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

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/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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