Title: Open-ended science and technology learning environments. Challenges for pupils, teachers and researchers.
Other Titles: Open leeromgevingen met betrekking tot wetenschap en techniek. Uitdagingen voor leerlingen, leerkrachten en onderzoekers.
Authors: Thys, Miranda
Issue Date: 29-Jun-2016
Abstract: In the literature, the need for high-quality activities, projects and professional initiatives to engage primary school pupils and teachers in (learning of and teaching in) science and technology (S&T) is widely recognised. Learning environments in which students are given high levels of autonomy, among them project- (Barak & Raz, 1998; Barak & Doppelt, 2000), inquiry- (Furtak, Seidel, Iverson, & Briggs, 2012) and design-based learning environments (Fortus, Dershimer, Krajcik, Marx, & Mamlok-Naaman, 2004), can contribute to pupils’ engagement (Wurdinger, Haar, Hugg, & Bezon, 2007). Despite the promising effects of these ‘open-ended’ S&T learning environments, until now the conditions for their effectiveness were not thoroughly investigated. It cannot be assumed that the teacher and pupils immediately find their new role when implementing such learning environments. This doctoral dissertation wanted to disentangle the decisive factors for a successful implementation of such an environment in Flemish and Dutch primary classrooms.
In particular, the aims of this doctoral research were twofold. Firstly, with two studies (studies 1 and 4) the research aimed to investigate the existing literature on instruments to assess the quality of S&T learning environments, particularly project-based S&T environments, as well as to contribute to instrument development. Study 1, a review study with regard to the instruments in the field, revealed that a variety of scales, items and questions exists. The review study helps researchers in the field to make a choice when they aim particular aspects of the S&T learning environment, and stimulates to compose new instruments with scales of which the operationalisation fits best with their goals. In the intervention research as conducted in studies 2 and 3, we even went a step further. As in the profound literature search to instruments an instrument that comprehensively evaluates the teacher’s role was not found, a high-quality observation tool, the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS) (Pianta et al., 2012), was selected to measure teacher style – operationalized as the quality of the interactions. At the same time, the use of this instrument provided the opportunity to optimise the Adult Style Observation Schedule (ASOS) (Laevers & Heylen, 2013), a tool developed at the Centre for Experiential Education to measure teacher style (Study 4). The results of the concurrent validity analyses showed that the relationships of the CLASS dimensions with the ASOS dimensions that were expected on the basis of a profound theoretical analysis of the dimensions and their operationalisation, were not univocally found. In particular, the ASOS dimension Stimulation showed congruence with the CLASS dimension Content Understanding, and the ASOS dimension Sensitivity correlated with the CLASS dimension Positive Climate. No evidence emerged for the convergence of the Giving Autonomy dimension of the ASOS with similar CLASS dimensions.
Secondly, in two empirical studies (studies 2 and 3), the effectiveness of the implementation of an open-ended S&T learning environment, the Village@School project, and factors related to this effectiveness and the implementation, were investigated. In Study 2, pupils’ evolution in engagement was studied and possible explaining factors in teachers’ competence profile – their attitudes towards S&T (teaching) and teacher style – for the differences between schools and/or classes with regard to this evolution were explored. The main findings of this study indicated that (a) pupils grew in their engagement throughout the implementation of the Village@School project and (b) the growth in engagement, as measured before and after the project, was positively related to Teacher Sensitivity, but negatively to Positive Climate and Content Understanding when controlling for other CLASS dimensions. In Study 3 at first the way in which the teacher’s attitudes and style before the project determined the style during Village@School, was explored. The results revealed a positive association between the initial emotional support provided and the quality of emotional support during Village@School when controlling for the teacher’s attitudes and the other CLASS- domains. Under the same conditions a negative relation was found with Classroom Organisation and the attitude towards inquiry learning. Finally, the evolution in teachers’ competence profile throughout and after the intervention was investigated. After the project, teachers didn’t grow in their attitudes in comparison to before, but classes showed better interactions involving Regard for Student Perspectives and Quality of Feedback. Surprisingly, a growth in Negative Climate was detected. The findings of studies 2 and 3 were discussed in the light of the challenges involved in the implementation of the Village@School project.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:Experiental Education
Instructional Psychology and Technology

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