Anwar Adalbaki & Shamma Al Dosari

Facilitating Global Education through Working with Teachers
The problem we have identified is that teachers who attend the iEARN workshops get really interested with the idea, but then their passion seems to disolve  when they go back to their schools, and a considerable number of them do not implement a project with their students.  In this action research project, we wanted to find out why this is.  Our overall goal is to improve the way we support teachers to learn how to implement global education. 
Our research question was: 
If we interview the participating teachers,  what would we learn about why some teachers implement projects and others do not. 

We have analyze the data to  identify the following possible challenges to help us think of new ways to solve this problem. 

Findings:

Results of Teacher Interviews

  •  Many teachers have a lot on their plate already, which leaves little room to try new practices: teaching (lesson preparations, exams and corrections, reporting), obligatory projects like Scientific research, obligatory professional developments, in addition to other roles like substitute classes, playground supervision during breaks …etc. Even if teachers like the idea of PBL, they need to put an extra effort to integrate within their lessons.
  • Difficut to find time for Project Based Learning: Teaching the curriculum devours most, if not all, of the classroom instruction time and leaves little to no room for working on iEARN projects (as separate from regular teaching)
  • The teachers, principals and parents attention is on grades, especially in the upper classes as grades are the main factor that determines the university acceptance, field of study, and hence social status later on. Problem-based learning approaches does not necessarily improve exam skills. Implementing a project can rather be seen as taking a lot of the instruction time as most of schools that teach for a test use drill and practice. To sum it up, iEARN might not necessarily help to improve exam grades. 
  • It is not clear to most how to integrate projects within their lessons: We advise teachers to integrate the project within their teaching. This is not happening in most cases because: most teachers are not clear on how to do it organically, and workshops might not be the best way to do this. They need more help in figuring out how to use projects to extend the curriculum.
  • Most teachers implement the project as an extracurricular activity. This makes the project shallow and more about the final product to display at the open house rather than about the learning. Therefore, project-based learning doesn’t necessarily strike teachers as a good learning opportunity
  • Project assessment is an obstacle: the learning outcomes from projects are hard to be reflected in school exams. Although the students may improve their subject knowledge while implementing a project, exams don’t capture most of the benefits of projects: 21st century skills (communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, research skills and problem solving). Most teachers find difficulties in assessing students learning from projects whether in terms of designing assessment tools, or in terms of taking the time to conduct the assessment
  • Intrinsic motivation is an issue. A small number of teachers who implement projects do it because they are intrinsically motivated to do it or believe in the value add for students. However, the majority would prefer not to bother especially that it does not bring any material reward to them or any recognition from their school supervisors. Some teachers attend training because they are forced by the administration, or just to add to their PD record and get more certificates.
  • Extrinsic motivation is not as good as intrinsic motivation.  Last year we tried motivating teachers by telling them about sponsorship opportunities to travel to the conference or prizes for best projects. We prefer not to make participation be a competitive basis, even though the majority participate for the certificate or prize. The problem with this is that research shows that the prizes are removed, the behavior stops. 
  • Online collaboration and support of facilitators is limited. Collaboration is minimal amongst teachers, especially when there are prizes where teachers compete for that.  The competition might be keeping teachers from working more collaboratively with each other.
   
Cycle 1 Reflection

We started the action research while we were in the middle of working on an evaluation report. We worked together as team to build knowledge about our experience working with teachers and with iearn.  

Reflecting on the focus group discussions and interviews:

Our process was not as  participatory as we would have liked. The interviews and meetings looked more like a role play. The answers we usually heard from teachers and students did not mirror what we witnessed in project implementation. All teachers and students said very positive things about the value of iEARN and how much they enjoyed and appreciated it, yet we do not see this positivity and enthusiasm reflected in the project work and collaboration. As I reflect on this, I can think of a number of reasons why the final report was more positive than their behavior during the project.

Our organization is an non-government organization (NGO) that is offering this program as a service, free of charge, to teachers and schools. Their overly positive responses on the surveys at the end of the year are likely to be influenced by their desire to continue the service.  The NGO  is a center of Qatar Foundation, which is a prestigious organization. This affects the perception of teachers of the program. But it may also cause teachers to feel uneasy about giving any critical feedback about  the program.

The students did not appear to be be at ease in expressing their opinions to us. They  addressed us as teachers (or uppers), and they came with what sounded like prepared answers.  Our interviews were more of a one sided conversation: we asked questions and recorded the answers. We made sure to remain neutral and not to influence the opinions or thoughts of the interviews. However, if we don’t confront their ideas and make them think about it, how else can we be a catalyst for change? What margin of freedom do we have in the dialogue where we can make teachers/students entertain thinking of other possibilities but without imposing? The issues of neutrality conflicted with our goal of gaining deeper understanding of how they reacted to this global experience with peers from other countries. 

We faced the surprising opinion of one school principal who doesn’t want students to interact much online as he considered it risky. We thought it was not appropriate to counter argue as researchers in order not to influence his/her opinion, and we also did not want to risk losing his trust since his reasons are likely to be culturally sensitive. As a result, we have just recorded the answers even though we knew this is against the objectives of the program. We decided to set another meeting with that principal to inquire about the reasons for his worry in order to consider the risks if they were valid, and convince him of the value of international collaboration.

I think our attitude and behavior did not help in the data collection process. Afterall, we were the people who trained the teachers involved in the iEARN-Qatar program.  Because of the prestige of our organization, teachers look to us as uppers. Even though our behavior was not dominant or superior, we do not do anything to empower the teachers to make them feel at ease.  

What would I do differently next time?

I will be conscious of my approach with teachers and try to be more participatory. Maybe I should disempower myself/our program in some way, or make myself/the program vulnerable to criticism?  When we are faced with an opinion that opposes our values or the program’s objectives, we need to find a way to state we believe without risking the trust of the other person. The action researcher is not a neutral interviewer, and a conflict of opinions/believes is an opportunity for dialogue (a dialogue of peers, not that of uppers imposing on lowers). So a large question is how to deal is with issues of power. 

    
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