Constructivist learning environments in a crossnational study in Taiwan and Australia

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Calgary]On: 16 September 2013, At: 13:28Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,London W1T 3JH, UK

    International Journal ofScience EducationPublication details, including instructions forauthors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tsed20

    Constructivist learningenvironments in acrossnational study inTaiwan and AustraliaJill M. Aldridge , Barry J. Fraser , Peter C.Taylor & Chung-Chih ChenPublished online: 20 Jul 2010.

    To cite this article: Jill M. Aldridge , Barry J. Fraser , Peter C. Taylor & Chung-Chih Chen (2000) Constructivist learning environments in a crossnational studyin Taiwan and Australia, International Journal of Science Education, 22:1,37-55, DOI: 10.1080/095006900289994

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  • INT. J. SCI. EDUC., 2000, VOL. 22, NO. 1, 37- 55

    Constructivist learning environments in a cross-national study in Taiwan and Australia

    Jill M. Aldridge, Barry J. Fraser and Peter C. Taylor, Science andMathematics Education Centre, Curtin University of Technology, Perth,Australia and Chung-Chih Chen, National Kaohsiung Normal University,Taiwan

    This article focuses on the validation and use of English and Chinese versions of the ConstructivistLearning Environment Survey (CLES) in a cross-national study of high school science classrooms inAustralia and Taiwan. The CLES was administered to 1,081 students from 50 classes in Australia and1,879 students from 50 classes in Taiwan. Data analysis supported each scale s internal consistencyreliability, factor structure and ability to differentiate between classrooms, and revealed interestingdifferences between average scale scores in Taiwan and Australia. The questionnaire data were usedto guide the collection of qualitative data in each country to explain patterns and differences in meanscale scores in Australia and Taiwan. Interviews with students also provided precautionary informationregarding students understanding of some items and the use of a Western survey to measure construc-tivist learning environments in an Eastern country.

    Introduction

    Educational research which crosses national boundaries offers much promise forgenerating new insights for at least two reasons (Brislin 1983, Fraser 1996a, Stiglerand Hiebert 1997). First, the range and variation in variables of interest (e.g.teaching methods, student attitudes) are frequently greater in a sample drawnfrom multiple countries than from a one-country sample. Second, the taken-for-granted familiar educational practices, beliefs and attitudes in one country can beexposed, made `strange and questioned when researchers from two countriescollaborate on research involving teaching and learning in two countries.

    The present research is one of the few cross-national studies undertaken inscience education. It involved six Australian and seven Taiwanese science educa-tion researchers working together on a cross-national study of learning environ-ments in Taiwan and Australia. The study involved the validation of English andMandarin versions of a learning environment questionnaire and a comparison ofclassroom learning environments in Taiwan and Australia. As well, it investigateddeterminants and effects of learning environment in these two countries. Thisarticle is organized into four sections: background; method; findings; and discus-sion and conclusions.

    International Journal of Science Education ISSN 0950-0693 print/ISSN 1464-5289 online# 2000 Taylor & Francis Ltdhttp://www.tandf.co.uk/JNLS/sed.htm

    http://www.taylorandfrancis.com/JNLS/sed.htm

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  • Background

    Learning environment research

    Considerable progress has been made over the past 30 years in the conceptualiza-tion, assessment and investigation of the important but subtle concept of learningenvironment (Fraser 1986, 1994, 1998, Fraser and Walberg 1991, McRobbie andEllett 1997, Wubbels and Levy 1993). Some highlights from the field of classroomenvironment include (1) the use of qualitative methods in learning environmentresearch (Tobin et al. 1990), including the combination of quantitative and quali-tative methods (Fraser and Tobin 1991, Tobin and Fraser 1998); (2) the develop-ment of preferred forms of instruments which permit investigations of differencesbetween actual and preferred classroom environments (Fisher and Fraser 1983)and person-environment fit studies of whether students achieve better in theirpreferred classroom environment (Fraser and Fisher 1983); (3) teachers use ofassessments of actual and preferred classroom environment in action researchattempts to improve their classrooms (Fraser and Fisher 1986); (4) the incorpora-tion of learning environment ideas into teacher education (Fraser 1993) and schoolpsychology (Burden and Fraser 1993); and (5) the idea of `grain sizes in learningenvironment research (Fraser 1996b).

    The Constructivist Learning Environment Survey

    The Constructivist Learning Environment Survey (CLES) (Taylor et al. 1995a1995b; Taylor et al. 1997) was developed to enable educators and researchers tomeasure students perceptions of the extent to which constructivist approaches arepresent in classrooms. The original version of the CLES (Taylor and Fraser 1991)was based largely on a psychosocial view of constructivist reform that focused onstudents as co-constructors of knowledge. Although the original version of theCLES was used within Australian high schools and in other countries (Lucasand Roth 1996, Roth and Bowen 1995, Watters and Ginns 1994) and found tobe reliable, the theoretical framework supporting the survey was found to be weak(Fraser et al. 1998).

    A new version of the CLES was developed from the perspective of criticalconstructivism (Taylor 1996) to recognize socio-cultural constraints on the cogni-tive constructive activity of the individual learner and thereby strengthen weak-nesses in the original version. The new version of the CLES was designed toobtain measures of five key elements of a critical constructivist learning environ-ment from the students perception: the degree of personal relevance in theirstudies; whether students have shared control over their learning; the degree towhich students feel free to express concerns about their learning; the degree towhich students are able to interact with each other to improve their understanding;and the extent to which science is viewed as ever changing (Taylor et al. 1995a,Taylor et al. 1997).

