant student teachers experience stigmatization and discrimination
and that their cultures are not valued (Wilkins & Lall, 2011). The suggestion is
that collaborations between immigrant student teachers and researchers may
increase the confidence of the student teachers, and the experiences from
collaborating in research may make the student teachers more confident when
working with other teachers in school placements in the future (Le Cornu
quoted in Rigelman & Ruben, 2012).

The Educational Motive

According to Smith (2013), the educational motive includes the desire of teachers
to promote a closer relationship with the pupils, the pupils greater involvement,
and the pupils increased personal growth. In the sociocultural view of
education, students are active participants in their education and construct
knowledge within social environments (Bruner, 1996; Vygotsky, 1978). Student
teachers who work with a researcher will observe how the researcher conducts
the research and may discuss pertinent issues with him or her. With the
researchers guidance, the students will acquire new knowledge. The knowledge
the students acquire as co-researchers will enable them to develop skills for their
own research-based theses. Thus, research-based education may lead to greater
student engagement, increased academic performance (Bland & Atweh, 2007)
and positive learning outcomes (Kyvik & Vgan, 2014).

A collaboration between a researcher and students is based on both theoretical


and experiential knowledge; for the researcher, it is mainly the theoretical, and
for the students, it is mainly the experiential. A comparison of the value placed
on academic and experiential knowledge in traditional and modern societies
shows that modern societies place greater value on academic knowledge, and
traditional communities place greater value on experiential knowledge (Eriksen,
2006). When a lecturer asks for the students opinions based on their cultural
experience, the students cultures are seen to have value, and that action gives

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5

meaning (Spernes, 2014b), but studies show that immigrant students


experiential knowledge is not valued in school (Spernes, 2014a, 2014b). As found
by Curtis et al. (2012, p. 5), Students confidence grew as they recognized that
their ideas were valued and that they were equipped to carry out research.

According to Rigelman and Ruben (2012), there is a hierarchical relationship


between lecturers and students. In a research project where students cooperate
with a lecturer, there will be a distinct hierarchical relationship. The lecturer and
the students will have different roles and different degrees of responsibility.
However, the possibility for the students to work closely with the lecturer may
break down barriers between them to create a better learning environment. In
addition, students can learn social interaction skills by cooperating closely with
their lecturer (Pivikki & Nissil, 2015, p. 28).

The Innovative Motive

The innovative motive emphasizes that students have insights the school can
make use of (Smit, 2013, p. 553). By utilizing this motive as a reason for
students participation in research, universities place value on students
experiential and theoretical knowledge. During a research project, it would be
possible for students, in collaboration with other students and the researcher, to
use the learned theoretical knowledge when raising questions and revising
developed ideas (Kuusisaari, 2014). In addition, involvement in research may be
a way for student teachers to recognize the connection between theory and
practice (Munthe & Rogne, 2015). In other words, it would allow students to see
the connection between their education and their future careers and enhance the
quality and relevance of theoretical learning.

Teachers who see the relevance of research and theory may acquire new
scientific knowledge and may conduct practice-based research themselves. This
can significantly increase their level of professionalism and, in turn, create
opportunities for them to influence their own work and to become active
participants who will influence educational change (Vhsantanen, 2015). Also,
teachers new scientific knowledge may lead to new perspectives, which may
change educational policies (Cook-Sather, 2002) and promote innovation in
education (Fielding, 2011). Teachers new perspectives will also contribute to
intercultural understanding which will prevent stigmatization of immigrant
students (Portera, 2008).

Method
This study examined what knowledge may be acquired when immigrant
student teachers participate as co-researchers in teacher educators research. The
informants in this study were six student teachers, all immigrated to Norway as
children or youth. They had also in common that they were socialized into a
culture different from the traditional Norwegian culture. Three of the informants
had previously participated in one of this authors earlier project, entitled
project1, and three informants had not participated in project1. (As said earlier,

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6

the theme of project1 was the low percentage of immigrant students in TE which
had special relevance for the immigrant student teachers. Data in project1 were
collected in focus groups in upper secondary school and the members in the
focus groups were immigrant pupils.) In project1 the participating students had
roles as assistants, and they participated in all the phases of the project. The
primary reason for their participation was for them to learn from a researcher
how to accomplish the different phases of a research project. The informants that
had participated in project1 will be designated as co-researchers further in this
paper. Three informants had not participated in project1, but they were
classmates of the co-researchers. They had been invited, but they chose not to
participate. These students followed project1 through their classmates
participation, and it was interesting to also get their perspectives about
collaboration between students and lecturers in research projects. The students
who did not participate project1 will be designated as student teachers who did not
participate in project1 further in this paper. If no distinction is made, they are just
designated student teachers or informants.

I was the lecturer for three of the informants in this study: one of the co-
researchers and two of the student teachers who had not participated in project1.
The relationship between a researcher and informants in a study may affect the
research results (Repstad, 1998). However, nothing indicated that the students of
the researcher responded differently than the other three during the interviews,
and there is no suspect that their inclusion affected the interviews (cf. Stake,
2006).

The study is based on data from field notes and qualitative interviews. The field
notes were written throughout the entirety of project1, and is related to the co-
researchers, not the teacher students that did not participate in project1. Some of
the co-researchers comments, questions, and reflections were recorded, often
verbatim, through project1. The co-researchers consented to use the field notes
in this study. The interviews in this study took place approximately one year
after the end of project1 and shortly after the students completed their bachelors
theses. The interview guide was semi-structured, and all the informants were
asked general questions about involvement in lecturers research. The three co-
researchers were also asked questions related to their contributions to project1
and personal benefits gained from their participation in the project, and the
three students teachers who did not participate project1 had opinions about how
they understood their classmates, the co-researchers, participation.

In order to determine how students and the research field could benefit from
student collaboration in research, the interviews and the field notes were
categorized based on the four motives for student involvement in research. The
analysis was iterative within and among the four motives to refine the initial
interpretation. The language of instruction in TE is Norwegian, and the
informants also spoke Norwegian during the interviews. The interviews were
recorded, and quotations from the interviews, which are used to confirm the
informants statements, were translated into English.

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7

The Student Teachers Opinions of Involvement in Lecturers Research


This section will present data in light of the four motives for involving students
in research: legal, social, educational, and innovative motives. Based on the
research questions, the educational and innovative motives are emphasized
throughout this section.

Legal Motives

The legal motives for involving students in research are related to official
documents which highlight the importance of students involvement in research
(Meld. St. 18. 20122013, 2013). Even though the teacher education instructors
were especially encouraged to involve immigrant student teachers in their R&D
(Ministry of Education and Research 2012), the informants had never, after three
years in TE, heard about other research projects than project1 where student
teachers had been involved. The political goal is to qualify the student teachers
in the use of inquiry methods to learn and to teach (Munthe & Rogne, 2015), and
the white paper highlights skills the students need to acquire (Meld. St. 18. 2012
2013, 2013, p. 66). All of these essential skills will be discussed later.

Social Motives

One of the benefits of involving students in research is the social motive (Smit,
2013; Smit et al., 2010), and in this study the social motive is related to the
recognition of the immigrant students minority backgrounds. The co-
researchers recognized themselves in the stories the pupils in secondary school
told about infringement and lack of recognition in school (Spernes, 2014a,
2014b), and they said that their own experiences had been reflected in the pupils
stories (cf. Catarci, 2014; Naidoo, 2015; Pagani, 2014). Primary, secondary, or
college faculty had never sought the informants experiential knowledge prior to
project1 (cf. Wilkins & Lall, 2011). As I understand their statements, they had
through the hidden curriculum (cf. Jackson, 1990) come to believe that their
home cultures were less valuable than the traditional Norwegian culture. Both
the co-researchers and the student teachers who did not participate in project1,
said that project1 had helped them to see that their own culture had value (cf.
Eriksen, 2006). The co-researchers also said that they had obtained new
perspectives on the impact of culture on identity through their systematic work
with the empirical data. The findings suggest that, by drawing on experiential
knowledge, the immigrant co-researchers increased their self-confidence and
self-esteem. This was especially true for the co-researchers who had used their
experiential knowledge in project1. Also the student teachers who did not
participate in project1, said that they perceived their own background valuable
because a researcher showed interest in their own culture.

Educational Motives

When analyzing the educational motives, it is appropriate to separate the


perspectives of the co-researchers who had experience from participation in a
research project from the perspectives of the students who did not participate.

The Perspectives of the Co-researchers

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8

All the co-researchers said that the research process had been far more extensive
than they had thought before they participated in project1. One of them said,

I wasnt aware of it [how to do research] when I joined the project, and I


wasnt aware of all the processes involved in a research project. I think
that the parts in which we elaborated on the data, when we reached the
analytical questions, and prepared the interview guide, were important,
especially the interviews, when we were out making the interviews.

This co-researcher emphasized that the preparation of the analytical questions


and the interview guide, as well as her involvement in the focus groups, was
valuable. She said that she had had an assignment doing focus group interviews
during an internship and that she had discovered there was a great distance
between her and the pupils. She claimed that her participation in focus groups
together with a researcher made her understand the importance of creating a
good atmosphere and having a conversation rather than simply questions and
answers. She also said that she had learned how to break down the hierarchical
relationship between the interviewer and the interview objects (cf. Rigelman &
Ruben, 2012).

All the co-researchers said that participation in project1 showed them the
importance of reading relevant theories before compiling an interview guide
and that the analysis had been far more demanding than they expected. They
also highlighted the value of practicing research as a way to get new knowledge.
One of the co-researchers said that to think critically has to be experienced.
They said they wondered if instruction from a lecturer in class or assignments in
internship would have been enough to understand the scope of a research
project. They pointed out that some of their classmates found the methodology
courses related to the bachelors thesis to be frustrating, but it was easier for
them because they had the experience from participation in project1. They stated
that they might have found it difficult to work systematically on their bachelors
theses without their prior experience. One of the co-researchers said that to
practice together with a researcher is better than to be taught by a lecturer in
class. Thus, the cooperative role they had played obviously gave them a greater
understanding of how to do research.

The Perspectives of the Student Teachers Who Did Not Participate in Project1

The informants who were classmates of the co-researchers, but had not taken
part in project1 themselves, said that observing their classmates made them
understand that collaborating with a researcher would be the optimal way to
acquire knowledge of research work (cf. Bruner, 1996; Vygotsky, 1978). One of
them said that all student teachers should be given an opportunity to take part
in a lecturers research. She also said that the students should not have had the
opportunity to avoid participation, as she did herself. She stated that Arta, her
friend and classmate who had participated in project1, obtained major benefits
for her bachelors thesis,

Arta is way ahead of the rest of us. She has interviewed, she has worked
with you who have done this before, and, when I think about it, I should

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9

have allocated time to take part in it. She has already done research work,
but the rest of us are just starting out.

This student also said that she knew that her classmate had used data from
project1 in her bachelors thesis and that she could not compete with a student
who had received professional help. The two other informants who did not
take part in project1 were not concerned about the apparent advantage of the co-
researchers. They were more concerned about the content of project1 and that
the co-researchers had become acquainted with the experiences of immigrant
pupils in secondary school.

Innovative Motives

Also, when analyzing the innovative motives, it is appropriate to separate the


perspectives of the co-researchers and the perspectives of the student teachers
who did not gain experience through research participation.

The Perspectives of the Co-researchers

When preparing the interview guide for project1, the co-researchers emphasized
cultural differences between immigrants and natives in school, and they had
many suggestions for current themes. They were active and dedicated
throughout the workshop, and they said their contributions were related to their
own experiences as immigrant pupils. As one of them said,

I am fully aware of the questions that immigrant students have about


choosing higher education. I think our knowledge from culture is
valuable when we create questions for use in the interviews.

The co-researchers comments contributed to topics such as teachers


intercultural knowledge, cultural differences between home and school, and
parental involvement. They said that their experiences as minority students
were valuable and that they were thankful that their experiential knowledge was
given value (cf. Curtis et al., 2012; Eriksen, 2006; Spernes, 2014a, 2014b).

The co-researchers were also active and dedicated in the analysis workshop.
Remarkably, all of the co-researchers understood the statements and narratives
from the data in project1 in the context of their own experiences. They identified
with the pupils narratives about home cultures and their challenges of being
immigrants. Because of their personal connection with the ideas and feelings
expressed through the data, they disregarded the research questions. They used
their experiential knowledge when raising questions and revising developed
ideas (cf. Kuusisaari, 2014). Thus, they interpreted the data in a different context
than the researcher did. All of the co-researchers said that their participation in
project1 had been an advantage for the project, and they claimed that their
participation was valuable for both themselves and project1. One of them stated
it as follows:

I think that by participating in the project and through our experiences,


we have contributed things that maybe you might not have thought of.
Maybe that makes the findings more reliable.

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10

As her statement indicates, this co-researcher believed that their experiences as


immigrants gave the research project another dimension, stressing that their
involvement could make the findings more reliable. The word reliable in
Norwegian is exclusively related to research, and the students were presented
with this concept in a lecture. As I understand the student, her statement is a
way to highlight the importance of experiential knowledge.

Previous research (Lewis, Mumford, Singer & Bonner, 2009; Maylor, 2009)
shows that immigrant students identify with immigrant teachers, and in this
case, the immigrant pupils identified with the co-researcher. The students
participation in the focus groups contributed to making the pupils feel free to
talk. The co-researcher also followed up with questions in a different way than
the researcher would have done. One of them said that her identification with
the pupils made it possible for her to ask the right questions. Another co-
researcher explained it this way, As we live with being foreigners in this
country, while the Norwegians do not, we understand how minority pupils
think. As I understand the co-researcher, she believes it may be difficult for a
native Norwegian teacher to fully understand an immigrant pupil.

The co-researchers said that the asymmetrical relationship between themselves


and the researcher had not created difficulties in cooperation. They said they felt
free to say whatever they wanted, even when their opinions and the researchers
differed. They argued that they had valuable knowledge, which was important
to the study, and that the native researcher did not have this knowledge. They
said their participation and their perspectives enriched both the research process
and the results (cf. Cook-Sather, 2002; Curtis et al., 2012).

The Perspectives of the Student Teachers Who Did Not Participate in Project1

As stated, the informants who had not participated in project1 said that they
could see the benefits of the collaboration by observing the co-researchers, their
classmates. They also shared opinions about the value of involving students in
lecturers research projects,

Of course, it is valuable [to involve students in research]. Several heads


are better than one. We talk about different aspects, yes, you possess
certain knowledge, and they bring forth some facts. In a way, you meet,
maybe halfway, and then you produce an altogether different text than
you would have done on your own.

I think it is valuable [that some of the immigrant students were co-


researchers in project1] because they took part in creating the questions
for the interviews. They draw more from their backgrounds as
immigrants. They think, Okay, what do I want to know? What do I
think about that? Why do I think they choose one thing but not another?
They also have a different perspective than you [the native researcher]
would have.

Although these informants had not been involved in project1, their opinions
were that students, especially those from immigrant backgrounds, could provide

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11

valuable knowledge for a project like project1. They believed that the different
perspectives, the native researchers perspectives and the immigrant student
teachers perspective, would contribute to a different paper than what would
have resulted without the participation of the immigrant student teachers. They
found the co-researchers experiential knowledge valuable (cf. Curtis et al., 2012;
Eriksen, 2006; Spernes, 2014a, 2014b). One of them said that those who have an
immigrant background could use their experiential knowledge to understand
the challenges immigrant students face in school and claimed that Its hard for
Norwegians to reflect on this issue.

Discussion
The discussion in this section is what knowledge may be acquired when
immigrant student teachers participate as co-researchers in teacher educators
research, based on the findings presented above. The students potential
knowledge acquisition and possible new knowledge that can be applied in the
field of intercultural education are discussed.

Knowledge the Students May Acquire by Participating in a Research Project

The students who participated as co-researchers said that collaboration with a


researcher was valuable. They highlighted that they had learned how to plan
and conduct research, how to systematize and analyze the data, and how to
reflect in light of a theoretical framework. This learning outcomes are also
mentioned by The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research (Meld. St. 18.
20122013, 2013) as a reason why students should participate in research. The
co-researchers indicated that it would have been difficult to get the same
research skills without participating in project1. This was also mentioned by the
informants who had not been involved in project1. They saw the advantages the
co-researchers had when working with their bachelors thesis. During the
different phases of the project, the co-researchers also saw the correlation
between theory and practice. This knowledge may give them an enhanced
ability to reflect on the theoretical bases of educational questions in the future
(cf. Westbury, Hansn, Kansanen, & Bjrkvist, 2005).

Both the co-researchers and the student teachers who had not participated in
project1, saw the benefit of working with a researcher. They saw that assistance
from a more experienced person led to greater engagement and increased
academic performance (cf. Bland & Atweh, 2007; Bruner, 1996; Vygotsky, 1978).
Supported by the researcher, the co-researchers had come through their zone of
proximal development and they had reached new zones throughout the
different phases of the project (cf. Vygotsky, 1978). Students who get knowledge
about scientific methods through lectures will also get this knowledge, but a
student who collaborate with a researcher will maybe get a more thorough
understanding.

As previously stated, the interviews took place shortly after the students
completed their bachelors theses. During the interviews, one of the co-

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


12

researchers said that she had postponed the submission date of her thesis
because she wanted to spend more time on it. Although she did not say it
directly, the interpretation is that because of her knowledge of the requirements
of good research, she demanded too much of herself. Curtis and colleagues
(2012) claim that students confidence grew when they were equipped to carry
out research, but, in this case, the student perhaps became too critical of her own
work because she knew how it would be done by an experienced researcher. It is
worrisome if students who participate as co-researchers demand the same
standards of themselves as those of an established researcher. This suggests that
lecturers must clearly communicate to the undergraduate students that the
expectations of their thesis are not to have the same standards as those of
researchers.

The informants experience from prior schooling was that their cultural
background had no value, but during project1, their experiential knowledge was
required. The co-researchers were more capable of reflecting on their own lives
and situations when they analyzed the experiences of others in the same
situation, but also those who had not been involved in project1 found their own
culture more valuable because of the lecturers interest. Thus, involving
immigrant students in research related to their cultural background, may give
them knowledge that strengthens their identities and give them more self-
confidence. This knowledge may also be important as teachers in the future
(Portera, 2008).

Possible New Knowledge Supplied to the Field

The informants in this study, both the co-researchers and the student teachers
who did not participate in project1, said that experiences from cultures different
from the traditional native culture, had to be valuable in understanding
immigrant pupils school situations (cf. Curtis et al., 2012; Eriksen, 2006; Spernes,
2014a, 2014b). They further claimed that immigrant students perspectives
enriched both the research process and the results (cf. Cook-Sather, 2002; Curtis
et al., 2012). As I understand, the co-researchers produced knowledge that
would have been difficult for the researcher to develop without their
participation. Due to the co-researchers experiential knowledge, their
viewpoints were different from the researchers. Unlike the researcher, they had
similar experiential knowledge to that of the pupils in project1, and they used
their experiential knowledge when raising questions and revising developed
ideas (cf. Kuusisaari, 2014). Thus, they interpreted the data in a different context
than the researcher did. In fact, when developing the interview guide, some of
the students suggestions supplemented the researchers. Based on the
researchers academic knowledge, the same questions could have been
prepared; however, it is unlikely that the researcher could have followed up the
narratives in the same way as the co-researchers did. My opinion is also that the
immigrant youths in secondary school might not have opened up to a non-
immigrant researcher to the extent that they did to an immigrant student teacher
capable of understanding their experiences. The way the co-researchers
analyzed the data also indicated that their experiences played a significant role
in how they emphasized and interpreted the pupils narratives and statements.

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13

The immigrant student teachers had insights that the native researcher did not
have (cf. Fielding, 2004; Smit, 2013), and these insights contributed knowledge to
the intercultural education field. This does not mean that it is impossible for a
native researcher to understand immigrant students, but the immigrant co-
researchers added project1 an extra dimension, and as I understand, this was
valuable for project1.

Conclusion
This paper shows that collaboration between immigrant students and lecturers
may produce valuable knowledge for both the students themselves, and for the
research field. It is neither desirable nor possible to generalize based on the
limited data; however, I argue that the findings may be transferable to other
situations in which lecturers involve immigrant students in their R&D. And, as I
understand, legal, social, educational, and innovative motives may be
substantial reasons for the inclusion of immigrant students as co-researchers.

Acknowledgment
I have to thank the student teachers for their contribution to this study. It would
have been interesting to involve the co-researchers in writing this paper, but the
circumstances did not permit.

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Cook-Sather, A. (2002). Authorizing students perspectives: Toward trust, dialogue, and
change in education. Educational Researcher, 3 (4), 314.
Curtis, W., Goodson, A., McDonnell, J., Shields, S., & Wyness, R. (2012). Learning
together and expanding horizons: Reflections on a student - lecturer
collaborative enquiry. Enhancing Learning in the Social Sciences, (3), 111.
Eriksen, T. H. (2006). Trygghet [Safety]. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.
Fielding, M. (2004). Transformative approaches to student voice: Theoretical
underpinnings, recalcitrant realities. British Educational Research Journal, 30(2),
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Fielding, M. (2011). Patterns of partnership: Students voice, intergenerational learning
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Higher Education, 7(1), 6175.
Jackson, P. W. (1990). Life in classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press.

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Kuusisaari, H. (2014). Teachers at the zone of proximal developmentCollaboration


promoting or hindering the development process. Teaching and Teacher
Education, 43, 4657.
Kyvik, S., & Vgan, A. (2014). Forskningsbasert utdanning? Forholdet mellom forskning,
undervisning og profesjonsutvelse i de korte profesjonsutdanningene.
[Research-based education? The relationship between research, teaching and
professional practice in undergraduate education.] Oslo: Abstrakt Forlag.
Lewis, C. W., Mumford, V. E., Singer, J. N. & Bonner, F. A. (2009). Recruiting African
American Male Teacher Candidates Using an Athletic Model. New Directions for
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Maylor, U. (2009). They do not relate to black people like us: Black teachers as role
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Messiou, K. (2014). Working with students as co-researchers in schools: A matter of
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Munthe, E., & Rogne, M. (2015). Research based teacher education. Teaching and teacher
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equal voices. Paper presented at the Symposium consulting young people: Why
student voice matters (chair: Professor Susan Groundwater-Smith) at the AARE
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Spernes, K. (2014a). Skolens betydning for den lave andelen av ungdom med
innvandrerbakgrunn i lrerutdanningen. [The school's impact on the low
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Spernes, K. (2014b). En anerkjennende skole? - Elever med innvandrerbakgrunn og deres
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UNCRC, (1989). Convention on the rights of the child (General Assembly resolution 44/25
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i
The results of project1 are described in two articles: Spernes 2014a and Spernes 2014b.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 11, pp. 16-23, October 2016

Personal Anecdotes as a Pedagogical Device


to Motivate Introductory Economics

Vicar S. Valencia
Indiana University South Bend
South Bend, IN

Abstract. A personal anecdote is a short narrative about ones life


experiences. When used in the context of teaching introductory courses
in economics, it facilitates a vivid, engaging, and memorable way for
students to learn fundamental economic concepts. As a pedagogical
device, it encourages classroom discussions, motivates students to
recognize the relevance and application of economic analysis in their
lives, and humanizes the instructors persona. Some guidelines and
caveats are proffered to enhance its appropriate use.

Keywords: personal anecdotes; introductory economics; pedagogical


device; student motivation; learning

Introduction
Courses in introductory economics, otherwise known as principles of economics,
are often viewed with a mix of excitement and trepidation by students (Brock,
2011). The excitement often stems from the macro side of economics. Students
who formally enroll in the course often have at least some familiarity or even a
faint notion of the jargon of macroeconomics. They recognize, for instance, from
reading the newspaper and watching political-economic commentary, that
inflation and unemployment are considered as social problems, that exchange
rates are useful when traveling abroad, and that the government needs to do
something about the burgeoning budget deficit. Although students have varying
knowledge and perceptions of economics (Shanahan and Meyer, 2001),
classroom discussions indicate that they generally understand that inflation
pertains to rising prices, unemployment worsens during recessions, a dollar
buys a lot in some countries, and that deficits are created when government
spending exceeds tax revenues collected. Because of the exposure to various
social and media outlets, students are generally acquainted with these ideas. It is
therefore the instructors role to reinforce their underlying enthusiasm to
broaden and sharpen understanding of economic concepts.

The associated trepidation to economics, however, cannot be ignored, and it


mainly comes from microeconomics. All too often, students tend to regard the
micro side as abstract and theoretical, wanting in applicable experiences to the

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17

extent that it can potentially lead to debilitating test anxieties(Chowdhury and


Mallik, 2012; Kader, 2016). Introductory microeconomics appears to them as
algebra in disguise and all about unrealistic model building. Such misgivings
presumably come from a lack of exposure to the jargon in everyday
conversations. For example, while it may not be surprising to hear people
lamenting about the pernicious effects of unemployment during a dinner
conversation, it is uncommon to find someone discussing the notion of the price
elasticity of demand for cigarettes, even somewhat informally.

In addition, introductory courses in microeconomics and macroeconomics


inescapably discuss concepts and principles using high school mathematics and
notions of algebra. Albeit rudimentary, the algebra is purposefully useful for
motivating the idea that economics is a scientific discipline, explaining the
underlying theoretical background, and enhancing the expected learning
proficiencies. These proficiencies include the cognitive application and creation
of knowledge and the proper interpretation and manipulation of economic data
(Hansen, 2001). As such, to help achieve economic literacy, standard textbooks
in economics will often devote appendices that review high school math
essentials. For instance, Acemoglu et al (2015) introduces the calculation of the
slope to distinguish causality from correlation. To motivate the microeconomic
idea of equilibrium price in demand and supply analysis, Karlan and Murdoch
(2014) explain the use of linear equations to solve for equilibrium. Finally,
Mankiw (2015) reinforces the use of ordered pairs to create graphs in the
coordinate system; this is particularly useful when examining the
macroeconomic relationship between inflation and unemployment. Hence,
when such fundamental economic concepts are formally introduced in the
classroom, coupled with the associated algebra and graphs, the uninitiated
student invariably feels inundated with abstruse information and unfamiliar
language. The result is a frustrated and demotivated student. Moreover,
competence in thinking like an economist - the ability to analyze economic
phenomena becomes a hurdle due to the math anxiety (Chang and Beilock,
2016).

The purpose of this research note is to provide salience to the use of personal
anecdotes as a pedagogical device to motivate student learning and reinforce
conceptual understanding. Personal anecdotes are essentially narrations of ones
life experiences, ranging from the individual, family, and to even seemingly
mundane day-to-day life situations. In the context of teaching economics, an
instructor shares his or her personal anecdotes to convey an idea or insight in a
more memorable, vivid, and succinct way. As pointed out by Elzinga (2001), for
classroom teaching of economics, good lectures need stories.

Personal anecdotes allow the instructor to (i) create a bond or connection with
students and (ii) enrich the relatability of economic concepts to everyday
situations in that life experiences bring attention to introspection - how an
individual interprets events and responds to situations (McAdams, 2008; Mcnett,
2016). In general, when instructors share with students their very own
interaction with the economic concepts taught in class, those seemingly abstruse

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18

and abstract ideas become humanized. Recognizing the connection between


textbook theory and actual practice, students, as a consequence, tend to share as
well their personal experiences, facilitating an interactive classroom discussion.
The paper concludes by offering some guidelines and caveats for the
appropriate use of personal anecdotes.

Rationale
The crucial goal of economic education is to train students and produce college
graduates with the ability to think like an economist, analyzing data and
interpreting events using the lens of economics (Mankiw, 2015). All too often,
however, the analysis and interpretation become intertwined with intricate
abstractions, theory, and model building that students lose the ability to place
fundamental economic concepts in the context of their day-to-day, personal life
experiences. As pointed out by Hansen, Salemi, and Siegfried (2002), to wit:
what matters is how well students can apply their learning not only now but
later, long after they complete their schooling. Viewing economics in the
context of life experiences is an important lifelong skill and civic duty as
economics invariably permeates public policy. Hence, curricular literacy and the
motivation to learn economics are of paramount concern.

Pedagogical research in student motivation and attitudes toward learning can be


couched in terms of the instructor explaining the relevance of the subject matter
in an interactive and engaging manner (Lin-Siegler, 2016). Various avenues are
offered; it ranges from providing more illustrative examples to changing the
pace and organization of the lectures. Timely feedback and collaborative group
discussions are also seen as important (Webb and Gibson, 2015). Estepp and
Roberts (2015) emphasize the importance of building rapport with students. The
overarching message is that a positive classroom environment creates the
psychological dynamics of students not only motivated to learn but also,
importantly, engaged with their instructor. It is in this premise that personal
anecdotes can be used as a tool for motivating and reinforcing student learning.
Personal anecdotes facilitate a classroom environment in which students
recognize the connection between the economic concepts they read from the
textbook and actual, real-world experiences they themselves experience. As
such, they become positively receptive to the course objectives.

