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LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT EXPERIENCE OF TAIWANESE STUDENTS IN THE SECONDARY EDUCATION PROGRAM.

The aim of Secondary Education Program (SEP) is to foster middle school teachers. With the declining birth rate in Taiwan, the demand for teachers in middle schools is diminishing. Hence, the competition for the few openings is keen. Therefore, SEP should foster those in-training students who are enthusiastic about education and with qualified professional capabilities to fit in the competitive teacher market and the complicated campus environment.

In Taiwan, students enrolled in the SEP (one division in the teacher education program) will be receiving trainings to become a junior, senior or vocational high school teacher. They will acquire the knowledge, attitude, and skills to teach and guide adolescent students in their future career. SEP students will also be trained to comprehend characteristics of adolescence and foster relationships in order to help them enhance their learning and tackle difficulties. Thus, students' experiences in SEP has been regarded as essential for their teaching career. An exploration of these experiences is critical for comprehending how they prepare themselves to teach and guide adolescence. This study aimed to describe learning and development of students in SEP. The research question was: What and how would students describe their learning and development in SEP?

Literature Review

In Taiwan, existing literature related to teacher education students tended to focus on solely one or a few dimensions, such as multicultural teaching (Chou & Yen, 2010; Tseng, 2011), service-learning (Chen, H. L., 2009), satisfaction with curriculum and teaching (Chen. 2017), and problems of teaching internship (Hsueh & Chu, 2007). The laws of teacher education were enacted in 1994 in Taiwan. Since then, teacher education (for primary and secondary school teachers) has been opened for general universities (in which diverse departments/schools within three or more colleges) instead of solely available in teacher colleges/universities (in which departments/schools set for cultivating primary and/or secondary school teachers). With the trend of fewer children enrolled in secondary schools and more teacher education programs in Taiwan, the competition for teacher recruitment becomes radical (Chou, 2009). Thus, students encounter critical challenges in completing the requirements of teacher education program and passing teacher certificate exam before they can reach recruitment phase.

SEP students come from various departments/schools at universities. In addition to their own majors, students take courses (at least 26 credit hours) in SEP to enhance their teaching competence and prepare for their future teaching careers. Chen (2010) explored the learning experiences of student interns in teacher education program and revealed that the curriculum of teacher education program tended to be helpful, especially for music, art, and psychology; and three factors (i.e., professors, time for taking courses, and intention in learning) would have effects on students' learning. Teacher education students also demonstrated motivation on taking training, included personal interests in education and teaching job, formulated realistic career and future life development, and influenced from significant others (Chen, C. M., 2009). Tang (1990) surveyed 582 participants (200 senior teacher education students and 382 elementary or secondary teachers) and reported that (1) the importance and effectiveness of teacher education training; (2) the divisions of education including introduction of education, educational psychology, teaching methods, and teaching internships; and (3) students identified the effect of teacher education mainly due to professors' abilities, teaching methods and content of curriculum. In summary, existing literature are lacking of a holistic, comprehensive experience on learning and development of teacher education students within unique educational contexts. Thus, this study aimed to describe SEP students' experience of learning and development at the SEP. Psychosocial developmental theory, self-authorship, and learning partnerships model are suitable to be applied to assist undergraduates learn and grow during their university career; thus, they serve as the frameworks of references in this study.

Psychosocial Developmental Theory

Psychosocial developmental theory (PSDT) (Chickering & Reisser, 1993) consists of seven vectors or tasks central to identity formation among traditional college-aged students: (1) developing competence, (2) managing emotions, (3) moving through autonomy toward interdependence, (4) developing mature interpersonal relationships, (5) establishing identity, (6) developing purpose, and (7) developing integrity. These seven developmental tasks are considered as the core issues or challenges that every university student will encounter (Reisser, 1995). The premise of PSDT rested on the idea that the main developmental task for university students is the development of identity. The establishment and stabilization of identity were viewed as the primary task and as "a logical anchor point" for synthesizing multiple, diverse strands of data about college student development into a general framework.