    This new version of the CLES was trialled in two classroom-based collabora-tive research studies (Taylor et al. 1995a 1995b, Taylor et al. 1994). The concep-tual strength and psychometric structure of the questionnaire were rigorouslytested using quantitative and qualitative methods. These studies led to modifica-tions in the survey to enhance comprehensibility by omitting negative items and

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  • those items considered `conceptually complex . In addition, the survey departedfrom traditional measures of the learning environment by grouping together itemsof the same scale and including a simple scale name that would provide studentswith a contextual cue (rather than arranging the items from a given scale randomlyor cyclically throughout the questionnaire).

    Method

    Quantitative data collection

    In this study qualitative and quantitative methods were combined as recom-mended by Fraser and Tobin (1991) and Tobin and Fraser (1998). The CLESwas used to assess:

    . Personal Relevance (extent to which teachers relate science to students out-of-school experiences).

    . Student Negotiation (extent to which opportunities exist for students toexplain and justify to other students their newly developing ideas and tolisten and reflect on the viability of other students ideas).

    . Shared Control (extent to which students are invited to share with theteacher control of the learning environment, including the articulation oftheir own learning goals, design and management of their learning activitiesand determining and applying assessment criteria).

    . Critical Voice (extent to which a social climate has been established in whichstudents feel that it is legitimate and beneficial to question the teacher spedagogical plans and methods and to express concerns about any impedi-ments to their learning).

    . Uncertainty (the extent to which opportunities are provided for students toexperience scientific knowledge as arising from theory dependent inquiry,involving human experience and values, evolving and non-foundational,and culturally and socially determined).

    There are six items in each scale with a total of 30 items with a five-point responsescale of Almost Always, Often, Sometimes, Seldom and Almost Never. Appendix1 lists the items in the CLES.

    In order to permit investigation of association between classroom environmentand student outcomes, an eight-item scale was used to assess students satisfactionin terms of enjoyment, interest and how much they look forward to science classes.This was based on a scale from the Test of Science Related Attitudes (TOSRA)(Fraser 1981).

    The instruments were translated into Chinese by team members based inTaiwan. The next step involved an independent back translation of the Chineseversion into English again by other team members who were not involved in theoriginal translation. Then, the Australian researchers checked the back translationsand, for some items, it was necessary to modify the original English version, theChinese translation, or both. For example, difficulties finding an equivalent wordfor i`nventing in the context of `I learn that science is about inventing theories ledto a modification to `I learn that science is about creating theories . In some cases,the back translations were more accurate than the original version, leading to

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  • further modifications. For example `I explain my ideas to other students waschanged to `I explain my understandings to other students .

    The English version of each scale was tried out with several Australian grade7-9 science classes, and this was followed by some of the researchers interviewingstudents about the readability and comprehensibility of items and checkingwhether students were responding to survey items on the basis intended by theresearchers. Similar interviews were conducted in Taiwan, leading to some furthermodifications to survey items. For example, the item `I help the teacher to decidehow much time I spend on activities was modified to make the item more explicit,`I help the teacher to decide how much time I spend on learning activities .

    The CLES and the attitude scale were administered to a sample of 1,081 grade8 and 9 general science students from 50 classes in 25 schools in Western Australiaand 1,879 grade 7-9 students from 50 classes in 25 schools in Taiwan. Of theclasses sampled in Western Australia, 38 were selected from within the metro-politan area of the capital city, Perth, and the remaining 12 classes were from ruralschools. The sample in Taiwan was selected from three areas, northern Taiwan(Taipei), central Taiwan (Changhua) and southern Taiwan (Kaohsiung). InTaiwan, 25 classes were biology classes and 25 were physics classes. InAustralia, all 50 classes were general science classes. The samples from both coun-tries were drawn from government, coeducational schools that could be consideredtypical and representative of science classes in each country.

    Despite efforts to ensure that the samples were comparable, it is to beacknowledged that inevitable differences arise when samples are drawn fromquite different educational systems. A fundamental difference is the different com-pletion rate in each country. Taiwan has a lower proportion of students whocomplete high school than does Australia. In addition, junior high school scienceclasses in Taiwan teach science as separate strands (i.e., physics or biology),whereas science classes in Australia are taught as integrated or `general science.Factors such as these create inherent differences in the samples, that should beconsidered when comparing the data.

    The quantitative data collected with the surveys were analysed to provideinformation regarding the reliability and validity of the surveys in each country.The data also informed researchers of the differences and similarities betweenstudents perceptions in each country, as well as guiding the collection of qualita-tive data described below.

    Qualitative data collection

    The data from the surveys were used not only to provide a parsimonious andeconomical view of learning environments in each country, but also were usedto guide the collection of qualitative data. Qualitative data were gathered in bothAustralia and Taiwan using classroom observations and interviews with teachersand students. The collection of qualitative data enabled researchers to interpret thesurvey data more meaningfully and provide richer insights into the results fromeach country.

