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A historical analysis of the construction of education as an area of study at university level in Western Australia

Di Gardiner
The University of Western Australia
Abstract for a PhD thesis submitted to The University of Western Australia. Di Gardiner received a WAIER Postgraduate Award in absentia at Forum 2009.
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This thesis develops an understanding of how, historically, Education as an area of study (Education) has been constructed at each of the five universities in the State of Western Australia. The motivation for the study was the claim made by some academics that historically Education has been marginalised in certain universities in the UK, the USA and Australia, and that this marginalisation was intensified by a negative attitude towards its association with teacher preparation. Very little evidence, however, has been put forward to support this claim, thus highlighting a major neglected area of research. This thesis is a response to such neglect in relation to the situation in one state in Australia.

The focus of the thesis is on the 'preactive curriculum' as represented in the plans and syllabi that outline what was included in programs and courses. An 'internal' analysis of relevant documents was conducted along with an 'external' analysis which considered the broader social, economic and political context. It was recognised that a study of the 'interactive curriculum' also needs to be conducted to gain insights into how the 'preactive curriculum' was mediated by lecturers and students. From the outset, however, it was deemed that this would constitute a further major study in itself.

Three fundamental aspects of the study of Education were identified during the study, namely, the structure Education, the orientation of Education, and the content of Education. The central argument of the thesis is that the structure of Education at the universities in Western Australia developed along common lines. Each university was engaged in initial teacher preparation, professional development for practising teachers, higher degree studies and research. The orientation of Education, however, varied considerably between institutions and also within them over time. The most prominent were the 'academic', 'integrated', 'vocational', 'technical', 'pragmatic' and 'professional' orientations. The content of Education at the five universities also varied. Such variation offered breadth of opportunity for students. It also meant that, collectively, the universities served the needs of the State and their students by providing relevant and flexible curricula beyond what would have been possible in a 'one size fits all' model. Furthermore the claim that there was tension regarding the inclusion of 'Education' as an area of study within Australian universities generally, is not upheld for the Western Australian context.

While this thesis contributes to an understanding of how, historically, Education as an area of study has been constructed in one State in Australia, much further research remains to be done in this field of curriculum history. In particular, future research could focus on the way in which Education, along with other areas of university study, have been constructed in the other states of Australia and overseas. The identification of areas of contestation and omissions from courses are also worthy of consideration. Fine-grained studies of this nature could collectively make an important contribution to the understanding of the history of developments in the university curriculum at a macro level. Such work would, in the fullness of time, contribute to new understandings about institutionalised learning at tertiary level and provide historical insights to inform current practice as universities continue to try to find their way in a global society.

Author: Dr Di Gardiner is an Associate Professor and Director of Teaching in the Graduate School of Education, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009. Email: di.gardiner@uwa.edu.au Web: http://www.education.uwa.edu.au/

Please cite as: Gardiner, D. (2009). Thesis abstract: A historical analysis of the construction of education as an area of study at university level in Western Australia. In Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 2009. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2009/gardiner.html


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