Moreover, PSDT articulated that a student's psychosocial development is related to the institutional factors (manageable size, clear and consistent objectives, and student development programs), teaching and curriculum (educationally powerful curricula and innovative teachers), and the interactive milieu of the campus (student-faculty interactions and student communities). The theory emphasized that if students are influenced or impacted by the right mix of institutional supports available on campus, they will be more likely to complete these seven tasks at the university (Evans et al., 2010). Strange (2003) addressed characteristics of three-tiered learning environment that university campus should offer good physical environment, friendly facilities, and appropriate space and facilities for students to exchange of ideas and experiences and to facilitate their learning and development.

Self-authorship

Baxter Magolda (2008; 2009) defined self-authorship as (1) the capacity to author, or invent, one's own beliefs, values, sense of self, and relationships with others; (2) balancing external influences with internally-generated beliefs and goals; and (3) intense reflection--an individual can express "how I know." The three dimensions of self-authorship are: a) epistemological which assists the individual to answer the "how do I know" part, b) intrapersonal where the individual finds answer to the question of "who am I," and c) interpersonal, the individual comes to a strong sense of self and is able to master the "how do I want to construct relationships with others." The development of students' self-authorship is viewed in the four stages: following external formulas/durable categories, the crossroads/cross-categorical thinking, becoming author of own life/ self-authorship, and internal foundation. At first, students do not have a viewpoint of self and rely upon authorities to tell them exactly what to do. Then, they begin to constructively make sense of differences and build their own viewpoints but still do not understand how others' views influence theirs. Subsequently, students are able to separate their viewpoints from others and act upon their own ideas and beliefs. Self-authorship is being applied in college through interactions among students and educators, such as giving constructive instruction that allow for self-reflection, clear interpretations of self-beliefs, and active involvement in meaningful activities.

Learning Partnerships Model

The Learning Partnerships Model (LPM; Baxter Magolda & King, 2004), which incorporated the elements of self-authorship and linked learning to the diverse experiences of students, noted three core assumptions about learning: knowledge is complex and socially constructed, one's identity plays a central role in crafting knowledge claims, and knowledge is mutually constructed via the sharing of the expertise and authority. The LPM emphasized that college students and graduates assume positions of responsibility, manage complexity and engage multiple perspectives, gather and judge relevant evidence to make decisions, and act in ways that benefit themselves and others equitably and contribute to the common good. The learning partnerships offer ideas, support, and encouragement to tackle complex ideas to enhance students' development of self-authorship and learning.

The LPM regarded learning as a complex process in which learners take their own viewpoints to bear on deciding what to believe and simultaneously share responsibility with others to construct knowledge. The model noted autonomy through personal responsibility for learning and forming beliefs. Learners stress the connection through the necessity to link their own and others' perspectives. Learning partnerships support self-authorship via three principles: validating learners' capacity as knowledge constructors, situating learning in the learners' experience, and defining learning as mutually constructing meaning (Baxter Magolda, 2008; 2009). These principles demonstrate autonomy through supporting learners to bring their experiences and build their own perspectives. They also elaborate connection through supporting learners to connect to their own and others' experiences and ideas. Thus, LPM offered guidance and empowerment by showing the integration of connection and autonomy embedded in the nature of self-authorship.

Method

This study applied the phenomenology approach to capturing the students' subjective experiences of learning and development in the SEP at a university in Taiwan. A phenomenological study consists of rich descriptions of particular phenomena that provide plausible pictures of human experiences. Such an intended benefit is consistent with the rationale of this study which aims to describe the specificity and complexity of students' experiences.

Participants

This study recruited 12 students (6 graduates, 6 undergraduates; 7 females, 5 males) who are from various departments and had been enrolled in SEP at a university in northern Taiwan. The student population is about 16,000. Participants voluntarily join in this study, and vividly and actively describe the learning and development experiences during the journey of SEP.

Interviewer

The research assistant conducted 12 indepth interviews for this study. She is a counselor with a master's degree, and has completed courses in interviewing skills, counseling, qualitative research, and research methodology. She worked toward establishing trustful relationships with the participants, remained open-minded and maintained a nonjudgmental manner during interviews.

