Volume:6, Issue: 2

Sep. 1, 2014

The Influence of Sociocultural Factors on the Process of Training Future Teachers: Experience, Risks and Perspectives
Alexandrova, Ekaterina A [about]

KEY WORDS: sociocultural factors, a culturally-related style, undergraduate and graduate studies, an individual approach to education, a tutor, a modern lecture, seminars, a different type of communication with students.

ABSTRACT: The paper analyzes the impact of modern sociocultural factors on the implementation of local educational reforms, on the changes in strategies and methods of training future teachers at the undergraduate and graduate level.


The goal of this paper is to analyze how sociocultural factors influence the implementation of local educational reforms on university faculty and in particular on those who are involved in future teachers’ training. The most prominent influence of these factors became apparent because of the transition from a 5-year degree program that trains specialists to a two-tier education that includes bachelors’ and masters’ degree courses.

A formal transition has been successful but the biggest risk of sustaining the same instruction type remains. It means that a teaching process still preserves an informative-controlling nature when university instructors prefer to deal with large groups of students rather than with individuals.

However, the individualization of higher education has become, without exaggeration, the top priority for a modern labor market, as training mass professions is gradually decreasing and is more and more pushed into the background. Today, even employees, who simply have to follow a set of instructions, need to acquire, along with knowledge, professional traits and key individual competences. In this situation the success of every university graduate depends less on a student’s amount of knowledge and more on the ability to solve problems differently, being able to obtain knowledge independently.

One’s professional growth implies realization of personal capacities and development of individual key competences in combination with a high level of general and communication culture. Meanwhile, acquiring the basics of the same profession, people develop into different professionals and tend to view their work differently.

It is the reason of the society’s message to the universities – to embrace students’ diversity as a virtue and to try setting individual approaches that would ‘fit’ every student. This problem can be solved in different ways that include applying methods of individual work to a common practice and an individual approach to education in general; a continuation of putting students together into one group based on their intellectual potential; and finally, composing alternative programs. More often than not, the university faculty faces the necessity to intensify an instruction process without being given an extra number of classes and as a result, increasing the workload of students outside the classroom.

The governmental demand to provide such type of education has been declared, and we already possess a number of well-developed concepts and strategies that allow using an individual approach based on the recognition of uniqueness and respect for the individuality in the process of education.

In spite of the interest to various aspects of this problem, the analysis of existing educational theory and practice shows that the individualization of education has not yet become the object of a wide-spread theoretical and methodological reflection and an appropriate practical implementation. The primary reason is that most university faculty still do not fully embrace the concept of individualization in order to make it one of their professional and personal priorities. For them to turn their attention and to gradually utilize this concept, they will need to consider its theoretical aspects, before they can acquire practical skills in working with students on an individual basis.

The situational analysis allows to conclude that the transformation of the individualization of education from the state of tendencies to the state of fully-realized concepts and strategies would demand accepting and implementing a number of different organizational approaches and methods. Among those there should be a formation of an adequate educational environment; a teaching process based on variations including different means of curriculum development and realization; an application of a new approach to the system of lectures and seminars; and a different type of students’ work. In addition, the entire university environment should be reorganized to enable a more complete self-realization together with structural changes in the system of assessment [1].

At the same time it would be wrong to consider variations of the teaching process an end in itself. Variability is not a goal, but a means of individualization. Sometimes the excessive love for variations, and a strict adherence to the modern fashion requirements become harmful for individualized elements of education and deprive students of academic and sometimes, geographical mobility as well.

A solution to this problem comes with the changes in a university cultural environment and with the acceptance of the importance of individualizing professional training given to future schoolteachers.

Our practical experience shows that traditional monotonous “dictating” lectures-monologues (we do not mean brilliant and exceptional monologues that due to their rich content and lecturers’ manner emotionally and intellectually inspire the audience) and seminars oriented towards checking home assignments, presented in a "Q & A" format do not allow faculty to develop competences that are required for graduates of colleges and schools of education.

Moreover, we have to remember that students today differ a lot from previous generations. The sociocultural changes resulted in developing young people who experience living in an open information society and communicating with various age groups, representing different cultures.

Our experience proves the necessity to establish a direct, practice-oriented communication process between undergraduate students and their instructors, and even more so, between graduate students and the university faculty. Young people do not only wish to successfully finish the class and receive their credits (although there are always some who do), but search for answers to the questions, “What do I need it for?” and “How can I use it in my practical activities with future students?”

Working with undergraduate and graduate students has changed our understanding. We now believe in the necessity to revise not only the content of the teachers’ training program, but also its goals, means, and the structure of communication with future teachers. We had to reconsider our general approach to delivering lectures, conducting seminars, and arranging for independent studies. It is evident to me that a modern lecture should become oriented towards problem solving and reflection, while a seminar should imply not only narrations that comprise reproductions of the facts, but also conversations that allow a collective search for multiple solutions to different educational precedents. Finally, independent studies should be transformed from making written notes from different sources into an active participation in the lives of schoolchildren and also into an analytical reflection.

