Applied competence in a distance learning programme for the professional development of foundation phase teachers
Kruger, Corné Gerda
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The ongoing debate about the capacity of distance learning (DL) to assist in the development of teaching skills and to improve teaching practice is the focus of many inquiries in the field of teacher education. The practice-based nature of Foundation Phase teaching poses unique challenges for professional development of teachers through DL programmes. In order to address inadequacies identified in the literature and previous research, a practical component was designed and included in the revised version of the Advanced Certificate: Education - Foundation Phase, as part of a bursary project. In 2011 the Northern Cape Department of Education (NCDoE) enrolled 50 practising Foundation Phase teachers for this distance learning programme as the first of three cohorts in the bursary project. A learning portfolio and audio-visual resources, designed according to principles derived from previous research and related literature, formed part of this practical component. The aim was to support teacher applied competence through developing pedagogical content knowledge, self-directedness, and a professional attitude, and through guiding the application of new knowledge and skills in practice. The completed portfolios further served as an instrument for the assessment of teacher performance with regard to applied competence. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the value of the practical component of the revised Foundation Phase ACE programme delivered by the NWU via distance learning with specific focus on the way this component facilitates the development of applied competence and the way the portfolio provides for the assessment of professional classroom competencies of practising Foundation Phase teachers. The study further aimed to put forward a model for the development of applied practice based on the findings of the study. In order to attain the aims of the study, the literature was explored to firstly determine the elements which contribute to applied competence in effective teacher professional development programmes. The literature was further explored to determine what the body of scholarship indicates with respect to programme design features that support applied competence in DL programmes for teacher professional development. An implementation evaluation study was then conducted on the programme by collecting data from 50 Foundation Phase teachers as the first of three cohorts enrolled for the bursary project. Data were primarily collected through multiple qualitative methods including a focus-group interview, individual interviews, written expectations as well as open ended questions of questionnaires. Descriptive data were also collected through semi-structured questionnaires. Qualitative data were analysed through content analysis to determine the theoretical and conceptual implications of the profile and teaching context of the Northern Cape Foundation Phase teacher enrolled for the DL Foundation Phase ACE programme, the expectations of these teachers regarding the way the practical component would support their applied competence in their contexts, and the teachers’ experiences of the way the programme component supported the development of their applied competence. The study further determined the extent to which the learning portfolios interrogate the elements of applied competence. Quantitative data collected through semi-structured questionnaires were statistically analysed and served to support the interpretation of qualitative data. The investigation was approached from a constructivist paradigm; an approach that falls under an interpretivist philosophical orientation. Although quantitative methods were used to gather descriptive statistical data in support of the qualitative data, the study is grounded in qualitative research methodology where the concern is with the formative evaluation of the DL programme component The findings strongly confirm the value of such a practical component as part of a DL programme to support the elements of applied competence. However, the way the programme accommodates teacher profiles and teaching contexts will greatly influence the sustainability of the programme outcomes in practice. The findings further show that the portfolio as instrument for the assessment of applied competence requires careful planning and should provide strong guidance in the reflective process to support sustained outcomes of the programme in practice. A suggested model for a DL programme for the professional development of Foundation Phase teachers is based on the findings of the study.
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