Data Collection

A snowball method was employed in this study. The researcher selected the first participant based on the defined criteria. Upon completion of the first interview, the interviewer invited the participant to recommend the next qualified one. This process continued until the conclusion of the 12th participant to reach data saturation. Examples of stimulus questions for interview are "Please describe your learning and development experiences in SEP," "Please describe learning and development experience impressed you," and "What are your feelings, thoughts, and other reactions toward these significant and/or critical events in SEP?" "How do you perceive, manage and/or integrate your learning and development in SEP?"

Data Analysis

The first researcher served as the analyst and employed Creswell's (2009) approach to conduct data analysis. The analyst, first, prepares the data for analysis which could mean a review of transcripts, a scan of materials, typing of field notes, and a categorization of data into different information sources. Second, she reads through all the data to obtain a general sense of the information, reflects on its overall meaning, and records some general thoughts about the data. Third, by organizing the material into textual segments, the analyst initiates a detailed analysis which employs a coding process. Fourth, she continues using the coding process to develop a description of the setting or people as well as categories or themes. Fifth, the analyst creates additional layers of complex analysis and shapes themes into a general description. Sixth, she expands the research scope beyond description and theme identification into complex theme connections. Finally, the researcher advances the descriptions and themes to capture the essence of the data.

Several methods are employed to enhance the validity and reliability of the data analysis. As proposed by Gibbs (2007), the steps of the procedures are first recorded and arranged into a detailed protocol and database. The transcripts are then examined to ensure accuracy during transcription, meticulously comparing data with codes and making notations concerning codes and definitions. The researcher also adopts the validation strategies proposed by Creswell and Miller (2000), maintaining prolonged engagement and persistent observation of issues related to students' learning and development in SEP. Multiple sources (observations, interviews, field notes) and methods are combined to provide corroborative evidence in the elucidation of themes or perspectives. Rich, thick descriptions are created to describe the participants and settings encountered in the interviews.

Results

The themes that emerged from the data analysis are elaborated below. Excerpts of the participants are quoted to support the relative themes.

Learning Experience

The results implied that the SEP students were highly motivated to become qualified teachers. Instructors of SEP were enthusiastic and supportive; thus, the learning atmosphere was positive and lively with great discussions, interactions, and bonding going on between peer students. One participant said, "You can raise any questions you want, speak out your mind, question what was taught, SEP just makes me feel ... knowledge is alive and a living thing!" Students recognized the theories, concepts, and techniques taught in SEP and they felt the program contents were practical and could be applied to daily life easily. They regarded the learning process was fun and pleasant. One expressed, "SEP teaches very practical things that you can just apply to your life right away ... the program is so timely, practical, and functional." Students were deeply engaged in SEP and were able to discover their own potential and weaknesses through the program; they applied what they have learned in the program to their daily life.

Instructors' Professional Performance

Participants considered SEP instructors and students were very close and teacher-student relationships were relatively equal. SEP instructors were thought to have been trained professionally, hence, they were good at teaching, well-prepared, and enthusiastic. Instructors were able to utilize diverse teaching approaches, manage the class, control the rhythm, and conduct diversified learning efficiency appraisal. One said, "SEP instructors are well-prepared for their classes and they are devoted to the program, ... I think they are very professional!"

SEP instructors were able to embrace students with various characteristics, background, personal traits, learning and performance types, and instruct through different approaches. Participants felt that the instructors were able to study their needs and previous experience and have designed appropriate programs to accommodate each individual. In addition, their teaching materials, contents, and methods were adjusted to meet each student's characteristic and needs. One said, "Instructors try their best to meet needs of students, ... they will adjust teaching contents and approaches based on our needs ... they are just having great teaching attitude, and I can see that they want each and every student to succeed ... to really absorb what he taught." Instructors were thought to have flexible teaching approaches and suitable materials for educational as well as daily life settings. They encouraged students to apply what they have learned as much as possible. Students would compare their new knowledge with their life experience, come up with new ideas, put those ideas into action, and in turn, acquire new experience.