    Observations were carried out in the classes of four teachers in both Australiaand Taiwan. The selection of these teachers was based on their willingness to beinvolved in the study. At least three students from each of the eight classes wereinterviewed about the observations made. They were asked to comment on various

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  • actions that took place during the observations and about aspects of the classroomenvironment. In addition, student responses to selected survey items were used toform part of an interview schedule. Two items from each scale were selected. Theinterviews were used to clarify whether items had been interpreted consistently bystudents and to help to explain between-country differences in survey scale means.

    The teacher of each of the eight classes was also interviewed. The interviewssought the teachers reasons for various actions and whether the classroomenvironments created by different teachers were influenced by socio-culturalfactors.

    Findings from quantitative data

    Validation of the CLES

    Data collected from the 50 classes in Taiwan and the 50 classes in Australia wereanalysed in various ways to investigate the reliability and validity of the CLES inboth countries. Principal components factor analysis followed by varimax rotationconfirmed the a priori structure of the instrument comprising 30 items with sixitems in each of the five scales (see Appendix 1). Nearly all items had a loading ofat least 0.4 on their a priori scale and no other scale (see table 1). The percentage ofthe total variance extracted and eigenvalue associated with each factor are alsorecorded at the bottom of table 1.

    Table 2 reports the internal consistency reliability (Cronbach alpha coeffi-cient) of each of the five six-item scales for two units of analysis (individual andclass mean). Using the class mean as the unit of analysis, scale reliability estimatesranged from 0.87 to 0.97 in Australia and from 0.79 to 0.98 in Taiwan.

    The mean correlation of a scale with other scales was used as a convenientindex of discriminant validity and is reported in table 2. In Australia, the meancorrelation of a scale with the other scales varied between 0.31 and 0.44 for theindividual as the unit of analysis and between 0.37 and 0.60 for the class mean asthe unit of analysis. In Taiwan, the mean correlation of a scale with the other scalesvaried between 0.32 and 0.42 with the individual as the unit of analysis andbetween 0.49 and 0.61 with the class mean as the unit of analysis.

    An analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to determine the ability of eachCLES scale to differentiate between the perceptions of students in differentclasses. The eta2 statistic was calculated to provide an estimate of the strength ofassociation between class membership and the dependent variable (CLES scale).Table 2 presents the ANOVA results for Taiwan and Australia. Each scale differ-entiated significantly between classes (p< 0.01) in both Taiwan and Australia. Theamount of variance in scores accounted for by class membership (i.e. eta2) rangedfrom 0.14 to 0.18 in Australia and from 0.08 to 0.27 in Taiwan for different CLESscales.

    Analysis of the 10-item Attitude Scale supported its reliability (also reportedin table 2). The internal consistency reliability (Cronbach alpha coefficient) for theAustralian data was 0.91 for the individual student and 0.96 for the class mean asthe unit of analysis, and for the Taiwanese data it was 0.92 for the individualstudent and 0.98 for the class mean as the unit of analysis.

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  • Differences between Australia and Taiwan

    In order to investigate the differences and similarities in students perceptions ofthe constructivist approaches present in their science class, we examined themean scale scores for each country. A plot of the mean scale CLES scores arereported in figure 1, which reveals that students from Taiwan perceived the scalesof Personal Relevance, Uncertainty and Shared Control as occurring more fre-quently in their science class and that students in Australia perceived the scales ofCritical Voice and Student Negotiation as occurring more frequently. The meanscores for both countries were close to 3 (reported in table 3), suggesting that eachof the constructivist dimensions measured by the CLES occurs `Sometimes ineach country. The differences between the mean scores are noteworthy as thelarger differences, such as for Uncertainty and Critical Voice, were more than astandard deviation.

    42 J. M. ALDRIDGE ET AL.

    Table 1. Factor loadings for the CLES items in Taiwan and Australia.

    Factor Loading

    Personal StudentRelevance Uncertainty Critical Voice Shared Control Negotiation

    ItemNo Australia Taiwan Australia Taiwan Australia Taiwan Australia Taiwan Australia Taiwan

    1 .75 .662 .75 .603 .72 .604 .77 .725 .75 .716 - -7 .58 .538 .67 .709 .63 .7110 .58 .7111 .70 .6512 .59 .5613 .75 .4514 .73 .4615 .77 .7416 .66 .7017 .60 - .4418 .65 - .4119 .75 .7120 .74 .7921 .85 .8322 .84 .8123 .84 .7824 .77 .7425 .53 .5326 .76 .7027 .79 .7128 .81 .7129 .76 .6530 .78 .56% Variance 6.5 6.7 5.0 7.4 7.4 5.2 30.5 30.7 11.2 10.1Eigenvalue 1.96 2.02 1.5 2.22 2.21 1.57 9.16 9.20 3.37 3.02

    Notes: Factor loadings smaller than 0.40 have been omitted.The sample consisted of 1,081 students in 50 classes in Australia and 1,879 students in 50 classes in Taiwan.

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  • In order to estimate the magnitude of the differences (in addition to its statis-tical significance), effect sizes were calculated as recommended by Thompson(1998a, 1998b). Effect sizes and t tests were calculated to investigate the differ-ences between students perceptions in Australia and Taiwan (table 3). The effectsize for each scale of the CLES ranged between approximately a third of a standard

    CONSTRUCTIVIST LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 43

    Table 2. Internal consistency reliability (Cronbach alpha coefficient),discriminant validity (mean correlation with other scales) and abil-ity to differentiate between classrooms (ANOVA results) for two unitsof analysis for the CLES.