The most effective, from our point of view, is, not a linear presentation of the content of education-related disciplines but the combination of concentric and ‘spiral-dotted’ problem thinking.

In this regard, a starting point of the conversation that might grow into a genuine reflection on certain, typical for young people, issues or into a debate on some particular cases should be specified educational precedents dealing with which will lead to a conversation on various methods, strategies or ways of teaching and educating children of all ages. While delivering a course in the theory of education, it is important to leave some spots blank, to inspire an independent search for answers, and to challenge ‘probing’ different variants. This is also one of the reasons to stimulate a productive comparative analysis of various educational practices based on different educational cases at the undergraduate level. While at the graduate level, students should turn their attention to a more conceptualized reflection of educational theories and to starting a search for their professional self-development. 

It may sound strange but a reduction of academic hours provided for teaching “Theory of Education,” and an increase of the amount of time spent on independent studies help to realize this intention. Lectures can no longer be of just an informative type, and the nature of individual studies should also change - not every written assignment has a creative nature. I mean such essays as, “An educational heritage of… ” where dots could be filled in with the name of any famous educator. Access to multiple sources of information and xerox machines makes such assignments meaningless.

In other words, when we suggest that a student compose a paper, its topic should be motivating and challenging for an independent analytical thinking. For example, in graduate programs # 050100 “Pedagogical Education” while studying the field of an educational support of the child in his/her formational years we suggest the following topics: “A tutor and a coach: similarities and differences, risks and perspectives,” “University tutoring and its modern features,” and “How to minimize the risks of a tutor’s intervention.” Regardless of the topic, any essay should become a subject of debates, discussions, and reflection and as a result, develop the ability to use one’s arguments, defend one’s position, listen to and hear an opinion of another person.

Assignments for independent studies at the undergraduate and graduate levels are very different – for the former we provide different problem-solving situations which have elements of project-planning and comparative analysis. For the latter the assignments are of a more complicated nature, they are comprised mostly of comparative analysis, projecting educational activities, developing a multilevel educational environment, and doing research. In other words, everything which will allow not only to analyze theoretical approaches and practical experience of different authors but also to suggest their own ideas to resolve difficult situations and educational precedents.

Here are some examples of questions for graduate independent studies and self-evaluation: Is it possible to provide individualization of instruction within the traditional school system (founded by Comenius)? Which ideas that help to provide an individual approach in teaching seem most promising to you and why? Is it possible to build an educational process based only on the model by D. Bolz, and if possible, why? Ideas of which authors can be combined in the educational sphere of individualization? What are the risks of educational activities that be minimized? How to determine the degree of one’s own professionalism? What can be done if you understand that you have reached the limit of your professionalism? What are the signs of a successful tutor? Should or must the tutor become a coach for oneself?

Here are some examples of practice-oriented assignments: Create 3-4 ads that are most productive for the individualization of education. Develop a draft of an innovative infrastructure of the school individualized education. Show the details of how the educational process is organized there. Compose an algorithm, which will allow to develop an individual education plan and a program. Make a diagram of the structure of an individual educational trajectory. Develop the most appropriate individual educational plan for the next six months, using various forms of individualization. How is it different from your previous plan for independent learning?

As you can tell from the last assignment, independent studies at the graduate level are oriented not only towards growing all the necessary professional competences, but also towards planning for personal and professional self-education and self-development.

Changes have been also made within the sphere of field practice for undergraduate students, especially at the level of assessment criteria. Those competencies that are incorporated in the existing standards of higher professional education of future teachers should become the foundation of such criteria. Besides, if earlier we emphasized a number of class meetings and their duration while evaluating the quality of the students’ field practice, today such criteria might sound wrong or at least out of place.

Traditionally, during their field practice, students are supposed to conduct extracurricular activities that are intended to entertain children and to satisfy their basic needs in receiving joy, adventures, competitions, and communication with others. In this situation the results of field practice can be evaluated by qualitative measures: for example, a homeroom teacher’s meeting with students in the form of storytelling (this is the easiest type – almost repeating the structure of a typical lesson), in the form of competitions and contests (this is more difficult) or in the form of discussions/debates. If a teacher-in-training is organizing extracurricular activities aimed to develop moral traits of students, then the evaluation would be different depending on the format — a meeting with an invited guest, a story, or a discussion. It is also important to define whether or not a student is arranging an ongoing observation and analysis of a class or extracurricular activities, or an educational precedent, or a child’s behavior, whether this analysis is based just on facts or has a reflective nature. Of no less importance is whether a teacher-in-training is making notes in his/her own personal journal, whether these notes only describe the events or analyze them and finally whether a future teacher can formulate recommendations to a child, his/her parents, school teachers, — this will be a demonstration of a future teacher’s ability to define risks and perspectives of educational activities.