Participants considered that SEP instructors knew how to teach effectively and encouraged students to study hard. They utilized teaching resources well, mixed outdoor and classroom teaching perfectly, and encouraged experience-based learning through daily life activities. Students could introspect and adjust accordingly to strengthen the learning efficiency. One said, "Instructors would keep an eye on every student, ... and they are really good at catching the attention of us in the classroom, I think they are just great!" Instructors encouraged students to ask and respond to questions. They shared their feelings, were being very supportive, and cited recent news and social events to expand students' horizons. One mentioned, "Instructors would cite many real-life examples in the class ... and ask students to discuss the subjects just taught." Instructors shared the podium with students, the interactions in the classroom were great; students were encouraged to freely leverage their creativity, alternative ideas, and potentials. One said, "There are quite a few interactions in the class, and our instructors know each student pretty well." Another reflected, "Take lesson plans as example ... they (instructors) let us write whatever we want so we can be more creative in developing our lessen plans."

SEP instructors would listen and encourage students to spoke out their opinions and valued disagreements; thus, they have cultivated equality in the classrooms. One expressed, "It is OK for students to challenge the instructors or ask them to clarify their points. It's very straight forward, no beating around the bush here." They cared for students and offered constructive opinions to students. Students would take their advice and improved accordingly to boost confidence and effect. Another said, "Instructors may tell you that you are doing great, ... and then follow by some advice so you perform better the next time." Instructors knew and cared about every student. They interacted and discussed with them on a regular basis, and were willing to listen to and share experiences with them. One said, "SEP instructors are warm, ... almost like a spiritual guide or a friend. I am happy to spend time with them." SEP students felt the friendliness of instructors and were willing to get close to instructors and sought assistance when necessary, showing their trust toward instructors' teaching and counseling capabilities. Participants considered the instructors as their role models and benefited from the whole experience of learning from instructors. They felt these experiences were helpful for their future careers. One said, "The role of SEP instructors is to pass down experience ... they let us know different styles and experiences of teachers, and have us explore our own styles."

Learning Environment

Learning atmosphere and interpersonal interaction

Participants considered SEP's learning atmosphere comfortable, open, and free. They felt that peer students were friendly; thus, they have become friends and were willing to share learning experience and daily life with them. Furthermore, participants mentioned that communication and group discussions were highly valued in SEP. Since SEP students came from different departments with high heterogeneity, such interactions would facilitate introspection and stimulate in-depth learning. One said, "Group discussion is a major part of SEP, the lectures often take place in the form of group discussion, ... you get to discuss with students from other departments, and you learn from peer differences."

Hardware and facilities

Participants mentioned that the hardware and facilities of SEP were satisfactory, the office was warmly decorated, and decorative arts were displayed during holiday seasons. All in all, the programs provided pleasant environment for students to study. One mentioned, "Each time I visit SEP office, 1 am just so impressed with all the decorative arts displayed on walls, ceilings, and cabinet. It's a pleasant office to step in." However, participants would like to have more professional teaching equipment available, as well as dedicated classrooms, discussion rooms, and lounge areas for SEP students to study and discuss after classes. They also mentioned other facilities, such as dedicated tables and chairs, mailboxes, and lockers, as ways to boost a sense of belonging to SEP.

Impact on Self-Development

Participants recognized that the learning experience in SEP could enhance their perception, feelings, interpersonal relationship, self-development, and confidence in becoming a middle school teacher. SEP, a holistic training program, helped students in enhancing their observation capability, self-awareness, personal traits, teaching ability, and devotion to education. One said, "SEP has trained me to become a teacher, ... I have to be tough sometimes, and soft some other times. I have to lead students, manage the classroom order,... it is an all-round learning program." Furthermore, they realized that education-related knowledge and techniques evolved over time; they recognized the importance of lifelong learning. One mentioned, "Educational theories continue to evolve, ... they simply change over time, ... we can propose our educational ideas, and then adjust our ideas gradually!"