    Mean Correlation ANOVAAlpha Reliability with other Scales Eta2

    Unit ofScale analysis Australia Taiwan Australia Taiwan Australia Taiwan

    Personal Individual 0.88 0.87 0.44 0.42 0.16** 0.27**Relevance Class Mean 0.94 0.97 0.60 0.61

    Uncertainty Individual 0.76 0.83 0.40 0.32 0.14** 0.09**Class Mean 0.87 0.94 0.55 0.49

    Critical Voice Individual 0.85 0.73 0.43 0.39 0.17** 0.08**Class Mean 0.92 0.79 0.56 0.57

    Shared Control Individual 0.91 0.92 0.31 0.39 0.18** 0.14**Class Mean 0.97 0.98 0.37 0.53

    Student Individual 0.89 0.85 0.41 0.42 0.17** 0.10**Negotiation Class Mean 0.94 0.94 0.60 0.56

    Attitude Scale Individual 0.91 0.92Class Mean 0.96 0.98

    Notes: ** p < 0:01:The sample consisted of 1,081 students in 50 classes in Australia and 1,879 students in 50 classes in Taiwan.The eta2 statistic (which is the ratio of `between to `total sums of squares) represents the proportion of varianceexplained by class membership.

    Figure 1. Comparison of Australian and Taiwanese students perceptionon the Constructivist Learning Environment Survey.

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  • deviation (0.38) and one and two-thirds standard deviation (1.76) for classmeans. These effect sizes suggest a substantial difference between countries onall learning environment scales with the possible exception of Personal Relevance.T tests for independent samples, using the class as the unit of analysis, were usedto investigate whether differences in scale scores between Australia and Taiwanwere statistically significant. The results showed that there was a statisticallysignificant difference (p< 0.05) between countries for all five scales of theCLES (see table 3).

    The mean score for the Attitude scale indicates that students in Taiwan had amore positive attitude towards their science class than did students in Australia(table 3). The effect size for student attitudes was approximately one half of astandard deviation (0.46) for class means, suggesting large differences betweencountries. The results of a t test showed that there was a significant difference(p< 0.01) between the attitudes of students in the two countries.

    Overall, the data for students perceptions in Taiwan and Australia wouldappear to indicate that science classrooms in each country have a similar overallemphasis on constructivism, although different aspects are emphasized more orless in each country.

    Associations between student attitudes and the Constructivist LearningEnvironment

    In order to investigate associations between student attitudes and the five CLESscales in each of Taiwan and Australia, the simple and multiple correlation ana-lyses shown in table 4 were conducted. The results of simple correlation analysisfor Taiwan and Australia (table 4) indicate that all five of the CLES scales werestatistically significantly associated with student attitudes towards their scienceclass (p< 0.001) at both the individual and class mean levels of analysis.Correlations between student attitudes and the CLES scales for Taiwan rangedbetween 0.27 and 0.51 for the individual as the unit of analysis and between 0.50and 0.88 for the class mean. For Australia, the correlations ranged between 0.27and 0.50 with the individual as the unit of analysis and between 0.47 and 0.71 for

    44 J. M. ALDRIDGE ET AL.

    Table 3. Mean, standard deviation, effect size and t test for independentsamples for differences between Taiwan and Australia in percep-tions of classroom environment and attitude with the class meanas the unit of analysis.

    Standard Difference BetweenMean Deviation Countries

    No. ofScale Items Australia Taiwan Australia Taiwan Effect Size t

    Personal Relevance 5 3.17 3.30 0.34 0.35 0.38 1.93*Uncertainty 6 3.28 3.67 0.26 0.27 1.47 6.88**Critical Voice 6 3.25 2.73 0.36 0.23 1.76 78.37**Shared Control 6 2.28 2.54 0.41 0.38 0.65 3.23**Student Negotiation 6 3.39 3.15 0.34 0.31 0.73 73.79**

    Attitude 8 2.35 2.64 0.44 0.37 0.46 3.55*

    Notes: * p < 0.05 ** p < 0.01.

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  • the class mean. The results of the simple correlation suggest that improved studentattitudes are associated with more emphasis on all aspects of constructivismassessed by the CLES.

    The multiple correlation (R) reported in table 4, for the set of five CLES scales inAustralia was 0.54 and 0.77, respectively, for the individual class mean as the unit ofanalysis. In Taiwan the multiple correlation was 0.55 and 0.85 for the individual andclass mean as the unit of analysis, respectively. The results were statistically signifi-cant (p< 0.01) in all cases. The value of the multiple correlations for Australia andTaiwan confirms the findings of past studies, cited by Fraser (1994), that indicateassociations between student attitudes and dimensions of the classroom environment.

    To identify which classroom environment scales contribute most to the vari-ance in student satisfaction, the standardized regression weights ( ) were examined(table 4). When using the individual as the unit of analysis, three CLES scales weresignificantly, positively and independently related to student attitudes when allother scales were mutually controlled (p< 0.01) in both Taiwan and Australia:Personal Relevance, Shared Control and Student Negotiation. The remainingtwo scales, Critical Voice and Uncertainty of Science, appear to have a smalland statistically nonsignificant independent association with student satisfaction.For the class mean as the unit of analysis, only Personal Relevance was signifi-cantly (p< 0.01) and positively related to students attitudes.