A personal anecdote is a short narrative about an event or situation that is often


meant to illustrate, more vividly and concisely, ones life experience. It can serve
as a metaphor to ones philosophy or general approach to life. It can elicit
laughter, break the ice, and diminish the monotony of the conversation. When
employed purposefully, it can create a personal relationship with the intended
audience; Paolini (2015) highlights that the sharing of personal anecdotes leads
to more positive student outcomes. In a classroom setting, personal anecdotes
can be used to introduce a learning objective, motivate a concept, and emphasize
case studies.

To pique student interest and set the stage for learning, personal anecdotes can
be introduced on the first day of class. In addition to the customary enumeration

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19

of classroom policies and course requirements, a personal anecdote about ones


college experience with introductory economics sets the stage for a comfortable
and inviting interaction between the students and instructor. Personal
anecdotes, in this regard, are most effective and gain realism when an instructor
recounts the feeling of excitement and discovery learning for the first time how
firms use marginal analysis to raise profitability. More pointedly, an instructor
can also narrate anecdotes about the trepidation experienced getting accustomed
to the use of graphs and algebra in economics; it is filled with mistakes and
learning from the mistakes. Lin-Siegler (2016), for instance, find that narrating to
students stories which illuminate the struggles faced by eminent scientists lead
to improved student outcomes and rectify misapprehensions. In addition, Solis
and Turner (2016) report that instructors who engage in storytelling, narrating
personal stories relatable to the course material are rated highly in teaching
effectiveness.

Students are particularly receptive to these narratives. Sharing anecdotes about


individual excitement creates the positive impression that students will learn
something useful, practical, and applicable in the course. That is, sharing
anecdotes about personal apprehensions faced in college humanizes the
instructors persona, reinforces favorable first-day impressions, and mitigates
preconceived negative stereotypes. With the introduction of the use of personal
anecdotes implemented on the first day, sharing further narratives about life
experiences with economics can then be incorporated into subsequent lectures
and discussions.

Motivating Examples
Textbooks in introductory economics are filled with what has become the
standard suite of pedagogical aids, such as chapter summaries and learning
objectives, color-coordinated graphs, problem-solving and applications-based
questions, and a multitude of examples and case studies. With each new edition,
chapters or sections are deleted, reorganized, or reworded to make the
discussion more accessible to students. Mankiw (2015) and Parkin (2014) are but
a few of the representative textbooks in introductory economics in which the
examples and case studies chosen are useful for creating relevance of the course
material. However, the examples and scenarios can be somewhat generic and
limiting, not providing specific context for the students to relate with their
experiences and their instructors experiences. In this case, personal anecdotes
can be used to provide students more insightful, context-driven examples. The
presentation of fictional and literary material such as movies and short stories
can convey applicable economic information (Ruder, 2010). However, sharing
personal anecdotes can explicitly make the connection between classroom
discussions and actual experiences. Narrating ones life experiences can help
achieve the desired course objective in a more memorable and relatable way.

Principles of Microeconomics
Consider, for instance, the textbook treatment of the price elasticity of demand.
The prototypical necessities versus luxuries classification of goods is a key
determinant which makes demand more elastic or less elastic (Mankiw, 2015;

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20

Parkin, 2014). A personal anecdote can reinforce the distinction and make it
more memorable to a student. The instructor can share with students, for
example, the narrative of growing up with a cultural and family background of
being a rice person. That is, students fondly learn that their instructor views
rice as a staple food and eats rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Moreover, the
instructor can recount to students, as a mnemonic device, that I need rice to
survive and I cant live if living is without rice, the latter borrowed as a
similitude from a classic song. This easily breaks the formality and monotony of
class lectures. The anecdote acts as a platform for asking students to provide
their very own examples of consumption patterns, identifying goods and
services that tend to have an elastic or inelastic demand.

Importantly, students can recall a more memorable and enriching interpretation


of the price elasticity of demand, with an accessible glimpse of the instructors
cultural heritage. Also, there is a transformation of student perception to the
course, with the realization that a somewhat abstract concept actually has a
direct, human side. In general, the trepidation and misconceptions attached to
the study of microeconomics can be eased and placed into a positive perspective
with the use of a relevant personal anecdote. Moreover, as this specific example
shows, the narrative can be an unobtrusive, yet insightful way of acknowledging
cultural diversity and heritage. Colleges and universities are continually
developing curricula that embraces cultural and global experiences to promote
learning, and the use of even the simplest of personal anecdotes can serve as a
framework for acknowledging cultural richness and diversity (Bowman and
Park, 2015).

Principles of Macroeconomics
Personal anecdotes can also be used to reinforce excitement and curiosity to
macroeconomic ideas. Textbooks conventionally provide a myriad of facts and
figures for calculating unemployment and examining its trend. These include
unemployment rates during recessions (Acemoglu et al, 2015) and the labor
force participation of men and women over time (Mankiw, 2015). However,
pedagogical instruction can be strengthened by bringing attention to the social
ills and personal hardships of unemployment. That is, in addition to simply
providing a straightforward empirical account of the national and local
problems of unemployment, one can also share an anecdote of a personal or
family experience with unemployment.

Sharing the travails of losing a job and source of income creates a relatable life
story to the students. The introduction of a personal anecdote stimulates interest
and creates an open, relaxed atmosphere, which provides students themselves
the opportunity to share their very own personal anecdotes. These could range
from a family member losing a job after several years with the company for lack
of higher education to the bureaucracy of obtaining unemployment insurance.
The ensuing result is a classroom discussion that puts into greater context the
social and institutional problems of unemployment. As traditional lectures are
often viewed as a form of passive learning (Allgood, Walstad, and Siegfried,

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21

2015), a narration of actual life experiences reinforces life-long learning in


economics. It helps transform class discussion from passive to active learning.

Guidelines and Caveats


From the perspective of an instructor, personal anecdotes provide a platform for
creating contextual relatability, student participation, and classroom discussions.
From the perspective of a student, the narratives instructors share offer a
glimpse of their character and insights to their life experiences. It is this
connection or bridge to the human persona that appeals to students, reinforcing
positive expectations about the learning environment (Abrahamson, 2011). This
section offers some guidelines and caveats that instructors need to take into
account to create a more meaningful and engaging narration of personal
anecdotes in the classroom.

Narrate with a Purpose


Foremost, to be effective, a personal anecdote must be aligned with a specific
learning objective (Solis and Turner, 2016). Hence, no matter how interesting or
amusing an episode of ones life story might appear to be, the instructors main
goal is to convey the essence of an economic concept. An anecdote that does not
have any pedagogical content integrated into a specific learning objective will
dilute its relevance.

Plan and Rehearse


A well-planned and well-rehearsed personal anecdote facilitates purposeful
implementation of the intended learning objective. The way a person typically
narrates life experiences to friends and family is markedly different from the
way an instructor would do it with his or her students. As such, instructors must
plan to select appropriate episodes in their lives to share with students. Timing
and delivery are equally important, and so adequate time must be devoted to
rehearse. A hastily and poorly exemplified anecdote will appear vacuous of
pedagogy. Spontaneous narrations can lead to a rambling monologue of
tangential information, which students will find distracting.

Keep it Simple
A personal anecdote should be short and simple. Adding several layers of
information, intricate plots, and embellishments to the narration, while amusing,
can overpower the specific course objective planned and rehearsed for students
to learn. The anecdotes are meant to create a teachable moment and not to
disengage students from the underlying economic concept. When it comes to
anecdotes, simplicity is beauty and less is more.

Do Not Overdo it
It is not essential to have several personal anecdotes to every class discussion
and learning objective, otherwise students will quickly have diminishing
excitement and diminishing returns in learning. The personal life experiences
will appear stale and contrived. Personal anecdotes are meant to supplement
and not unilaterally replace other pedagogical techniques and classroom
activities.

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22

Create a Sense of Belonging


As the example narration on rice as a staple food vis--vis the price elasticity of
demand demonstrates, sharing ones cultural heritage and family background
with students, whenever appropriately possible, can be used as a paradigm for
acknowledging diversity. Student motivation is also dependent on a sense of
belongingness, which textbook examples and case studies in economics cannot
adequately provide. Bringing into perspective ones cultural identity and
heritage validate the existence of individual differences, the diversity of cultural
practices, and the richness of the collegiate body (Paolini, 2015).

Conclusion
Fundamentally, instructors are always looking for ways to make a more
meaningful, insightful, and interactive classroom environment. Personal
anecdotes can be used as a pedagogical device to help achieve this purpose. A
personal anecdote is about sharing life experiences instructors encounter that are
relatable to the economic concepts being taught in class. To the uninitiated
student, learning economic concepts and textbook examples for the first time can
appear daunting and demotivating. Through the lens of personal episodes in
ones life, the seemingly abstract and challenging economic concepts become
easier for students to understand. All in all, student anxieties are tempered,
motivation and retention enhanced, and a positive learning environment
reinforced.

References
Abrahamson, C. E. (2011). Methodologies for Motivating Student Learning Through
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Bowman, N. A. and Park, J. J. (2015). Not All Diversity Interactions are Created Equal:
Cross-racial
Interaction, Close Interracial Friendship, and College Student Outcomes.
Research in Higher Education, 56(6), 601-621.
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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 11, pp. 24-51, October 2016

Increasing Support and Job Satisfaction for


Program Administrators at the Postgraduate
Medical Education Program at the University of
Ottawa: The Program Administrators
Perspective

Dr. D. Puddester1*, Dr. C.J. MacDonald2, H. Summers1, Dr. A. Chaput1, Dr. L.


Wiesenfeld1 & Dr. D. Archibald1
1 Faculty of Medicine, University of Ottawa
2 Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa

Ottawa, Canada

Abstract. Background: Realizing Program Administrators (PAs) are


crucial to the success of the postgraduate medical education (PGME)
program, the PGME office at the University of Ottawa conducted a
needs analysis to (a) identify training opportunities PAs felt would
support them in being effective at meeting role expectations including
supporting Program Directors (PDs) and (b) gather information from
PAs to guide the PGME office in taking positive action toward
increasing satisfaction with services and resources. Methods: A mixed
methods approach involved collecting and analyzing data from online
surveys and follow-up qualitative interviews. Data analysis was
conducted using the constructs of the W(e)Learn framework (content,
media (delivery), service, structure and outcomes). Results: PAs
identified the following professional development topics they said
would benefit them: Human Resources; Communication and Conflict
Management Courses; Career Development; Evaluation; Policy;
Multigenerational Workforces; and Best Technological Practices of Relevance
to PAs. The PAs also identified several recommendations for how the
PGME office could facilitate them effectively carrying out their roles and
responsibilities. Conclusions: An effective form of support is offering
convenient, relevant professional development to help employees meet
role expectations. A well-designed professional development program
should begin with a needs analysis to determine stakeholder needs with
regard to relevant content, preferred delivery methods, service issues
and course structure, in order to ensure desired learner outcomes.

Keywords: Postgraduate medical education; program administrators;


needs analysis; professional development; program improvement

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25

1. Introduction
Program Administrators (PAs) are key to the success of postgraduate medical
education (PGME) programs. Therefore, it is critical that PAs feel supported in
their role. One effective form of support is offering convenient, relevant
professional development to help them meet role expectations (MacDonald et al,
2013). Quality professional development programs demand a significant
investment of time and resources and are generally characterized by substantial
planning and design work (MacDonald & Thompson, 2005). A well-designed
program begins with a needs analysis to determine learning objectives, relevant
content, effective teaching methods, a positive learning environment, and
incorporates continuous evaluation to ensure constant improvement
(MacDonald, Stodel, Thompson & Casimiro 2009; Kjaer, Steenstrup, Pedersen &
Halling, 2014).
The PGME office at the University of Ottawa invited PAs to participate in a
needs analysis designed to answer the following two research questions:
1. What training opportunities do PAs feel would support them in being
effective meeting their role responsibilities and supporting Program
Directors (PDs)?
2. What positive actions can the PGME office take to increase satisfaction
with services and resources?

2. Methodology
2.1 W(e)Learn Framework
The W(e)Learn framework (MacDonald et al, 2009) was used to guide the needs
analysis. The framework has also been used to guide two recent program
evaluations (MacDonald et al., 2015; Puddester, MacDonald, Clements, Gaffney,
& Wiesenfeld, 2015) W(e)Learn outlines four critical dimensions of healthcare
educationstructure, content, media, and serviceand is grounded in socio-
constructivist theories and inter-professionalism (see Figure 1). W(e)Learn is
intended to elicit four levels of outcomes, the pinnacle of which is organizational
change. (for an interactive version visit
http://www.ennovativesolution.com/WeLearn/).

Figure 1: W(e)Learn Framework

2.2 Mixed Methods


The need analysis was guided by a mixed methods design to utilize the positive
attributes of both qualitative and quantitative studies (Halcomb & Hickman,

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26

2015; Pluye, Gagnon, Griffiths, & Johnson-Lafleur, 2009; Strudsholm et al., 2016).
A quantitative survey and qualitative interviews were utilized to answer the
research questions in a comprehensive manner. This method counteracts the
shortcomings and supports and enhances the strengths of the quantitative and
qualitative research approaches (Bryman, 2007; Creswell & Plano Clark, 2010;
Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004).

2.3 Focus Group Interviews


The goal of the focus group interviews was to gather information that would
answer the research questions. PAs were invited by email to take part in the
semi-structured focus group sessions. Eleven PAs volunteered to participate in
two separate interviews (five in one and six in the other). An effort was made to
include PAs from various hospitals, teaching sites, and departments as well as
those active and less active in the program. Open-ended questions, that were
developed based on the W(e)Learn Framework (see Appendix A), were utilized
for the interviews. All participants gave permission for audio recording of the
interviews, which were then transcribed verbatim. The interviews took place at a
location convenient to the PAs during their workday and were one hour in
duration.

2.4 Online Survey


The 80 PAs from approximately 70 departments in the Faculty of Medicine were
emailed an invitation from the PGME office to participate in the needs analysis
with a link to complete an online survey through FluidSurveys. Forty-nine PAs
completed the online survey. The survey took approximately 5-10 minutes to
complete (see Appendix B for the survey; Appendix C for the survey data).

2.5 Data Analysis


In order to validate the research findings via the triangulation of qualitative and
quantitative data, results were compared from the online survey, and the focus
group interviews (Altrichter, Posch & Somekh, 1996; Graff, 2014; ODonoghue
and Punch, 2003;). Inductive and deductive reasoning were used to interpret the
interview data. The writing adopted a narrative tone in order to best capture the
experiences of the PAs, and direct quotations were included when relevant.

2.6 Qualitative Analysis


Qualitative data analysis was conducted according to the work of Merriam
(2001) and Bogdan and Biklen (1998). To ensure accuracy of the transcribed text,
the researcher compared the transcribed interview to the audio recording (mp3
file), and made corrections, as required. Open coding of the text was conducted
by hand, with an initial list of codes developed, followed by a second coding to
form themes. Several additional reviews of the coding ensured that no new
codes were identified from the data. The data was then categorized to supply
detailed information to answer the research questions. A draft report was sent to
two additional researchers along with the transcripts in order to verify the
findings.
From the findings, the PAs perspective was reported with respect to current
strengths, shortcomings, and areas to improve with regard to the PGME office
and professional development that would support them in their role. Direct

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27

quotes were employed to demonstrate participants opinions and concerns and


to provide objective evidence regarding the PAs perception. PAs were sent a
summary of the findings and given an opportunity to change, delete or expand
upon any text or interview quote that distorted their point of view. No changes
were made as a result of our invitation to PAs.

2.7 Quantitative Analysis


Descriptive statistics and response frequencies were employed to analyze the
PAs experiences and needs with regard to professional development and the
PGME office. The validity of this research was primarily supported by the
triangulation of two different forms of data: online surveys, and focus group
interviews. Patton (2002) states that triangulation strengthens research by
combining different types of methods or data. As well as the triangulation of the
data, any disconfirming information was included in the research report in order
to confirm validity.

3. Qualitative Findings and Survey Results


The findings from the interviews are chronicled in the ensuing sections followed
by supportive survey data.

3.1 Data Analysis


PAs reported they love their jobs and feel privileged to have them. One PA
stated, It is rewarding. I feel I am contributing to society. (P1) A second PA
elaborated, I love my job. I love interacting with the learners and my [Program
Director] PD. I really enjoy it. (P6) Several PAs went on to discuss how the
residents contribute to their job enjoyment, I love my residents and I love
helping them. (P5)
When asked what they liked most about their job, PAs produced a long list. For
one, it was that she is entrusted with responsibility. Other PAs said what they
liked best was being part of a team. Similarly, a PA said she appreciated the
autonomy and respect she received from her PD. For many PAs, the aspect of
their job they reported liking most was the residents. They all just got their
Royal College exam results back and every one of them contacted me and let me
know they passed and that [they] couldnt have done it without me, which felt
really nice. (P7) Other PAs reported they were grateful for all the opportunities
the job allotted them, the wonderful mentors and friendships. Another PA
reported she likes the paperwork, and enjoys the people I work with.
Despite reporting they loved their jobs, PAs were able to identify professional
development and many ways the PGME office could improve support to help
them effectively carry out their roles and responsibilities. The analysis of the
interview data is organized under the themes of the W(e)Learn framework;
Content, Media (delivery), Structure, and Service (MacDonald et al, 2009). Each
of these themes and their subthemes are discussed in the ensuring sections of
this paper.

3.2 Content
PAs stated they were eager to participate in professional development. One PA
reported they were hungry for professional development. One PA stated, As

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28

long as I know the content is worth my time, then I will take that time.
Sometimes it is really busy, but that is life.
The professional development topics identified by PAs emerged into the
following seven themes which are discussed in the ensuring sections: 1) Human
Resources; 2) Crucial Course Series; 3) Career Development; 4) Evaluation; 5) Policy;
6) Multigenerational Workforces; and 7) Best Technological Practices of Relevance to
PAs.

3.2.1) Human Resources


PAs stated they would like professional development on human resource issues.
One PA explained, Human resource courses starting at the grassroots would be
helpful, because that is what we do. (P3) PAs stated training on labour relations
and legal issues would be beneficial. One PA stated, Legal issues. When you
are dealing with remediation and leaves it is important to be up on that.
Somebody [should] sit down and tell you all the stakes involved. (P1)
Several PAs said they needed training on how to deal with residents in crisis.
PAs explained that residents experience everything from birth to death during
their programs. One PA stated, I would like the skill set to deal with that. (P7)
Survey results generally corresponded with the qualitative findings. As shown
in Table 1 (Appendix C), the majority of PAs surveyed either agreed or strongly
agreed with the statements regarding training in human resources activities
would assist in their performance expectations. However, it should be noted that
as many as 30% of respondents disagreed with some statements. In other words,
some PAs felt for the following tasks they did not require further training:
hiring new trainees, maintaining and organizing CaRMS (Canadian Resident
Matching Service) files, website content, and coordinating interviews for
CaRMS, foreign medical graduates and fellowship trainees. For all of the others
tasks listed in Table 1, the vast majority of PAs felt that additional training
would assist in meeting or exceeding performance expectations.

3.2.2) Communications and Conflict Management Courses


There was a general consensus that professional development to improve
communications and conflict management would be beneficial and appreciated.
The University of Ottawa has made completion of training in the VitalSmarts
courses Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability mandatory for all
postgraduate learners and Program Directors (www.vitalsmarts.com). One PA
stated, I really like those crucial courses. (P1) Another PA agreed and
elaborated. More professional development like the crucial conversation,
confrontations, and accountability courses. We need education. (P1) Another
PA went so far as to suggest the crucial courses should be mandatory.
About 61% of survey respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that receiving
training in advising a resident in minor or major distress or difficulty with
regard to acting with discretion, tact and diplomacy would be helpful in
meeting their performance expectations.

3.2.3) Career Development


PAs suggested professional development that would help them find jobs, and
advance within the PGME community would be beneficial. One PA suggested.
This isnt about people wanting to leave. It is about helping us stay in the

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industry. (P2) PAs agreed that they could use training on how to advance and
move around the Faculty of Medicine in the event that an opportunity arose.
Several PAs identified leadership training as a topic that would support them in
fulfilling their job expectations and advancing in their careers. Doing the
Myers-Briggs or STI you discover yourself, but it was also interesting to learn
about others. Being able to gauge where they might be, can help you interact and
increase your professional and communication skills. (P3) Another PA stated,
We have to have leadership skills to do our job.(P2) Similarly, one PA
reiterated, I would like something on leadership. Promoting how we can
elevate levels with our peers. So we are not just seen as a secretary. (P8)

3.2.4) Evaluation
PAs explained training related to the mandatory resident examinations would
help them carry out their roles more efficiently. Sometimes we have to create,
coordinate and collaborate those exams. We need a grassroots understanding of
these. (P2)
PAs shared they would like to be more involved in the CaRMS process. One PA
shared. I have always wanted to be involved in the CaRMS process. As a next
step to being a program administrator it would be nice to learn. (P5) Another
PA pointed out that there are inconsistencies regarding PAs involvement with
CaRMS. Some PAs are part of CaRMS and some are not. (P5). There was
unanimous agreement in response to one PAs comment, I would like courses
on the research that has been done on the [CaRMS] interview processes. (P3)
Another PA suggested she would like high-level training that could lead to
challenges and opportunities. I attended the physician portion at [the
International Conference on Residency Education] ICRE. There were sessions on
research that has been done on the CaRMS selection process. (P1)
Under the evaluation umbrella, several PAs said they would like training on
using ePortfolios as one strategy to document residents. We need an ePortfolio
in our program and we have to start it as of July. I need information to keep
going forward.(P5) Similarly, another PAs stated If I could get a course on
ePortfolios, the selection process, and the CaRMS interviews. (P4) Another PA
pointed out that training could help make them more efficient. There are so
many things we dont know how to use. I bet we could save and maximize time.
(P6) Table 4 (Appendix C) outlines the evaluation tasks and it is very clear that
the majority of PAs would like more training around all aspects of evaluation
processes and documentation.

3.2.5) Policy
Several PAs conveyed they need training on the most recent policies in PGME.
PAs stated they want more warning of changes in policies and procedures,
consistent information, and an up-to-date website outlining the latest policies.
Maybe the PGME office could identify someone who could assist PAs with
websites. I want to put up my new PDs headshot and want some basic
support. (P10) Another PA complained websites should be up-to-date and
communicate the current procedures and policies. One PA pointed out that the
PA manual under development has guidelines that could be helpful to them
when dealing with policy changes. The guideline for this is the PA manual
being constructed right now. There are a lot of things that can be pulled out of

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30

that to say how can we help support you. (P2) PAs suggested that an
information session from The Professional Association of Residents of Ontario
(PARO) would be beneficial to support them in effectively doing their job.
PAs agreed that they would like professional development on the accreditation
policies and process. They wanted to know what is expected, and how to
address the problems that need to be fixed. We really need accreditation
[professional development] sessions now. We are less than a year out now so if
we have problems to fix, we need to do it now and fix them properly. (P7)
Several PAs stated they would like professional development on policies related
to licensing. Another PA expressed she would like training on alternative
licensing; Because my residents dont work in a hospital setting so some of
them have a limited license when they get out but I dont really understand how
that all works. (P8) Another PA also wanted training on policy. She elaborated,
We have sub-specialty programs within each department that are not credited.
I would like a workshop on how to apply for that program to receive their
accreditation from the Royal College. (P7)
According to the survey results, about 31% of respondents felt they would
benefit from further training in assisting with planning and developing of
Policies and Procedures relating to the educational program complying with
external agencies.

3.2.6) Multigenerational Workforce Issues


Several PAs stated they wanted training on generational issues so they could
better understand and relate to new residents entering the program. Some felt
there was a generation gap between them and the residents and that training
would help address this cavity. One PA stated; I need professional
development on generational issues.(P3)

3.2.7) Best Technological Practices


Several PAs reported they would like training on how to use the latest
technology. One PA stated, I would love once a year for someone to come show
us technology. They do it at the ICRE conference, Best practices or Tips and
tricks what is new, what is out there? (P9) Another PA agreed and mentioned
how helpful she found it when another PA taught her how to use an online
bookmark website. A PA shared that learning how to use Dropbox made her
more efficient. Similarly, others mentioned knowing how to use tools such as
Google Hangout, and survey software greatly impacted their work efficiency.
However, the survey results show that there is little interest in more training for
routine computer tasks such as computer login and password assignments to
trainees.

3.3 Delivery
There were mixed opinions with regard to how PAs reported they would like
professional development delivered. Issues related to the delivery of
professional development emerged into the following two themes: 1) Time and
2) Convenient Access.

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31

3.3.1) Time
Several PAs indicated they were not concerned about how but when content
was delivered. One PA said, The delivery is not important. It is the timing and
the time. (P3). PAs said the content needed to be offered at convenient times
and locations. One PA emphasized the training should not be more than three
hours because that is the maximum time she can afford to be away from her
office. She suggested the best type of training was onsite lunch and learns.
However others said that lunchtime was not a convenient time to attend
professional development. One PA explained; In my specialty I dont get a
lunch hour because my physicians are on a unit in the morning and afternoon.
They come and see me on their lunch hour. I like half day or full day sessions.
(P2)
Other PAs recommended the end of the workday as the best time for
professional development. Maybe almost after hours, starting at three. (P3)
Others however, were adamant at the end of the day they need to get home to
their families. Some PAs suggested that flexibility in the time of the training was
key to them being able to access and participate. A balance. If I am dealing with
an issue, I have fifteen minutes right now. Give me the quick and dirty I need
to know right now to survive. Later I can follow up. (P7)

3.3.2) Convenient Access


PAs noted that providing convenient access to professional development was an
important consideration. Most PAs responded they would like their continuing
education to be face-to-face. One PA said she liked webinar and online learning
so she could focus and complete the modules at her convenience. (P3) However,
some PAs noted that due to firewalls, they are often unable to access webinars or
videoconferences at the hospitals. One PA explained. Some things at The
Ottawa Hospital (TOH) are TOH internal broadcast only. I am at Bruyre so I
cant attend unless I come offsite. It is a very TOH centric world. Accessibility is
the biggest thing. (P4) Other PAs said a combination of face-to-face and online
learning would best suit their needs. I prefer hands-on versus just reading. If
there is a way to incorporate doing versus just if you click here this is what you
do, I like actually doing. (P3)

3.4 Structure
The interview data regarding structure fell into the following eight themes: 1)
Culture; 2) Coordination; 3) Workload; 4) Timelines; 5) Emails; 6) Accreditation; 7)
Communication; 8) Medtech ticket system. These themes are explored in the
ensuing sections.

3.4.1) Culture
PAs reported there was a nomenclature issue related to the scope and depth of
the PA role. PAs pointed out that some of them are part-time, some full-time,
some employees of the hospital, others are university employees and some are
employed by both which lead to inconsistencies in expectations and roles, and
affects responsibilities and how they are treated. The PAs explained that they
wear multiple hats, which can lead to unrealistic expectations and stress. You
have your hospital hat, your university hat. (P5) One PA elaborated; My
position is paid, partly by the hospital and partly by the university. (P7)

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3.4.2) Coordination
PAs reported better coordination is needed between the undergraduate medical
education (UGME) and PGME offices within the Faculty of Medicine. One PA
voiced her desire for improved coordination between the two offices. There
needs to be more coordination between the undergrad and the postgrad office.
(P7)

3.4.3) Workload
PAs were adamant their workloads were continually getting larger and broader
making it difficult for them to meet job expectations. One PA explained, All
these new initiatives are adding to the PAs role. It is just too much. How do we
implement this into our daily duties?
PAs consistently commented that the accreditation process adds an extra layer to
their workload they did not feel the PGME office, residents and PDs recognized
or appreciated. One PA expressed concern regarding burgeoning workloads. I
have heard doctors say they realize it [preparing for accreditation] means more
work. Another PA used the following metaphor to describe the concept of
escalating workloads: We are putting pennies in the jar. PGME, Royal College,
everyone has not realized that the jar is overflowing. Those pennies are spilling
over. What are you taking away? (P2) Another PA elaborated. My biggest
challenge is having more tasks added on by postgrad, and none taken away.
(P11) Another PA agreed and explained; For those playing multiple roles it is
becoming too much. I do postgrad, undergrad plus another program, not even
related to medicine. (P7)
Another PA commented; I enjoy what I do. It is the extra stuff. It is the time
constraints. We are expected to do so much within 40hrs a week and sometimes
my job actually takes 80hrs a week. (P8) One PA pointed out that being
available by phone 24/7 compounded the workload issue. PDs dont
understand you are not just taking directives from them but PGME, the Royal
College, the lead of surgical education, the lead of the OSCEs and people within
your department. Sometimes the job is too much. (P10)

3.4.4) Timelines
PAs suggested the PGME office could provide better service by giving them a
heads up and reasonable timelines for meeting deadlines. One PA expressed her
issue this way: Some changes we find out about after everything has been
implemented. They have known since July it was coming into effect. We were
given notice in October you have to have this done by November. (P9)
Similarly, another PA also voiced concern regarding unrealistic timelines. We
just received an email from the PGME office that something needs to be done
within the next two weeks. I have to ask for an extension. I feel that it is a little
unprofessional but there is no other way. (P10) Finally, a PA communicated
that timelines caused stress to her workday. We have scheduled things
happening all year and there is always a task added but there is never anything
removed. They might think three weeks is a long time but in the PA world it is
not [sufficient notice]. (P7)

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3.4.5) Emails
PAs agreed the PGME office should improve their emailing system. PAs voiced
frustration that emails were often sent to them repeatedly with poor or no
communication regarding whether the email was a reminder, or if they could
ignore it if they had previously addressed or responded to the request. The
communication is a challenge. Be clear. We would be doing a lot less spinning of
wheels. (P5) One PA explained. Sometimes we get emails that dont really say
anything. Or an email has five or six messages. It should maybe be five or six
different emails. (P9)
PAs explained the emails are not secret and blind copying causes needless
confusion when receivers forward the email to people who have already
received it. One PA shared; They send emails again and sometimes you wonder
if it is the first time you received the email? You dont know if the email is for
the PDs or us! (P2) Another PA made it clear she wanted to know explicitly
whom emails are from and who (in addition to herself) is receiving the emails,
Say it! To and from (P1) PAs elaborated that the blind copying (i.e., bccing)
also created frustration for PDs. There is absolutely no reason to blind copy
PAs and PDs. These are not secret emails. We would like to see who the emails
are intended for. (P11) PAs highlighted when emails are sent from the PGME
office to the PD only, it makes it difficult for them to know what is going on or
prompt the director to address the email.