The importance of verbal communication ability, especially abilities to explain complicated knowledge with simple words and everyday examples, was emphasized by the participants. One said, "In order to teach well ... I must have good verbal expression capability, ... verbal communication is a very important skill for teaching profession." SEP could enhance students' self-awareness, especially exploration and understanding of feelings. Participants learned to integrate science and humanities, sense and sensibility, self-perception and feelings. One said, "I have learned not to perceive certain things too rationally from scientific angles ... we can also look at things through the angle of humanity." SEP students examined their interest level, zeal, and principles in education and tried to evaluate whether teaching career would be a fit or not. One reflected, "SEP gives us a lot of opportunities to explore our true intention and continuously puts us to test whether we really want to be a teacher that badly!" As the program progressed, participants expressed that their teaching and class management capabilities had improved, their professional knowledge and lifelong learning ability had also enhanced; they were heading towards becoming a qualified middle school teacher.

Adjustments Needed in the SEP to Facilitate Students' Learning Process

Participants hoped that SEP could strengthen its autonomy and unique features. They also suggested that instructors should cover subjects such as competition in teacher's employment market, administrative details at schools, teacher-student interaction, and student related crises; hence, they could be prepared when encountering those issues. One mentioned, "Instructors only talk about the bright future and good things after becoming a teacher, however, we also need to know the

ugly reality. We need to know the kind of challenges and stress we are going to face as well as the fierce competition in the teacher's employment market, since we all know how hard it is to find a teaching job."

Discussion

Participants in this study acknowledged the positive experience of learning and development in SEP, instructors' professional performance, learning atmosphere, interpersonal interaction, and positive impact on their self-development. The study results echoed the previous findings that senior teacher education students reported that the importance and effectiveness of teacher education training, and the effect of teacher education mainly due to professors' abilities, teaching methods and content of curriculum (Tang, 1990); teacher education students recognized the curriculum of teacher education program to be helpful (Chen, 2010); students demonstrated motivation on taking teacher education training, including personal interests in education and teaching job, and formulated realistic teaching career and future life development (Chen, C. M., 2009).

SEP instructors in this study linked the students' previous learning and personal experiences. Diversified and flexible teaching methods were utilized to encourage students to ask questions, speak out, and give feedback. SEP students were encouraged to think, express, share their own learning gain and life experiences, and talk freely about their thoughts and feelings about educational theories and topics. Examples from everyday life and social events were often cited by instructors to link educational theories with current conditions. This helped students understand both education theories and practices. The above results echoed the notions of LPM (Baxter Magolda & King, 2004) regarding situating learning in the learners' experience, teachers acknowledge that students bring their personal experiences into the classroom, avoid marginalizing or unfamiliar students, use analogies, drawing from student experiences, sharing stories, explain the relevance of material to students' daily lives, provide opportunities for self-reflection to help students become clearer about what they know, why they hold their beliefs, and how they want to act on them. SEP instructors develop assignments that draw from and relate to student experiences, and offer guidelines to students, rather than requirements.

SEP instructors in this study encouraged students to apply what they have learned to the teaching settings, observe and introspect in act, combine theories and practice, and make adjustment continuously. They also encouraged students to form small discussion groups to exchange knowledge and ideas, work together, break through, and then share the results with other peer students. The study results echoed the notions of LPM (Baxter Magolda & King, 2004) in defining learning as mutually constructing meaning; framing learning as something students and instructors do together; present teaching and learning as relational where instructor and students are changed; and assist students to comprehend their thinking, reasoning, learning, and writing processes.

The learning process of SEP is beneficial to the psychosocial development of students. The professional abilities of SEP students--composure on podium, verbal communication, teaching techniques, and class management--were improving throughout the program. SEP students gradually established development goals, continue to pursue the teaching career, and confirm the values of education. They interacted with instructors and peer students to develop mature interpersonal relationships, accept differences and similarities of others, establish reciprocal and respectful relationships, and perceive, control and express emotions. SEP students gradually developed a clear self-concept, assure self-identity, especially identity as a teacher. They also learned to care about the welfare of other people (particularly middle school students), and developed humane values of education. The above results of students' learning and development correlated with the notions of PSDT (Chickering & Reisser, 1993).

