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Living graphs as a methodological tool: representing landmarks in the professional development of mid-career teacher educators

posted on 2023-06-08, 19:49 authored by Vivienne Griffiths, Liz Hryniewicz, Simon ThompsonSimon Thompson
There is increasing interest across Europe in the re-conceptualisation of the role of teacher educators and in particular, their developing research identities (Korthagen et al., 2005; Swennen et al., 2010). This paper will present the use of an innovative research methodology, living graphs, to capture and represent the life experiences and professional development of teacher educators in two universities in the UK. A growing body of research on teacher educators emphasises the complexity of the work and multiple skills needed, but also identifies a range of issues and tensions faced by teacher educators. For example, several researchers (e.g. Harrison and McKeon, 2010; Murray, 2008) have highlighted the dual transition that teacher educators make into university life and lack of induction into new roles. In the UK and several European countries, teacher educators move into universities after teaching in schools, so they have to make the transition from school to university and a further transition from a predominantly teaching role to a wider academic role which includes research. Swennen et al. (2010) identify four main roles or sub-identities which teacher educators adopt: schoolteacher, teacher in higher education, teacher of teachers and researcher. They argue that, in many cases, teacher educators have to transform themselves in order to take on certain identities, especially the researcher role. Such transformations and landmarks undertaken by teacher educators were the focus of this study. This research builds on an earlier study (Authors, 2010) which investigated the transition of early career teacher educators into higher education and research. The second phase, reported on here, looked at the professional development of mid-career teacher educators using living graphs as a methdological tool. Research questions included: • What are the key landmarks in teacher educators’ professional and academic development and do these differ over time? • How effective are living graphs as a methodological tool to illuminate teacher educators’ experiences and development? The objectives of the study were to analyse and compare the career experiences of teacher educators; in particular, to identify stages of development, landmark events and contextual factors affecting professional learning and academic identities. The overarching theoretical framework used in the study is socio-cultural learning, in recognition that the specific context in which teacher educators work and their relationships within this are of vital importance in the process of learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Eraut’s (2007) research on contextual and learning factors in the workplace is used to identify key factors affecting teacher educators’ professional learning and any differences between the contexts. Lave and Wenger's (1991) model of legitimate peripheral participation was useful for studying teacher educators' induction and development over time. Narrative analysis was used to examine the teacher educators’ own accounts of these perspectives and themes were identified which related to professional and academic identity and development. Visual research methods are a rapidly developing area of social enquiry and an evolving visual culture in research (Bagnoli, 2009; Deaney & Wilson, 2011; Iantaffi, 2011).The use of living graphs as a research method alongside qualitative interviews was adapted from a strategy often used in history teaching (Dawson, undated). A graph was created using a timeline as a horizontal axis and perceived highs and lows of research identity and professional development as the vertical axis. An embedded case study approach (Cohen et al., 2007; Yin, 2002) was used with purposive sampling to identify six mid-career teacher educators in each university. Participants were asked to map their personal biographies, academic and research highs and lows, career landmarks and barriers and successes using this graphic format. This was then used as a basis for discussion and exploration in the interviews. Participants were also asked to reflect on the use of living graphs as a research tool. Confidentiality was assured and all names have been removed from examples and interview extracts to protect anonymity. Clear landmarks were identified in both contexts, with development in teaching seen as largely positive, while research development was much more varied. Teacher educators who were further on in their careers saw research development as transformative personally as well as academically. In analysing the findings, we drew in particular on Swennen et al.’s (2010) identification of teacher educators’ sub-identities. Living graphs were found to be a rich data source to identify and explore landmarks, positive features and barriers to development. Enhanced verbal input resulted from using graphics to represent highs and lows of experience, including the visual representation of emotion. Questions have arisen about the most effective use of the graphs. This is a useful research tool and we argue that it is particularly suitable for researching teacher educators’ identities, but it needs further clarification and guidelines for use. The findings make a strong contribution to the growing body of European research on teacher educators’ professional development.


Publication status

  • Published

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Presentation Type

  • paper

Event name

European Conference on Educational Research

Event location

University of Cadiz, Spain

Event type


Event date

17-21 September 2012

Department affiliated with

  • Education Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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