Aims

What were the main aims of the initiative?

This study focuses on information technology (IT) teachers’ perceptions of opportunities for action (also called affordances), which occur during English-medium education in a multilingual university setting (EMEMUS) in Austria.

The main aim is to generate a conceptual model to understand the perceptions of IT teachers involved in this case study. The author also aimed to facilitate a shift in perspective among those engaged in English-medium teaching.

Findings suggest that teachers perceive opportunities for action (affordances) on four analytical levels - at the framing, reacting, appropriating and embracing stages. They were found to plan their classroom practices in line with these emergent action possibilities. The perception process largely depended on their own subjective grounds for action and reflection, but also involved transformative talks. Personal agency, internalised societal patterns and the positivist concept of institutional rules were identified as the biggest limitations.

Themes

The proposed affordances model not only appears to offer a potentially useful vantage point from which to engage in further educational research, but also has important practical, theoretical and methodological implications.

Background

Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

This study was conducted at an Austrian university of applied sciences among IT teachers who engage in English-medium instruction. They teach in multi-culturally diverse classrooms and hence need to perceive a variety of action possibilities that will allow them to address a diverse student body effectively.

ISSUES ADDRESSED

What issues/challenges does the example address?

In view of the current transformation processes that impact society and its structures, this example examines changed practices in higher education institutions. More specifically, it investigates how academic staff faced with a growing body of multicultural students perceive, react to and act upon opportunities for action that open up for internationalist teachers.

For this reason, special attention was paid to the theory of affordances or opportunities for action. This research sought to create this affordance model and to facilitate a shift in perspective among internationalist science teachers. To demonstrate the analytical application of this perceptual model, two teachers were positioned within this conceptual framework to show its potential for the understanding of cultural and pedagogical parameters that are vital for improved context-sensitive classroom management in EMEMUS.

 

Implementation

How was the Initiative implemented?

This longitudinal study lasted from the academic year 2011 to 2014. During this time, IT teachers were observed and interviewed to find out how they handle the classroom management of a culturally diverse student population. Although both domestic and international students played a role in generating the grounded theory, the major focus was on the teachers themselves.

KEY OUTCOMES & IMPACT

What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

Findings leading to the perceptual model suggest that teachers perceive international classroom affordances or opportunities for action on four analytical levels (at the framing, reacting, appropriating and embracing stages). They were found to plan their classroom practices in line with these emergent action possibilities. The perception process largely depended on teachers’ subjective grounds for action and reflection, but transformative discussions also contributed. Personal agency, internalised societal patterns and the positivist concept of institutional rules were identified as the biggest limitations in the English-medium education of a multi-culturally diverse student population.

EVALUATION

Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

This study was conducted as PhD research which showed that teachers perceive action possibilities at different levels and that they need to plan them to further grasp meta-affordances (opportunities for action) that allow them to improve their classroom management.

The main challenges were the breadth of the research area and the fact that there was no clear-cut research question from the outset. Therefore, the grounded theory approach appeared the most fruitful avenue to pursue. By generating this model, it was possible to find a number of answers regarding how internationalist teachers perceive, react to and act upon action possibilities presented during teaching practices.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS / SUSTAINABILITY

Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

At a number of conferences, it has been stated that this model appears to be feasible and should be extended and tested in contexts that go beyond internationalist teachers. In view of the diversity of today’s academic world, this model should also be tested beyond English-medium instruction.

LEARNING POINTS

What are the main learning points?

The model itself appears to have wider application from the context studied in terms of its four stages. One major advantage could be that it can be communicated to teachers who engage in English-medium instruction. In this sense, internationalist teachers may gain a better understanding of the significance of a more holistic approach to classroom management and inclusive and culturally-sensitive teaching and learning practices.

At the outset, teachers did not see the need to go beyond their comfort zones and refused to draw on counter-intuitive contextualised knowledge for their teaching practices. A reconstruction of their internalised knowledge and engagement of meta-learning development (especially through intensive involvement with the model) was found to be as crucial as the linguistic ability to engage in English-medium instruction. With regard to the ethnocentric blocking of domestic students, but also in view of internationalist teachers’ entrenched and tacit localised practices, a culturally-sensitive perspective is required: one that embraces classroom management for the sake of all students.

In order to engage teachers in this self-reflective process, it is vital to raise their awareness both with regard to their own cultural framing, and also with regard to their students’ diverse backgrounds. Critical incidents and classroom observations, which students can collaboratively discuss and reflect upon, are used for this purpose. In this way, it is hoped that a change of perspective and social practices in international classrooms can be improved for the benefit of all stakeholders. Such a shift in awareness will hopefully not only increase micro-practices, such as classroom management, but also allow for more informed decisions on a meso-level, be it with regard to internationalisation strategies or the introduction of English-medium courses.

Materials

Are there further information about supporting materials?

All of Martina Gaisch’s research on affordances is available on ResearchGate: www.researchgate.net/profile/Martina_Gaisch

ContacT

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Martina Gaisch

Professor of English and intercultural competence and Diversity Manager at the University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria

 

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