What is it? Why is it important? For whom? Am I going to work on it alone?
I aim to design a learning environment or experience that focuses on teachers’ professional development in Iceland. My reasoning is that continued education of teachers is equally (if not more) important as formal schooling that leads to a degree. Anchoring the ideas and theories to a real life experience in the classroom, not to mention being able to test those ideas right away, increases the likelihood of the learning experience having a positive effect on the participating teacher.
At the moment, there are two problems that I am interested in, but needs-analysis and the design process will determine if I will be able to address them both. If that is not the case, I will focus on the first problem.
The first one is related to the gap between cognitive science research on learning and actual lesson planning and teaching in the classrooms. This gap is a known problem all over the world but on top of that, I believe that pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) is specially not integrated enough into the modern classrooms in Iceland. Through my own professional development, I have often been spoon fed ideas and tools that are based on learning theories and cognitive science, without anyone explaining in detail the research or thinking behind them. There are some courses, within the the School of Education (University of Iceland), where pedagogical content knowledge and cognitive science comes up according to syllabus, but I will have to research their content. Even if that will result in an extensive introduction to cognitive science and learning, those classes do not benefit the bigger part of the teachers working in Iceland today. Due to my experience in social science, I would focus my design on bridging the gap between what cognitive and learning science have discovered in relation to historical thinking and actually teaching the subject in the classroom.
The second problem focuses on subject teachers in grades 8-10, that have limited opportunities to interact with other educators who teach the same subject. In many cases the problem lies in the fact that there’s only one teacher for that subject in the school but other reasons can contribute to the problem. Social science, natural science and foreign languages (English and Danish) are the subjects that are most likely to fall into that category, not to mention arts and crafts. Because of the limited number of teachers, the focus of professional development is often very broad and teachers are asked to adapt their learning to individual subjects instead of having learning experiences that are aimed specially at the problems they face. Again, because I am a social science teacher, I would focus my design on that subject.
I have started working on an e-survey, which I plan to send to social science teachers in grades 6-10 in Iceland. I plan to examine two things in the survey: 1) teachers’ wishes for professional development in relation to social science and how they would like that to be conducted and 2) if they believe they have enough understanding of how their students learn history in relation to cognitive and learning sciences. The second part of the survey is turning out to be my biggest challenge at this point.
Although I believe in the power of peer team work, I don’t think this particular project would benefit from it, seeing as I my target audience is an isolated group of teachers in my home country. The only way is if a similar survey and design would be implemented for social science teachers in the home country of my fellow student. I do however believe it would benefit me to pair up with another student who was looking into the same learning theories for his/her project.