3.4.6) Accreditation
PAs collectively agreed that the PGME office should provide them better
structure with regard to accreditation. PAs stated they want the PGME to be an
advocate for them communicating with the Royal College of Physicians and
Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) and the College of Family Physicians of Canada
(CFPC) regarding expectations, deadlines and policies. PAs shared that
preparing for accreditation not only required a lot of time, but also caused them
a lot of frustration.
Another cause of frustration stemmed from the fact that PAs said they often did
not know what was expected with regard to accreditation. One PA explained,
The upcoming accreditation is nebulous. They keep changing the timeframe.
(P3) One PA voiced her frustration this way, Accreditation is one of many
tasks. I want enough leeway to make the timeline.(P5) PAs suggested that
consistency, clarification and support with regard to accreditation would
improve the standard. (P2)
Survey results show that about 65% of survey respondents felt they would like
training with how to better liaise with the RCPSC and CFPC.

3.4.7) Communication
Another PA felt better communication between the PGME office and the PAs
would go a long way toward reducing frustration and helping plan workloads
to meet accreditation deadlines. Keep us in the loop. This way we could plan
ahead in our workload. (P1)
PAs went on to explain that they want the PGME office to follow-up on their
requests so they could confirm the problem they phoned about had indeed been
resolved. One PA expounded. When you call the PGME office usually they
know the answer but sometimes they need to check with someone. You never

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34

know if they are following up. Is my question still going? What happened to it?
(P8) Similarly PAs communicated there was frequent turnover in the faculty and
having an up-to-date phone list, contact list, and list of job duties would make
their job easier. In a similar vein, PAs specified they need PDs and the PGME to
communicate in a language they understand. I need a vocabulary that I can
understand. One PA summed up her concerns simply, A lot of it boils down
to communication. (P1)

3.4.8) Medtech Ticket System


PAs expressed unanimous overwhelming frustration regarding the Medtech
ticket system. One PA stated, If you could talk to somebody it would take five
minutes to resolve your issue. But you have to send a ticket. Sometimes it takes
two days before they get back to you. (P10) Similarly, PAs also communicated a
lot of frustration because they were required to go through Medtech if they need
support with the 145 evaluation system. In the words of one PA, I am in 145
and I have an issue. I go to needs support in 145. I need to log it through
Medtech. I am busy and now I have got to go and do all the steps. (P8)
Survey results show that as many as 65% of survey respondents felt they would
like more training in operational support (See Table 5, Appendix C). These tasks
included: assisting with organization and completion of Postgraduate Reviews;
coordinating, organizing, compiling and distributing information for all
Postgraduate residents; and producing reports and statistics.

3.5 Service
The interview data regarding service fell into the following five themes: 1)
Appreciation; 2) Support; 3) Parking; 4) Certificates; and 5) Mentorship. These
themes are explored in the ensuing sections.

3.5.1) Appreciation
When asked what they liked least about their job several PAs stated their
perceived lack of respect toward their role. One PA explained: I have a degree.
Everybody has a role and sometimes I think the disrespect that comes because
you are just an administrator. I do this because I am good at it, and that is my
niche. (P9) Some PAs indicated they often do not feel appreciated by the PDs,
residents and the PGME office. One PA communicated: We arent assistants,
we are administrators. We work very hard. We are doing HR, dealing with
payroll, union and labour relations. (P3) PAs articulated they have a major role
in running the department and sometimes feel undermined when PDs call them
their assistant.
Some PAs reported that recently they have seen improvements in the support
they are receiving from the PGME office. One PA noted that the PGME office
supported them to attend training sessions. In her words, Very supported to
attend all of the sessions we want. I feel that PGME is very responsive. They are
always thinking about new things. (P4). Another PA acknowledged that things
had improved since they hired a new manager and new team members. Another
confirmed, They have been incredible. (P5). Finally, another stated, It has
been amazing. (P1)
One PA voiced appreciation to the PGME office for organizing the focus group
and asking for their input. I am just appreciative that they are doing even this.

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That means a lot. (P3) Another PA added, They are listening. (P2). PAs also
recognized that the PGME office has come a long way with regard to
professional development since they started. It was small steps and now we are
making some giant steps. (P4) Another PA noted that organization within the
PGME has improved. They have identified who does what in the office. Now if
you call, they say, This person is responsible for that, I will redirect your call.
Which is great because for a long time we werent getting that support. (P9)
PAs felt that PDs do not appreciate how much work and coordination there is
going on behind the scenes. For example, one PA showed her PD all of the forms
necessary to fill in in order to complete a process. He had no concept of the
amount of time it took, and the fact that it was completed seamlessly and
transparently to him impressed him.

3.5.2) Support
PAs made several suggestions regarding how they thought the PGME office
could better support them in their role. Several PAs said more support in the
form of training and appointing mentors for new PAs would help them be more
efficient and comfortable in their role. When I came into my job the previous
PA came in and sat with me for two hours and that was my training. Good luck!
So postgrad needs to ramp up the support for new PAs. (P9)
PAs highlighted they need support from the PGME office in order to attain
access to the library, passcodes for rooms, and Wi-Fi. One PA explained. The
majority of PAs are not university employees. I come to the university a lot for
committee and sub-committee meetings and it would be nice to have access to
Wi-Fi. (P8)
Several PAs reported that their departments were supportive of them attending
professional activities but suggested it wasnt the same situation for all PAs. One
PA shared; My program is very supportive. But I do know some PAs do not get
the time off because they have a shared position. (P6) Another PA added. For
some PAs they cant get the time because they have clinical responsibilities in
addition to their program responsibilities. That has been a big issue for a large
group of PAs.(P7)
Another PA agreed and elaborated:
It is always the same PAs that attend training; the ones that have support.
It is the ones that cant get to the training that need it most. It is very
frustrating. They want to do it but they just cant get free. (P8)

3.5.3) Parking
PAs said that support in the way of having free parking facilitates them
attending professional development sessions. Parking for sure. (P6) PAs stated
that beverages available during the training were appreciated. Another PA
confirmed. Parking and coffee, I dont need food. Parking is important. (P4)

3.5.4) Certificates
PAs stated they would like to receive a certificate acknowledging they
participated in professional development. When one PA mentioned she would
like a certificate the interviewer asked the group if they wanted a certificate. The
group unanimously responded, Yes! Another PA elaborated; Any courses we
attend should come back with a little paper that said you attended this.

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Something tangible that we can hold in our hands and say okay we did this.
(P1)

3.5.5) Mentorship
PAs suggested they should take advantage of the knowledge within their group
and mentor one another. Another PA agreed and proposed, Having our
mentorship program up and running again would make a big difference,
especially for new PAs. (P9) One PA proposed; We have become stale so it is
nice that they are actually recognizing that and pulling us all together in groups
to have all of these new initiatives. We are very thankful. (P6) Another PA
suggested that once the PGME office analyzes the data from their interviews and
identifies what training is most appropriate to support them that the PGME
should involve PAs in the design of the training.

4. Summary and Conclusions


In response to the first research question, What training opportunities do PAs feel
would support them in being effective meeting their role responsibilities and support
PDs?, PAs stated they would like professional development on human resource
issues including labour relations, legal issues, and how to support PDs . PAs
articulated they enjoy, learn from, and would like more Crucial Course Series.
PAs suggested professional development, that would help them find jobs and
advance within the PGME industry, understand residents examinations and the
CaRMS interviews, and better utilize ePortfolio, eLogs, and technology, would
be beneficial. These findings were generally supported through the surveys as
well. PAs felt that tasks with higher level responsibilities including evaluation,
curriculum development, liaising with external organizations and leadership
tasks were more likely to require more training. There was a feeling of less need
for further training regarding day-to-day routine tasks.
PAs conveyed they want more warning of changes in policies and procedures,
more consistency in information, and an up-to-date website outlining the latest
policies. PAs stated they need training on generational issues so they can
understand and relate to the new residents entering the program.
There were mixed opinions with regard to how PAs would like professional
development delivered. Several PAs indicated they were not as concerned about
how the content was delivered as they were about when it was delivered. PAs
suggested that flexibility and convenience in the time of the training was key to
them being able to access and complete professional development.
PAs reported there was a nomenclature issue related to the scope and depth of
their role. PAs pointed out that their employment status (part-time, full-time,
employees of the university or hospital or both) affects their responsibilities and
how they are treated. PAs highlighted better coordination is needed between the
undergraduate and postgraduate offices within the Faculty. PAs were adamant
their workloads were continually getting larger and broader making it difficult
to meet job expectations. PAs consistently commented that the accreditation
process adds a layer to their workload and they didnt feel the PGME office,
residents and PDs recognized or appreciated this. PAs communicated the PGME
office could provide better service by giving them advance notice and
reasonable timelines for meeting deadlines and by improving their email

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37

system. PAs stated they want the PGME office to advocate for them,
communicating with the RCPSC and the CFPC regarding accreditation
expectations and procedures, deadlines and policies. PAs expressed unanimous
overwhelming frustration regarding the Medtech ticket system.
Some PAs indicated they often do not feel appreciated by the PDs, residents and
the PGME office and sometimes feel undermined when PDs call them their
assistant. Some PAs reported that recently they have seen improvements in
the support they are receiving from the PGME office.
Several PAs suggested training and a mentor for new PAs would help them be
more efficient and comfortable in their role. PAs highlighted they needed
support from the PGME office in order to attain access to the library, passcodes
for rooms, and Wi-Fi.
PAs said that support in the way of free parking facilitates them attending
professional development sessions and they would like to receive certificates
acknowledging they had attended and participated in professional
development.
In response to the second research question, What positive actions can the PGME
office take to increase satisfaction with services and resources?, it is suggested the
PGME office take the following actions:
Make the PA job description explicit.
Organize training and a mentor system for new PAs and new PDs.
Provide a manual for PAs so new or replacement PAs have a resource for
procedures and policies and a guide on what to do, where to find things
and who to call for help.
Respect PAs workloads and timelines by acknowledging and rewarding
extra workload responsibilities, such as accreditation demands.
Improve communication between the UGME and PGME offices.
Improve communication between the PGME office and PAs.
Improve the email system so everyone understands who emails are from
and going to. (i.e., If an email is being resent ensure an effort is made to
explain if the issue has already been addressed, as the follow-up email
may be ignored)
Liaise with Medtech for a review of ticket efficiencies.
PGME office should act as an advocate for PAs communicating with the
RCPSC and the CFPC regarding expectations, deadlines and policies.
PGME office should provide warnings of deadlines and new procedures.
PGME office should provide PAs with clear information and
expectations on the accreditation process.
Keep new policies up-to-date on the website.
Ensure that the PGME office, PDs and residents show the PAs respect by
referring to them as Program Administrators not Assistants.
Provide Certificates for professional development activities.

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Provide parking and beverages for professional development activities.


PAs would benefit from professional development on the following
topics:
Human Resources (including labour relations, legal issues,
dealing with remediation or court cases, and how to support
residents in crisis).
Crucial Courses (Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability,
Influencer)
Career Development and Leadership
Evaluation (resident exams; ePortfolios, eLogs, CaRMS)
Policies and Procedures accreditation policies, RCPSC and
CFPC (i.e., updated CanMEDS)
Provide an information session from PARO
Multigenerational workforces
Technology (online surveys, ePortfolios, eLogs)
The findings indicate that there is a significant interest in the major topic areas
of: human resources, namely labour relations, remediation, and how to support
residents in crisis; communication in terms of the ability to apply crucial
conversations methods; career development; leadership; interpreting and
implementing policies and procedures; use of technology in education; and
diversity.
As a result, the PGME Office has begun planning and will work with the
Program Administrator Executive group and the Faculty of Medicines human
resources team to identify courses that can be tailored and targeted for delivery
to the PAs. Courses and workshops addressing identified topic areas that will
facilitate daily interactions and have an immediate impact will be developed in
priority. With this in mind, workshops have been offered on the implementation
of social media and on cultural and generational diversity, both with the view to
increase the effectiveness of communications with millennial residents and
multicultural fellows. Planning for professional development also includes
exploring the feasibility of creating online modules for ease of use. As an
example, an online module series introducing new PAs to their role, and the
tools and supports available to them, is currently under development. This
provides the opportunity for new PAs to take the training on their own time, a
concern identified in the needs assessment, and reduces the strain of training on
the PGME office staff.
Together with evaluations and frequent feedback, the PGME office will have a
better understanding of what professional development is of interest to the PAs
to support their role and increase opportunities for career advancement.

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5. References
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introduction to the methods of action research. London, UK: Routledge.
Bogdan, R. & Biklen, S. K. (1998). Qualitative research for education: An introduction to
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Bryman, A. (2007). Barriers to integrating quantitative and quantitative research. Journal
of Mixed Methods Research, 1(1), 8-22.
Creswell, J. W. & Plano Clark, V. L. (2010). Designing and conducting mixed methods
research (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Graff, J. C. (2014). Mixed methods research. In: Hall, H. R. & Roussel, L. A., eds.
Evidence based practice: An integrative approach to research, administration and
practice. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Halcomb, E. & Hickman, L. (2015). Mixed methods research. Nursing Standard, 29(32),
41-47.
Johnson, R. B., & Onwuegbuzie, A. J. (2004). Mixed methods research: A research
paradigm whose time has come. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 14-26.
Kjaer, N. K., Steenstrup, A. P., Pedersen, L. B., & Halling, A. (2014). Continuous
professional development for GPs: experience from Denmark. Postgraduate Medical
Journal, 90(1065), 383-387.
MacDonald, C. J., Archibald, D., Montpetit, M., McKeen, M., Leith-Gudbranson, D.,
Hogue, R., & Rivet, C. (2013). The Design, Delivery and Evaluation of an Essential
Teaching Skills Course for Preceptors in Family. International Journal of Medical
Education. (4), 146-154.
MacDonald, C.J., Milligan, J., Jeji, T., Mathias, K., Kellam, H., Gaffney, J. (2015). Caring
for persons with spinal cord injury: A mixed study evaluation of eLearning modules
designed for family physicians. International Journal of Learning, Teaching and
Educational Research, 14(1), 39-62. http://ijlter.org/index.php/ijlter/issue/view/24
MacDonald, C. J., Stodel, E. J., Thompson, T-L., & Casimiro, L. (2009). W(e)Learn : A
framework for online interprofessional education. International Journal of Electronic
Healthcare. 5(1), 33-47.
MacDonald, C.J. & Thompson, T. L. (2005). Structure, content, delivery, service, and
outcomes: Quality e-learning in higher education. International Review of Research
in Open and Distance Learning 6(2). Available online:
http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/237/321
Merriam, S. B. (2001). Qualitative research and case study applications in education.
(Rev. ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
O'Donoghue, T., & Punch K. (2003). Qualitative educational research in action: Doing
and reflecting. London, UK: Routledge.
Patton, M. Q. (2002). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (3rd ed.). Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
Pluye, P., Gagnon, M-P., Griffiths, F., & Johnson-Lafleur, J. (2009). A scoring system for
appraising mixed methods research and concomitantly appraising qualitative,
quantitative and mixed methods primary studies in mixed studies reviews.
International Journal of Nursing Studies, 46(4), 529-546.
Puddester, D. MacDonald, C.J.; Clements, D., Gaffney, C.J. & Wiesenfeld, (2015).
Designing faculty development to support the evaluation of resident competency in
the intrinsic CanMEDS roles: practical outcomes of an assessment of program
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Strudsholm, T., Meadows, L. M., Vollman, A. R., Thurston, W. B. E., & Henderson, R.
(2016). Using mixed methods to facilitate complex, multiphased health research.
International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 15(1), 1609406915624579.

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Appendix A

uOttawa Postgraduate Medical Education Program Administrator Needs Assessment


Focus Group Questions
The purpose of this interview is to identify training opportunities you feel would best
support you in being effective at meeting your roles and responsibilities as a
Postgraduate Medical Education (PGME) Program Administrator (PA) and help you
support your Program Director to effectively meet his/her roles and responsibilities.

Suggested Interview Questions:

Structure
How could the PGME office support you in being an effective PA?
What advice would you give to someone planning training to support PAs in their role?
What barriers or challenges are you facing with delivering or implementing your PA
responsibilities?
What message would you like Program Directors to understand about the PAs role and
responsibility?
Content
What topics or knowledge would be most beneficial to cover in a training session to
support you in your role?
What skills would you like to have covered in a training session?
What organizations or individuals would you benefit from teaching or delivering a
training session?
Delivery/Media
What would motivate you to attend a training session for PAs?
What kind of training would best suit your learning style (online; face-to-face;
workshop; other (please specify)?
How long would you like training to be?
Service
What support do you need to be able to attend a training session (release time; food;
parking)?
What support or resources would be helpful to facilitate your roles as a PA?
What tools or instruments would you like to have to increase the efficiency of your role
as PA?

Appendix B

uOttawa Postgraduate Medical Education Program Administrator Needs Assessment


Survey

The purpose of this survey is to identify training opportunities you feel would best
support you in being effective at meeting your roles and responsibilities as a
Postgraduate Medical Education (PGME) Program Administrator (PA) and help you
support your Program Director to effectively meet his/her roles and responsibilities.

Please read the definition of a Program Assistant provided for you below. Then identify
on a Likert scale of 1-5 (one being least needed and 5 most needed), the training you
would most benefit from in meeting or exceeding your roles and responsibilities as a PA
in each of the following seven categories related to your job description (1. Human
Resource Activities; 2. Internal and External Liaison; 3. Team Facilitation and Event
Organization; 4. Evaluation; 5. Operational Support; 6. Membership and Leadership; 7.
Advanced Roles and Responsibilities).

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General Definition of Program Administrator:


A Program Administrator provides administrative services related to the activities
associated with PGME for the University of Ottawa within the hospitals
Department/Division. The PA works in collaboration with the Program Director to
support Department/Divisions/Sectors who provide teaching to all trainees rotating
through the Department/Division. In some cases, depending on experience and
negotiated job description, the Program Administrator assumes a greater role than
strictly administrative services and may be involved in managing or coordinating
educational activities.

1. Human Resource Activities


With regard to Human Resource Activities, please rate your agreement with each of the
following statements with regard to benefitting from training to support you in meeting
or exceeding in your roles and responsibilities as a PA (1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree,
3=not sure, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree, 6=does not apply):

assisting with the hiring of new trainees


developing, implementing and participating in the recruitment and orientation
of PGME programs (CaRMS, IMG, Outfunded, Fellowships)
maintaining and organizing PGME CaRMS files
maintaining and organizing PGME web site content
coordinating CaRMS interviews for MOH applicants and IMG applicants
coordinating interviews for foreign medical graduates and fellowship trainees
coordinating and maintaining trainee applications and files
coordinating hospital privileges for all new postgraduate trainees (including
foreign sponsored fellows)
organizing and verifying vacation, conference, and other leave requests (MAT,
PAT, LOA)
Creating distributing and facilitating the following postgraduate schedules
rotation schedules
call schedules
elective rotation schedules
off-service rotation schedules
coordinating resident training schedules (developing, updating, resolving
conflicts with rotation over-booking).
coordinating information retrieval for training verification requests.
providing first point of contact for a resident in minor or major distress or
difficulty with regard to acting with discretion, tact and diplomacy
providing immediate guidance and direction to trainees regarding:
referring the trainee to the appropriate contacts and supports
when to notifying the Program Director (as appropriate) of concerns about a
trainee

2. Internal and External Liaison


Please rate your agreement with each of the following statements with regard to
benefitting from continuing education in Internal and External Liaison Activities, to
support you in meeting or exceeding in your roles and responsibilities as a PA
(1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3=not sure, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree, 6=does not
apply):

acting as a central point of reference for general academic inquiries pertaining to


PGME related to the Department/Division

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liaising for Academic Education with governing bodies and affiliated


organizations, lead contact for communication with the following
organizations/affiliations:
Postgraduate Medical Education, University of Ottawa
Other TOH Departments, CHEO, Montfort, Royal Ottawa, Bruyre
Other University of Ottawa Departments (Undergraduate Medical Education,
Animal Care and Veterinary Services, Anatomy Laboratories, Continuing
Professional Development, Office of Professional Affairs, Bureau des affaires
Francophone, Wellness Programs)
Affiliated Research Organizations: Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, CHEO
Research Institute, Montfort Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa
Heart Institute, University of Ottawa Institute of Mental Health Research,
lisbeth-Bruyre Research Institute, Graduate Studies Office
Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada or College of Family
Physicians of Canada
Specialty specific organizations
Canadian Residency Matching Service (CaRMS)
Canadian Medical Protective Agency (CMPA)
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO)
Touchstone Institute (Formerly, Centre for the Evaluation of Health
Professionals Educated Abroad - CEPHEA)
Other Postgraduate Medical Education Programs (Canadian and U.S.A.)
Liaising with Industry

3. Team Facilitation and Event Organization


Please rate your agreement with each of the following statements with regard to
benefitting from continuing education in Team Facilitation and Event Organization
Activities, to support you in meeting or exceeding in your roles and responsibilities as a
PA (1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree, 3=not sure, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree, 6=does not
apply):

organizing and attending Residency/Fellowship Training Committee Meetings


providing administrative support to RTC faculty member
planning, organizing and coordinating agenda and materials
recording minutes and disseminates information to members
preparing accreditation material and reports
coordinating the planning and implementation of the following:
Academic Day Lectures
Research Curriculum
Mentorship Program
Annual Postgraduate Research Day
Annual Resident Education Retreat
Annual Fellow Retreat
Annual Award Ceremony
OSCE Examinations
Review Course
Simulation Sessions
Anatomy Lab Sessions
Workshops
Specialty Specific Examinations
Journal Club

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43

liaising with other programs/sites/departments for web conferencing and video


conferencing of academic activities
ensuring the availability and operational condition of all computer equipment
and audiovisual/videoconferencing equipment for medical educatio

4. Evaluation
Please rate your agreement with each of the following statements with regard to
benefitting from continuing education in Evaluation, to support you in meeting or
exceeding in your roles and responsibilities as a PA (1=strongly disagree, 2=disagree,
3=not sure, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree, 6=does not apply):

coordinating and disseminating monthly (Resident/Fellow) evaluations (Web


Evaluation system Management - One45) for postgraduate education programs
within the Department
organizes the trainee evaluation meetings with the Program Director
assisting with the design of specialty specific evaluations
collating evaluation information for resident/fellow dossiers
organizing specialty specific examinations
organizing OSCE examinations
assisting with documentation of performance evaluations of residents in
difficulty
assisting with documentation of implementation of remedial training
coordinating and disseminating (once PD approved) yearly Faculty evaluations
by residents
participating in site evaluations, for example, visit to Thunder Bay (NOSM)

5. Operational Support
Please rate your agreement with each of the following statements with regard to
benefitting from continuing education in Operational Support, to support you in
meeting or exceeding in your roles and responsibilities as a PA (1=strongly disagree,
2=disagree, 3=not sure, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree, NA):

Facilitating visits and assisting with producing documentation for the Royal
College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada or College of Family Physicians
of Canada Accreditation
Visits
Mini review
Internal review
External review
assisting with preparation and submission of Residency Placement Committee
Reports
assisting residents with access to librarian services
assisting with planning and developing of Policies and Procedures relating to
the educational program and ensures compliance with all external agencies
assisting with organization and completion of Postgraduate Reviews
coordinating, organizing, compiling and distributing information for all
Postgraduate residents as follows:
Policies and procedures (conference/workshop travel, rotation)
Call schedules in accordance to institutional policies and procedures (ie:
webxchange)
Academic Calendar
Rotation schedules

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44

Electives
Orientation guides/booklets
Award nominations for resident, and teaching faculty
Emails, memos and other relevant notices
working collaboratively with other programs and sites
demonstrating project management and planning skills in the day-to-day
operational activities of training programs with the Department/Division
producing reports and statistics
developing, managing and maintaining the Department Financial Plan
(Budgets) for Academic Education (Postgraduate)
maintenance and reconciliation of PGME expenditures and deposits
processing all academic (postgraduate) financial transactions
processing cheque requisitions, invoices, ATC
Controlling the funding allocation and claims for PGME trainees (residents and
fellows)
Liaising with Pharmaceutical Companies for educational financial support
Preparing financial reports (Department, University of Ottawa, PGME Office)
MTCU Grants
T & R Funds
Foreign Trainee Funding
Foreign Fellows Grant Funding
Distribution of Medical Education Funds (DME)
providing log on identification to hospital computer programs for all trainees
providing office/conference/call room key and/or password assignment to all
trainees
supports electives process

6. Membership and Leadership


Please rate your agreement with each of the following statements with regard to
benefitting from continuing education in Membership and Leadership, to support you in
meeting or exceeding in your roles and responsibilities as a PA (1=strongly disagree,
2=disagree, 3=not sure, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree, 6=does not apply):

Postgraduate Training Committee


being a contributing member to discussions and recommendations
Program Administrators General Assembly
Attends PGME meetings including those for updates to policies and procedures
Specialty Specific Organizations
Canadian Program Coordinators within specialty
Workshops and Seminars for PA Professional Development offered by the
PGME
Program Administrator Track for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons
of Canada
Canadian Administrators in Medical Education Operations (CAMEO)
Participates in PA committees such as; PA Executive; PA Retreat and PA
Wellness)
Acts as a resource person for new PAs

7. Advanced Roles and Responsibilities


Please rate your agreement with each of the following statements with regard to
benefitting from continuing education in Advanced Roles and Responsibilities, to

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support you meeting or exceeding in your roles and responsibilities as a PA (1=strongly


disagree, 2=disagree, 3=not sure, 4=agree, 5=strongly agree, 6=does not apply):

leading and or attends bimonthly academic administrative team meetings and


reviews the status, maintenance and timeframes of ongoing
Department/Division educational projects and activities
managing, implementing and developing educational projects and programs,
such as;
Academic Lectures
Simulation Workshops
Lectures and Labs
Rounds
Electives
CanMEDs roles
developing and maintaining the Education Web Site
assisting in the development of a web-based curriculum
developing and implementing teaching curriculums
participation in obtaining funding for special projects and in development and
implementation
overseeing organization of Mentorship Program and mentorship related
activities
developing and maintains PGME Objective Booklet, PGY1 Orientation Booklet,
Off-Service Trainee Orientation Booklet
contributing to Department Newsletter
collaborating with the Touchstone Institute (formerly, CEPHEA)
representing the program nationally and/or internationally, for example:
attending meetings, recruitment

Appendix C

Table 1. Human Resource Activities (N = 49)


Training in the following task(s) would assist me in meeting or exceeding my PA
performance expectations:
SD D N A SA NA

hiring new trainees 1 10 7 10 14 6

developing, implementing and participating in 1 4 7 19 12 5


the recruitment and orientation of PGME
programs

maintaining and organizing PGME CaRMS files 1 8 5 19 9 7

maintaining and organize PGME web site 0 10 5 17 9 8


content

coordinating CaRM interviews for MOH and 1 13 4 14 11 6


IMG applicants

coordinating interviews for foreign medical 1 13 5 13 12 5


graduates and fellowship trainees

coordinating and maintaining trainee 2 7 9 16 13 2


applications and files

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coordinating hospital privileges for new 2 6 6 13 14 8


postgraduate trainees (including foreign
sponsored fellows)

organizing and verifying vacation, conference, 2 4 9 13 16 5


and other leave requests (MAT, PAT, LOA)

creating distributing and facilitating 3 7 4 16 15 4


postgraduate schedules (rotation; call ; elective
rotation)

coordinating resident training schedules 4 6 6 12 15 6


(developing, updating, resolving conflicts with
rotation over-booking)

coordinating information retrieval for training 4 5 9 15 9 7


verification requests

advising a resident in minor or major distress or 4 4 4 13 17 6


difficulty with regard to acting with discretion

providing immediate guidance and direction to 2 1 9 13 19 5


trainees regarding appropriate contacts and
supports

appropriate circumstanced to notifying the 1 9 3 16 16 4


Program Director regarding concerns about a
trainee
(SD=strongly disagree, D=disagree, N=not sure, A=agree, SA=strongly agree, NA=does
not apply)

Table 2. Internal and External Liaison (N = 49)


Training regarding how to liaise with the following organizations/departments would
assist me in meeting or exceeding my
PA performance expectations:
SD D N A SA NA

Postgraduate Medical Education, University of 1 11 3 20 12 2


Ottawa

Other TOH Departments, (CHEO, Montfort, 2 8 5 21 9 3


Royal Ottawa, Bruyre)

Other University of Ottawa Departments 3 10 9 16 7 4

Affiliated Research Organizations (Ottawa 3 10 6 17 9 4


Hospital Research Institute, CHEO Research
Institute, Montfort Hospital Research Institute,
etc).

Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of 1 4 7 22 10 5


Canada or College of Family Physicians of
Canada

Specialty specific organizations (Canadian 2 4 3 22 13 5


Residency Matching Service (CaRMS); Canadian

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47

Medical Protective Agency (CMPA); etc.

Industry 3 9 15 8 6 8
(SD=strongly disagree, D=disagree, N=not sure, A=agree, SA=strongly agree, NA=does
not apply)

Table 3. Team Facilitation and Event Organization (N=49)


Training in the following task(s) would assist me in meeting or exceeding my PA
performance expectations:
SD D N A SA NA

organizing and attending Residency/Fellowship 1 16 6 14 10 2


Training Committee Meetings

providing administrative support to RTC faculty 2 13 8 12 11 3


members

planning, organizing and coordinating agendas 2 22 4 7 12 2


and materials

recording minutes and disseminates information 3 20 3 10 10 3


to members

preparing accreditation material and reports 0 1 2 13 29 42

coordinating the planning and implementing of 2 7 9 12 11 8


Academic Day Lectures

coordinating the planning and implementing of 3 6 8 13 10 9


Research Curriculum

coordinating the planning and implementing of 1 7 5 15 12 9


the Mentorship Program

coordinating the planning and implementing of 3 14 6 9 7 9


the Annual Postgraduate Research Day

coordinating the planning and implementing of 3 11 6 10 9 10


the Annual Resident Education Retreat

coordinating the planning and implementing of 3 10 4 8 8 16


the Annual Fellow Retreat

coordinating the planning and implementing of 4 11 6 9 7 11


the Annual Award Ceremony

coordinating the planning and implementing of 3 8 6 12 9 11


the OSCE Examinations

coordinating the planning and implementing of 3 9 8 8 9 11


the Review Course

coordinating the planning and implementing of 3 8 4 11 12 10


Simulation Sessions

coordinating the planning and implementing of 3 6 4 9 8 17

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Anatomy Lab Sessions

coordinating the planning and implementing of 3 10 5 11 9 10


Workshops

coordinating the planning and implementing of 3 6 9 11 9 9


Specialty Specific Examinations

coordinating the planning and implementing of 2 9 8 9 9 10


Journal Clubs

liaising with other programs/sites/departments 4 6 7 15 13 2


for web conferencing and video conferencing

ensuring the availability and operational 5 9 4 11 14 4


condition of all computer equipment
(SD=strongly disagree, D=disagree, N=not sure, A=agree, SA=strongly agree, NA=does
not apply)

Table 4. Evaluation (N=49)


Training in the following task(s) would assist me in meeting or exceeding my PA
performance expectations:
SD D N A SA NA

coordinating and disseminating monthly 3 6 4 15 14 4


(Resident/Fellow) evaluations (Web Evaluation
system Management - One45)

organizing evaluation meetings with the 3 11 6 13 10 3


Program Director

assisting with the design of specialty specific 0 5 7 13 13 8


evaluations

collating evaluation information for 0 8 3 19 12 4


resident/fellow dossiers

organizing specialty specific examinations 3 7 7 11 10 8

organizing OSCE examinations 2 7 4 12 10 11

assisting with documentation of performance 2 2 5 16 15 6


evaluations of residents in difficulty

assisting with documentation of implementation 2 1 5 16 15 7


of remedial training

coordinating and disseminating (once PD 2 8 2 14 13 7


approved) yearly Faculty evaluations by
residents

participating in site evaluations, for example, 2 7 7 8 9 13


visit to Thunder Bay (NOSM)
(SD=strongly disagree, D=disagree, N=not sure, A=agree, SA=strongly agree, NA=does
not apply)

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Table 5. Operational Support (N=49)


Training in the following task(s) would assist me in meeting or exceeding my PA
performance expectations:
SD D N A SA NA

facilitating visits and assisting with producing 1 2 7 21 10 5


documentation for the Royal College of
Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

facilitating visits and assisting with producing 3 4 6 11 10 11


documentation for the College of Family
Physicians of Canada Accreditation

assisting with preparation and submission of 2 5 10 11 10 8


Residency Placement Committee Reports

assisting residents with access to librarian 2 6 8 13 11 6


services

assisting with planning and developing of 2 3 10 14 11 6


Policies and Procedures relating to the
educational program complying with external
agencies

assisting with organization and completion of 2 3 9 14 11 7


Postgraduate Reviews

coordinating, organising, compiling and 1 9 6 13 11 5


distributing information for all Postgraduate
residents

working collaboratively with other programs and 1 8 7 11 14 4


sites

demonstrating project management and planning 1 5 3 18 14 4


skills in the day-to-day operational activities of
training programs

producing reports and statistics 1 4 4 18 14 4

developing, managing and maintaining the 2 7 4 13 12 7


Department Financial Plan (Budgets) for
Academic Education

maintenance and reconciliation of PGME 1 10 6 8 13 7


expenditures and deposits

processing all academic (postgraduate) financial 1 11 3 10 13 7


transactions

controlling the funding allocation and claims for 2 8 4 11 13 7


PGME trainees (residents and fellows)

liaising with Pharmaceutical Companies for 4 9 5 10 9 8


educational financial support

preparing financial reports (Department, 2 8 7 10 10 8


University of Ottawa, PGME Office)

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providing log on identification to hospital 4 11 4 10 9 7


computer programs for all trainees

providing office/conference/call room key 4 16 2 12 7 4


and/or password assignment to all trainees

supporting electives processes 2 4 3 15 17 4


(SD=strongly disagree, D=disagree, N=not sure, A=agree, SA=strongly agree, NA=does
not apply)

Table 6. Membership and Leadership (N=49)


Please rate your agreement with each of the following statements regarding the
Postgraduate Training Committee to support you in meeting or exceeding in your roles
and responsibilities as a PA:
SD D N A SA NA

Being a contributing member to discussions and 1 4 5 16 15 4


recommendations

Program Administrators General Assembly 1 3 7 15 14 5

Attends PGME meetings including those for 1 2 4 17 16 5


updates to policies and procedures

Specialty Specific Organizations 1 3 12 12 9 8

Canadian Program Coordinators within specialty 1 5 8 15 9 6

Workshops and Seminars for PA Professional 2 2 4 16 16 5


Development offered by the PGME

Program Administrator Track for the Royal 1 4 5 14 15 6


College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada

Canadian Administrators in Medical Education 3 6 12 9 8 7


Operations (CAMEO)

Participates in PA committees such as; PA 2 5 7 13 14 4


Executive; PA Retreat and PA Wellness)

Acts as a resource person for new PAs 2 7 5 12 15 4


(SD=strongly disagree, D=disagree, N=not sure, A=agree, SA=strongly agree, NA=does
not apply)

Table 7. Advanced Roles and Responsibilities (N=49)


Training in the following task(s) would assist me in meeting or exceeding my PA
performance expectations:
SD D N A SA NA

leading and or attending bimonthly academic 2 6 14 9 10 4


administrative team meetings

reviewing the status, maintenance and 2 8 8 14 9 4


timeframes of ongoing Department/Division
educational projects and activities

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51

managing, implementing and developing 2 8 8 10 11 6


educational projects and programs such as
Academic Lectures, Simulation workshops, etc.

developing and maintaining the Education Web 3 8 11 10 9 4


Site

assisting in the development of a web-based 2 9 6 14 9 5


curriculum

developing and implementing teaching 1 10 9 9 10 6


curriculums

participation in obtaining funding for developing 1 12 10 10 7 5


and implementing special projects

overseeing the organization of the Mentorship 1 13 7 9 10 5


Program and related activities

developing and maintaining PGME Objective 2 7 6 14 7 9


Booklet, PGY1 Orientation Booklet, Off-Service
Trainee Orientation Booklet

contributing to Department Newsletter 4 12 10 7 6 6

collaborating with the Touchstone Institute 1 7 12 13 6 6


(formerly, CEPHEA)

representing the program nationally and/or 1 7 15 7 11 4


internationally, for example: attending meetings,
recruitment
(SD=strongly disagree, D=disagree, N=not sure, A=agree, SA=strongly agree, NA=does
not apply)

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52

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 11, pp. 52-70, October 2016

The Relationship between University Students


Beliefs, Engagement and Achievements of Oral
Presentation Skills: A Case Study in Vietnam

Tran Le Huu Nghia


Ton Duc Thang University, Vietnam

Abstract. This case study examined 203 Vietnamese university students


to explore their beliefs about the importance of oral presentation skills
(OPS), their engagement and achievements of these skills, as well as test
the correlations between the three variables. Descriptive statistics,
independent samples T-tests, one-way ANOVA tests and Pearson tests
were performed to achieved the research aims. Statistical analyses
showed that regardless of strong beliefs about the importance of OPS for
their studies and future work, students moderately engaged with
developing these skills. There were statistically significant differences in
OPS achievement levels between student groups that hold different
beliefs about the importance of these skills. Finally, student beliefs and
engagement were found to have a weak and moderate correlation
respectively with their attainment of OPS. This article explains the
findings with a focus on current situation of Vietnamese higher
education system and gives some implications for success in training
students in OPS.

Keywords: oral presentation skills; student beliefs; student engagement;


learning achievement; correlation

Introduction
Oral communication skills in general and oral presentation skills (OPS) in
particular have been found to be employers most-wanted skills (Fallows &
Steven, 2000; Ballard & Daniel, 2015; Ireland, 2016). At job interviews, the ability
to present oneself and his or her competencies was found to be important to the
final decision about acceptance or rejection for a job vacancy (Messum, Wilkes,
& Jackson, 2011; Peterson, 1997; Ralston, 1989). In the workplace, employees are
often required to use oral presentations to present new knowledge, project
proposals or reports. Their performance during the presentations explicitly
reflects their individual skills and professionalism, which may influence their
promotion opportunities (Brown & Schmidt, 2009; Morton & Rosse, 2011).

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53

In line with employers demands, oral communication skills have become a


focus in many higher education curricula and the most important generic higher
education learning outcomes in recent years (De Grez, Valcke, & Roozen, 2014;
Iksan et al., 2012; Yale, 2014). With the surge of student-centred pedagogical
approach recently, students use oral communication skills for group discussions,
for presentations of their individual assignments, or for reports of an assigned
group project. Regarding assessment practice, although paper-based assessment
tasks are still dominant in higher education, there has been an increasing use of
oral assessment that requires students to present their ideas and arguments
orally (Bhati, 2012; Burke-Smalley, 2014; Ducasse, 2008; Sayre, 2014; Simper,
2010).

In Vietnam, many studies have indicated that university graduates lack generic
skills, and most severely, verbal communication skills (Bodewig, Badiani-
Magnusson, & Macdonald, 2014; Tran, 2013b). Graduates have been found to
express their opinions unconfidently or present their ideas incoherently. Such a
shortage of communication skills in students is usually attributed to the fact that
the education system does not train students in generic skills adequately but
only focuses on transmitting knowledge (Tran & Swierczek, 2009; Tran, 2013b).
To be fair, students themselves may have also contributed to the shortage of oral
communication skills. They may believe that those skills were not as important
as disciplinary knowledge and technical skills, so they do not engage in
developing those skills for themselves. However, there have been mixed
findings for correlations between student beliefs, engagement and learning
achievement: Some researchers found positive correlations, while others found
no correlation between them (Firmin, Chi-En, & Wood, 2007; Heng, 2014;
Milkova, Crossman, Wiles, & Allen, 2013; Mokhtari, 2014; Paredes, Cantu, &
Graf, 2013; Reyes, Brackett, Rivers, White, & Salovey, 2012; Sagayadevan &
Jeyaraj, 2012; Skamp, Boyes, & Stanisstreet, 2013). This suggests that further
studies need to be conducted to revisit the relationship between those factors.
Taking OPS as part of oral communication skills, this study attempted to explore
Vietnamese university students beliefs about the importance of, their
engagement with, and achievements in OPS and retest the correlations between
the three variables. This study may shed some lights on factors hindering
students achievements of OPS in university education contexts.

Literature review
What makes a good presentation?
According to Mandel (2000), presentations are speeches that are usually used in
business, technical, professional, or scientific environments. The audience is
usually more specialized, compared with those who attend a regular speech
event. At the workplace, employees might present their proposals, plans,
findings of studies about problems in the organization, or solutions to a
problem. At university, students usually give oral presentations on a chosen or
given topic to a tutorial group and present their views on a topic based on their
readings of relevant references; then the rest of the group participate in a
discussion of the topic (The Learning Centre - The University of New South
Wales, 2010).

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54

In both contexts, giving an oral presentation may involve:

reading or studying background materials;


preparing and rehearsing the presentation;
preparing handouts and visual aids;
delivering the presentation to the audience;
leading a group discussion; and
making conclusions.

There have been different perspectives about what makes a good presentation.
Some use real-life standards (Pittenger, Miller, & Mott, 2004), many others use
common sense to judge the quality of a presentation (De Grez et al., 2014). Other
authors suggested components of a good presentation in line with three stages:
(i) organization/preparation, (ii) rehearsal, and (iii) delivery (Bourne, 2007;
Griffith Institute for Higher Education, 2004; Mandel, 2000). In the first stage, the
presenter needs to select a topic, analyze the need and knowledge level of his or
her audience, and make preparations for the presentation (for example, slides or
visual aids). Then the presenter would engage in rehearsing the presentation
where he or she must be able to reflect on the content and the way the
presentation is conducted, in order to make appropriate adjustments. Finally,
the presenter needs to activate other soft skills to deliver the presentation
interactively with the audience in an authentic setting. For example, in his
article, Bourne (2007) proposed that a good presentation should disseminate
information logically and clearly to the audience. He proposed ten simple rules
as follows:

Presenters need to know the background and needs of their audience.


A presentation should be succinct but clear and concise.
The topic of the presentation must be interesting, important or relevant.
The content of the presentation content must be focused and memorable
to the audience.
The presentation structure must be logical.
Presenters should take advantage of his or her strengths to make the
presentation more entertaining.
Presenters should rehearse to deliver the best possible presentation.
Visuals should be used sparingly, but effectively in a presentation.
Presenters should record his or her presentation for later review to break
bad habits.
Presenters should provide appropriate acknowledgments to
stakeholders.
Mandel (2000) also developed a tool to help individuals self-evaluate the level of
their OPS. The items in the tool appear to reflect similar standards for an
effective presentation as proposed by Bourne (2007) above. This tool was
adopted to use as the instrument for participants to self-assess their achievement
of OPS in this study.

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55

Self-regulated learning for OPS in Vietnamese universities


An oral presentation involves a wide range of communication skills, information
searching skills, interpersonal skills, and computer skills, among others.
Therefore, it may be time-consuming for students to master OPS (Brown &
Schmidt, 2009). However, in the current context of Vietnamese higher education,
shortage of time in the classroom, students learning styles, and teachers
pedagogical practice appear to challenge the development of OPS for students.

In recent years, Vietnamese higher education has been under tremendous


reforms in all aspects, including the curriculum (Harman, Hayden, & Pham,
2010; Pham, 2011). The reforms aim for many ambitious targets, one of which is
improving the quality of the workforce. The curriculum has been restructured,
shifting from a year-based to a credit-based training system, which has been
observed to reduce teaching time in the classroom compared with the
curriculum in the year-based training system (Nguyen & Cao, 2014). At the same
time, teachers were encouraged to use a student-centred approach in order to
develop academic and work competence for students. However, many teachers
have not been able to employ new teaching techniques. They still utilize the
traditional method to disseminate knowledge to students so that students are
able to pass examinations, rather than focusing on training them in
employability skills (Nguyen & Cao, 2014; Pham, 2011; Tran, Le, & Nguyen,
2014). Also, students are expected to be more active in their learning, but it
seems that they fail to do so due to their dependent learning habits (Tran, 2013a).

In such a context, without self-regulated learning ability, students would not be


able to improve their OPS. Self-regulated learning includes three components:
self-observation, self-adjustment and self-reaction (Schunk, 2001; Zimmerman,
2000). Self-observation is the first step in the learning process, which informs
and motivates students for a targeted learning goal (Bandura, 1986). The
information helps to set realistic performance standards and motivates learners
to progress depending on their expectations for outcomes and self-efficacy (De
Grez et al., 2014; Schunk, 2001). On the self-adjustment process, many learners
change their behaviours by comparing information collected from self-
observation with that of the performance goal. If learners perceive that their
success/failure was caused by internal factors, then they would start a self-
reaction process that makes the behavior more in-line with the performance
standards. Motivation will depend on the anticipation of success or failure in the
adapted behavior (De Grez et al., 2014).

Reflecting on self-regulated learning theory, Taylor and Toews (1999) identified


four key elements that help define the learning environment for OPS
development, namely actions, conditions, beliefs and learning from experiences.
In the researchers viewpoints, presenters must have the knowledge of how to
make a presentation. Presenters should also possess conditional knowledge that
allows them to be aware of a condition under which a presentation strategy
would be effective or not. Presenters beliefs about OPS may influence their self-
efficacy as well as deciding the content and goal of the presentation (De Grez et

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56

al., 2014). The last element, learning from experiences, is associated with
feedback from teachers and peers, or through self-assessment.

Taylor and Toews (1999) perspective has implications for students self-
regulated learning for OPS. Students first need to possess adequate knowledge
of good presentation skills and knowledge of what may enhance or hinder a
good presentation by reading books or other resources. Then they have to
translate their understanding into practice, and seek feedback from teachers,
peers or self-evaluate their presentation performance against existing standards
(van Ginkel, Gulikers, Biemans, & Mulder, 2015). Their progress in OPS may be
interfered by their self-efficacy, i.e. belief in their ability to achieve OPS, their
beliefs in the importance or relevance of OPS for their study or work, their
engagement in practicing OPS, and the quality of feedback for their presentation
performance (Ireland, 2016).

Furthermore, Taylor and Toews (1999) perspective also gives implications for
teaching OPS to students using self-regulated learning. Although the current
context appears unfavorable for OPS teaching in the classroom, Vietnamese
university teachers can still help their students develop OPS. For example, they
can provide students with reading material about presentations, give lectures in
which they play a role model of expert presenters to students, employ
pedagogical practices in which students are required to give presentations on
given topics and then evaluate or ask other students to cross-evaluate the
presentations. Teachers should also motivate students to engage in developing
their OPS by assessing their progress in OPS.

In summary, although the current context of Vietnamese higher education is not


very favorable for OPS development, students and teachers can still adopt self-
regulated learning to improve students OPS. However, students achievement
of OPS can result from different factors, such as their prior knowledge,
characteristics, beliefs, and engagement in developing such skills. Some of those
factors will be discussed in the next section.

Student beliefs, engagement and OPS achievement


Many factors have been identified to be associated with students learning
achievements (Hattie, 2012). Among student-related factors, however, students
beliefs, self-efficacy and engagement appear to have been paid a lot of attention
by researchers. For the purpose of this study, the relationship between students
beliefs, engagement, and achievement of a learning goal will be discussed in this
section.

Armstrong (1993) defined belief as a dispositional state of mind that persists


through time but unnecessarily manifests itself either in consciousness or in
behaviour. He also opposed the opinion that perceptions are beliefs because
perceptions are definite events that take place at definite instants and are then
over (Smith, 2001, p.285). Some other authors, including Smith (2001), argued
that the relationship between perception and belief is not merely contingent.

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57

Acknowledging the possible difference and relationship between perception and


belief, the term belief was selected to represent students awareness of and
confidence in the importance of OPS in this study.

Many studies have found a correlation between peoples beliefs and their
behaviours (Firmin et al., 2007; Mokhtari, 2014; Paredes et al., 2013; Skamp et al.,
2013). For example, Mokhtari (2014) investigated the influence of epistemic
beliefs on the general information-seeking behaviour of 290 undergraduate
students of different disciplines in Payame Noor University, Iran. The researcher
found that students epistemic beliefs positively affected their general
information-seeking behavior. In contrast, Firmin et al. (2007) studied the
relationship between students beliefs about abortion and their volunteering
participation for one hour of their time at a local Crisis Pregnancy or Planned
Parenthood Centre. The researchers concluded that although students held
strong beliefs about abortion, they were reluctant to participate in the activities
requested. The findings of these studies suggest that the relationship between
peoples beliefs and behaviours has yet been determined.

Furthermore, a substantial body of literature on student engagement and their


academic achievement has been accumulated in recent decades. There have been
different perspectives about student engagement. Chapman (2002) defines
student engagement in terms of their cognitive investment in, active
participation in, and emotional commitment to their learning. The Australian
Council of Research (ACER) proposes that student engagement is their
involvement with activities and conditions that could generate high-quality
learning. Those definitions provide a general view of student engagement but
do not provide elements that enable engagement to occur (Zepke, Leach, &
Butler, 2010). Many others develop their viewpoints of student engagement
based on student motivations, teacher-student interactions, interactions between
learners, institutional policies, socio-political factors, and the role of non-
institutional influences such as family, friends, health and employment. In other
words, student engagement could be present in behavioural or emotional forms;
and it can be driven by students themselves or external agents (Zepke et al.,
2010).

Regardless of the dimensions of student engagement, many studies have been


conducted to test the relationship between student engagement and academic
achievement (Heng, 2014; Milkova et al., 2013; Reyes et al., 2012; Sagayadevan &
Jeyaraj, 2012). The results showed mixed findings of such a relationship. For
example, Reyes et al. (2012) conducted their study into classroom emotional
climate, engagement, and students academic achievement with the participation
of 1,399 students in fifth and sixth grades. The results showed that engagement
was a positive mediator between classroom emotional climate and students
achievements. In contrast, Sagayadevan and Jeyaraj (2012) examined the
relationship between lecturer-student interaction, emotional engagement and
the academic achievements of 140 undergraduate psychology students. They
found that students who had a good interaction with their lecturer had higher
levels of emotional engagement. However, emotional engagement was not

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58

found to mediate the pathway between lecturer-student interaction and


academic outcomes. Still, the researchers concluded that emotional engagement
partially mediated lecturer-student interaction and student learning. Meanwhile,
Heng (2014) scrutinized the relationship between behavioral engagement and
the academic achievement of first year students in a Cambodian university.
Again, the findings were mixed. Those spending more time on out-of-class
course-related tasks or homework tasks and engaging in class activities
appeared to achieve higher results. However, those engaging in out-of-class peer
learning and extensive reading did not contribute significantly to their academic
achievements. The researcher explained such a difference in effects of student
engagement on achievements in terms of students pre-university academic
experiences and geographical origin.

In conclusion, placing OPS on the relationships between student beliefs,


engagement, and achievement, if students believe it is important to develop
OPS, they might or might not engage in acting out to improve the skills. Thus,
the level of their attainment of OPS could be determined by how their beliefs
affect their behavioural engagement in developing such skills. Therefore, such
relationships between the three variables need to be examined.

Research method
Research questions
The literature indicates that OPS could influence students learning outcomes
and their later work performance significantly; however, the current context of
Vietnamese higher education and students self-regulated learning skills, which
are influenced by different factors, signals that students may have many
obstacles in improving such skills. This study, therefore, aims to (i) explore
students perceptions of the importance of OPS and their engagement with
improving those skills and (ii) to test the relationships between their beliefs,
engagement and achievement of those skills. The following questions will be
addressed in this study:
To what extent do Vietnamese students perceive the importance of OPS for their
study and future work?
To what extent do they engage in developing OPS at the university?
To what extent have they achieved OPS?
To what extent do students beliefs of the importance of OPS, student
engagement in developing OPS and their achievement in OPS correlate with
each other?

This study was conducted as a case study in University A, one of the major
universities in Vietnam. It has been well known for its many initiatives to renew
the curriculum and improve pedagogical practice to produce graduates with
better competence and skills. Although findings from a case study is often
overlooked, this research method would be the best choice to understand what
is occurring in a specific context so that practical lessons can be drawn.

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59

Participants
The participants of this study included 124 female and 79 male undergraduate
students enrolling in different disciplines in University A. Among them, 17.2%
were attending science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)
programs, 17.2% social sciences, 21.7% business, 24.1% agriculture and 19.7%
education. The participants were from 18 to 22 years old at the time this study
was conducted. The number of participants who were studying in years 1-2 at
the university accounted for 48.2%, and years 3-4 were 51.8%.

Research instrument
A paper-based survey was used to collect data for this study. The survey had
four sections. Section 1 asked the participants to provide some demographic
information. Section 2 required students to express their beliefs about the
importance of OPS for academic study and work life. This section also asked
students to determine the perceived importance of oral presentation for their
studies and future work on a 5-point Likert scale in which 1 denoted very
unimportant and 5 denoted very important. Section 3 aimed to assess students
engagement in developing OPS. Students were asked to self-report their
frequency in conducting five behaviours that could help develop OPS on a 5-
point Likert scale in which 1 denoted very irregularly and 5 denoted very
regularly. The final section asked students to self-assess their achievement level
of OPS using a scale developed by Mandel (2000). There is a slight modification
between versions of the scale, the researcher chose to use the version with 20
items1 for this study because it has two items assessing students anxiety and
argumentative skills, which are very relevant with Vietnamese students
characteristics at present.

Data collection and analysis


Data were collected in October and November 2014 on three campuses of the
university. Data were entered and analysed using SPSS version 20. First, the
Cronbachs alpha was calculated to determine the reliability of the data. For this
study, the alpha of the set of five items for student engagement in developing
OPS was 0.70 and alpha for the set of 20 items for self-evaluation of level of OPS
was 0.93. Item-total correlation coefficients of the 20 items ranged from 0.49 to
0.74, which indicated a good uni-dimensionality of the scale.

Then, descriptive statistics were computed to find answers to the research


questions. Qualitative data in section two was analyzed using a content analysis
approach to gain extra insights into students beliefs of the importance of OPS
for their university study and future work.

Independent samples T-tests and one-way ANOVA tests were conducted to test
whether there were differences in students beliefs, engagement and
achievement of OPS between groups of students of different characteristics. In

1
This version was available at http://www4.caes.hku.hk/epc/presentation/self_evaluation.htm
(accessed 20 October 2014)

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60

addition, Pearson tests were performed to determine the correlations between


students beliefs, engagement and OPS outcomes.

Findings
Students beliefs of the importance of oral presentation skills
Qualitative data showed that students associated the importance of OPS for their
university study in different ways. However, their viewpoints converged in two
points: OPS would help them obtain higher scores in defending their
undergraduate thesis or reporting (group) assignments (33.40%) and improving
confidence and related generic skills (50.70%)

Similarly, students expressed their beliefs about the importance of OPS in the
workplace in different ways. Generally, they believed that OPS would be
necessary for presenting proposals or reporting assigned tasks (59.10%),
persuading customers (17.70%), enhancing promotion opportunities (8.80%) or
enhancing employment decisions at job interviews (7.30%).