    Overall, the factor structure and internal consistency reliability of the CLESwere supported for the Australian and Taiwanese samples. While the qualitativedata collected in the second phase provide a precautionary note about the in-terpretation of data (particularly when making comparisons between and drawingconclusions from two different countries), the analysis of the quantitative data fortwo units of analysis clearly supports the cross-cultural validity of the CLES.

    CONSTRUCTIVIST LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 45

    Table 4. Simple correlation and multiple regression analysis for associa-tions between student attitude and Dimensions of the ConstructivistLearning Environment Survey (CLES).

    Standardized RegressionSimple Correlation Weight

    (r) ( )Unit of

    Scale Analysis Australia Taiwan Australia Taiwan

    Personal Relevance Individual 0.50** 0.51** 0.39** 0.40**Class Mean 0.71** 0.85** 0.57** 0.83**

    Uncertainty Individual 0.31** 0.27** 70.01 0.04Class Mean 0.54** 0.50** 70.10 0.08

    Critical Voice Individual 0.34** 0.27** 0.05 0.02Class Mean 0.59** 0.57** 0.18 0.03

    Shared Control Individual 0.27** 0.37** 0.09** 0.15**Class Mean 0.47** 0.57** 0.18 70.02

    Student Negotiation Individual 0.36** 0.32** 0.14** 0.06**Class Mean 0.61** 0.61** 0.08 0.09

    Multiple Correlation (R) Individual 0.54** 0.55**Class Mean 0.77** 0.85**

    Note: ** p < 0.01.

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  • Findings from qualitative data

    The second phase of the study involved the collection of qualitative data to providefurther evidence to support the validity of the CLES and to determine socio-cultural factors that influence the learning environments in different countries.Findings related to the qualitative data are reported in three parts: observations;interviews; and cross-cultural viability of the CLES.

    Observations

    Observations took place in four classes in each of Australia and Taiwan. Theobservation data revealed that classes in both countries ranged in the extent towhich constructivist approaches were used. In some cases, particularly thoseclasses where teacher-centred approaches were more apparent, there appeared tobe little, if any, evidence of the use of critical constructivist pedagogy, while inothers it was obvious.

    During observations, we were able to note examples which illustratedstudents responses to the CLES. A prime example was for the scale of StudentNegotiation, for which students were asked to indicate how often they have oppor-tunities to discuss, explain and talk about their learning with other students. Thequantitative data indicated that between-country differences in mean scale scoresfor Student Negotiation were statistically significant (table 3), with Australianstudents perceiving Student Negotiation as occurring more often. Observationsin both countries confirmed that, in most cases, students in Australia indeed havemore opportunities to discuss ideas and explain their learning to peers thanstudents in Taiwan, where science classes tend to be more teacher-centred withfewer opportunities for student negotiation.

    While observations supported some of the quantitative data, there were alsosome examples for which observations were not consistent with mean scoresobtained from the CLES, such as for Shared Control. To make meaningful inter-pretations of students responses to the CLES, we found that it was necessary tointerview students and teachers.

    Interviews

    At least three students from each of the four classes observed in each country wereinterviewed about the observations made. Students were selected either by theresearchers during observations or by the teacher; in both cases, an attempt wasmade to select a representative sample (in terms of ability) of the class. Studentswere asked to comment on activities that took place during the observation andstudent responses to selected survey items were used to form part of an interviewschedule. The interviews were used to identify aspects of the constructivist learn-ing environment that could not be gleaned from observations and surveys alone.

    Two teachers from each country were also interviewed after observations oftheir classes. Based on the observations, the interviews sought explanations forthe teachers actions. The interviews provided information regarding a range ofpossible influences on the degree to which critical constructivist pedagogy wasemployed by the teacher.

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  • During the analysis of the interviews, we identified factors which could affectstudents responses to the CLES. These were grouped together and discussedunder the following headings: Critical Voice and students respect for the teacher;opportunities for Shared Control and the nature of the curriculum; competitionand Student Negotiation; and student attitude and Personal Relevance. Finally,the last subsection discusses the viability of the CLES survey in terms of theseinfluences

    Critical Voice and students respect for the teacher

    The Critical Voice scale of the CLES measures the degree to which students areable to question the teacher s pedagogical plans and methods and voice theirconcerns about impediments to their learning. The quantitative data collectedusing the CLES (see figure 1) indicate that students in Taiwan perceived lessCritical Voice in their science classes than did students in Australia. Interviewswith teachers and students suggested that this dimension of the CLES could beinfluenced by the degree of respect which students in each country have forteachers.

    Interviews with teachers in Taiwan revealed that they are highly respectedwithin the community. According to these interviews, teachers in Taiwan hold aprofessional status within the community and are respected as experts in theirfield. In contrast, teachers in Australia felt that their position in the communitywas viewed more as a service than a profession and has relatively low status.

    Interviews from each country suggest that there were also differences in theways in which teachers are regarded by students, with students in Taiwan appear-ing to have more respect for teachers than students in Australia. During interviewswith students in Taiwan, it was claimed that the teacher s knowledge was neverquestioned and the teaching methods or the lesson content were rarely complainedabout. It appears that this lack of criticism is reflected in students responses to theCritical Voice scale and such items as `It s OK for me to question the way Imbeing taught. Students in Taiwan responded to items as occurring less frequentlybecause generally they do not criticise their teachers: `The teacher plans the les-sons very well. I can t think of anything better. . . . So, I just listen to what sheteaches (Taiwanese student D, Item 68). Interviews led us to conclude thatstudents preferred to express their critical voice to peers whom they would ques-tion or speak to about problems after the lesson: `I don t ask the teacher [ques-tions], I prefer to ask classmates (Taiwan Student E, Item 63).