In this study, the importance of physical and humanistic environments had been identified by SEP students. The aim of SEP is to assist students to complete training and acquire middle school teacher qualification; thus, all the activities, systems, strategies and curriculum of SEP are designed to meet the goal. The interactions among instructors and students of SEP were frequent and harmonious. Instructors encouraged students to study proactively, build high anticipation, respect individual strengths, provide feedback, and offer diversified teaching approaches fitting the various needs. SEP students developed friendships, accomplished tasks together, fostered interpersonal relationships, and facilitated mature emotional development. The above results demonstrated the characteristics of PSDT (Chickering & Reisser, 1993) that humanistic environment brings an impact on students' psychosocial development. SEP students also expressed their needs for knowing more about the transition of teacher's roles and functions with the rapid changes on campus and in the society; thus, they would be prepared for various challenges in competition of teacher's employment market and teaching career.

The learning environment of SEP made students feel safe and a sense of belonging when they had friendly interactions with instructors and peers. SEP students were able to devote, participate, and shoulder various roles in the learning process; they could accomplish learning-oriented tasks and gradually identify themselves as members of SEP family. Participants suggested that SEP should provide space and facilities for students to study, discuss, and rest to facilitate better collaborations among students. These findings are in-line with the notions of three-tiered learning environment by Strange (2003) that university campus should provide good physical environment, friendly facilities, and appropriate space and facilities for students to encourage exchange of ideas and experiences.

SEP students' learning and development followed the notions of the final two stages in the development of self-authorship noted by Baxter Magolda (2008; 2009). Participants have learned and grown in becoming the author of their own life with the abilities to choose what to believe and live those out (not without challenges), to renegotiate relationships, and to weigh their needs against others'. Participants have built their internal foundations as an individual grounded in the sense of who they are, developed a mutuality of relationships, recognized ambiguity and external influences, and based life decisions on a strong inner core of beliefs and self-concept.

Some findings on participants' learning and development did not respond to the notions of the first two stages of the development of self-authorship (Baxter Magolda, 2008; 2009). The possible reason could be that the participants enrolled in the SEP in their junior and senior years; they have already grown through the first two stages: (1) following formulas that allows others to define them; and (2) crossroads that reveals dissatisfaction with others' definitions but not yet able to act on desire to be more autonomous. Thus, they revealed the characteristics of becoming the author of their life and building their internal foundations.

Implications

SEP instructors should make use of structured, diversified, experience-based learning approaches and customized principles to facilitate students' learning and development. They should encouraged students to try new ideas, speak out, share, and co-work with peer students. Instructors should assist students to clarify their teaching career, enhance students' professional knowledge and skills, and help students become part of the teaching community.

Instructors and students from different majors could encourage and support each other as long as they are having the same career goal and educational zeal; in fact, they could learn from each other's differences. In addition to provide professional training for teachers-to-be and guidance on teaching career, SEP should have information on employment market competition, campus challenges, and workplace related issues available to students so they can better prepared. Satisfactory space and facilities should be provided to meet the special needs of students, so that students could feel safe, have a sense of belonging, and identify toward SEP.

Limitations

This study took place in a comprehensive university which is different from the traditional teacher education universities; therefore, the learning experience of SEP at this university may be a bit different. In addition, since all the participants are taking part in the study voluntarily, they could be more positive about the learning and development experience of SEP. The findings may or may not represent SEP students of other universities or those who are not willing to participate in the study.

Conclusions

SEP students recognized the learning and development experience of SEP. They cherished their friendships with instructors and peer students. SEP instructors' professional capabilities, loving care, and guidance to students were also recognized. Students considered the instructors as role models, and they interacted closely with instructors both in and out of classrooms. SEP students pursue teaching career, identify with the values and principles of education, develop professional knowledge and skills, interact with instructors and peer students harmoniously, establish mature interpersonal relationships, get to know themselves better, accept other people, and identify with the teaching profession.

YII-NII LIN

Center for Teacher Education, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan

YI-HSING CLAIRE CHIU

Department of Applied Psychology, Hsuan Chuang University, Taiwan

PI HUI LAI

Department of Early Childhood Care, King Kuo Health and Management College, Taiwan

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Author:Lin, Yii-Nii; Chiu, Yi-Hsing Claire; Lai, Pi Hui
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Date:Jun 22, 2019
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