Furthermore, students were asked to rate the importance of OPS for their
university study and for future work on a 5-point Likert scale according to their
beliefs. The results in Table 1 showed that students perceived OPS to be very
important for both purposes (M = 4.46, SD = 0.63); however, they did not believe
that OPS were as important for their study (M = 4.36, SD = 0.68) as for their
future work (M = 4.56, SD = 0.58). Students of social sciences rated the
importance of OPS the highest (M = 4.67, SD = 0.48) and education (M = 4.30, SD
= 0.55) the lowest among the five groups participating in this study.

Importance for study Importance for work Overall


Discipline N
M SD M SD M SD
STEM 35 4.26 0.56 4.46 0.61 4.36 0.59
Social science 35 4.54 0.56 4.80 0.41 4.67 0.48
Business 44 4.41 0.69 4.52 0.59 4.47 0.64
Agriculture 49 4.39 0.86 4.61 0.64 4.50 0.75
Education 40 4.20 0.56 4.40 0.55 4.30 0.55
Total 203 4.36 0.68 4.56 0.58 4.46 0.63

Table 1. Students perceptions of the importance of oral presentation skills

An independent samples T-test was run to test whether there were differences in
beliefs about the importance of OPS for university study and future work
between male and female students. The results of the tests showed no
statistically significant differences in beliefs about the importance of OPS for
university study and future work between male (M = 4.47, SD = 0.49) and female
students (M = 4.44, SD = 0.52), t(201) = 0.36, p = 0.75.

Another independent samples T-test was run to test whether there were
differences in beliefs about the importance of OPS for university study and

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61

future work between groups of years 1-2 and years 3-4 students. The results of
the tests showed statistically significant differences in beliefs about the
importance of OPS for university study and future work between groups of
years 1-2 (M = 4.57, SD = 0.48) and years 3-4 students (M = 4.36, SD = 0.51),
t(201) = 2.98, p = 0.00. This suggests that students of years 1-2 believed OPS to be
more significantly important than students of years 3-4.

Additionally, a one-way ANOVA test was performed to test whether there were
differences in beliefs about the importance of OPS for university study and
future work between groups of students of different disciplines. The results
showed statistically significant differences in beliefs about the importance of
OPS for university study and future work at the p 0.05 level between groups of
students of different disciplines [F(4,198) = 2.99, p = 0.02]. A Turkey post hoc test
indicated that students of education (M = 4.30, SD = 0.49) believed the
importance of OPS for their study and future work to be significantly less
important than students of social science (M = 4.67, SD = 0.41), p = 0.01.

Students engagement in self-developing oral presentation skills


Students were asked to self-assess the extent to which they engaged in
conducting five activities to develop their OPS on a 5-point Likert scale. Mean
scores presented in Table 2 showed that students mostly learned and developed
OPS by observing their friends or teachers modeling of oral presentations.
Students did not read books regularly to gain knowledge about the skills or
attend workshops on OPS coordinated by the Youth Union or Student
Association (YUSA). Students seemed to engage in activities that helped
improve the skills with friends, who gave them feedback, more often than doing
it alone and then self-evaluating their performance. Overall, their self-
engagement to improving OPS was at an average level (M = 3.33, SD = 1.05).

Activities M SD
1. Read books to gain more insights into oral presentation skills 3.12 1.09
2. Observe teachers or friends to pick up good practice 4.23 0.86
3. Attend workshops on OPS organized by the YUSA 3.06 1.05
4. Practice oral presentation with peers and ask them for feedback 3.31 1.09
5. Practice oral presentations at home and self-evaluate 2.95 1.19
Overall 3.33 1.05

Table 2. Student behavioural engagement in developing oral presentation skills

High standard deviations in Table 2 signify that there were differences in


students responses about their engagement in developing OPS. Therefore, four
independent samples T-tests were conducted to determine the differences in
levels of engagement in developing OPS between groups of (i) male and female
students, (ii) students of years 1-2 and years 3-4, (iii) students with different
perceptions of the importance of OPS for their university study and (iv) students
with different perceptions of the importance of OPS for their future work.

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62

Results of the first independent samples T-test suggested no statistically


significant differences in levels of engagement in developing OPS
between students of years 1-2 (M = 3.37, SD = 0.73) and years 3-4 (M =
3.21, SD = 0.74), t(201) = 1.59, p = 0.11.
Results of the second independent samples T-test suggested no
statistically significant differences in levels of engagement in developing
OPS between male students (M = 3.33, SD = 0.77) and female students (M
= 3.26, SD = 0.72), t(201) = 0.69, p = 0.49.
However, results of the third independent samples T-test indicated that
there were statistically significant differences in levels of engagement in
developing OPS between groups of students who perceived OPS to be
important (M = 3.08, SD = 0.69) and those who perceived OPS to be very
important for their university study (M = 3.55, SD = 0.70); t(201) = -4.79, p
= 0.00. This suggests that students who believed OPS to be important for
their university study engaged more deeply into developing such skills.
Similarly, results of the fourth independent samples T-test showed
statistically significant differences in levels of engagement in developing
OPS between groups of students who perceived that OPS were fair or
important (M = 3.23, SD = 0.72) and those who perceived that OPS were
very important for their future work (M = 3.40, SD = 0.74); t(201) = -2.52,
p = 0.01. This suggests that students who believed OPS to be important
for their future work engaged more deeply into developing such skills.

In addition, a one-way ANOVA test was conducted to test whether there were
statistically significant differences in levels of engagement in developing OPS
between students of different disciplines. The results of the one-way ANOVA
test indicated no statistically significant differences in the level of engagement in
developing OPS between groups of students of different disciplines (p = 0.25).

Students self-evaluation of their oral presentation skills


Following Mandels suggestion for result calculation and interpretation, the
researcher added the score that students gave for each of the 20 items in the tool.
Students who scored from 80-100 were considered to have achieved a very good
level of OPS, from 60 to below 80 good, from 40 to below 60 average, from 30 to
below 40 bad and from 20 to below 30 very bad. The results indicated that 59%
of the participants ranked their OPS as very good and 29% as good (29%). Only
11% and 1% reported that their OPS were at average and bad levels
respectively.

The researcher continued to analyze the participants responses for each of the
20 items in the tool. Table 3 presents mean scores of items in the scale in smallest
to largest values. On a 5-point Likert scale, all of the mean scores fell between
the 3.4 to 4.2 range, indicating that students participating in this study had
achieved a good level of OPS.

Most of the top ten items with highest mean scores were associated with the
students ability of organization for a presentation (content of the presentation,
techniques to be used, rehearsal and self-adjustment, among others). Most of the

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63

top ten items with lowest mean scores were related to the students ability to
handle their real presentation (their tone, persuasiveness, keeping contact with
audience, anxiety control, among others). This suggests that while students were
good at preparing the presentation, they could not have delivered it very well.

Oral presentation skills M SD


1. I analyze the values, needs and constraints of my audience. 3.48 1.11
2. My gestures are natural and not constrained by anxiety. 3.61 1.02
3. I arrange seating (if appropriate) and check audio-visual 3.66 1.21
equipment in advance of the presentation.
4. My voice is strong and clear and is not a monotone. 3.74 1.16
5. I maintain good eye contact with the audience at all times. 3.79 1.13
6. I prepare answers to anticipated questions, and practice 3.92 1.15
responding to them.
7. I develop an introduction that catches audiences attention and 3.94 1.06
still provides the necessary background information.
8. If my presentation is persuasive, arguments are used that are 3.97 1.03
logical and that support my assertions.
9. My notes contain only key words so I avoid read up from a 3.98 0.93
manuscript or technical paper.
10. I use anxiety to fuel the enthusiasm of my presentation, not hold 3.98 1.00
me back.
11. I communicate ideas with enthusiasm. 4.02 0.92
12. The visual aids I use are carefully prepared, simple, easy to read, 4.03 0.97
and have impact.
13. I ensure the benefits suggested to my audience are clear and 4.04 0.92
compelling.
14. The number of visual aids will enhance, not detract, from my 4.05 0.91
presentation.
15. I rehearse so there is a minimum focus on notes and maximum 4.06 0.97
attention paid to my audience.
16. I incorporate both a preview and review of the main ideas as my 4.07 1.02
presentation is organized.
17. I determine some basic objectives before planning a 4.09 1.18
presentation.
18. I write down some main ideas first, in order to build a 4.13 0.96
presentation around them.
19. My presentations are rehearsed standing up and using visual 4.14 0.94
aids.
20. My conclusion refers back to the introduction and, if 4.17 0.83
appropriate, contains a call-to-action statement.
Overall 3.94 1.02

Table 3. Results of students self-evaluation of their oral presentation skills


(items from (Mandel, 2000))

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64

Table 3 also shows high standard deviations in students responses for their OPS
achievement levels. This suggests that the achievements of OPS levels between
students vary greatly. Therefore, the researcher conducted two one-way
ANOVA tests to determine whether or not there were significant differences in
students OPS achievement levels between students of different disciplines and
between students of different levels of engagement in improving OPS.

The results of the first one-way ANOVA test indicated that there were no
statistically significant differences in students OPS achievement levels
between students of different disciplines (p = 0.08).
The results of the second one-way ANOVA test indicated statistically
significant differences in OPS achievement levels between students of
different levels of engagement at the p 0.05 level [F(2,200) = 16.88, p =
0.00]. A Turkey post hoc test revealed that OPS achievement levels of
students with high levels of engagement (M = 4.17, SD = 0.55) were
significantly higher than those of average (M = 3.74, SD = 0.69) and low
levels of engagement (M = 3.48, SD = 0.58). This indicates that the level of
student engagement could affect their OPS achievement levels.

In addition, three independent samples T-tests were conducted to test whether


there were differences in the achievement of OPS (i) between students in years 1-
2 and years 3-4, between students of different beliefs of the importance of OPS
for their university study, and between students of different perceptions of the
importance of OPS for their future work.

The results of the first independent samples T-test showed no statistically


significant difference in OPS achievement levels between students of
years 1-2 (M = 3.95, SD = 0.68) and years 3-4 (M = 3.94, SD = 0.65); t(201)
= 0.12, p = 0.91.
The second independent samples T-test results showed that there were
statistically significant differences in OPS achievement levels between
groups of students who believed OPS to be very important (M = 3.84, SD
= 0.65) and those who perceived OPS to be important for their university
study (M = 4.08, SD = 0.67); t(201) = -2.52, p = 0.12. This suggests that
students attained a high level of OPS if they perceived that OPS were
important for their study.
The third independent samples T-test results showed that there was a
statistically significant difference in OPS achievement levels between
students who perceived OPS to be fair or important (M = 3.78, SD = 0.69)
and students who perceived OPS to be very important for their future
work (M = 4.05, SD = 0.63); t(-2.84) = 201, p = 0.01. This suggests that
students attained a high level of OPS if they perceived that OPS were
important for their future work.

Factors influencing students achievement of OPS


This section revisits the relationship between students belief, engagement and
their learning outcomes using OPS as the focus of analysis. The researcher
calculated Pearsons r-values to determine the correlation between students

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65

perceptions of the importance of OPS, their self-efficacy, their self-engagement


in practicing the skills, and their achievement of the skills (Figure 1). The results
showed that:

There was a positive correlation between students beliefs of the


importance of OPS and their level of self-engagement in developing OPS,
r = 0.28, n = 203, p = 0.00. The r-value suggested that the relationship
between the two variables was weak (Coolidge, 2013).
There was a positive correlation between students beliefs of the
importance of OPS and their achievement of OPS, r = 0.19, n = 203, p =
0.00. The r-value indicated that the relationship between the two
variables was weak (Coolidge, 2013).
There was a positive correlation between students levels of self-
engagement and their achievement of OPS, r = 0.49, n = 203, p = 0.00. The
r-value suggested a moderate relationship between the two variables
(Coolidge, 2013).

Beliefs of
OPS
importance

0.28 0.19

Engagement OPS
in OPS achievement
development
0.49

Figure 1. Correlations between student beliefs, engagement and achievement of OPS

Discussion, recommendations and conclusion


The first purpose of this study was to explore students perceptions of the
importance of OPS for their study and future work, their engagement in
developing OPS and their achievement of OPS. The results showed that students
had a high awareness of the importance of OPS for their university study and
future work. It is not surprising to find that students of social sciences rated the
importance of OPS the highest among groups of students because in social
sciences, oral presentations seem to be one of the key measures to disseminate
knowledge of social issues that they concern. However, it was surprising to find
that students of education scored the importance of OPS the lowest among the
student groups while teaching could be the profession that requires using oral
presentations most frequently. This could be because students of education
associated presentations with the use of PowerPoint presentation, a common
practice in University A, which may not be the only way to conduct effective
teaching activities. Therefore, it is recommended that future research should
look into students conceptualization of OPS and how their conceptions may
influence their beliefs and engagement in developing the skills.

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66

Students of years 1-2 rated the importance of OPS for their study and future
work significantly higher than students of years 3-4. However, although self-
rated higher, behavioural engagement (M = 4.57, SD = 0.49) and achievement of
students years 1-2 (M = 3.95, SD = 0.69) did not vary significantly compared with
those of students of years 3-4 (M = 4.36, SD = 0.51 and M = 3.94, SD = 0.65
respectively). This finding is not surprising, because in Vietnam, high-school
students have virtually no opportunities to make oral presentations. Due to a
very crowded curriculum and pressure for passing exams (Le & Barnard, 2009),
students are often taught for tests rather than for true knowledge and personal
development. Therefore, when entering university, particularly University A,
which was under a student-centred pedagogical reform, students are expected to
engage in constructing knowledge under their teachers guidance. They start to
give presentations and lead group discussions in the class. Without much prior
experience in OPS, students years 1-2 could think that OPS were important for
their study and engaged in developing those skills. Meanwhile, students in years
3-4 have become used to these skills, so they might disregard and disengage in
improving the skills compared with students in years 1-2. In addition, the mean
score of OPS achievement levels of both groups were almost equal. Although
there could be subjectivity in their self-assessment, this suggests that OPS will
take sufficient time and practice to build. Therefore, it is recommended that
teachers and students should provide and look for more opportunities
respectively to develop these skills throughout the program at the university.

In addition, the findings indicated that Vietnamese students did not appear to
engage with developing OPS very much (M = 3.33, SD = 1.05). They tended to
acquire the skills mostly though observing teachers modeling of OPS in the
classroom. They seemed not to engage in building up knowledge about oral
presentations and self-practicing to improve the skills. This finding is consistent
with findings in recent studies that Vietnamese students are dependent learners
(Tran, 2013a) and do not like to read books (Trung & Toan, 2014). In addition,
students did not seem to engage in self-evaluating the presentation by
themselves. This could be the result of not reading about how to make a good
presentation against which they could conduct self-evaluation. It could also be
due to a lack of self-reflection or self-evaluation ability in students who have
been taught in a teacher-centred approach. All of these pointed out that while
observational learning may trigger students awareness of the importance and
cater them to develop OPS by imitation; their self-directed learning ability
would be more conducive to the development of these skills.

The study also found that overall students have achieved a good level of OPS (M
= 3.94, SD = 1.02). However, generated by students self-evaluation, this result
may be higher than their actual level of OPS and does not mean that they will
perform at that level in reality, because there may be some inconsistencies
between the students self-perceived competence and their actual performance
(Alwi & Sidhu, 2013). In addition, the results showed that students lacked
interpersonal skills in delivering their presentations in front of the audience. As
discussed in the Literature Review, a successful presentation requires students

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67

combination of different soft skills and knowledge of a given topic. As such,


students need time and regular practice to master such a soft skill as OPS.
Unfortunately, due to a shortage of time and large class sizes in the university,
students do not have many opportunities to make presentations in front of the
class. However, students can still self-improve OPS and interpersonal skills by
observing their friends presentations in class or attending more extra-curricular
activities on their own. Teachers can also help create more opportunities to
engage students with developing OPS and interpersonal skills. They do not need
to require each group of students to take turns presenting their assignments
formally in front of the whole class, which may consume a lot of time. They
could allow one group to present their assignment to another group, and many
groups could do this simultaneously. This could help reduce students anxiety
and improve their confidence in giving presentations.

The second purpose of this study was to test the correlation between the three
factors: students beliefs, levels of engagement and levels of achievement of OPS.
Pearson test results indicated a weak positive correlation between students
beliefs in the importance of OPS and their level of engagement in developing
OPS (r = 0.28). Similarly, Pearson test results suggested that the students beliefs
in the importance of OPS and their level of engagement in developing OPS had a
positive correlation with their level of achievement of OPS (r = 0.19 and 0.49
respectively). The coefficient of determination r2 suggested that students' beliefs
of the importance of OPS could only explain 3.61% of the variance in students
achievement of such skills, but that of student engagement could explain 24.01%
of the variance in students achievement of OPS. Referring to the interpretation
framework proposed by Cohen (1988), this means that students beliefs and
engagement had a small and moderate effect, respectively, on their level of
attaining OPS skills (in fact, student engagement was almost a large effect, if r2
was greater than 25%). On the one hand, the results suggest that students high
levels of beliefs may not be transferred into engagement with developing a skill,
in this case, OPS. On the other hand, the findings complement previous studies
that student engagement could enhance students achievement of a learning
goal. Therefore, should the university and teachers want to improve their
students OPS, they would need to have some interventions to increase student
engagement in developing OPS for themselves. For example, teachers should
start to evaluate students OPS as an integral part of assessment of their subjects.
This initiative would significantly raise the level of student engagement because
assessment could have wash-back effects on students learning and engagement
(Rust, 2002).

In conclusion, despite reporting very strong beliefs about the importance of OPS
for their study and future work and moderately high achievement level of those
skills, students participating in this study did not engage much in developing
the skills for themselves. The analysis showed that it could be due to students
lack of self-regulated learning ability. The results also suggest that students were
good at preparation, but appeared inexperienced when delivering their
presentations, most likely because of a lack of interpersonal skills. In addition,
this study found moderate positive correlations between students engagement

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68

and their OPS achievement. For this reason, it is recommended that the
university and teachers need to inform students about the importance of OPS for
their study and future work, improve their self-regulated learning skills,
provide them with knowledge and opportunities to practice presenting orally
both in and after class so that they would become engaged with improving and
become more confident in using those skills.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 11, pp. 71-86, October 2016

Factors Influencing College Readiness:


A Multilevel Study to Measure School Effects

Bidya Raj Subedi1 and Randy Powell2


School District of Palm Beach County (SDPBC)
West Palm Beach, Florida, USA

Abstract. This paper explored the significant student and school level
predictors of college readiness in reading and the mathematics employing
a two-level hierarchical generalized linear model (HGLM). The
proportions of variance explained and effect sizes at the school level were
determined to measure school effects. The study included 12,554 students
and 51 high schools from one of the largest school districts in the United
States. At the student level, reading and mathematics achievement
including several disciplinary and demographic factors were significant
whereas at the school level, average school achievement, percent retention
and school poverty were significant in predicting college readiness. The
effect sizes, which ranged from .39 to .42, were determined to be medium
representing the moderate strength of school effects.
Keywords: Multilevel modeling, college readiness, significant predictors,
effect sizes, school effects

Introduction

College readiness for students has become more important than ever in
K-12 education system. It is essential for high school students to be
college ready before their graduation. College readiness for high school
students is the knowledge, skills, and ability a student should possess to
be ready to succeed in entry-level college courses. Past research shows
that more than one quarter of the high school graduates in the United
States did not enrol in postsecondary institutions during the fall semester
immediately after high school graduation. During 2013, only 70% of the
high school graduates in the United States enrolled in colleges in the fall
immediately after high school completion (NCES, 2015). This paper is
based on the research conducted in the School District of Palm Beach
County (SDPBC), Florida. The SDPBC is the fifth largest district in Florida
and the twelfth largest district in the United Sates.

1 Bidya Raj Subedi, Ph.D., is a Specialist in Evaluation and Test Development at the Department of
Research and Evaluation, SDPBC, Florida, USA. His email address for correspondence is
bidya.subedi@palmbeachschools.org.
2 Randy Powell is a Manager in the Department of Research and Evaluation, SDPBC, Florida, USA.

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72

In the State of Florida, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE)


provides the criteria for determining college readiness in reading and
mathematics for all students based on ACT (American College Test), SAT
(Scholastic Aptitude Test), PERT (Postsecondary Education Reading Test),
and CPT (Common Placement Test). The cut-off scores in each of these
tests for determining college readiness in reading and mathematics were
provided by the FDOE. During 2014, the percentage of students in the
United States who were college ready in ACT reading and ACT
mathematics were 44% and 43%, respectively (ACT, 2014b). There have
been limited studies in predicting college readiness in reading and
mathematics despite the importance of the research topic. This research
explores significant student and school level predictors of college
readiness so that concerned educators and administrators can control
such factors for increasing college success rates of graduating high school
students. In order to turn college aspirations into college attainment, high
schools need clear indicators of college readiness and clear performance
standards which must allow schools and districts to assess where their
students currently stand and to measure their progress (Roderick,
Nagaoka & Coca; 2009).

The purpose of this article is twofold: exploring the significant predictors


of college readiness in reading and mathematics and determining the
effect sizes at school level models. We predicted college readiness, a
dichotomous outcome, employing a two-level Hierarchical Generalized
Linear Model (HGLM). This research will benefit the school districts and
high schools in the United States and other countries in terms of
preparing the students for the entry level college courses by controlling
the significant predictors in students favor.

Literature Review

Selecting Relevant Predictors in the Models

This study used academic achievement, grade retention as well as


demographic and disciplinary factors at student and school levels to
predict college readiness. Previous studies found that college readiness is
positively impacted due to student achievement (ACT, 2008; Atkinson &
Geiser, 2009), and dual (college) credit enrolments (Allen, 2010; Kim &
Bragg, 2008).

Based on the grade retention research, Bowman (2005) reported that


retention does not typically increase student performance and Reynolds
(1992) found a negative effect of retention on academic achievement and
other educational outcomes. Shepard and Smith (1990) argued that the

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73

retained children may appear to do better in the short term, but they are
at much greater risk for future failure than their equally achieving, non-
retained peers. Jacob and Lefgren (2009) found a modest effect of grade
retention on preventing high school completion given by dropout.

The findings of past studies substantiate the negative effect of students


ESE (disabilities) status on academic performance and postsecondary
education. Trainin and Swanson (2005) found that the students with
learning disabilities scored significantly lower than students without
learning disabilities in word reading, processing speed, semantic
processing, and short-term memory. Among students with disabilities
who graduate from high school and attend a postsecondary education
program, completion rates are low (Brand, Valent, & Danielson; 2013) and
the majority of students with disabilities failed to graduate or to receive a
degree from their program up to eight years after high school (Newman
et al., 2011).

Perry and Morris (2014) found that higher levels of exclusionary


discipline within schools over time generate collateral damage, negatively
affecting the academic achievement of non-suspended students in
punitive contexts. Past research explored the negative effect of suspension
and expulsion on academic achievement independent of socio-
demographic influences, and this could have caused students to fall
behind on classroom assignments and instruction (Rausch & Skiba, 2005).

A research by ACT (2014b) found that most Hispanic students are not
academically ready for college since 2010 regardless of subjects and
readiness rates for them remain low regardless of core course taking.
Greene & Forster (2003) found that nationally, only 32% of students in the
Class of 2001 were found to be college ready, with significantly lower
rates for Black and Hispanic students. Study shows that only 53 percent
of Latinos who attempt credit-bearing math courses complete those
courses with a grade of C or better. Meanwhile, the rates for Whites (63
percent) and Asians (66 percent) were found higher (Malcom-Piqueux,
Bensimon, Suro, Fischer, Bartle, Loudenback, & Rivas; 2012). In reading,
the college readiness benchmark scores for Hispanic (29%) students are
found lower than those for White (54%) and all (44%) students (ACT,
2014b). Further, the same report reveals that the college readiness
benchmark scores in mathematics for Hispanic (29%) students are found
lower than those for White (52%) and all (43%) students. Nationally, only
32% of students in the Class of 2001 were found to be college ready, with
significantly lower rates for Black and Hispanic students (Greene &
Forster, 2003).

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74

Research shows that students from low-income families lag behind their
peers in meeting college and career readiness benchmarks (ACT, 2014a).
Many people argue that a large pool of students who are qualified to
attend college are prevented from enrolling by a lack of adequate income
or other social or demographic hurdles (Greene & Winters, 2005).

Modeling Perspective
In order to determine the effect sizes for school level models, we need to
estimate the variances at student and school levels. Many studies in past
used the estimation of level-1 variance components in binary response
model (Bryk and Thum, 1989; Finn and Rock, 1997; Goldstein, 1991; Guo
& Zhao, 2000; Longford, 1994; McCulloch, 1994). For example, Bryk and
Thum (1989) predicted dropout as a binary outcome and estimated
variance associated with dropout and Goldstein (1991) adopted a general
approach for the estimation of variance (at level-1 model) in multilevel
nonlinear model using a linearization. Earlier works also demonstrated
the use of multilevel binary models with student and school level data
employing a two-level HGLM (Goldschmidt & Wang, 1999; Rumberger,
1995; Subedi & Howard, 2013).

Researchers in past determined school effects or effect sizes for higher


level group employing multilevel models (Goldstein, 1997; Rowan,
Correnti, & Miller, 2002; Subedi & Howard, 2013; Thomas, Sammons,
Mortimore, & Smees, 1997). They determined effectiveness based on effect
sizes which were computed using variance of school level model. Subedi
and Howard (2013) predicted binary response outcome that involved
students graduation and dropout status employing a two-level HGLM
technique. The current study explores unanswered research questions
associated with college readiness in order to improve student
performance targeted to postsecondary education.

Research Questions
This paper aims to answer the following research questions.
1. What are the significant student and school level predictors of
college readiness in reading and mathematics for high school
students?
2. What are the proportions of variance explained and effect sizes at
school level for predicting college readiness in reading and
mathematics?

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Methods

Data
This study included 12,554 students and 51 high schools from the School
District of Palm Beach County (SDPBC), Florida, USA. The two major
college placement tests that measure the college readiness in the SDPBC
are SAT and ACT. In addition to these assessments, PERT and CPT are
also used as measures of college readiness of SDPBC (and Florida)
students. Based on the 2014 test results of these assessments, the college
readiness flags were created based on the benchmarks provided by the
State of Florida. In this study, approximately 95% of the students were
twelfth graders with college readiness flags based on SAT, ACT, PERT, or
CPT cut scores. The ACT is tested in Reading, English, Mathematics, and
Science. The SAT and PERT are given in Reading, Mathematics, and
Writing. The CPT is given in Algebra, Reading and Sentence Skills.

During 2014, the scale scores for SAT ranged from 200 to 800 (College
Board, 2014) and that for ACT ranged from 1 to 36 (ACT, 2014b).
According to FDOE (2016), the PERT scale scores ranged from 50 to 150.
FDOE (2014) provides the cut-off scores for college readiness measures in
reading and mathematics as follows based on the scale scores of ACT,
SAT, PERT, and CPT examinations.
ACT: 19 for both reading and mathematics
SAT: 440 for both reading and mathematics
PERT: 106 for reading and 114 for mathematics

The data in this study included high school graduates with 51%, 60%, and
20% college ready in Reading in ACT, SAT, and PERT tests, respectively.
Similarly, 35%, 58%, and 16% of the students were college ready in
Mathematics in ACT, SAT, and PERT tests, respectively. Many of the
students took more than one (of these) tests. Only 0.2% or less students
were college ready in CPT Reading and Elementary Algebra (with cut-off
scores of 83 and 72, respectively).

The reliability coefficients for ACT Reading and Mathematics assessments


were .88 and .91, respectively (ACT, 2014b). Similarly, the reliability
estimates for SAT Reading and Mathematics tests were .93 and .92,
respectively (Ewing, Huff, Andrews, & King, 2005).

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76

Variables

Student Level Predictors


Reading achievement. This is a continuous variable with Florida
Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores ranging from 178 to 1537.
Algebra achievement. This is a continuous variable with End-Of-Course
(EOC) algebra scores ranging from 26 to 471.
Retention. This is a dichotomous variable with 1 for students (high
school) grade retention status and 0 for non-retention status.
Exceptional student education (ESE). This is a dichotomous variable with 1
for students ESE status and 0 for non-ESE status.
Free or reduced price lunch (FRL). This is a dichotomous variable with 1 for
students FRL (participation) status and 0 for non-FRL status.
Hispanic. This is a dichotomous variable with 1 for Hispanic status and 0
for non-Hispanic status of a student.
Average suspension. This is a continuous variable for a student with the
average of in-school and out-of-school suspension events from grades 9
through 12. This variable ranged from 0 to 23.

School Level Predictors


Average Algebra achievement. This is a continuous variable with school
average of Algebra EOC scores that ranged from 311 to 419.
School percent retention. This is a continuous variable with school percent
retention that ranged from 1% to 11.4%.
School percent FRL. This is a continuous variable with school percent of
FRL students that ranged from 16% to 70%.

