News from the program "Learning Sciences"

Please find here the interview with Erik Meij

23-02-2021 | 13:38

Interview with Erik Meij
 
For 20 years Erik Meij is educating students to become chemistry teachers when he decided to do a Master in educational sciences. Already in his Master, he started to think about what do teachers know about learning? He continued investigating this topic in his current PhD by trying to answer what learning concepts do teachers use to make their daily decisions when preparing classes. Read more about his research in the interview.
 
What is your research about?
During my time as a teacher educator, I was curious about how learning works. How is all the information we teach stored, processed, and ordered? In my Master, I started to investigate, what do teachers know about learning? If education is about learning, the teacher should be the person who knows most about learning and how to facilitate learning in students. As a teacher educator, you are responsible to educate the next generation of teachers. We teach them many learning concepts but I started to wonder, do my students remember those concepts three to five years later when preparing their classes?
 
In my Master thesis, I interviewed some of my teacher educator colleagues about what learning concepts they have in mind when teaching their students. Do they create their lessons around the learning theories we teach to our students? In those interviews, I realized that everyone had an idea of some models or learning theories but those theories were not relevant for their daily decisions in class. Still, a lot of those teachers create good lessons. I was starting to wonder if teachers rather have subconscious ideas about learning and teaching - implicit knowledge and beliefs about how teaching should be done. From this, I started to develop my research question and asked, ‘what principles and convictions do teachers have when preparing their day-to-day classes? What ideas or principles are steering their daily decisions in class?’ This is what I am currently working on in my PhD.
 
How do you investigate this?
First, I did an investigation into eight different teacher education programs across the Netherlands. I conducted interviews with the teacher educators and asked them about what learning theories they teach, how they teach them, and what they think is the role and purpose of these theories. All interviewees answered that it is important to teach learning theories but at the same time all of them doubt whether it indeed will influence their students' way of teaching.
 
In my second study, I am planning to launch a survey among teachers to shine light upon the learning principles that teachers subconsciously hold. We are currently preparing this study.
 
How do you plan to measure their subconscious beliefs?
Measuring the subconscious is difficult. We develop a questionnaire that consists of two parts. In the first part, we try to measure implicit beliefs about learning with an implicit association task. In the second part, the teachers have to elaborate more on their ideas about learning in think-aloud interviews. Hopefully, the combination of both results will provide insight.
 
What inspires you to do this research?
I’m a curious person. I started my career as a chemist and I conducted research in chemistry for 15 years. Then I switched to education. When you start as a teacher, you are very busy with the teaching itself, making material, and finding out what works well with the students. But after some years I asked myself more and more, how does teaching work? what influences my daily decisions when creating a lesson? I enjoy the most to conduct research that is relevant to the practice. What I am doing now, may not be used immediately, but it is very much connected to my daily work as a teacher educator. I hope that with my research we will be able to improve the education of teachers in the long run.
 
Why did you become a teacher educator?
I feel I have always been the teacher. When I was working in chemistry research, I always knew that one day I would become a teacher. Twenty years later it still feels like a good decision.