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Complexity and Teacher Learning The belief that teaching, learning, and learning to teach are complex and

contextdependent processes is at the core of my interest in teacher education research. I plan to use qualitative methodology to explore the relationship between multiple factors in the development of pre-service teachers philosophical views on teaching and learning and the impact of these views on their curricular decisions and interactions with diverse student populations. In selecting a theoretical framework, I am interested in one that allows for data to emerge from complex interactions. Complexity Theories Although there is no single definition of complexity and no agreed upon metric to measure complexity (Sanger & Giddings, 2012), the use of complexity as a theoretical framework for research in disciplines ranging from physics and ecology to economics and education is well-established in the literature. The notion of complexity is a reference to the quality or condition of things or ideas consisting of or comprehending various parts united or connected together (Alhadeff-Jones, 2008, p. 67). Complexity also refers to the holistic, global or non-linear form of intelligibility needed to comprehend a phenomenon (AlhadeffJones, 2008, p. 68). Morin contends that complexity cannot be something simply defined and is, thus, a word-problem and not a word-solution (as cited in Alhadeff-Jones, 2008, p. 66). Complexity has been utilized as a conceptual lens by researchers employing both the terms complexity theory (Alhadeff-Jones, 2008; Mason, 2008a; McQuillan, 2008; Sanger & Giddings, 2012) and complexity thinking (Davis, 2008; Kuhn, 2008; Opfer & Pedder, 2011). At the core, complexity frameworks share a common understanding of the nature of complex systems.

Complex systems consist of numerous subsystems interacting with each other through multiple, nonlinear, recursive feedback loops (Sanger & Giddings, 2012, p. 371). They are learning systems that constantly change based on information fed back into the system (McQuillan, 2008, p. 1778). Complex systems challenge notions of linear causality because they are inherently unpredictable. Yet, discernible patterns of interaction emerge from complex systems and those patterns will fall within a standard range (McQuillan, 2008). McQuillan (2008) contends that complex systems should be understood at their point of emergence, when system elements self-organize into discernible patternswhen the system is doing what the system does (p. 1780). In addition, complex systems are synergistic. As a collective, system elements can transcend individual form, function, and potential (McQuillan, 2008). Complexity theory concerns itself with systems, environments, and organizations that have multiple constituent elements or agents that are connected and interact in many different ways. It draws attention to the emergent patterns that result from the interactions between constituent elements. Complexity theory makes space for individuality and for the seemingly trivial. It does not make predictions about what is essential and what can be marginalized. Complexity theory is both descriptive and pragmatic in its philosophical orientation (Mason, 2008a). It does not exist at the meta-level of idealism or abstracted theoretical models, but is immersed in the way things are (Mason, 2008a, p. 41). Kuhn (2008) prefers the conception of complexity as a style of thinking or a paradigmatic approach because it has yet been systematically articulated in such a way that it could be termed a single theory (p. 178). Complexity, in this usage, encompasses a range of different theories related to a shared idea that seemingly random phenomena are actually part of a larger coherent process (Alhadeff-Jones, 2008; Kuhn, 2008). Complexity thinking offers

metaphors for making sense that are not bound to linearity or certainty (Kuhn, 2008, p. 181). It recognizes complex, recursive causality. Both the nature of the world and human sense-making are depicted as self-organising, non-linear, sensitive to initial conditions and influenced by many sets of rules (Kuhn, 2008, p. 182). Whereas the mathematical applications of complexity theories are emphasized in the physical sciences, the metaphorical or conceptual applications of complexity theories are emphasized in the social sciences (Sanger & Giddings, 2012). Educational Research Davis (2008) argues that complexity theory should be embraced by educational researchers and thought of as an educational discourse. He outlines several simultaneities, phenomena or events that exist or operate at the same time, in complexity and educational research. He frames his discussions of knowers and knowledge, descriptive and pragmatic insights, representation and presentation, and affect and effect in contrast to the modern and Western habit of thinking in terms of discontinuities around such matters as theory and practice (Davis, 2008, p. 51). In his review of the literature on small-school reform, McQuillan (2008) contends that complexity theory is good to think with because it focuses ones attention onto the relationships among students, teachers, and administrators to see what emerges from their collective interaction (p. 1780). He further concludes that complexity theory offers a systematic way to both conceptualize and direct school reform given that schools are dynamic, nonlinear systems. Similarly, Mason (2008a) identifies complexity theorys most important insight with regard to educational change as the understanding that properties and behaviours emerge not only from the elements that constitute a system, but from the myriad connections among them

(Mason, 2008a, p. 48). He then proposes that educators consider the extent to which they can contribute to or influence conditions so that emergence can occur (Mason, 2008a). Kuhn (2008) agrees that complexity and education are compatible for research because human cultural settings, productions and institutions as educational endeavour are complex and dynamic (p. 182). Despite her overall support for educational researchers utilizing complexity frameworks, Kuhn illuminates some potential difficulties that they might face. Primary among her cautions is the realization that complexity and education are differently disposed. She explains the fundamental mismatch between complexity and educational enterprise as in essence complexity is descriptive whereas education is normative (Kuhn, 2008, p. 187). While complexity does not have ethical intent, educational researchers certainly do. Thus, they must be cognizant that they are engaging in a process of meshing the descriptions of complexity thinking with a range of aims (Kuhn, 2008). With respect to educational research, complexity theories suggest the need for qualitative research, participatory research, and case study methodology (Mason, 2008b). Phelps and Graham (2010) explain the multiple synergies between complexity and action research, and that action research can be a valuable and congruent meta-methodology for those researching from complexity-based perspectives (187). In complexity influenced research designs, patterns of behavior arising from interactions are the emphasis of investigation. They are shaped by assumptions of unpredictability and are aimed at exploring the nature of emergence (Opfer & Pedder, 2011). Teacher Learning Opfer and Pedder (2012) utilize a complexity framework in their review of the literature on teacher professional learning. They construe teacher learning as a complex system

representing recursive interactions between systems and elements that coalesce in ways that are unpredictable but also highly patterned (Opfer & Pedder, 2011, p. 379). The mechanism they adopt, therefore, combines an understanding of systems with a search for the conditions and interactions that generate variable, but explainable outcomes. They conclude that effective teacher learning requires multiple and cyclic movements between the systems of influence in teachers worlds (Opfer & Pedder, 2011, p. 386). Furthermore, they highlight a need for more studies that investigate teacher learning from this perspective. McQuittys (2012) qualitative case study uses complexity theory to analyze how one teacher learned to teach writing within and through the systems of teacher education and the school where she was employed. Her findings center on the fact that teachers continuously restructure their understandings of teaching in an effort to remain viable as students, curriculum, district policies, and state mandates change (McQuitty, 2012, p. 363). She further explains that teachers recombine and reproduce instructional ideas when faced with new teaching situations. She touts complexity theory as offering an analytic tool and theoretical basis for challenging simplistic view of teacher learning. Looking Ahead Complexity as a lens for examining the conditions and interactions within systems that influence pre-service teacher learning has potential for application in my future research. I am attracted to the educational reform that it supports and the methodologies with which it corresponds. My major reservation is that complexity theory in its own complexity presents a challenging starting point for a novice educational researcher.


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