Determining d-Type Effect Sizes


The proportion of variance for school level model is calculated and
reported as the ratio of school variance to total (school plus student)
variance. As suggested by Rowan et al. (2002), d-type effect sizes at
school level are calculated as the square root of the ratio of school level
variance to the total (student plus school level) variance, and the effect
sizes are classified as small, medium and large depending on the
magnitude of effects as given below.
Below .39 -- Small
0.39 0.45 -- Medium
0.46 or higher -- Large

In results section, we compute and report the effect sizes for school level
models to determine school effects while predicting students college
readiness.

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77

Model Development
A two-level HGLM was employed where two separate models were
developed and analyzed to predict students college readiness in reading
and mathematics. The final models incorporated only significant
predictors at level-1 and level-2 (i.e., student and school levels). Such
models are known as conditional models which include selected
predictors in level-1 and level-2 equations. Research question 1 is
answered by estimating the slopes associated with level-1 and level-2
predictors. Research question 2 is answered by estimating the
proportions of variance explained at school-level models, and effect sizes
d based on these variance components. The level-2 variance terms were
deleted from the models if they were not significant as suggested by
Subedi (2005).

Although the college readiness status is a dichotomous outcome, it can be


treated as if it were continuous. For example, Bryk, & Thum (1989) and
Goldstein (1991) have treated binary outcomes as continuous by
incorporating the random term in level-1 model. Due to their
computational efficiency over alternate techniques such as logit and
probit, Amemiya (1985) has incorporated random term in level-1 model.
Assuming that Yij is the students status in College Readiness in Reading
(CRR), the log of probability of CRR can be predicted by the level-1
conditional model for ith student nested in jth school as given by Equation
(1a).
log(P(Yij =1)/(1- P(Yij =1))) = 0j + 1j (READACH)ij + 2j (AVGSUSP)ij + 3j
(RETENTION)ij + 4j (ESE)ij + 5j
(HISPANIC)ij+ eij (1a)
In Equation (1a), 0j is the intercept. The coefficients 1j, 2j, 3j, 4j, and 5j
are student level slopes or effects for reading achievement (READACH),
average suspensions (AVGSUSPS), retention (RETENTION), students
ESE status (ESE), and students Hispanic status (HISPANIC), respectively.
Further, eij is student level random term distributed normally with mean
zero and constant variance.

The level-2 conditional model can be formulated as follows in Equation


(1b) by incorporating significant school level predictors to predict the
coefficients of level-1 model, from in Equation (1a), as outcomes.
0j = 00 + 01 (SCHLPCTRET)j + u0j
1j = 10 + 11 (SCHLPCTRET)j
2j = 20
3j = 30 (1b)
4j = 40
5j = 50

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78

Equations (1b) consists of fixed portion ( terms) and random portion (u


terms) of effects where the term 00 represents the average college
readiness rate in reading for all schools and u0j represents the random
effects at school level with multivariate normal distribution. The
coefficient 01 represents the effect of school percent retention on average
college readiness rate in reading and 11 represents the interaction effect
of school percent retention and student reading achievement. The
following coefficients represent their effects on the predicted probability
of college readiness in reading:

10 represents the effect of average reading achievement,


20 represents the effect of average suspension,
30 represents the effect of students with retention status relative to
the effect of promoted students,
40 represents the effect of ESE students relative to the effect of non-
ESE students,
50 represents the effect of Hispanic students relative to the effect of
non-Hispanic students.

Assuming that Yij is the students status in College Readiness in


Mathematics (CRM), the log of probability of CRM can be predicted by
the level-1 conditional model for ith student nested in jth school as given
by Equation (2a).
log(P(Yij =1)/(1- P(Yij =1))) = 0j + 1j (ALGACH)ij + 2j (RETENTION)ij
+3j (ESE)ij + eij (2a)

In Equation (2a), 0j is the intercept. The coefficients 1j, 2j, and 3j are the
effects of students algebra achievement (ALGACH), retention
(RETENTION) status, and ESE (ESE) status, respectively. Further, eij is
student level random term distributed normally with mean zero and
constant variance.

Similarly, the level-2 model, in order to predict the coefficients in


Equation (2a), can be formulated as below in Equation (2b).

0j = 00 + 01 (SCHLAVGALGACH)j + 02 (SCHLPCTFRL)j + u0j


1j = 10 + 11 (SCHLPCTFRL)j
2j = 20 (2b)
3j = 30

In Equation (2b), 00 represents the average college readiness rate in


mathematics for all schools and u0j represents the random effects at school
level with multivariate normal distribution. The coefficient 01 represents

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79

the effect of school average algebra achievement and 02 represents the


effect of school percent FRL on college readiness in mathematics. The
term 11 represents the interaction effect of school percent of FRL and
student algebra achievement. Further, the following coefficients
represent their effects on the predicted probability of college readiness in
mathematics:

10 represents the effect of average algebra achievement,


20 represents the effect of students with retention status relative to
the effect of promoted students,
30 represents the effect of ESE students relative to that of of non-
ESE students.

Note that the single-equation can also be formulated by substituting


Equation (1b) in Equation (1a) and Equation (2b) in Equation (2a) in order
to demonstrate the interaction effects of level-1 and level-2 predictors.
However, the formulation of the single-equation model is beyond the
scope of this paper.

The fixed effects (intercepts and slopes) and random effects (variance
components) at student and school levels are estimated using PROC
GLIMMIX procedure in SAS program (Kim, Preisser, Rozier, &
Valiyaparambil, 2006; Little, Milliken, Stroup, & Wolfinger, 1996; SAS
Institute, 2006).

The research question 1 is answered by estimating fixed effects, s, and p-


values associated with these effects in Equations (1b) and (2b). The
research question 2 is answered by estimating the school level variance
term, u0j, and calculating effect sizes using the following formula as
provided by Rowan et al. (2002).

d = (Variance in achievement lying among school) / (Total student


+ school variance in student achievement)
(4)

The large sample size of the SDBPC, quality data used from authentic
sources, high ACT and SAT test reliabilities, and the use of sophisticated
statistical modeling technique ensured the validity and reliability of the
results of this study. The findings of the study can be generalized to the
population with similar demographic composition in the United States
and other countries.

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80

Results

Table 1 provides the analysis results with significant effects of several


student and school level predictors on college readiness in reading. At
student level, the effects of reading achievement (p<.0001), average
suspension (p<.001), students status of retention (p<.0001), ESE
(p<.0001), and Hispanic (p<.01) are found significant. At school level, the
effects of school percent of retention (p<.0001) and its interaction effect
with reading achievement (p<.0001) are found significant.

Table 1. Estimation of predictors effects for predicting college


readiness in reading
_________________________________________________________________
Effect Estimate Std. Error p-value
_________________________________________________________________
Reading achievement 0.011 0.001 <.0001
Average suspension -0.014 0.003 <.0001
Retention -0.194 0.019 <.0001
ESE -0.220 0.023 <.0001
Hispanic -0.043 0.014 <.01
School percent retention -4.254 0.261 <.0001
Reading ach.* School pct. ret. -0.020 0.001 <.0001
_________________________________________________________________

The results in Table 2 show the significant effects of several student and
school level predictors on college readiness in mathematics. At student
level, the effects of algebra achievement (p<.0001), students status of
retention (p<.001) and ESE (p =.027) are found significant. At school
level, school average algebra achievement (p<.0001), school percent of
FRL or school poverty (p<.01) and its interaction effect with algebra
achievement (p<.01) are found significant.
The results showed positive effects of reading as well as algebra
achievements, and school average algebra achievement. The results
showed negative effects of average suspension, students statuses of
retention, ESE, and Hispanic, and school percentages of retention as well
as FRL students. In addition, the interaction effects of school percent of
retention with reading achievement and the school percent of FRL with
algebra achievement were found negative.

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81

Table 2. Estimation of predictors effects for predicting college


readiness in mathematics
_________________________________________________________________
Effect Estimate Error p-value
_________________________________________________________________
Algebra achievement 0.007 0.001 <.0001
Retention -2.162 0.577 <.001
ESE -1.225 0.554 0.027
School average Alg. achievement 0.006 0.001 <.0001
School percent FRL (school poverty) -1.149 0.389 <.01
Algebra ach. * School percent FRL -0.003 0.001 <.01
_________________________________________________________________

Table 3. Estimations of variance explained, p-values, and effect sizes at


school level for predicting college readiness in reading and
mathematics
_________________________________________________________________
Variance Effect size
Outcome measure explained p-value (d-type)
_________________________________________________________________
College readiness in reading 18% <.0001 0.42
College readiness in mathematics 15% <.0001 0.39
_________________________________________________________________

Table 3 shows the variances explained, p-values (associated with school


level variances), and d-type effect sizes for two separate school level
models while predicting college readiness in reading and mathematics.
The proportion of variance explained and effect size for predicting college
readiness in reading are found 18% and 0.42, respectively. The
proportion of variance explained and effect size for predicting college
readiness in mathematics are found 15% and 0.39, respectively. Both of
these effect sizes are medium representing the moderate strength of
school effects while predicting college readiness.

Discussion

What the Significant Predictors Tell Us?


The study found significant effects of academic, disciplinary, and
demographic factors on college readiness in reading and mathematics.
The results with significant positive effect of student achievement on
college readiness is analogous to the previous findings reported by ACT
(2008) and the findings of Atkinson and Geiser (2009). With an intuitive
implication, the findings implied that the college-bound students will

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82

have higher probability of success in entry-level college courses only if


the better students are prepared in high school reading and algebra
courses. Further, the study showed a negative effect of (grade) retention
on college readiness in reading and mathematics. This result is analogous
to the findings provided by Bowman (2005) and Reynolds (1992) that
found the negative effect of retention on academic achievement and
educational outcomes.

Students status of being Hispanic exerted significant negative effect on


college readiness in reading. This result resembles the research findings
for Latino students who (successfully) completed credit-bearing math
courses at rates below their White and Asian classmates (Malcom-
Piqueux, 2012). Hispanic students were found to be college ready with
significantly lower rates (ACT, 2014b; Greene & Forster, 2003). Further, a
student with ESE (disabilities) status impacted negatively on college
readiness in reading and mathematics. The results were similar to the
findings of Brand et al. (2013), Newman et al. (2011) as well as by Trainin
and Swanson (2005) which revealed that the students with disabilities
who graduated from high school and attended a postsecondary education
program, had low completion rates.

The average suspension (combined in-school and out-of-school


suspensions) showed significantly negative effect on college readiness in
reading. This result is analogous to the findings of Perry and Morris
(2014) as well as Rausch and Skiba (2005) that revealed a decreased
student achievement due to the effect of suspension and expulsion
independent of socio-demographic influences. Further, the negative
effect of free or reduced price lunch on college readiness is supported by
previous studies of Greene and Winters (2005) and the fact that students
from low-income families lag behind their peers in meeting college and
career readiness benchmarks (ACT, 2014a).

It is worth to argue that the school percent of retention and school


poverty (i.e., school percent FRL), through the interaction with student
achievement in reading and algebra, respectively, have caused to generate
negative effects even though student achievements (in reading and
algebra as well) showed positive effects on college readiness. To
elaborate, the higher percentages of retained or FRL students in a school
will lower the chance of a student to be college ready (in reading or
mathematics) despite good academic performance in reading or algebra.

School Effects
School effect in this study is determined by the effect sizes at school level
models for predicting college readiness in reading and mathematics
which were 0.42 and 0.39, respectively. Both of these effect sizes are

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83

found to be in a category of medium as per Rowan et al. (2002). These


findings represent the moderate strength of school effects to predict
college readiness incorporating student and school level predictors in the
models.

This paper harnessed a technique for computing effect sizes for


dichotomous outcomes due to variation among schools in college
readiness. This study extended the method of Rowan et al. (2002)
computing effect sizes for level-2 model in binary response models. For
this purpose, we assumed the level-1 outcome to be approximately
normal (Warn, Thompson, & Spiegelhalter, 2002) and computation of
level-1 variance in generalized linear model (Goldstein, 1991; Kim et al.,
2006). The computation of effect sizes at level-2 model employing two-
level HGLM demonstrated in this paper would provide a technique to
measure school effects in educational research.

Conclusions

This paper predicted college readiness in reading and mathematics,


employing a multilevel models, incorporating significant predictors at
student and school levels in one of the largest school districts in the
United States. The effect sizes for school level models were determined
using the amount of variances accounted for student and school levels.
Several technical aspects are discussed in terms of computing effect sizes.

This research has several implications. Considering significant predictors


of college readiness identified in this study, an intervention is
recommended for controlling such factors. Such an intervention process
would help the school districts and schools improve the college readiness
rates of graduating students. The effect sizes of medium strengths that
produced moderate school effects due to school-to-school variation in
college readiness rates for both reading and mathematics substantiate the
importance of the predictors used in the models. This study
systematically demonstrated a valid method for computing effect size for
binary response models that could be replicated by educational
researchers and evaluators. Such a theoretically based and empirically
evidenced model would be beneficial for other school districts in the
national and international contexts to measure school effects.

Several limitations can be documented based on this study. First, few


student and school level predictors are missing in this study due to the
data unavailability. The examples of such predictors are students home
environment, parent involvement, extracurricular activities at student
level and principals leadership as well as the percent of teachers with

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84

different types of certifications. It is recommended the future studies use


such predictors in level-1 and level-2 models. The researchers in future
may use a more complex model for exploring significant predictors of
college readiness employing a three-level HGLM using student, teacher,
and school predictors at level-1, level-2, and level-3 models, respectively.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 11, pp. 87-98, October 2016

Utilizing Technology to Develop and Maintain


Professional Caring Relationships

Jennie M. Carr
Bridgewater College
Bridgewater, Virginia, USA

Abstract. Care is the cornerstone of all successful education. Teacher


educators who care deeply about their teacher candidates are the heart
of purposeful teaching. A positive professional relationship with a
teacher educator can drastically impact a teacher candidates collegiate
experience in areas of scholarship, motivation, engagement, and self-
confidence. Yet many college students report never having developed a
caring relationship with a professor. Technology offers a unique
opportunity for teacher educators to develop caring professional
relationships with teacher candidates. Todays teacher candidates are
constantly connected, spending over 6 hours daily on their electronic
devices. Teacher educators should use technology to their advantage to
meet students where they are: on their devices. Teacher educators serve
as role models to teacher candidates who will ultimately care about their
future K-12 students as they were cared for. Teacher educators should
utilize technology to develop, strengthen, and maintain caring
professional relationships with teacher candidates by setting up
meaningful avenues of communication, modelling a professional online
presence, and praising teacher candidates. The role of teacher educators
is crucial, but few studies have examined the significance of teacher
educators as caring role models. This article reviews relevant literature
and offers three technology-fused suggestions which teacher educators
can utilize to develop, foster, and maintain caring professional
relationships. Findings from this literature review indicate there is a
need for further empirical research.

Keywords: technology; care; relationships; teacher education; social


media

Introduction
The preparation of mentoring caring teacher candidates should be a high
priority in teacher education programs. Care can not just be taught implicitly
through coursework. Teacher educators need to find innovative ways to
explicitly demonstrate caring relationships with teacher candidates throughout
their teacher preparation program (Noddings, 2005; Sanderse, 2012). One way to

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do this is by integrating technology to support and enhance the teacher


educator-teacher candidate relationship. Technologies are positively changing
the communication and instructional landscape among teacher educators and
teacher candidates. Teacher educators need to utilize of the power of modern
technology to develop, foster, and maintain professional caring relationships
with teacher candidates.

Method
This paper is a literature review on technology and the professional teacher
educator-teacher candidate relationship. A thorough search of Academic Search
Complete, ERIC, and Google Scholar was employed using the keywords:
technology, academic care, relationships, social media, praise and communication.
Research was reviewed from all dates yet particular attention was paid to the
most relevant studies. The research was reviewed and is organized for this
article into three primary sections including the importance of academic care, the
power of technology, and suggestions to integrate technology-fused platforms to
enhance caring relationships. Three recommendations are provided including
setting up meaningful avenues of communication, modelling a professional
online presence, and praising teacher candidates. The literature review closes
with a discussion of possible limitations and implications for future research.

The Importance of Academic Care


Many would agree that teachers who care deeply about their students are the
heart of purposeful teaching (Boyer, 2010). In fact, care is often listed as a quality
of an effective teacher (Lumpkin, 2008; Noddings, 2005; Sanderse, 2012). The
concept of care in schools is so important that in 2005, Nadge coined the term
academic care as helping students to develop positive self-esteem and feelings of
well-being and self-efficacy through the schools academic and organizational
structures, and through adults relationships with students (p. 28). In other
words, caring teachers strive to make school a positive learning experience for
all children (Williams, Sullivan & Kohn, 2012). Effective academic care is often
embedded in pedagogy and student learning experiences.

Teachers who exhibit academic care listen, compliment students, foster


emotional well-being, and take time to understand their students physical and
emotional needs (Peske, Liu, Johnson, Kauffman, & Kardos, 2001). It has been
shown that when students feel genuine and sustainable care from their teacher,
they work harder academically, are more engaged and spend more time on-task,
experience improvement in academic performance and overall development,
and have more confidence to learn (Making Caring Common Project, 2016;
Nadge, 2005; Tosolt, 2010; Velasquez, Graham, & Osguthorpe, 2013). In
classrooms across America, students are positively impacted by caring teachers
(Tippens, 2012).

However, with federal government regulations and programs such as No Child


Left Behind and Race to the Top, academic achievement has become the primary
focus in schools, leaving developmental soft skills like care behind. Published in
2014, Harvards Make Caring Common Project asked children to rank in order of

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importance: achieving at a high level, being a happy person, or caring for


others (p. 6). The results indicated eighty percent of students selected either
achievement or happiness as most important, leaving only 20% who ranked
caring for others as their top priority. A self-reported low emphasis on caring for
others is concerning.

Weissbourd and Jones (2014), leaders of the Making Caring Common Project
explain, there is an obvious gap between the way we expect children to develop
and the actual message children receive. In other words, children know the focus
of school - achievement, awards, and success - because it is preached to them
implicitly and explicitly on a daily basis. There is an evident pressure to retain
knowledge and perform well on assessments. And some claim that current
achievement-focused education places too strong an emphasis on academic
success through testing and discourages opportunities for exploration,
discovery, and expression (Noddings, 2005; Lumpkin, 2008). Ravitch (2016) may
have said it best:
Not everything that matters can be quantified. What is tested may
ultimately be less important than what is untested If we do not
treasure our individualists, we will lose the spirit of innovation, inquiry,
imagination, and dissent that has contributed powerfully to the success
of our society in many different fields of endeavor (p. 242).
Educators can place more of an emphasis on caring for, developing, and
treasuring each individual child despite the pressures of academic success. In
1971, Blume reported, teachers teach as they are taught, and not as they are
taught to teach. (p. 412). We can make the transition to say teacher candidates
will care as they are cared for by their teacher educators. Therefore, it is
important for teacher educators to show that they care for their teacher
candidates throughout their teacher preparation program. One way to do so is
by developing and maintaining a strong classroom climate and community
utilizing modern technology.

The Power of Technology


As part of the connected age, todays teacher candidates are immersed in
technology. The average college student owns seven electronic devices and
spends more than five hours a week scrolling their social media accounts (Crux
Research Center, 2013; Higher Research Institute, 2007; Pew Research Center,
2015). Information is readily available with the touch of a fingertip or a single
voice-activated phrase. Current college students (ages 18-23) thrive in an
always on hyper-communicative environment, connected to resources, to
other people, to other devices, and even to oneself (Barnes & Mattson, 2010;
Skiba, 2014). Many of todays teacher candidates may feel lost and anxious
without their devices, which serve as security blankets and mediums to meet
spouses, stream a favorite television series, and even order pizza. Yet, there is
much debate about incorporating technology in the classroom.

Of course, opponents of technology integration argue technology is detrimental


to the faculty and student relationship. Most teacher educators who use
technology platforms to communicate with students do so outside of class. After

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hour faculty-student communication can be a slippery slope with late night


texting, boundaries, privacy concerns, and misunderstandings. In 2014, Drive
West Communications reported 782 total cases of public school employees either
accused or charged for inappropriate relationships with students. Of those cases
38% were related to social media technology communication. Teacher educators
must set appropriate clear guidelines, expectations, and boundaries when using
technology communication platforms. Millennials thrive on technology and
specifically prefer low-cost technology options such as texting. Technology
supported options can assist with student retention by increasing
communication and developing relationships (Adams, 2011; Pollock, Amaechi,
Robichaux & OBrien 2012).

Increasing connectivity provides a new level of accessibility and communication;


an asset to teacher educators who are seeking innovative ways to connect and
develop caring relationships with teacher candidates. Because of the pervasive
acceptance of technology, teacher educators cannot afford to fall behind in their
technology usage and knowledge. More and more, teacher candidates expect not
only their classrooms but their faculty to be technology supported (Hannay &
Fretwell, 2011).

Suggestions to Integrate Technology-Fused Platforms to Enhance


Caring Relationships
Teacher educators can capitalize on the opportunity to develop caring
relationships with teacher candidates while they seek guidance and instruction
in their courses. According to Sanderse (2012), teacher educators are often aware
that they should teach as they preach and walk their talk, but fail to connect
their ideals to their actual behaviour in the classroom (p. 38). For most teacher
educators, preparing teacher candidates for character education is often done
implicitly through modelling; the teacher educators primary focus is on
pedagogy, philosophy, management, and content (Sanderse, 2012). As
Lunenberg, Korthagen, and Swennen (2007) explain, modelling appropriate
behaviors is only one step in developing a caring relationship. In order for
teacher candidates to truly master a concept, theory, or behavior, they must hear
and read about it, experience it, and reflect upon it. With curricular mandates,
limited time, and committee work, it may be easier for teacher educators to talk
about academic care than carry out its intentions (OBrien, 2010; Lunenburg et
al., 2007; Sanacore, 2008). Teacher educators can place more of an emphasis on
explicitly teaching caring behaviors by being reflective in their own practices
(Eisner, 2002; Sanderse, 2012).

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) (2008) has


developed teacher standards which define the evolving skills and pedagogical
insights in education thus providing a technology framework for educators. One
standard explains the importance of employing digital etiquette or netiquette
when communicating with students (ISTE, 2008). Common sense media (2011)
provides tips for netiquette including, being cognizant of context and privacy,
reviewing responses for grammar and respect prior to sending. Fortunately,
technology-based communication tools provide more communication

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mechanisms than traditional methods and offer a way to increase and


strengthen effective communication between teacher educators and millennial
teacher candidates (Nygard, Day, Fricke, & Knowlton, 2014; Kassen-Noor,
2012;).

As Bowen (2012) posits, implementing technology-fused communication


help[s] bridge the power differential inherent in education; technology
especially on ones phone which is considered typical communication for
todays teacher candidates (p. 31). In fact, this may be the best place to build,
foster, and maintain caring relationships. Pollock et al. (2012) found students
whose teachers used technology-fused tools to communicate felt not only more
supported, but more cared for as an individual and a student, which led to
overall increased motivation and effort in the course.

During a keynote address Russell (1999) emphasized, If genuine change is to


occur in schools, then those changes may have to occur FIRST in teacher
education. Teacher candidates often understand the academic and social
expectations of a school, but the importance of caring for others is not explicit.
By discussing caring expectations, modelling them, and integrating them into
daily practice, teacher candidates will have a better understanding of what they
really mean. So they can effectively develop caring professional relationships
with their future P-12 students. This literature review suggests teacher educators
use technology as a powerful tool to develop, foster, and maintain relationships.
Teacher educators who infuse technology in and out of the classroom help
strengthen relationships by affording teacher candidates the opportunity to
maximize learning and enhance communication in familiar connected
environments (Crews & Stitt-Gohdes, 2012). I suggest those who are seeking
ways to develop, strengthen, and maintain caring relationships with teacher
candidates utilize technology-fused platforms by:
Setting up meaningful avenues of communication
Modelling professional online presence
Praising teacher candidates

Setting up meaningful avenues of communication


Setting up meaningful avenues of communication is a key component and
crucial part of developing caring relationships. Communication between faculty
and students was listed as one of the best practices in higher education
(Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996). In order to effectively set up meaningful avenues
of communication such as texting and virtual office hours, all communication
mechanisms (e.g., email, phone numbers, office hours) should be clearly
indicated in the course syllabus (Bowen, 2012).

By providing effective and comfortable avenues of communication through


technology, teacher educators can help foster the fleeting teacher educator-
teacher candidate relationship. Email drastically opened the communication
lines over a decade ago. Now, college students are inundated with emails; many
rarely check, forget to check, or look over important course-related emails
(Rubin, 2013). A 2014 study found college students used email approximately six

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minutes a day (Junco, 2014). Currently texting services are pushing the
communication envelope by increasing the accessibility of teacher educators.
According to the 2014 Gallup poll, texting is the preferred communication
mechanism for individuals under 50 years old. On a daily basis, 68% of 18-29
year olds indicate they send and/or receive text messages a lot. (Pew Research
Center, 2015). For teacher educators, free text chats sent directly to a phone
through platforms like Remind, Google Voice, GroupMe or Cel.ly are alternative
ways to reach candidates. Teacher educators can use one-way or conversational
texting options to communicate announcements, reminders, or respond to
teacher candidate questions.

Implementing virtual office hours through email, texting, alternative messaging,


and video chatting can be an effective way to reach more teacher candidates
(Bowen, 2012). In a recent survey, college students reported no longer wanting
to come to office hours; because it is a style of meeting that is dated and
inconvenient to commuters, student athletes, students who work, or students
who may not be available during traditional work hours (Bowen, 2012, p. 32).
Free video chat options such as Google Hangouts or Skype provide an even greater
opportunity for face-to-face contact with teacher candidates, which can help
foster caring professional relationships. For current college students, a quick
virtual face-to-face conversation may be easier and more natural than devising a
long email. A teacher educators office hours are essentially extended by
appointment; making it possible for relationships to develop without a teacher
candidate coming in to seek help in specified time slots. Teacher educators using
Remind can also personalize office hours, which can assist in setting some work
day parameters.

Although many teacher educators may not yet feel comfortable meeting online,
Bowen (2012) suggests, and I agree, that we need to get there for our teacher
candidates. Using technologies as an avenue for communication assists in
building a caring, compassionate teacher educator-teacher candidate
relationship.

Modelling a professional online presence


For many teacher educators and teacher candidates alike, creating and
modelling a professional social media account is becoming almost as common as
using a professional email address. ISTE (2008) standards explain the
importance of teachers advocating, modelling, and teaching safe, legal and
ethical use of digital information and technology. Crews and Stitt-Gohdes
(2012) confirm that it is the teacher educator's responsibility to teach teacher
candidates how to effectively use technology to promote professional caring
relationships with future students and colleagues. Teacher educators must
explicitly model appropriate professional online presence and explain to teacher
candidates the dangers of inappropriate use so they feel confident fostering
relationships through technology in their future classrooms.

Teacher educators nationwide have demonstrated their interest in using social


media as a way to connect and build relationships through personal and

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professional learning networks (PLNs) (Schroeder, Minocha, & Schneider, 2010).


Sharing educational resources through websites such as ShareMyLesson,
ShareSlides, Pinterest, and TeachersPayTeachers can help build PLNs. Weekly
Twitter chats and YouTube screencasts are also assisting teacher educators in
building powerful PLNs. Demonstrating how teacher educators use their PLN
relationships to gain knowledge and insight is effective to model for teacher
candidates.

Technology, like social networking websites, can create safe, comfortable


environments, critical for building rapport and developing relationships with
teacher candidates as well as provide a platform to integrate ideas, apply
knowledge and influence student culture (Bowen, 2012; Schroeder et al., 2010).
Maintaining stringent safety settings by disabling posting to public forums is a
critical responsibility of the teacher candidate. Social media platforms offer
alternative methods to developing caring relationships. In educational settings,
teacher candidates favor social networking platforms such as Twitter, Snapchat,
Pinterest, and Instagram because the user can choose to follow their teacher
educator but keep their posts, videos and photographs private. Some college
students have reported feeling pressured into accepting a follow/friend request
from their professor, which hinders privacy and negates efforts to establish a
healthy, caring relationship (Karl & Peluchette, 2011; Young, 2009). Other
networking websites like LinkedIn and Google+ (G+) have been publicized as
being more professional networking websites but are less popular with
millennial college students (Bowen, 2012). Again, when teacher educators use
these websites and phone applications, it is essential to model a professional
online presence by not blurring any personal lines with teacher candidates
(Bowen, 2012; Junco, 2014). The privacy needs of teacher candidates should
always be considered a top priority. Currently little research is available on the
impact of the currently more popular social media platforms.

Finally, social media management tools like Hootsuite and Buffer allow users to
manage their professional LinkedIn, G+, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts
in one click. These management tools allow the teacher educator to post course
announcements and photographs to multiple social media platforms at once not
only saving time but reaching more candidates.

