On 6 December 2013 Marvi Remmik will defence her doctoral thesis "Novice University Teachers' professional development and learning as a teacher: Opportunities and Conditions at Estonian Higher Education Institutions".
Supervisor: senior lecturer Mari Karm (University of Tartu)
Opponent: senior lecturer Erika Löfström (University of Helsinki)
The first years of practice are of significant importance from the viewpoint of the formation of a university teacher's professionalism since the foundation of the formation of a university teacher's identity is laid, the academic community is joined, its prevalent values and traditions are either embraced or contradicted with. The aim of the doctoral thesis was to describe and analyze novice university teachers' adaption to their work, their teaching conceptions and how the teaching conceptions manifest in their teaching practice. The aim was also to explain how university teachers learn their teaching skills and what is the essence of being a university teacher. The results of the study demonstrated that novice university teachers as a group cannot be approached in a simplified manner as they may differ in the identity formulation, in the attitude towards research and teaching and in their teaching con¬ceptions. Their willingness to develop themselves may also vary. The teaching conceptions of novice university teachers have not formed yet, thus, university teachers are still in the process of seeking for strategies conforming to their understandings. Their teaching practice often refers back to their personal experience as students. In terms of acquiring teaching skills, informal learning sources were valued. The formal way of learning that was used most frequently was attending pedagogical courses. At the same time the results indicated the tendency of university teachers to return to traditional and safer teaching methods if implementing the acquired knowledge is not supported by the community and traditions of the domain. The further development of novice university teachers may take various directions: novice university teachers may become more teaching-centered due to tiredness, opposition from students or the pressure of the disciplinary traditions or the community traditions. Nevertheless, they may become more learning-centered provided they succeed in acquiring the necessary skills and finding a supportive environment The results revealed that novice university teachers were only in the stage of learning to understand the meaning associated with being a university teacher. Most of the issues mentioned were connected with being in a double role (a student and a university teacher): they are not taken seriously by their colleagues, small age difference with the students makes it difficult set limits and interact with them. Problems with colleagues were hoped to be resolved through the defense of their doctoral thesis whereas issues with students were hoped to overcome though gaining additional experiences. The study's results indicated that most novice university teachers wish to teach well and to continue their academic career in higher education institutions. At the time, there were also university teachers who were insecure about their future. The reasons for the possible insecurities were insufficient feedback to their work, lack of interest from the faculty and colleagues towards novice university teacher's career prospects, opportunities as a practitioner outside university and lack of motivation for long term dedication to teaching. Comprehending the differences among novice university teachers enables universities to develop support systems to foster the professional development and learning of university teachers. As university teachers differ, the support provided should also be diverse.