An Australasian Collaborative for understanding the pedagogy of infant-toddler development (CUPID)

Lead researcher: Professor Jayne White Collaborators: USA Associate Professor Claire Vallotton (Michigan State University) New Zealand: Jean Rockel (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Auckland) Australia: Professor Margaret Sims (University of New England, NSW) Associate Professor Berenice Nyland (RMIT, Melbourne) Associate Professor Shelia Degotardi (Mcquarie University, Sydney)

Project Dates: 2015 - 2019

Introduction baby image

The infant and toddler pedagogies and how they were presented to students who were preparing to teach this age group, were still not well understood. The focus of this project was the extent to which infant and toddler pedagogy was viewed as a specialist field, or one that is subsumed into the generic field of early childhood education, and the provision of undergraduate courses and practicum that contribute to either approach. The project was a four year research collaboration between three Australian and two New Zealand universities 2015-2019. It is part of a larger study with 17 American Universities from different states during 2014-2018.

Research Aims

This project sought to explore, understand and improve the undergraduate students’ educational experience and understanding of the subjects matter as they prepared to teach infants and toddlers. Moreover, the Australasian study  illuminated the impact of diverse curriculum and teacher education practices on the values and beliefs that underpin preparation of students for work with infants and toddlers. Building on the design of the USA study, the research surveyed one cohort of students over the three years of their qualification and into the first year of practice following graduation.

Why was this research important?

While there is a growing body of research investigating the presence of infants and toddlers in formal educational settings – information about the programmes and practices taught to students is virtually absent from the research domain.

What was the background to the project?

This study sought to explore, understand and improve the undergraduate students’ educational experience and understanding of the subject matter as they prepare to teach infants and toddlers. Building on the design of a parallel USA study, a group of nine universities across Australia and New Zealand, all of which provided teacher education to prepare students for working with infants and toddlers, are surveying one cohort of students over the three/four years of their qualification and into the first year of practice following graduation.

What were the key findings?

Initial analysis of practicum reports and lecturer/student surveys at year one suggested that the field is highly complex and nuanced - leading to diverse pedagogical approaches and priorities across institutions and countries. This diversity includes: i) the timing of their practical and theoretical engagement with birth-to-three year olds; ii) where their practicum is located, iii) how it is assessed, and iv) how many years the programme spans.

What was the most important facts to take away so far?

At end of year one of a three or four year ECE ITE programme, many Australasian Universities assert that students did not be ‘ready’ to encounter what they see as additional demands in working with infants and toddlers. Others promoted the idea of a generic practice experience across all age groups over all years of study. Both positions are influenced by beliefs concerning prerequisite skills and knowledge deemed necessary for effective practicum with this age, alongside pragmatic issues such as access to settings; and policy demarcations based on age.

Project Updates

What's new?

Given the current climate of change and the homogenisation of teacher education into a generalised unit, it is even more important to consider the diversities offered in working with under three year-olds in educational spaces. What has become clear is that there are many assumptions that exist in this regard and that these are often applied on an ad hoc basis. The study is illuminating serious gaps in the field.

Where there any new highlights?

The results of the end of the first year of the study are already informing practicum changes at the University, and contributing to a groundswell of interest in understanding and articulating what pedagogy 'looks like' for this younger age group in Early Childhood Education.

Where there any new challenges?

There was disappointment with the overall response rate from the first year of the project and so it was decided to extend it out to more Universities in the hope of adding to the cohort for each year. As a consequence we are operating two years worth of survey simultaneously, and will be combining the results for analysis at the end of the year. We have been fortunate to secure a second summer scholar assist us with this work.

What's next?

A Summer scholar (November-February) will analyse all practicum reports across all sites for year 1 (Combining with last years) and enter year 2 practicum data into the Nvivo programme for subsequent analysis. The first and second year student cohorts will be asked to complete another survey before the end of this year. All researchers will be invited to participate in the analysis and write-up of survey results. The research team anticipate completing a second publication for the project in early 2017.

New media, publications and presentations

White, E.J., Peter, M., Rockel, J., Sims, M. & Kumeroa, M. (in press). First-year practicum experiences for pre-service early childhood education teachers working with birth-to-three-year-olds: An Australasian experience. Journal of Early Childhood Education.

Project presentation:

White, E.J., (2016). Two year olds in ECE: A policy focus? Presentation to "Yeah Baby: ECE from birth to 3" Conference, Tauranga, 10 Sept. Childspace Early Childhood Institute

Research Questions were

  1. Who are the students embarking on becoming infant/toddler teachers? What are their motivations, backgrounds and existing knowledge, attitudes, and skills regarding infant/toddler development, care, and education?
  2. What is taught in infant/toddler courses and how is this content taught? What characterizes infant/toddler‐focused courses in terms of lecturer background, course learning objectives, pedagogical approaches, content, and structure?
  3. What do students learn? What changes, over an academic term and over an entire programme, can be observed in students’ knowledge, attitudes, and skills for working with infants and toddlers?
  4. What supports and hinders student learning? How do changes in students’ knowledge, attitudes, and skills vary according to the characteristics of students, lecturer, and courses?
  5. How can the future infant/toddler workforce be better prepared? What pedagogies work best for particular content/competencies and/or for particular cultures and curriculum?

Potential research impact?

The results of this study shed light on the variety of teacher education practices and values that shape the graduates of each programme and, ultimately, the infants and toddlers they teach once they graduate. Moreover, due to the design of the study it will be possible to compare, in collaboration with the wider CUPID study, the results and outcomes across institutions within New Zealand, and between institutions in New Zealand, Australia and the USA.