Uncharted waters await two NWU researchers
Two North-West University (NWU) researchers will navigate uncharted waters with their research, using fourth-generation cultural-historical activity theories (CHAT) to find solutions to the complex educational problems confronting South Africa.
Prof Elsa Mentz and Prof Josef de Beer from the research focus area Self-directed Learning are working on a project, Teachers Without Borders, that focuses on the professional development of natural science teachers. CHAT is a research lens that provides a nuanced view of research data.
Prof De Beer says third-generation CHAT was championed by Prof Yrjö Engeström of Finland, the world’s leading CHAT scholar. Prof Yrjö has indicated that their research is moving towards fourth-generation CHAT, meaning they are breaking new ground.
“CHAT is especially useful in complex systems such as education, where various factors influence teaching and learning,” says Prof De Beer. “It can be used to analyse professional practices and develop new ideas on how to improve future practices.”
He says short learning programmes (SLPs) are being offered to teachers throughout the country on how to use indigenous knowledge to make abstract science more accessible to learners.
These SLPs are conceptualised so as to enhance self-directed learning among teachers. They have to identify resources to facilitate their own learning, plan strategies for their learning goals and assess their own learning.
Prof Mentz and Prof De Beer use CHAT to analyse the data obtained from SLP courses that have been offered in Limpopo, Gauteng, Northern Cape and North West.
They recently presented a seminar at the University of Helsinki that focused on how third-generation CHAT assists in identifying “tensions” that negatively affect the transfer of knowledge and skills in school classrooms.
Prof De Beer says their research shows that teachers often revert back to transmission-mode teaching and learning. Reasons for this include work schedules that teachers have to adhere to and pressure from principals and parents to “teach to the test” to ensure good examination results.
In taking their research to the next level, Prof De Beer says the plan is to use Change Laboratories* and fourth-generation CHAT to analyse multiple stakeholder relationships and activity systems. Their aim will be to find solutions to the complex educational problems that schooling in South Africa faces.
“This is mostly uncharted waters but we are excited, with a good dash of anxiety, about this new undertaking.”
*Change laboratories is a process that involves all interest groups to solve a specific problem that needs change on different levels and from different perspectives.
Prof Josef de Beer, Prof Elsa Mentz and Prof Yrjö Engeström at the University of Helsinki in Finland