    In contrast, the Australian students interviewed were more likely to complainabout their teachers or the teaching methods. Some Australian students foundscience lessons boring and would choose to have them taught differently. Inthese cases (especially for students in lower-ability classes), students viewedscience and their science teachers as something to be endured because the subjectwas compulsory. `Science lessons are boring . . . I would prefer to have moreexperiments (Australian Student B, Item 66). These students were more vocalregarding their complaints about the teacher and other students in the class. Theywere generally more prepared to approach the teacher about problems or concernswhich they had than were the students whom we interviewed in Taiwan.

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  • Opportunities for Shared Control and the nature of the curriculum

    The Shared Control scale of the CLES measures the extent to which students areinvited to share control with the teacher over the design and management ofthe learning activities, the determining and applying of assessment criteria, andthe articulation of their own learning goals. Quantitative data collected using theCLES suggest that students in Taiwan perceived statistically significantly more(p< 0.001) Shared Control in their science classes than did students in Australia.Observations and interviews with teachers and students, however, generally didnot reflect this result and revealed that students in Taiwan rarely, if ever, experi-ence Shared Control in their science classes.

    Teachers whom we interviewed in Taiwan revealed that the examination-driven nature of the curriculum was a major influence on the degree to whichconstructivist pedagogy was employed in their science classes. The science cur-riculum in Taiwan (for both biology and physics) is presented to students in theform of textbooks, and examinations are based on the content of these textbooks.Therefore, it is important for teachers to cover all areas and, according to teachersinterviews, classes in Taiwan tend to be teacher-centred to enable them to coverthe content of the textbook. Time constraints allow few diversions and feweropportunities for students to exercise control over what they learn.

    None of the students whom we interviewed in Taiwan was able to give anexample of when Shared Control occurred in their science class. When asked abouttheir responses to items related to the Shared Control scale, at least one third of thestudents had not understood the items completely. In some cases, students inTaiwan had interpreted items differently from students in Australia. For example,`I help the teacher to decide how much time I spend on learning activities wasconsidered by some Taiwanese students to be an indication of how fast they wouldcomplete set tasks. On the whole, interviews revealed that students in Taiwan didnot expect or want to be involved in lesson planning. The general consensus of thestudents whom we interviewed in Taiwan was that the teacher, as an expert, is moreable to make decisions regarding teaching, planning and evaluation than the student.

    It could be argued that Australia also suffers from an examination-drivencurriculum. Generally, however, these pressures usually appear to be left untilsenior high school. At the junior high school level, Australian students are stillsubject to tests and assessments in the form of assignments, but not to the samedegree as students in Taiwan. Like the science curriculum in Taiwan, the cur-riculum in Western Australia also includes set content that needs to be covered byteachers. Unlike Taiwan, where the content is defined by a textbook, teachers inAustralia have more freedom in the ways in which they deliver the content. Theredoes not appear to be the same depth of content that is expected to be covered inAustralia and this would appear to allow teachers more time for alternative teach-ing methods (such as library research) and more opportunities to invite students toshare control with the teacher, including the articulation of learning goals and thedesign of learning activities. Whilst shared control was not evident in all the classesthat we observed in Australia, there appeared to be more opportunities than inTaiwan. In addition, most of the students whom we interviewed in Australia wereable to provide examples of shared control in their class even though they hadresponded `sometimes or `seldom to most items (often indicating that they wouldprefer more Shared Control).

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  • The interviews with students regarding the Shared Control scale raised somequestions about the applicability of this construct (originally devised in a Westerncontext) for Taiwan schools. In doing so, they highlight the importance of com-bining multiple methods to gain meaningful insights into students responses to aquestionnaire.

    Student Negotiation and competition in the education system

    The Student Negotiation scale measures the extent to which opportunities existfor students to explain and justify to other students their newly developing ideasand to reflect on the viability of their own and other students ideas. According tothe results of the quantitative data collection (see table 3), students in Taiwanperceived statistically significantly less opportunities for negotiation than didstudents in Australia. Observations and interviews with students and teachersgenerally reflect this result. Analysis of the interviews indicates that the degreeof competitiveness in the education system could be a contributing factor in theamount of student negotiation that takes place in science classes.

    In Taiwan, good examination results are of paramount importance. If studentsattain good results, it increases the likelihood of being allocated a position in a`star school (a school with outstanding results as measured by the number ofstudents who enter university). The interviews with teachers in Taiwan high-lighted the competitive nature of teaching. The test scores of the different classesoften were displayed for other teachers to read and teachers are under a consider-able amount of pressure from the principal and home-room teachers to ensure thatgrades don t slip and that students improve their performance if their results arelower than those of other teachers.

    According to teachers in Taiwan, social mobility is available to students of anystatus through education. Because the expectation of many parents is that theirchild will attend university, they exert pressure on students to perform well inexaminations. According to the teachers whom we interviewed, the competitivenature of education in Taiwan affects the type of learning environment that iscreated. Teaching in Taiwan is often centred on developing academic ability asefficiently as possible and diversions from teacher-centred methods can be viewedas off-task by parents and students. The competitive nature of the educationsystem in Taiwan often forces teachers to use more teacher-centred methods,thus providing few opportunities for activities which include student negotiation.In addition, it was felt that, in terms of academic achievement, teaching methodswhich are not teacher-centred could be less effective.

