A case study of academics' epistemic-pedagogic identity in the context of neoliberalism

Miller, Melanie B. (2015) A case study of academics' epistemic-pedagogic identity in the context of neoliberalism. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

This thesis explores academics' epistemic-pedagogic identities in the context of neoliberalism. Specifically, the research investigates different academics' experiences of change in relation to their ways of knowing (i.e., epistemologies) and teaching (i.e., pedagogies). There are four research questions: (1) What is neoliberalism in the context of higher education? (2) Why are epistemological and pedagogical dimensions important in understanding academic identity, within the context of neoliberalism? (3) How do different academics' experience neoliberalism in relation to their epistemic-pedagogic identities? (4) How can epistemic-pedagogic identities develop to engage more adaptively but critically in higher education? The purpose of this research is to explore new directions in today's higher education environment, and to represent and interpret diverse academics' responses to the epistemic drift represented by neoliberalism. This study fills a gap in the literature by offering a unique relational and contextual insight and consequential representation of academic experiences.

The research study consists of a single ethnographic case study of academics (n = 70) in one institution in New Zealand. Data collection was carried out for 6 months in 2013 and involved questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and artefact collection. Data interpretation and analysis was informed by a synthesis of complementary models of epistemological development (Haerle, 2006; King & Kitchener, 1994; Perry, 1970) and pedagogical styles (Mosston & Ashworth, 1990), to enable an inductive thematic process using theory-led coding. Findings were synthesised and represented using thematic interpretative vignettes and visualised in a conceptual model.

The findings revealed academic identity within the neoliberal environment is suffering from unrest; essentially it is "squashed," "hindered, and constrained." The right to academic freedom, as mentioned in The Education Act 1989 in Aotearoa/New Zealand, seems to be curtailed, with participants stating "that they stay out of harm's way," "there is no point in questioning or challenging the status quo because you would not be thanked for it," and also that stating unpopular opinions is frankly and openly mentioned as a "no, no." This could be attributed to not just the institution but societal change towards a lack of trust that has permeated alongside the neoliberal way that no establishment (or institute) has complete freedom or trust within a democratic society. It could be said that historically there was once an unquestionable respect for institutional establishments (for example, the banks, the Church, the medical profession, teaching profession). Even though this is the current situation within society, recruiting and taking into account experienced academics' voices within the neoliberalised higher education sector is vital for educational change.

The primary conclusions are that a) neoliberalism is understood and experienced by some academics as a form of organisational epistemic drift that influences their ways of knowing and teaching; b) academics' experience this drift in various ways, for example many try to resist, others feel strongly about the changes but state the best way to address them is to "fly under the radar" (become invisible) or ignore the changes while others have chosen have chosen to be silent getting on with their work quietly; and c) the recent epistemic changes have caused what the researcher has coined a 'loud disquiet' (strong educational commentary that could also be described as silent screams'), through hearing voices from participants' narratives in relation to their epistemic-pedagogic identities within higher education.

The study contributes to a broader professional conversation concerning the changes experienced by academics in a rapidly evolving higher education environment. The study argues for a curriculum review in professional development training courses for experienced academics, to not only have a safe space to articulate and hear others' voices and provide support, but also to provide a conduit to filter views to the institution, government and society at large. The study acknowledges that neoliberal hegemony threatens epistemological diversity and desirable dialectics in the academy. Therefore, the response to the impact of epistemic changes (the loud disquiet) could be better heard and disseminated thus providing essential considerations and review in the future for the professional educator programme.

Item ID: 49980
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: academic change, academic identity, epistemic changes, epistemic-pedagogic, epistemologies, higher education, neoliberalism, New Zealand, pedagogies
Date Deposited: 28 Aug 2017 23:27
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130310 Maori Education (excl Early Childhood and Primary Education) @ 50%
13 EDUCATION > 1301 Education Systems > 130103 Higher Education @ 50%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939905 Maori Education @ 50%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939902 Education and Training Theory and Methodology @ 50%
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