Praising teacher candidates


Some will argue that praise is not necessary at the collegiate level especially in
our 21st century overly praised everyone gets a trophy society (Twenge &
Campbell, 2010). But according to Noddings (2005), the desire to be cared for is
almost certainly a universal human characteristic (p. 17). Despite societal
praises, reports indicate only one third of children believe their teachers care for
them (Cole & Cole, 1989). Authentically praising teacher candidates is one way
teacher educators can demonstrate care. Praise when used correctly, is a
powerful tool which can help teacher candidates when encountering intellectual
challenges, understanding effort, and handling setbacks (Dweck, 1999).

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Hawkins & Heflin (2011) found the use of praise to be an underutilized and
incorrectly implemented strategy. When providing praise, teacher educators
should describe the specific desired behavior versus stating generic comments
like good job as well as praising candidates accomplishment versus ability
(Dean, Hubbell, Pitler & Stone, 2012). Teacher educators can use technology to
exhibit academic care by complimenting students (Peske et al., 2001). Through
avatars, points, and badges, Class Dojo enables teacher educators to praise and
guide their candidates into desired behaviors (Hammons, Matherson, Wilson &
Wright, 2013). Websites like Kaizena allow teacher educators to give oral
comments with voice inflection, which are more personal than features such as
Microsoft Words track changes. Because older students like collegiate teacher
candidates typically prefer private praise (e.g., written notes), technology
platforms provide the perfect venue for praise (Burnett, 2001; Hodgman, 2015).
Teacher educators can encourage caring actions by giving praise notes or virtual
shout outs via class or school platforms like Remind, Edmodo, Social Media #s, or
ClassDojo, which can further promote and enhance caring professional
relationships.

Limitations and Implications for Future Research


The technologies listed in this article are possible powerful technology-fused
options, which support setting up meaningful avenues of communication,
modelling professional online presence and praising teacher candidates.
Technology will continue to change and evolve over time positively changing
the communication and instructional landscape amongst teacher educators and
teacher candidates (Prather, 2011). Teacher educators will need to stay current
with candidate usage of technology.

Boundaries, privacy, and miscommunication are clearly limitations. Texting


teacher candidates is a slippery slope that many teacher educators are not
willing to step upon. Recently some P-12 school districts have tried to pass
policies to forbid faculty-student texting, so teacher educators should check with
their institutions to see if this method of communication is a viable option. When
using texting communication, clear guidelines and expectations must be
reviewed in class and outlined for teacher candidates in the course syllabus
(Bowen, 2012; Walker, 2016). Finally, when utilizing technology-fused
communication tools, there is potential for misunderstandings so teacher
educators need to do their best to implement netiquette, common sense, and
personal judgment (Common Sense Media, 2012).

Technology tools may provide a platform to building academic care, but it is not
the only way to care for teacher candidates. It is critical for teacher educators to
determine whether or not technology will help meet or better meet the needs of
building a teacher candidate-teacher educator relationship. Utilizing these
suggestions increases accessibility which may be outside of some teacher
educators comfort zone therefore, teacher educators must determine whether or
not the selected technology is an effective tool for this part of their practice. Even
if teacher educators do their best to integrate technology, caring relationships
with teacher candidates will not instantaneously develop.

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It should be noted, the teacher educator can use some, parts, or all of these
suggestions in ways they deem appropriate for their educational setting. As
Nodding (2005) noted, there is no single recipe for how to care. Certainly care is
about establishing an individual relationship and not about following a specific
list of steps. As with many aspects of education, it is not enough to simply
implement the strategy or use the technology and see what happens. Instead, it
is best to be pro-active and utilize technologys strengths to develop and
maintain caring relationships (Schroeder et al., 2010). Little research is available
in this area therefore; empirical research is recommended to test the authors
suggestions. Future researchers should investigate the impact of technology-
fused tools on the teacher educator-teacher candidate relationship qualitatively
through interviews and/or quantitatively through surveys (Lunenberg et al.,
2007; Prather, 2011).

Conclusion
It takes hard work and significant time to develop caring relationships with
teacher candidates. Oftentimes, traditional methods of fostering powerful
professional relationships fall short. By providing effective and comfortable
avenues of communication through technology, modelling a professional online
presence, and praising teacher candidates, teacher educators can help foster the
teacher educator-teacher candidate relationship. Caring teacher educators who
infuse technology in and out of the classroom help strengthen relationships by
affording teacher candidates the opportunity to capitalize on learning and
enhance communication in familiar connected environments (Crews & Stitt-
Gohdes, 2012).

As technology usage continues to increase, it is vital for teacher educators to


prepare teacher candidates to care in new ways enhanced by technology. Caring
for others starts with the work of teacher educators in teacher preparation
programs. I am asking teacher educators to rise to the challenge and utilize all
types of technology to build, foster, and maintain caring relationships with
teacher candidates. Developing high and explicit caring standards by setting up
meaningful avenues of communication, modelling professional online presence,
and praising teacher candidates are ways to encourage and demonstrate care.

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99

International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 11, pp. 99-110, October 2016

A Qualitative Study of the Perceptions of Special


Education Personnel about Inclusive Practices of
Students with Disabilities

Jeanine Birdwell, EdD, Lori Kupczynski, EdD (corresponding author), Marie-


Anne Mundy, EdD and Steve Bain, DMin
Texas A & M University-Kingsville
Center for Student Success
700 University Blvd.
Kingsville, TX 78363

Abstract. Students with disabilities in the State of Texas are now


required to participate in state wide academic assessments with passing
rates tied to federal funding. This qualitative research studied the
perceptions of district personnel regarding instructional practices for
students with disabilities utilizing open-ended, semi-structured
interviews of a principal, special education director, diagnostician, and
special education teacher from each of two districts. District 1
exclusively used the inclusion model while District 2 used a
combination of inclusive and pull-out programs to provide special
education services. The interviews were analyzed utilizing coding which
generated the following themes: the importance of positive relationships
between general and special education educators and between students
and teachers, individualization of the needs of each student, and the
importance of the availability of resources such as appropriate staff and
dedicated time on the successful implementation of inclusion.

Keywords: Texas education; student disabilities; inclusion; educational


resources

Introduction
Ensuring that every student has access to general education curriculum
rather than equitable curriculum through placement in general education
classrooms is considered an issue of social justice (Turnball, 2012). Increased
focus on state wide assessments and accountability for every individual student
has caused districts to reconsider best practices for instruction and placement of
students with disabilities. In addition, there is no clear guideline to demonstrate
successful implementation of such services. Districts with special education
populations demonstrating low performance levels benefit from implementation
of alternate service models and inclusion style services in the general education
classroom. Students with disabilities who receive academic support and services

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100

to ensure their academic success are impacted by this problem. Contributing to


this problem are many possible issues including support services dedicated to
inclusion implementation and educational placement. This study contributes to
the research knowledge base necessary to address this issue by gathering
qualitative data to reveal successful and unsuccessful inclusive practices in high
schools in South Texas districts 4A and larger as expressed by school principals
and lead special education personnel. The University Interscholastic League
(2016) assigns school districts in Texas a classification ranging from 1A-6A based
on student enrollment.

Review of Literature
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) state level accountability standards and
systems for mathematics and reading were developed and implemented with
the intention that every student would have and maintain proficiency in both
math and reading by the 2013-14 school year. Administrators are also required
to examine the annual progress of student subgroups, including those with
disabilities. NCLB was an active force in convincing administrators to assess the
importance and necessity of access to general education curriculum in the
general education setting for all students. Students with disabilities, if they are to
be expected to meet statewide assessment standards, need access to regular
education curriculum (Ross-Hill, 2009). The Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act (IDEA) and NCLB push the need for inclusive instruction. The
triumph of both laws hinges on the expertise and mindset teachers portray in the
classroom (Ross-Hill, 2009). Few educators would disagree with federal law, but
instructional practices may not reflect that ideology. While general education
teachers may be supportive of inclusion in theory, most of them do not feel that,
in practice, they can integrate students with disabilities successfully into their
classrooms (Santoli, Sachs, Romey & McClurg, 2008).
Least Restrictive Environment
The principle of least restrictive environment (LRE) is a critical
component of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. LRE necessitates
that children with disabilities be educated alongside students who do not have
disabilities as much as possible. Aron and Loprest (2012), found that 95% of
students with disabilities are in public schools, but they are outside the general
education classroom. As a student reaches high school, he or she is more likely
to be removed from the general education (Aron & Lomprest, 2012). Inclusion
becomes increasingly difficult at the high school level due to course content and
curriculum complexity, instruction models, achievement gaps, high stakes
testing, and accountability to outside agencies like colleges (Rice, 2006; Keefe &
Moore, 2004; Dieker, 2001; Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2001).
Inclusion
The principle of inclusion requires that all students have the opportunity
to participate in society, or in the case of education, the general education
setting. Critics of this notion argue that the strengths and weaknesses of the
child must be considered along with the environment. Each student has a
different level of capacity (Lindsay, 2003). Inclusive education refers to the
dedication to educate students with disabilities, to the appropriate maximum
extent, in the general education classroom he or she would traditionally attend.
Inclusion involves providing needed instructional and/or related services to the

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101

child and involves only that the child advances from being in the class (Yell,
2006). In accordance with the principle of least restrictive environment, inclusion
suggests that students with disabilities are placed in the general education
classroom with needed supplementary aids and services. Students are only
removed from that setting if necessary services cannot be provided in the
general education setting. There are many benefits to inclusion for all students,
but without proper implementation and support it can be a frustrating process
for all stakeholders (Hammel & Hourigan, n.d.). In the general education
setting, special education students are often held to higher educational
standards and develop better social skills (Ripley, 1997).
Special Education Service Models
Models for special education services are best described as being a
continuum of services and placements. A commonly misunderstood principle is
that the least restrictive environment for all students is the general education
classroom. While the regular education classroom may be the least restrictive
environment within the special education continuum, it may not be the best
environment for every student with a disability. In many individual cases, in
order to meet a students needs a variety of potential placements and services
may be required (Farris, 2011; Lindsay, 2003). Variations on placements and
services include: a student with a disability may be placed in the general
education classroom with the general education teacher meeting all needs; or a
special education teacher may serve a consultant style role within the general
education classroom or may be more extensively involved in the delivery of
services. This model is known as co-teaching or the collaborative teaching
model. In this particular model, services are delivered in the general education
setting with seldom removal of the student from that environment for service
participation. In the resource model, a dedicated special education class is
attended as needed while a significant portion of the day is spent in the general
education setting. The self-contained model requires students to spend minimal
time within the general education setting with the majority of services being
delivered in a dedicated special education setting or classroom. This model is
typically reserved for students for which inclusion has proved unsuccessful and
leverages the advantages of small group instruction and increased attention
from educators.
Research from 2000-present
The attitude of the general education teacher towards inclusive practices
is a key factor in implementation of inclusion (Daane, Beirne-Smith & Latham,
2000; Henning & Mitchell, 2002). Henning and Mitchell (2002) noted that,
teacher perceptions about exceptional students may be the factor with the
greatest effect on student success (p.19). In 2000, Daane, Beirne-Smith, and
Latham looked at the perceptions of both administration and teachers regarding
the collaboration process of inclusion in elementary grade levels. All parties
participating in the study agree that students with disabilities have the right to
education in the general education setting. Conversely, all parties also agreed
that instruction for students with disabilities in the general education setting
was not effective due to concerns with preparedness of the general education
teacher, discipline concerns, and workload for the general education teacher.

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102

Research conducted by Ramirez (2006) and Smith (2011) also supports


the findings that the majority of administrators believe that special education
students have the right to be educated in the general education environment at
the cost of academic benefits. A series of qualitative interviews conducted by
Daane, Bierne-Smith and Latham (2000) and Mulholland & OConnor (2016)
revealed that teachers believe more collaboration is necessary between general
education and special education teachers regarding student individualized
education plans (IEPs) and instructional planning for the inclusion process to be
more effective. Collaboration is critical for successful implementation of
inclusion and should include all stakeholders: administration, general education
teacher, special education teacher, counselor, social worker, related service
providers, paraprofessionals, and family (Salend, 2005). Collaboration is an
ongoing process and all parties must be open minded participants for the
development of a comprehensive plan (Daane et al, 2000).
General educators need more guidance on curriculum differentiation,
and the implementation of accommodations and modifications. However,
scheduling conflicts, lack of knowledge, and lack of time often impede
collaboration time (Daane et al, 2000) (Worrell, 2008). Muholland and O,Connor
(2016) found that their teachers endorsed time restraints as a limitation to
collaboration. According to Rice (2006), teachers are also concerned with the
legal, ethical, pedagogical, and procedural aspects of IEP implementation.
Legally, general education teachers become responsible for ensuring the service
times specified in the IEP are being met. A solid foundation in special education
laws, issues and terms, is critical for the general education teacher to
successfully implement an IEP (Liston, 2004; Worrell, 2008). Principals need
understanding of legal regulations, legislation, and practices regarding students
with disabilities, as well (Lasky & Karge, 2006).
Lack of training on effective implementation of accommodations and
modifications is a frequently reported issue (Galano, 2012; Rice, 2006). Galano
(2012) noted that teachers attitudes towards inclusion are significantly
correlated to the level of training. Shoulders and Krei (2016) found that the more
hours general education teachers spent in professional development and co-
teaching the higher the efficacy in student engagement. Similarly, limited
training in special education also resulted in principals having negative views of
inclusion (Galano, 2012). Santoli et al. (2008) found a group of Southeastern
middle school teachers who felt confident in their teaching strategies and
collaborative strategies in working with special education students, increasing
the likelihood of successful implementation of inclusive practices.
Without a positive attitude towards academic outcomes, teachers are just
going through the motions. There is a significant relationship between teacher
expectations and student success (Henning & Mitchell, 2002; Santoli et al., 2008).
Monsen and Frederickson (2004) also identified that special education students
performance on standardized test scores is directly correlated to the attitude of
their general education teachers and their teachers view on inclusion.
The effectiveness of educational inclusion services can be influenced by
the campus administrator (Praisner, 2003). In her research with elementary
school principals, Praisner found that implementation of inclusive practices
occurred more frequently when the principal had positive views of inclusion.

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103

Galano (2012), Ramirez (2006), and Smith (2011) also found a correlation
between the promotion of inclusive placements and principals attitude.
Role of the Campus Administrator in Inclusion Implementation
With the growing implementation of inclusion services, the role of the
principal is widened to include more paperwork, an increase in the number of
personnel needed, and therefore more duties (Praisner, 2003). Administrators
can lead in a way that maintains status quo, or lead in a way that promotes
social change. Strong leaders build relationships in the community and build
capacity of a campus team. These relationships allow for the implementation of
practices that foster a culture that supports diverse learners (Riehl, 2000).
Principals promote inclusion in their actions, words, interests, activities, and
organization of staff and resources. Villa, Thousand, Nevin & Liston (2005)
described that the degree of administrative support for inclusive practices was
the strongest predictor of the attitude of the general education teacher towards
inclusion. Support can be provided in the form of school climate (Cook, Semmel,
& Gerber, 1999), opportunity for collaboration (Barnett & Monda-Amaya, 1998),
or professional development (Shade & Stweart, 2001).
Dieker (2001) described successful inclusion implementation has hinging
on six co-teaching practices. First was a positive climate between students and
teachers supporting an attitude of acceptance through cooperative learning.
Secondly, inclusion is only accepted primarily through the staffs positive
perception. Additionally, active student centered learning is necessary to help
create an environment with engaged students while allowing for peer tutoring
opportunities. Further, accommodation integration can be achieved through
activity based instruction. High academic and behavioral expectations for every
student are necessary as well. Mutual planning time between co-teachers must
also be used effectively to plan lessons. Finally, multiple evaluation methods
such as written assessments, presentations and projects in addition to
performance tasks should be used to gauge student learning.
DiPaola and Walther-Thomas (2003) identified skill areas critical for
principals in ensuring growth of student with special needs. Principals must
have knowledge of each disability along with the learning, behavioral or medical
challenges of each. In addition, they must possess thorough knowledge of laws
and educational rights of special needs students so that they may communicate
with families. Equally important, principals lead the implementation of research
based teaching practices on campus. Lastly, principals need a clear
understanding of the supports necessary to make inclusion successful (DiPaola
& Walther-Thomas, 2003). They are responsible for securing support services,
supplies and necessary resources (Frederico, Herrold, & Venn, 1999).

Methodology
Two high school principals from a 4A or larger district in the South Texas
region and six lead special education personnel from each of those districts were
interviewed. The qualitative data was coded for themes to determine successful
instructional practices in regards to students with specific learning disabilities.
Population and Sample
The researcher began interviews by selecting two high school principals
from 4A or larger high schools in the South Texas region. Next, interviews were

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104

conducted with six lead special education personnel recommended by the


principal from the district. Principals and lead special education personnel were
selected through purposive sampling. The purposive sampling in this study is
informational in nature in order to capitalize on the strengths and weaknesses of
inclusion programs in Texas high schools 4A and larger in the South Texas
Region. Principals and lead special education personnel were selected based on
their involvement with special education students on the high school campus.
The purpose of interviewing the principals and lead special education personnel
from each district was to identify their perceptions of successful instructional
practices for students identified with specific learning disabilities. Each district
has autonomy in developing service models for special education services,
allowing for differences in instruction and therefore achievement.
Instrumentation
The study involved the gathering of data through open-ended, semi-
structured interviews with purposefully selected participants. This
questionnaire was composed of twelve open-ended questions. The purpose of
the questionnaire was for participants to express their experiences with inclusive
practices with students with disabilities and to share their opinions about
practices that contribute to successful implementation of instruction for students
with disabilities.
Interview Protocol:
1. What is your position with the district and how many years of experience
do you have?
2. Are you familiar with the terms inclusion, resource, and co-teaching?
3. If so, how would you describe each one?
4. What instructional service models are used in this district?
5. What is your role in the implementation of services for students with
learning disabilities?
6. How does the district implement inclusive instructional support?
7. What have been your experiences with inclusion and resource
instruction?
8. What do you think are the factors that contribute to successful
implementation of inclusion services?
9. What do you think are the biggest obstacles in implementation of
inclusion?
10. Do you believe that instructional setting affects academic success of
students with specific learning disabilities? Why or why not?
11. What is your ideal vision of instructional services for students with
specific learning disabilities?
12. Are there any comments you would like to add?
Procedures and Data Analysis
Data was gathered by conducting one-on-one interviews with selected
participants. The participants were asked to provide their personal experiences
in response to the interview questions. A digital audio recorder was used to
record the entire interview in order to ensure accuracy. The digital recording for
each interview was saved in an audio computer file and transcribed. The data
was analyzed through descriptive coding.

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105

Results
District Profiles
District 1 is a large district in the South Texas region. Based on the 2014
State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness End Of Course (STAAR EOC)
data, the special education population is 9% of the district population and 77%
of the students are economically disadvantaged. This district is predominately
Hispanic (94%). Figure 1 summarizes the ethnic breakdown of the student
population.

District 1
[CATEGORIENAAM
]
5%
Other
1%

Hispanic
White
Other

[CATEGORIENAAM
]
94%

Figure1: Ethnic Groups of District 1


District 1 used the inclusion model to provide services to students with
learning disabilities. Interviews revealed that inclusion services were provided
by either a special education certified teacher or a paraprofessional and that
most students were served in English and/or Math for twenty to thirty minutes
three days per week.
District 2 is also a large district in the South Texas region. Based on the
2014 STAAR data, 10% of the district population receives special education
services and 41% of the district is economically disadvantaged. District 2 is
predominately Hispanic (56%). Figure 2 illustrates this information.

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106

[CATEGORIENAAM
[CATEGORIENAAM
District 2
]
]
1% [CATEGORIENAAM
.3%
]
2%

Hispanic
[CATEGORIENAAM White
]
[CATEGORIENAAM African American
40%
]
Asian
56%
Native American

Figure 2: Ethnic Groups of District 2


Participants from District 2 reported using a combination of co-
teaching, other inclusive practices, and resource support to provide services for
students with learning disabilities. Co-teaching was done by two certified
teachers five days per week for the entire class period. Inclusion support was
provided by a certified teacher or a paraprofessional. Frequency and duration
ranged, and depended on the needs of the student. Resource services were
provided in a location other than the general education classroom. The class was
taught by a teacher who is certified both in the content area and in special
education.
Seven female and one male participated in the semi-structured
interviews. Ages ranged from 34-63. Two of the female participants were
Hispanic, and the other participants were Caucasian. Table 1 presents the
pseudonym, position and district for each participant.

Table 1: Research Participants


Interview # Participant Position District
1 Dan High School Principal 1
2 Sue Special Education Director 1
3 Jan Educational Diagnostician 1
4 Cindy Lead Special Education 1
Teacher
5 Amy High School Principal 2
6 Mary Special Education Director 2
7 Elizabeth Educational Diagnostician 2
8 Ann Lead Special Education 2
Teacher

Both principals defined the terms inclusion and co-teaching in similar


ways. Inclusion was seen as a classroom composed of both general education
students and special education students of varying instructional levels. Primary

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107

delivery of instruction is performed by the general education teacher with a


special education teacher or paraprofessional as a support system. In co-
teaching, both teachers deliver the primary lesson and students have the
opportunity to learn in two different ways. It was explained that teachers in
this model have the same conference time to plan together in order for both
teachers to be on the same page. Personnel in special education agree that co-
teaching and inclusion both involve the education of special education students
in the general education setting with some instruction provided by a special
education teacher or paraprofessional.
The recurring idea shared by the six special education professionals is
that theirs is a role of support. Directors support services by providing training
opportunities and sending staff to workshops. Diagnosticians and special
education teachers support general education teachers in a variety of ways.
Special education teachers support all students in the classroom by re-teaching,
redirecting, and varying instructional strategies.
The theme of relationships emerged as the primary factor affecting
successful inclusive practices. Both principals reported that the relationship
between the general education teacher and the special education teacher is the
leading predictor of whether inclusion will be successful. Special education
personnel agree. Successful inclusive practices depend on the attitude of the
general education teacher. The teachers have to be willing to learn new
instructional strategies and willing to accommodate for our students. The
special education teachers also stressed the importance of building relationships
with the special education students in the classroom.
All personnel interviewed spoke frequently of the importance of
individualization when it comes to the education of special education students.
Both principals agreed that individualized supports should be in place for each
student, and that some students require a smaller setting to find their comfort
zone and address their learning style.
The most important limiting factor in the implementation of inclusion
identified by all respondents was time. All participants stressed that it is crucial
for inclusion and general education teachers to have a common planning time
for inclusion to be a success, but that scheduling and the master schedule were
obstacles.
The participants also spoke of needing more staff to implement services.
According to one participant, some of our teachers are supporting three
different teachers. It is hard to plan and have any ownership of that many
classrooms.
Money and time also affect the ability of the districts to provide training
to their teachers. All respondents voiced a need for increased training.
Respondents noted that training for general education teachers is needed to
ensure understanding of the inclusion models and disability education.

Conclusions
Several themes emerged from the semi-structured interviews. All
participants discussed the importance of relationships in successful inclusive
practices. Relationships must be developed between general education and
special education teachers, as well as between teachers and the students. The

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108

second theme was the need for individualization in making decisions regarding
educational settings for students with learning disabilities. Participants agreed
that the needs of each student must be considered individually, on a case-by-
case basis. Participants also agreed that the availability of resources limits the
successful implementation of inclusion. Specifically, time and staff were named.
Time is necessary to develop collaborative relationships between teachers and
between teachers and students, and to plan for instruction. Lastly, respondents
voiced a need for training for both general education and special education
teachers. Topics included the implementation of accommodations and
modifications and the nature of disabilities for general education teachers, and
content area curriculum for special education teachers.
The findings of this study suggest that there is no one size fits all model
for all students with learning disabilities. Participants in this study expressed the
idea that a continuum of services be available to meet the needs of each student.
The results of this study provide information to be used by lead special
education personnel, Administrators, and Admission, Review, and Dismissal
committees as they seek to meet the needs of every student including students
with disabilities. This research suggests that instructional arrangements, or the
placement of a student with a disability in general education or resource
classrooms, may not be a significant factor contributing to academic
achievement for students with disabilities. This study limited qualitative data to
interviews with administrators and lead special education personnel in each
district. Future research could include perspectives from other stakeholders such
as general education teachers, parents, and students.

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International Journal of Learning, Teaching and Educational Research


Vol. 15, No. 11, pp. 111-127, October 2016

How Employing DuFours Professional Learning


Community Guidelines Impacted a Mathematics
Professional Learning Community

Janet M. Herrelko, Ed.D., NBCT


University of Dayton
Dayton, Ohio, USA

Abstract. This case study followed the work of 12 urban elementary


school teachers as they created a professional learning community (PLC)
focused on improving the mathematics skills of their students.
DuFours (2004) characteristics of PLCs served as the original guidelines
for the group and functioned as an observation tool. DuFours Three
Big Ideas for organizing a PLC included 1) ensuring that students
learn, 2) creating a culture of collaboration, and 3) analyzing the data
results to make plans for the future. This study questioned if these Ideas
were consistently employed in order to produce positive changes to
their practice. Two conclusions were reached: the more frequently the
PLC adhered to DuFours Big Ideas, the more productive their work.
Second, four characteristics emerged that the members exhibited:
dedication to students; perseverance; analysis skills; and camaraderie
that enabled the group to work and make positive changes to their
individual practices.

Keywords: Professional Learning Communities; Mathematics


Education; Standards; Elementary School

Introduction

For more than thirty years, research in the United States (U.S.) examined how to
improve mathematics curricula to help U.S. students reach higher levels of
achievement on international testing such as the Third International
Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) (National Center for Educational
Statistics, 2016) and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)
(PISA, 2015). Studies by Ball, Hill, and Bass (2005) and Ma (1999) explained that
curricula changes were not enough, the teachers knowledge of mathematics
owned by teachers was fundamental in order to improve the instructional
practices (Hill & Ball, 2004). While many educational components contribute to
student learning, the primary delivery of learning content depended on the
quality of the teacher. For all teachers to keep current in the ever shifting world

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of educational theory and research, a dedication to continuous learning must


occur (Hord, 2009).
Mathematics teachers who seek to improve their content and
pedagogical knowledge search for professional development opportunities that
will increase their knowledge of mathematics and their pedagogical skills in
order to help their students learn (Hill & Ball, 2004). Finding available
opportunities for such development is not simple in this day of constrained
school budgets. Sparks and Hirsch (2000) noted that 10% of a school budget
should be devoted to teacher professional development. However, the reality as
Keller (2002) reported, is that the actual spending is between 1.5% and 4% of that
budget. Finding low cost professional development that can address specific
needs of mathematics teachers can be accomplished with the creation of a
school-based professional learning community (PLC).
PLCs were originally created to keep employees in the business domain
current and aware of trends, innovations, and new approaches to a specific field
of work. Educational innovators saw this approach as a continuous
improvement model for schools in which increasing student learning would be
the overarching objective (DuFour, 2004).
This study examined the organization of a group of urban elementary
teachers who formed a mathematics PLC. The teachers used the PLC organizing
principles of DuFour (2004) to set goals and measure outcomes because these
principles focused on the use of data to track changes in student learning. The
teachers focused on a different pedagogical problem and its associated
mathematics each year. They disbanded after the fourth year. What were the
organizational elements that contributed to the improvements to student
learning? Did using DuFours (2004) generic PLC formatting help the teachers
achieve their goals? Answers to these questions would help other mathematics
teachers who wish to create their own PLCs avoid planning mistakes that are
unproductive. The researcher used a case study format to examine how
DuFours principles advanced or hindered the goals of the mathematics PLC.
An evolution of PLCs for educational settings began as researchers
observed what made teachers effective in their classrooms. When Rosenholtz
(1989) examined teacher quality, he learned that if teachers were supported by
their schools regarding their continuous learning and improvement of classroom
practices, the teachers were more committed to their schools improvement.
Fullan (1991) analyzed the teacher workplace and recommended that teachers
should receive daily activities that included innovations and improvements to
the educational program. In 2012, Hargreaves and Fullan added the importance
of including data collections and analysis of teachers and schools performances
when introducing program changes as a means of determining success or failure
of those changes. Darling-Hammond (1996) observed a change in teachers
attitudes toward work and teaching when schools provided scheduled time for
the teachers to plan and work together. Hord (1997) identified the power of
PLCs for putting into action robust programs and procedures in schools.
Today, many groups of teachers who meet for any purpose consider
themselves to be a PLC (DuFour, 2004). To ensure that PLCs can be productive,
DuFour (2004) put forth a set of three Big Ideas and six Starting Elements as
guides to focus the organization and the work of a PLC. These steps help

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organize a group of teachers by identifying a unifying objective, determining the


means to achieve the objective, and deciding how to assess the any change in the
productivity of the students. This study examines how adhering to DuFours
elements or shifts away impact the objective of increasing student learning.