    Teachers in Australia did not appear to feel that the education system inAustralia at the junior high school level was as competitive and therefore studentswere not under such a great deal of pressure. Student interviews revealed that theparents of students in the higher-ability classes, such as the academic extensionclasses, were more likely to expect their children to attend university than studentsin lower-ability classes. Many of the interviews of students in the lower-abilityclasses did not indicate that they aspired to attend university and, for the mostpart, were interested in pursuing a career involving a trade such as carpentry.Certainly, teachers in Australia did not indicate that there was pressure from theparents for students to succeed in the same way as in Taiwan.

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  • It appears that the reduced competition in Australian schools allows teachersmore time for classroom activities which include opportunities for student nego-tiation. Many of the science classes that were observed in Australia moved awayfrom the teacher-centred lesson that was so prominent in Taiwan and includedvarious group activities that provided the opportunities for students to be involvedin negotiation at different levels.

    Personal Relevance and student attitudes

    The Personal Relevance scale is concerned with the connectedness of schoolscience to students out-of-school experiences. According to the results from theCLES, students in Taiwan perceived significantly more personal relevance in theirscience classes than did students in Australia. The results also indicate thatstudents in Taiwan have a significantly more positive attitude towards theirscience classes than do students in Australia (see table 3). Statistically significantassociations were found between students attitudes and students perceptions ofthe extent to which teachers make the science programme personally relevant tothem (table 4). Interviews with students and teachers appear to support thesedata.

    Students whom we interviewed in Taiwan generally had a positive attitudetowards their science class. Despite the competitive nature of the examination-driven curriculum in Taiwan (discussed in the previous two sections), students feltthat teachers go out of their way to make science classes relevant to their everydaylives. Students gave examples of teachers taking the time on weekends to walk inthe mountains to help them to learn biology, or of students helping the teacher tocollect specimens from around the school after class. Teachers whom we inter-viewed did not consider the seemingly inflexible curriculum as a barrier to makingscience relevant and the students in their class were apparently appreciative of this.`The teacher always plans interesting lessons that are related to everyday life(Taiwan Student F, Item 68). `Most of the content of biology [that she teachesus] is about everyday life, and so we find it useful (Taiwan Student D, Item 63).

    The interviews of the students in Australia indicate that their attitude towardsscience classes could depend on their ability level. Unlike Taiwan, where juniorhigh school students generally are randomly allocated to classes, many schools inWestern Australia `stream students according to ability. This varies in differentschools, with higher-ability students being placed in academic extension classes insome cases, with student selection of subjects dictating the classes which thestudents attend in other cases, and with schools randomly selecting students instill other cases.

    Students whom we interviewed in higher-ability classes appeared to have morepositive attitudes towards their science class than students in lower-ability classes.The interviews suggest that students in higher-ability classes were more likely tobe given activities that students refer to as `enjoyable , such as experiments orinvestigations conducted outside the classroom (which they also agreed madescience more meaningful). In contrast, students in the lower-ability classes wereinclined to find science lessons boring and unnecessary for their future.

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  • Cross-cultural viability of the CLES

    The interviews with students from Taiwan and Australia helped us to interpret thequantitative data. Through these interviews, it was possible to ascertain thereasons for students responses to survey items and their feelings about variousaspects of their classroom environment. During this process, the interviews high-lighted the strong points and pitfalls associated with using a survey framed in aWestern context in a different culture.

    Students interviews were generally reflective of their perceptions as describedby the CLES, with the exception of the Shared Control scale. Therefore, thesurvey data provided a good starting point for measuring students perceptionsof the constructivist learning environment in both countries.

    One pitfall highlighted through students interviews was that, despite theaccuracy of the back translations, the Chinese version of the survey did not alwayscapture the full or literal meaning of the original survey. In some cases, the surveyitems were outside the realm of students experience, as with the item `I help theteacher to decide how much time I spend on learning experiences . SomeTaiwanese students had never been involved in class decision-making in theWestern sense, and therefore interpreted the item to involve the speed withwhich they completed set tasks. An important point which emerged was thatstudents were unlikely to be able to describe, with any degree of accuracy, adimension of the classroom environment with which they have had no experience.Shared control was one such concept with which many students were unfamiliarand therefore they interpreted items differently from those students who hadexperienced shared control.

    At the end of gathering the qualitative data, two important points emerged forthe researchers from both countries. First, while the classroom environments aredifferent in the two countries, CLES scores do not necessarily reflect the overallquality of education. Students in Taiwan perceived that the activities encompassedby the scales Critical Voice and Student Negotiation occurred less frequently thandid their Australian counterparts. In a Western sense, this could be considered asl`ess favourable perceptions of scales, but this has to be considered in terms of thesurvey and whether the scales reflect what is considered to be educationally im-portant in the countries and cultures where the data were collected. Second, com-parisons of quantitative data from different countries should be made with cautionbecause we found that there were some items for which students in one countryconsistently interpreted items slightly differently from those in another country (aswith the Shared Control scale).