It is also important to remark upon how to teach History of Education today. In our opinion, issues of how education has been developed should be included into the process of studying theory of education and didactics. For example, when we study strategies and methods of education, it makes sense to offer an assignment for independent studies — to compose a table that will compare gender and sociocultural aspects of education, methods of education in different epochs, etc.

Our experience shows that modern young people prefer such forms of professional education that allow meetings of undergraduate and graduate students together along with schoolteachers, university tutors, and university faculty. It is worth reminding the reader of the words of a famous psychologist Victor Slobodchikov, “If a personality is revealed while meeting with other people, then an individuality is a meeting with oneself, with oneself but ‘Different’, not the same with one’s own previous self, and different with others if judged by the contents of one’s former life.” [2.354-355]

It looks like the current sociocultural situation demands, as the appropriate, an organization of multi-age problem-discussion-developing meetings of teachers-in-training and developed professionals, university instructors, and the public. The methodological foundation of such meetings is provided by openness, individualization, and an environmental productive approach to higher professional education. In practice it demands creating an individual trajectory of professional education for both undergraduate and graduate students and what is important, not only within the educational environment but also within the wider space where a university is just one of the elements along with other city and regional institutions.

In other words sociocultural factors actively influence the professional approaches of university faculty and their acceptance of necessity of having a tutor specifically assigned for future teachers. Functional responsibilities of such a tutor should be different from those of a tutor in any other sphere of higher professional education [3].

The difference is a tutor of future teachers should pay more attention to an individual approach in instruction and education, in organizing meetings of undergraduate and graduate students with different individuals discussing personal trajectories of learning. In contrast, a tutor of any other students’ group should mostly pay attention to organizing learning and extracurricular activities of undergraduate students making the process of adaptation to professional education and socialization easier. Graduate students, in our opinion, mostly need a tutor-organizer and a tutor-academic supervisor.

To conclude, while looking of how to modernize vocational pedagogical education in its undergraduate and graduate programs, we suggest to use the method adopted in 1355 by the decree of the Paris University on “How to conduct lectures”:

“While using the first method (lecture - E. A.) Masters of Philosophy quickly speak from their pulpits, so that the mind of the audience could perceive their words, but the hand cannot write them down. While the second method allows to speak slowly that students are able to make notes in the presence of lecturers. After comparing and analyzing both methods, the first was recognized as the best because the ability of the ordinary mind, expressed in the formation of concepts in advance indicates the desirability to imitate it in our readings. Therefore, we ... carried out the following resolution: All lecturers ... should follow the first method of delivering a lecture in order to fully develop the abilities (of listeners – E.A.), in other words, conducting lectures in this way, regardless of the ability of the listeners to take notes in their presence ... Violators of this decision ... will be deprived of their positions as lecturers for one year, as well as denied their honors and other positions ... And the audience that would try to intervene in the execution of this decision ... would be also deprived of our communication with them and eliminated from our environment for one year ...”[4].

Moreover, it is necessary to prepare a new type of assignments for classroom and independent studies that would lead to developing creativity in future teachers. A new type of assessing the results of their field practice should be also introduced.

The impact of sociocultural factors on the organizational and structural changes in higher professional education is a qualitative transformation of methods and forms of tutors’ work in student groups and an introduction of tutoring as a special culture of interaction between a professional and a learner, an interaction more implicit than explicit especially for outsiders, not included into the process of interaction.

References

  1. Krylova N.B., Alexandrova E.A. (2003). Ocherky ponimayuschei pedagogiki (Essays on the pedagogy that understands). M .: Education. 450 p.
  2. Alexandrova E.A. (2013). Tjutorstvo kak kulturnaya professionalnaya praktika, sovmeschayuschaya psikhologicheskoye i pedagogicheskoye soprovozhdenije obuchayuschauschegosya v sovremennoy obrazovatelnoy sisteme. (Tutoring as a cultural professional practice, combining psychological and educational support of learners in the modern educational system). Education. Science. Innovation: South dimension. No 2. 59-63.
  3. Slobodchikov, V. and Isaev, Eu. (1995). Psikhologiya cheloveka (The Psychology of a human being). Moscow: School-Press. 354-355.
  4. Antologiya pedagogicheskoy mysli khristianskogo srednevekovya (The anthology of the eductaional thought of the mediavel Christianity) (1994). Moscow. 209-210.

1 This research and paper was supported by the grant from the Russian Governmental Scientific Foundation, project No 13-06-00704.

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