DuFours Big Ideas for PLCs


DuFour researched schools and defined a PLC as a model professional
development program that focused on the central mission of formal education:
not to guarantee that students are taught but to guarantee that they learn. This is
a basic educational shift from educators teaching to student learning (DuFour,
2004, 1). Teaching would no longer be putting checks next to content taught, but
producing evidence that students had learned the content.
DuFours research narrowed the core principles necessary for successful
PLCs to three main concepts. Concept one moves the focus of the educational
process from the teachers to the students: Big Idea #1: Ensuring That Students
Learn. (DuFour, 2004, 6). There is the assumption that students are all taught,
but DuFour demands accountability that students learned specific content.
Teachers needed to respond to those students who have not learned the content.
Using a systematic process, the teachers need to determine how to help students
having difficulty learning the content under this main principle.
Big Idea #2: A Culture of Collaboration (DuFour 2004, 7) discussed the
need for teachers to use a school-wide systemic process to analyze and enrich
the practices used in the schools. Thorough examinations of the curriculum
would be the start of the work of a PLC. After gathering facts, the PLC selected
a common goal for the work that would benefit all students.
And Big Idea #3: A Focus on Results (DuFour 2004, 9) was needed in
order to determine the successfulness of a PLC and how it should move
forward. The questions pertaining to Idea #3 asked: What were the students
learning results? Was there an improvement in student achievement? Formative
assessment strategies were suggested by DuFour as means to collect data to
compare student performance on identified skill sets. From these data analyzes,
the PLC can identify the areas of success and those that are concerns.

DuFours Starting Elements


DuFours next step had the PLC examine the school academic
environment seeking answers to what DuFour identified as four starting
elements. First, the PLC needed to state a research question that identified the
distinctive elements of schools and practices that are used to help all students
achieve high levels of success. Second, the PLC needed to create an application
question related to the research question: How can we use the elements and
practices we note in our research in our schools? Third, the PLC should add a
commitment question: What responsibilities must the members pledge to do in
order to move the school to that new vision? The last question the PLC should
ask is how to measure student change: How will we monitor student success?
(Dufour, 2004, 2). These step by step questions were used by the PLC in this
study to guide their work during their first year. They determined that their
work would center on having students use advanced organizers to analyze
mathematics word problems. They would evaluate their processes with the
implementation of several formative assessment techniques that supported

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students growth and the students ability to solve mathematics problems. They
measured their progress by the improvements in their students end of year
mathematics scores on standardized testing that achieved higher mathematics
scores than the previous year. This was work done prior to the researcher
joining the PLC.

PLC Issues. Organizational issues plague PLCs. Meeting time being at


the top of the list. Watts and Castle (1993) identified time as the most significant
problem for teachers who wish to work collaboratively. Finding time within the
school day schedule is rare. Teachers who are part of a PLC usually create their
own meeting time that comes out of their time after school. Louis and Kruse
(1995) identified physical factors that helped PLCs be successful. These
included: common meeting time, the size of a school being small, physical
proximity of the teachers to one another, interdependence of teaching roles,
school autonomy, and the empowerment of the teachers.
When the teachers were instructed that they would implement the
Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM)(National Governors
Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, 2012), the group took
on the objective of aligning their old standards with the new CCSSM. And as
other groups of teachers started in their schools calling themselves PLCs, they
were asked to retitle their group to be the Mathematics PLC to be specifically
identified as working on objectives dealing with school mathematics
improvements.

Mathematics Professional Learning Communities. Mathematics PLCs


(MPLCs) have been encouraged by the mathematics professional organizations
such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) (NCTM, 2014)
and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics. A series of books
have been published that detail how MPLCs can be organized and work. The
series: Common Core Mathematics in a PLC at Work (Larson, Fennell, Adams,
Dixon, Kobett, and Wray, 2012) addresses specific grade levels and links the
work of the MPLC not only to the CCSS Mathematics standards but also to the
Mathematical Practices.
MPLCs can be found all over the United States and the world. From
Maine to Indiana, to California, MPLCs have web sites that identify what they
are doing to improve student learning. New Zealand has MPLCs throughout
the country (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2010). MPLCs are a means to
have teachers gather together to share the work and highly successful
instructional practices that help students learn rigorous mathematical content.

History of the Urban, Elementary Mathematics PLC in this study. Four


years ago, a group of 12 urban elementary level teachers attended professional
development sessions that detailed how a PLC functioned as defined by
DuFours format. The teachers organized their group using DuFours (2004)
three big ideas and organizing principles.
These urban elementary teachers decided to meet monthly. They all
taught mathematics, but were from 4 different elementary schools and the
grades they taught were from kindergarten through grade 8. During the first
year of the PLC existence, they renamed themselves the Mathematics PLC

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(MPLC). Using the four DuFours starting elements, they examined the
distinctive elements of their schools that helped students achieve. The PLC
members devotion to their students was the best distinctive element. The
research question they formed asked: what is an effective means to raise student
test scores in mathematics? The PLC members determined that they would use
advanced organizers to help students understand mathematical problems. To
measure the success of their research, they would examine the student scores on
standardized testing administered at the end of the school year. They added
frequent formative assessments to track the details of the processes they were
using to verify if their students were able to solve more of the extended response
style questions. The end of the school year testing produced encouraging results
that noted a significant rise in students mathematics scores. The researcher was
not part of this MPLC at the time and had to take the verbal reports of the
members regarding this rise in mathematics scores.
In the second year, the teachers grappled with implementation of the
CCSSM because the area school administration required the implementation of
the CCSSM for the following academic year. This was the year that the
researcher began membership in the group.
The third year of MPLC, the teachers worked on coordinating how to
help parents understand the mathematics being learned under the CCSSM. To
reach a large group of parents, they studied Family Math Nights for each school
represented in the MPLC.

Common Core State Standards for Mathematics


To provide some background information regarding the state of
mathematical standards in the United States, the CCSSM were a response by the
National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School
Officers (CCSSO) to the issues facing parents and educators as to what students
needed to know and be able to do in order to prepare for college and the
workforce (NGA and CCSSO, 2012). Model curricula from high achieving states
and international countries were framed into benchmarks for all United States
students to know without regard to where they lived. The framework informed
teachers as to the depth of knowledge that mathematics instruction needed to
delve during each academic year for each grade level. The major change from
prior sets of state standards was having these new standards stated as
progressions of learning rather than checklists of learning content. These
progressions presuppose that each teacher has a depth of mathematical
understanding.
When decisions to adopt new standards are made at the state
administration, district, or school level, the lions share of the implementation
work falls to the teachers. Often the teachers are asked to implement new
programs without help identifying changes between the existing and new
curricula nor offering professional development related to those standards and
instructional techniques for teaching the new standards. This is a major problem
in the educational. More professional development would help solve this
dilemma; also helpful may be the use of a PLC which can foster dynamic
collaboration between educators. A PLC can be a flexible structure for teacher
collaboration with autonomy and as an agency to decide what needs the most
attention in a given school.

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Theoretical Framework
This research used the theoretical framework created by DuFour (2004)
that describes the needed elements (Big Ideas) to create a successful PLC. He
described those elements as three Big Ideas: 1) focus on student learning; 2)
teacher collaboration; 3) working from results as the framework to examine the
work of a PLC. Guiding the researchers perspective was the organizational
concept that in order to sustain a community of learners such as the MPLC,
specific guiding principles must be in place. Thus, the question arose how often
must each of these three Big Ideas be used in meetings by a PLC to ensure that
their work is successful? DuFour did not specify how strictly PLC members
must adhere to the three Big Ideas. This researcher observed and took notes at
the meetings of a MPLC to determine when each of the three Big Ideas was used.

Method
The goal of this descriptive case study was to observe how often these
urban, elementary teachers implemented DuFours three Big Ideas. The research
question addressed was: How did the frequency of the MPLCs
implementation of DuFours (2004) three Big Ideas impact the MPLCs goals to
improve students mathematical learning?

Participants
Twelve elementary school teachers who taught mathematics to grades
kindergarten through to grade 8 took part in the MPLC. Some taught
mathematics, science and religion, others were in self-contained classrooms. All
taught in urban schools in the western part of a Midwestern U.S. state. The
socioeconomic status of the participating schools is lower middle class to lower
class (Greatschools.org, 2015). The Ohio Department of Education (ODE)
reported that the poverty rates for the schools included in this study ranged
from 19.5% to 100% (ODE, 2014). Table 1 provides the details regarding the size
and populations of the schools. Table 2 notes information about the teachers
backgrounds.

Table 1
Demographics of Participating Schools.
School Grade No. Classroom No. Students Single
Teachers Subject
/Multiple
Subjects
A K-9 11 215 Multiple Subj

B PK-8 16 353 Multiple Subj

C K-8 22 588 Multiple Subj

D K-8 10 207 Multiple Subj

Note. PK = Pre-kindergarten, K= Kindergarten, Multiple Subj = mathematics,


science, plus other content areas.

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Table 2
Sample Demographics of the Participating Teachers.
Teacher # Years Highest Grades taught *Prof Devel
Teaching Degree Sessions
last 2 yrs
A 33 BS PK, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8 6
B 10 BS 4, 5 3
C 14 BS 6, 7, 8 20
D 1 BS 6, 7, 8 1
E 5 BS 6, 7, 8 9
Note. BS =Bachelor Degree; PK = Pre-kindergarten; * Professional Development Sessions
attended in the last two years.

Data Collection
Since the researcher was a member of the MPLC, the data collection
techniques used in this study were participant observations, field notes taken at
the meetings, and reflections after the meetings. The field notes included
identifying when the elements of DuFours (2004) three PLC Big Ideas were used
during the meetings, to make group decisions, and action items for next steps.

Data Analysis
Analysis for themes was conducted using card-sorting techniques from
the field notes and reflections. The analysis was conducted using DuFours PLC
three Big Ideas as categories at the start. Recording field notes included the date
of the meeting, the primary topics, the conclusions or outcomes that the
members determined to complete prior to the next meeting, and which of
DuFours three Big Ideas were addressed during the meeting. The researcher
included comments on how the teachers interacted within the MPLC.
Sensitizing concepts have been regarded by researchers as being useful for
providing a focus to guide qualitative methods (Blumer 1979; Denzin 1989;
Patton, 1990). In this study, the researchers knowledge of the mathematical
content, pedagogical methods, strategies, CCSSM, and of mathematics education
research served as sensitizing concepts and influenced the data analysis.
Verification of the researchers content and pedagogical knowledge was
evidenced by certification as a National Board Certified Teacher in Adolescence
to Young Adult Mathematics in 1998 and renewed in 2008. There were two
components to this certification that verified the researcher as a mathematician
and an accomplished educator. The first component was an eight-hour
mathematics examination consisting of five mathematics content areas. It was
completed with passing evaluations marks. The second component was a
portfolio of assessments, lesson plans, community involvement, and
professional development that was evaluated for pedagogical content
knowledge. This component was valued as passing as well. Triangulation
verification of the researchers field notes was done by the PLCs secretary. She
took attendance and notes covering the meeting discussions and actions. After
the meetings she would send the notes to the MPLC members. These notes
served to verify the researchers field note observations.

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Results
MPLC Meetings
Over the course of 24 months, the MPLC met to discuss the
implementation of the CCSSM in academic year 2012-2013 and how to conduct
successful Family Math Nights in academic year 2013-2014. Details of the
groups meetings are summarized in Figures 1, 2, 3. The figures include which
of the three Big Ideas from DuFours work were modeled during the meetings
and associated work for the month.

May 2012 - December 2012, MPLC Meetings and Topics

Meeting Topics Outcomes DuFour


Date Big
Ideas
May 8, Last meeting of the Short cycle assessment work and 1
2012 year, goals for 12-13. using the new standards.
Sept 11, -Do a gap analysis Learning the issues facing the 1, 2, 3
2012 study of the new members dealing with the new
CCSSM. mathematics standards versus
-Create a pacing guide what was taught and learned by
based on that analysis. students and the textbooks being
-Create short cycles used.
Oct 16, Comparing the new Focusing on one grade level at a 1, 2, 3
2012 standards to the time was best for the issues
former standards facing the group. Decide the
topics to be mastered at what
grade level.
Nov 13, Comparing the new Fractions at all grade levels were 1, 2
2012 standards to the discussed and decided when to
former standards cover elements not included in
the upper grades.
Dec 11, Comparing the new Great frustration that there are 1, 2, 3
2012 standards to the no guidelines for students who
former standards are caught in the gaps between
Seeking information what is taught in the new
from public schools standards and what has been
dealing with adopting taught in the old standards.
the CCSSM
Figure 1. DuFour coding is #1 represents the focus on student learning, #2
represents teacher collaboration, and #3 represents the focus on
results

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119

January 2013 December 2013 MPLC Meetings and Topics

Meeting Topics Outcomes DuFour


Date Big
Ideas
Jan 8, Using I can Chose to focus on what students 1, 2
2013 statements to learn can do in their math classes,
where students are in what they believe they have
their grasp of mastered using I can
mathematics content statements Teachers were
uplifted as to what students did
master. How to assess the
statements will be discussed
next meeting.
Feb 12, Assessing I can Assessment needs to be grade 1, 3
2013 student statements level specific.
May 14, Wrap up work of the Discussion of what was 2, 3
2013 year and setting goals accomplished this year. Issues
for next year with the new standards remain
problematic.
Sept 10, Review work of last Introduction of new members, 2
2013 year general discussion of what is
Determine focus for being used this year that was
this year developed last year. Shared
ideas for the focus for the year.
Oct 8, Determine a focus for Lots of discussion. How to help 1, 2
2013 the year parents become aware of the
change in mathematics
standards was agreed upon.
Nov 12, Parent involvement How to plan events to help 1, 2
2013 parents become aware of the
new standards and how to help
their student. Family Math
nights were outlined.
Dec 10, Discussion of Family Snowed out. Schools all
2013 Math Night cancelled.
Figure 2. DuFour coding is #1 represents the focus on student learning, #2
represents teacher collaboration, and #3 represents the focus on
results

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120

January 2014 May 2014 MPLC Meetings and Topics


Meeting Topics Outcomes DuFour
Date Big
Ideas
Jan 14, Discussion of Family Each teacher shared what they 2
2014 Math Night Plans have done in the past: things to
avoid and those that worked. I
suggested making a collection
of the activities so each member
would have a resource book.
Feb 11, Discussion of Teachers brought copies and 2
2014 activities for Family shared their activities for Math
Math Nights nights. Shared problems of
attendance and activities that
were too confusing.
Mar 12, Summaries of Math Lots of stories of how to 2, 3
2014 night events involve parents, how to keep
students engaged in the events,
time savers in planning. I
encouraged the group to
present at the next Education
Summit held in July. Planning
was discussed.
Apr 8, Presentation How to organize the 2
2014 planning presentation
May 13, Finalize presentation, Presentation planning went 2, 3
2014 Planning for next quickly with those responsible
year noting what will happen.
The planning for next year will
focus on helping parents
understand the new grading
system being implemented
Figure 3. DuFour coding is #1 represents the focus on student learning, #2
represents teacher collaboration, and #3 represents the focus on
results

2012-2013 Meeting Topics


Correlating standards. All grades were to use the CCSSM by the start of
the fall semester of 2013. What perplexed the MPLC about the new requirement
was correlating the old standards with the new since mathematics content was
assigned to different grade levels, mathematical elements were taught in
different sequences, and determining exactly which mathematical elements were
no longer being required of students. These teachers did not want any of their
students to have gaps in their understanding of any mathematical concept due
to this shift in standards. Since the CCSSM were being imposed on all grades in
one academic year, there were concerns for the developmental flow of the
mathematics for students. The teachers of the MPLC wanted the new standards
would be implemented one grade level a year, that way the students would
learn by the new standards guidelines and not miss any content. Having all
grades convert to the CCSSM at the start of the next academic year was the
challenge. Ensuring that students learn and achieve at high levels with the

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121

mathematics content, the teachers decided to select how to implement the new
standards as their focus for the academic year 2012-2013.
Reviews of what was required for each grade level sounded like an easy
task until the teachers tried to read two sets of standards simultaneously. They
looked for a direct one-to-one comparison of the requirements. However, the
CCSSM were written using algebra for the framework (conversation with one
CCSSM author, Phil Daro, 11/6/15). The new standards sequence was
independent of the previous state standards. The teachers found that being able
to identify each new standard and where it was taught in the old standards was
similar to the childs game of Memory or Concentration. The teachers realized
this work was extremely time consuming and they were not done within one
month, which was their original plan.

Resolutions and Actions. The MPLC leaders supported by the rest of the
members determined that they did not have the time during the school year to
do extensive comparisons of the CCSSM. The MPLC members rerouted their
objective to create student reflection strategies that would inform the teachers if
the students were missing any of the mathematical CCSSM background
elements while the student assessed how much they mastered.

Transitions within the MPLC. The MPLC meetings were coordinated


by two teachers: one who organized the meetings; and the second who recorded
the meeting minutes. In February 2013, the organizing leader became a school
principal. Thus, the meeting organizer could no longer be involved with the
MPLC. Consequently, the meetings did not happen. The other members of the
MPLC continued applying the learning strategies of student self-reflection in
their classes. A meeting was held in May 2013 and a new meeting organizer was
chosen for the 2013-2014 school year.

2013-2014 Meeting Topics


Several meetings at the start of the school year were spent on general
discussions of pedagogy and that the MPLC did not arrive at a firm goal until
late in the first semester. The researcher wondered if the dynamics of the MPLC
were depleted. At the November meeting, the members began to share
frustrations with issues of conducting Family Math Nights. They saw this as an
objective to be used for the rest of the year and a means to help parents
understand the manner in which mathematics was being taught. They did not
create an inquiry question to be examined, nor did they fulfill the other starting
elements DuFour (2004) described to establish a PLC. Instead, to learn from
their past experiences organizing Family Math Nights, they shared successes
and flubs as to selecting dates, how many hours the event should be, who
should attend, should food be provided, and what type of mathematics should
be done so parents could see their child doing the mathematics taught in schools
today. The members made copies of their activities for one another. The
meetings were conducted more like lesson study, each teacher conducted Family
Math Night at their school, brought the successes and problems back to the
MPLC and the next members Family Math Night built upon the successes. At
the end of the academic year 2013-2014, each member had a notebook with
directions, suggestions, and activities for a successful Family Math Night event.

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122

The directions included location planning, date selections, and what


mathematical events to plan for family members who were pre-school age. The
mathematical activities were grouped by age with a range of ability levels within
those groups. The mathematics for younger students were based on counting
games, while the older students made kites and designed transformations using
3 by 5 cards.

Observation Notes Findings. During the card sorting of the observation


notes, there were four characteristics frequently identified that went beyond
DuFours three Big Ideas. These included: dedication to students; perseverance;
analysis skills; and camaraderie. The researcher used the dictionary definitions
of these characteristics to categorize them. During the meetings the side-bar
talks described actions of the teachers that demonstrated their commitment to
helping their students learn. Their continued attendance at the MPLC monthly
meetings and continually grappling with hard classroom problems
demonstrated their perseverance. Their analysis skills were observed as the
MPLC members explored and probed the data they collected. Through all the
hard decisions made by the group, respect for one another, helping each other in
the group provided evidence of their camaraderie. These findings can be
subsumed within the three Big Ideas of DuFour (2004). Dedication to students
was modeled by the MPLC teachers in the first Big Idea of ensuring that all
students learn. They focused their meeting objectives on increasing student
success with mathematics. Perseverance was found in each of the three Big
Ideas as the members of the MPLC worked their way through educational issues
in order to ensure that their students learned mathematical content and were
successful with it beyond their classes. *****
During years two and three of the MPLC, as described in this case study,
the MPLC members did not continue to implement an analysis of data results to
measure student success for their schools nor did they seek to find problems in
their curriculum. Their analysis skills, part of DuFours third Big Idea of
analyzing data results, were centered on their own classroom testing results in
which they identified problems for specific grades but no analysis was done of a
whole school. No patterns were examined to track where a concept was
missing. They had the skills to do data analysis, task analyzes of testing results
as evident from their first year of work and results. Application of those
analysis skills to learn more about their schools curriculum was not done in the
years that I observed their practice. The camaraderie was evident in all three Big
Ideas. The MPLC members assisted one another whenever there was a request
for help. They went to one anothers schools to help out with Family Math
Nights. They shared teaching manipulatives. They taught newer members how
to do data analyses of classroom test results. They supported one another
throughout the time of my observations.

Researchers Reflections. Reflecting on what the MPLC had


accomplished at the end of the 2012-2013 academic year, the teachers were
rather discouraged when they compared their work to the project they had
created in 2011-2012 - formative assessment by training students to use
advanced organizers that raised their students achievement scores. From my
notes, I shared with the teachers the monumental work that they had

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accomplished with their examination of the CCSSM standards for their classes
and how they implemented strategies that helped students learn meta-cognitive
processes in 2012-2013. They were now far ahead of those teachers who would
work with the standards for the first time in the fall of 2013.
In the third year of the MPLC, with the lack of selecting an objective for
the 2013-2014 school year at the last meeting of the prior school year and not
coming to an objective in the fall, the researcher started to examine if DuFours
(2004) Big Ideas were no longer motivating the MPLC. However, once the
members determined that planning and conducting Family Math Nights would
help each member of the MPLC, they shared their experiences, collected
activities, and event planning, they put their energies into creating a resource
book. When that work was done, they focused on results of each event to
determine what was best for each school. Once the members determined an
objective, DuFours (2004) three Big Ideas were activated and the group became
very productive contrary to my assumptions in the fall.

Evaluation
DuFours Characteristics used by the MPLC
Comparing the researchers observation notes with the three Big Ideas of
DuFour a focus on student learning, collaboration, and working with
assessment results, these MPLC members did utilize these elements (See Figures
1, 2, 3). There were some months when the teachers did not employ all three of
DuFours (2004) Big Ideas and these were the less productive months. Less
productive was defined as the teachers not having a knowledge product by the
end of the meeting.

Table 3
The Total Number of DuFours PLC Organizing Principles Used During the Three Year
Study.

DuFours Focus on Student Collaboration Using Assessment


Big Ideas Learning Results
# of Identified
Big Ideas used at 9 14 7
the meetings

Using DuFours Big Ideas


#1 - Ensuring that all students learn. A prominent characteristic of the
MPLC teachers, but coming in as the third Big Idea as far as teacher
implementation, was a dedication to increasing the achievement for each of their
students. They recognized the importance of providing solid background
knowledge in mathematics to each student. During the 2012-2013 year,
persevering through several months of work devoted to identifying what
mathematics content moved grade levels in the CCSSM, and what would be
needed to fill in the gaps in the various age groups, the teachers followed
DuFours (2004) first (ensuring that students learn) Big Idea.
In the second year, helping parents know what mathematics their
students were learning was a major theme of the Family Math Nights.
Throughout the semester, they scrutinized the summaries of what happened at

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each members Family Math Night regarding content presented at each grade
level, number of attendees, which grade levels had the most parent or guardians
attending, what incentives were provided to increase participation, which date
was selected and why. They explored ways to for the event to be more
productive and provide more information about the CCSSM for parents. To
fulfill their objective of having parents grasp the teaching changes required of
the CCSSM, the teachers added details to the Family Math Night events that had
parents trying to work on mathematical problems as taught through inquiry-
based practices.
Issues dealing with Ensuring that All Students Learn. Given the focal points
of standards and dealing with parents, the participants did not correlate the
results of the matching standards nor with parental involvement with student
assessment. Knowing what to teach and how to do that in ways that promote
the highest percentage of students achieving procedural fluency and content
knowledge were not examined. The MPLC did not collect any data that
provided evidence of changes in students testing scores based on their work
with CCSSM nor the involvement of parents.

#2 - A culture of collaboration. The camaraderie of the MPLC teachers


allowed for great trust within the group. The teachers freely shared their
successes and problems teaching mathematics. When one teacher brought forth
an issue with a student, several of the other members would share what they
had done with similar students to help the student learn or to remediate
learning. When another teacher noted that she had a student who would not
complete any work, the other members of the MPLC contributed their strategies
to motivate such a student. Motivational strategies such as time rewards,
allowing the student to use a prized math manipulative, or allowing the student
to use a specific book about mathematics that would be extracurricular such as
the Grapes of Math by Greg Tang (2004) were some of the suggestions to engage
students in the learning of mathematics. The sharing by the MPLC members
allowed them to realize that they were not alone in their struggles or in the
successes. They were able to share with one another their delights and burdens
of the teaching profession.
Goddard, Goddard, and Tschannen-Morse (2007) studied the impact of
teacher collaboration. In their study of 452 elementary teachers in 57 schools,
they found a positive correlation between teacher collaboration and an
improvement in student achievement in mathematics and reading. McClure
(2008) noted that when large schools allowed time for teacher collaboration, over
three years, there were substantial gains in academic scores. McClure noted that
new teachers, when offered the opportunity to become part of a collaborative
group of teachers, tended to remain in the profession and focus on student
achievement. The major importance of collaboration, McClure noted, was that it
empowered teachers.
Issues dealing with A Culture of Collaboration. One problem for this group
is that while it is very collaborative, the teachers are from several schools in the
area. There were pairs teachers from a couple of the schools, but when the
teachers represented grade levels from Kindergarten through eighth grade, their
sharing of ideas for teaching did not assist one another due to the

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developmental differences in the age span. The mathematical issues discussed


by the group usually centered around mathematical concepts of grades four
through eight. The kindergarten teachers did not participate verbally as much
as the upper grades teachers did. Once a second grade teacher joined the group,
these early childhood grades teachers had a very vocal spokesperson who
would try to make connections between what was being discussed and how the
early grades laid the ground work for that concept. All the teachers attended to
each speaker in the group with interest.

#3 - A focus on results. The identification of missing parts of the present


curriculum when compared to the CCSSM raised a prolonged debate about how
to evaluate the students in order to learn what in the students background
knowledge was missing and how to fill in those absent parts. Identifying these
analysis skills provided key elements that helped focus the work of the MPLC in
2012-2013. The commitment to accomplishing Big Idea three (focus on results)
doing the analysis work of the CCSSM could not accomplished during that
academic year since the CCSSM implementation would not occur until the
following academic year.
The teachers analysis skills used when examining the CCSSM were very
different from the analyses of the Family Math Night summaries. Their analyses
of the Family Math Nights followed the lines of Lesson Study as described by
Lewis (2002). The Family Math Nights were examined for specific points of
information that overlapped in the plans for each schools event and how to
improve the impact of the activities.
Issues surrounding Focusing on Results. There was a distinct lack of using
recorded data in years two and three of the MPLC. Their work correlating
standards was not tested. While they did a good job finding the shifts made to
the mathematical content areas, they did not compare testing results. They were
very concerned with laying the ground work for concepts and discussed this
multiple meeting times. There was never a discussion of testing the new
standards and examining how their order impacted their students. Perhaps,
they were waiting for the high stakes tests to see how these new standards
would be tested. At the meetings, no mention was made of using the classroom
testing results nor of the high stakes testing results to inform their work.

Conclusions
The distinctive elements of this MPLC were the focus and dedication of
the members of the MPLC. All the teachers continuously reflected on their
practice and how to help all students reach higher levels of academic success
which was noted by Darling-Hammond in 1996. The teachers kept up with
changes in their profession with continuous research, readings, and attendance
at professional development seminars elements identified by Danielson (2007)
as means to grow professionally. They brought back ideas presented in these
sources to the MPLC to discuss and help improve the practice of the whole
group. The members were definitely committed to taking on new
responsibilities that the MPLC determined would help their students achieve at
higher levels.

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While belonging to a professional learning community that meets on a


regular monthly basis is time consuming, the benefits to its members are
extensive. This MPLC drew its members from four schools which is not the
ideal according to Louis and Kruse (1995). These teachers came together and
found support for their work. Their collaboration introduced multiple teaching
strategies to one another. They were problem solvers for issues that arose
regarding the teaching of mathematics at their schools. The teachers found a
sanctuary in the MPLC where they could confide their teaching problems and
hear several possible solutions. The meetings took time away from the teachers
lives, but gave them rich resources, fellowship, and helped them work on best
methods to increase student learning in their classes.
MPLCs can be started in any school where there are teachers willing to
commit to the three big ideas of DuFour (2004). Starting with one academic
area helps focus the participants and engages those most interested in extending
their professional development in that content area. Administrators can benefit
from the work of a PLC by allowing the PLC autonomy to select their area of
focus and offering assistance by providing meeting space for the group.
Helping the members of the PLC to implement the results of their work helps
schools to improve ensuring DuFours (2004) first big idea becomes a reality -
that students learn.

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