    Conclusion

    This cross-national study of science classroom environments in Taiwan andAustralia combined quantitative and qualitative methods. The quantitative data,collected using the Constructivist Learning Environment Survey (CLES),supported the reliability and validity of both an English and Mandarin version.The a priori factor structure was replicated with nearly all items loading on theirown factor and no other factor. Internal consistency (Cronbach alpha coefficient)for two units of analysis, ability to differentiate between classrooms and discrimi-nant validity were found to be acceptable.

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  • A comparison of CLES scale mean scores in two countries revealed thatAustralian students perceived more Critical Voice and Student Negotiation andless Personal Relevance, Uncertainty and Shared Control than students in Taiwan.Also, the attitudes of Taiwanese students towards their science classes were morepositive than for students in Australia.

    Simple correlations revealed that a positive and statistically significant corre-lation between students attitudes and each of the five scales of the CLES for bothTaiwan and Australian data. A multiple regression revealed positive and statisti-cally significant independent associations between attitude, Personal Relevance,Shared Control and Student Negotiation for both Australia and Taiwan with theindividual as the unit of analysis.

    In a second phase of the study, data were collected through classroom obser-vations and interviews with students and teachers in each country. This qualitativeinformation was used to help make meaningful interpretations of quantitative databy taking into account the background, culture and situation of individuals.

    While initially observations appeared to conflict with some of the quantitativedata, interviews helped the researchers to make sense of these incongruencies. Insome cases, the qualitative data supported the quantitative data. Australianstudents perceived Critical Voice and Student Negotiation as occurring moreoften than Taiwanese students and interviews and observations confirmed thatthis was generally the case. We found, however, that there were cultural factorswhich affected responses to these scales. For example, students in Taiwanappeared to have a higher regard for their teachers than did Australian studentsand were therefore less likely to criticize them. We also found that students inTaiwan were more likely to include instances outside the science class (such asdiscussions with peers for the Student Negotiation scale) which could haveincreased the mean score for this scale.

    Students in Taiwan indicated that the Personal Relevance scale occurred morefrequently than did students in Australia. Interviews revealed that this could, inpart, be due to students attitude towards science. Students in Taiwan generallyagreed that science was required for their future and felt that their teachers wentout of their way to ensure that lessons were relevant to their everyday life. Incontrast, Australian students, particularly those in lower-ability classes, felt thatscience classes were less relevant to their out-of-school life.

    Quantitative data indicated that Shared Control occurred more frequently inTaiwan than Australia. This was not reflected in the qualitative data and inter-views revealed that many students in Taiwan had not experienced shared controlas expressed in the CLES. Students interpretations of items were, therefore, morelikely to differ than those of the Australian students. This was a poignant factorthat researchers felt noteworthy, as it serves as a reminder that quantitative data onits own can be open to misinterpretation.

    By combining qualitative and quantitative data, it was possible to determinenot only that the learning environments in each country were different, but alsosome explanations of why they were different. It was found that, by weavingsurvey data with observations and interviews collected from the participants, wecould gain a more complete picture and better explain differences and similaritiesbetween scale scores of the two countries.

    Interviews with teachers, students and researchers revealed that the CLES hasproven to be a useful method for providing important insights into the key char-

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  • acteristics of teaching epistemologies in science classes in both Taiwan andAustralia. As such, this study suggests that the CLES is a useful tool for examiningthe transformation of teaching and learning practices in accordance with a con-structivist perspective.

    The findings provide a precautionary note regarding the use of surveys framedin a Western context. The interpretation of data which measures constructivistapproaches from a Western viewpoint, could be limited if socio-cultural factors arenot considered. Hence, comparisons of the results of surveys administered indifferent countries should be done with caution.

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    Appendix 1: Items in Constructivist Learning EnvironmentSurvey (CLES)

    Learning about the world1. I learn about the world outside of school.2. My new learning starts with problems about the world outside of school.3. I learn how science can be part of my out-of-school life.4. I get a better understanding of the world outside of school.5. I learn interesting things about the world outside of school.6. What I learn has nothing to do with my out-of-school life.Learning about science7. I learn that science cannot provide perfect answers to problems.8. I learn that science has changed over time.9. I learn that science is influenced by peoples values and opinions.

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  • 10. I learn about the different sciences used by people in other cultures.11. I learn that modern science is different from the science of long ago.12. I learn that science is about creating theories.Learning to speak out13. Its OK for me to ask the teacher `why do I have to learn this?14. Its OK for me to question the way Im being taught.15. Its OK for me to complain about teaching activities that are confusing.16. Its OK for me to complain about anything that prevents me from learning.17. Its OK for me to express my opinion.18. Its OK for me to speak up for my rights.Learning to learn19. I help the teacher to plan what Im going to learn.20. I help the teacher to decide how well I am learning.21. I help the teacher to decide which activities are best for me.22. I help the teacher to decide how much time I spend on learning activities.23. I help the teacher to decide which activities I do.24. I help the teacher to assess my learning.Learning to communicate25. I get the chance to talk to other students.26. I talk with other students about how to solve problems.27. I explain my understandings to other students.28. I ask other students to explain their thoughts.29. Other students ask me to explain my ideas.30. Other students explain their ideas to me.

    ScoringItems are scored a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5, respectively, for the responses Almost Never,Seldom, Sometimes, Often and Almost Always, with the exception of item 6 whichis scored in reverse. Omitted or invalid responses scored a 3. To obtain the totalscore for each scale, add the scores for the six items in each scale.

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