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date: 19 November 2019

Summary and Keywords

Qualitative teacher education research is concerned with understanding the processes and outcomes of teacher preparation in ways that are useful for practitioners, policymakers, and the teaching profession. Complexity theory has its origin in the biological and physical sciences, where it applies to phenomena that are more than the sum of their parts—where the “higher order” form cannot be created by just putting together the pieces that it is made from. Complexity theory has moved to social science, and to education, because many social phenomena also seem to have this property. These phenomena are termed “complex systems.” Complexity theory is also a theory of learning and change, so it is concerned with how complex systems are learning and changing. This means that methods to investigate complex systems must be able to identify changes in the system, termed “emergence,” and must also account for change over time and the history of the complex system. Longitudinal designs that involve the collection of rich data from multiple sources can support understanding of how a complex system, such as teacher education, is learning and changing. Comparative analysis, narrative analysis, extended case studies, mapping of networks and interactions, and practitioner research studies have all been used to try to bring complexity theory to empirical work in teacher education. Adopting a complexity theory approach to research in teacher education is difficult because it calls into question many taken-for-granted assumptions about the nature of research and what is possible to find. Linear, process-product thinking cannot be sustained in a complexity framework, and ideas like “cause,” “outcome,” “change,” and “intervention” all have to be re-thought. A growing body of work uses complexity thinking to inform research in teacher education.

Keywords: complexity, teacher education, qualitative research, extended case studies, emergence

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