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In order to sustain teachers’ intercultural learning processes after their training, teachers need support and in-service training. Teachers may face various challenges in their work, and their work community may not necessarily share the same kind of ideas on, for example, the significance of considering diversity and multicultural issues. Transition from teacher education to work life is a challenging period for all newly graduated teachers. Researches worldwide have shown that novice teachers experience many kind of difficulties when starting their working career (DarlingHammond & Sclan, 1996; Heikkinen, Tynjälä & Jokinen, 2010). Unlike in most other professions, teachers need to take the full responsibility of their work from the very begininning, often without organized support (Le Maistre & Paré, 2010, pp.

560). So called “wash-out” phenomenon has been known for a long time (Zeichner & Tabachnik 1981). It refers to an idea that the beliefs and skills beginning teachers have learned from their teacher education program are actually faded out by the difficult circumstances they encounter in their first years.

On the basis of my data, it seems that equality and mutual learning are not realities in all the schools in our country yet. There are teachers who are lacking the knowledge, skills and even attitudes necessary to meeting diversity in a positive way. Some former ITE students have been shocked when realizing the prejudiced attitudes and unequal practices in schools. In these kinds of situations, it would be necessary for teachers to get support in the form of, for example, in-service education, mentoring or keeping contact with the university. Otherwise, there is the danger that ‘interculturally oriented’ teachers finally end up ‘going with the flow’ and abandoning their own ideals. It seems that the idea of multicultural education is still met with ignorance, amusement and even resistance in our country, and even in schools whose fundamental task should be to provide safe and equitable learning opportunities for all students. Influencing attitudes and institutional structures is not easy for a young teacher, who needs to use lot of his/her energy to solve their everyday teaching problems. It can be much easier to adapt to the system than trying to be a critical intercultural innovator. However, this in-service training should be carefully planned and lengthy enough. As I have highlighted in this study, intercultural learning is usually a long-term process, and one separate course on multicultural issues will not necessarily affect our awareness and actions sufficiently.

7. Evaluating the reliability and ethics of the research In this chapter I will evaluate the reliability, validity and ethics of this study by discussing the following aspects: 1) What is meant by reliability in this study? 2) What is the significance of the results? 3) The reliability and ethics of collecting, analyzing and interpreting the data and publishing the results.

The concepts of reliability and validity were originally developed within the context of quantitative research. According to Cresswell (2007, p. 202), some writers argue that authors who continue to use this positivist terminology are trying to facilitate the acceptance of qualitative research in a quantitative world. That is why alternative terms, such as trustworthiness, credibility, authenticity, transferability and confirmability, have been developed (e.g., Lincoln & Cuba, 1985; Seale, 1999). However, as Cresswell (2007, p. 207) points out, what is significant is how these various terms and ideas are translated into practice. Despite the critics, I use the term ‘reliability’ here but try to define clearly what it means in this particular qualitative study. My understanding of the reliability of qualitative research is very much based on the importance of ‘thick description’ of the whole research process.

The goal is, throughout the whole research process, to make obvious for the reader:

the researcher’s position in the study; why the study has been conducted; how the data has been collected analysed and interpreted; and where the conclusions come from. From that perspective, it is important in a qualitative study that the reader is provided with the tools to critically analyse all aspects of the study.

It is also essential to discuss the significance of the study, especially in the context of social constructionism and narrative study. It can be argued that narrative biographical research is subjective and lacks the possibility of generalising the results. Generalisations, in qualitative study are always problematic, because human behavior and thinking are dependent on time, place and the whole context (Guba & Lincoln, 1996, p. 87). We tell about our memories from today’s perspective, which naturally has an influence: a life-story can contain insufficient knowledge or even ‘errors’ because people naturally forget issues and they have re-imagined the past from a position in the present (Eskola & Suoranta, 1998, p. 124). It is also acknowledged that we tend to look for elements from our past that would somehow explain our current life (Vilkko, p. 1988, pp. 95–96). In a way, I encouraged my research subjects to do that because before the interviews, I asked them to think about their life from the perspective of intercultural learning and elaborate those experiences from the past and current life that had affected their learning. My research task was to look for the meanings that teachers give to their intercultural learning, not to create chronological, accurate life histories.

Although in this study it is agreed that there is no one ‘truth’ about intercultural competence or learning, an aim has been to find conditions that seem to have supported those processes in the research subjects’ lives. As Kohlin (1981, p. 90) argues, biographies can be considered to be subjectively ‘true’. Individuals evaluate their own phases of life to explain self and their identity. In this process, our life experiences and background naturally play an important role (Goodson, 1991, p.

40). There are various stories in my data – various ways and paths of intercultural learning that give different perspectives to intercultural competence and learning and help us to understand the nature of these phenomena that are relatively little researched, especially as lifelong processes. However, it is acknowledged that stories would most likely be different if they were told by teachers who have not been trained interculturally or by teachers who themselves represent minority groups (e.g., teachers that are immigrants). The stories might also be different if they were told by teachers who are older.

I have explained my practical data collection and analysis processes in Chapter 3, where I take only some aspects into critical discussion. In qualitative study generally and in biographical narrative study in particular, the researcher is the central instrument of the study. According to Kvale (1996, 2007), knowledge in interview situations is socially constructed. In narrative biographical study, the analysis and findings are dependent on the researcher’s own life story and experiences. I have explained my own role in this study in Chapter 1.3. When the knowledge is construed through dialogue between the interviewer and interviewee, it can be rightly asked, whose ‘voice’ can be heard in the research? I have explained my data analysis in Chapter 3 and attempted to be as transparent as possible.

However, the fact is that because of my research questions, I have been more interested in certain aspects of teachers’ stories and left some aspects out of my study. And this is something we must always do in qualitative research: select what is meaningful and important for a particular research endeavour. I also attempted to be careful when selecting the meaning units from the data not to detach any separate sentences or ideas from their context.

In narrative biographical study, researchers are often recommended to interview the same research subject several times. This is seen to help to create a trustful and confidential relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee, which contributes to obtaining deep and rich data (e.g., Kelchtermans, 1993, 1994). In this study, some of the research subjects were interviewed twice; some only once.

The research questions, however, were different in these two interviews. It could be seen as a weakness of this study that I interviewed my research subjects only once. However, I called some of them later on to check some of my interpretations and I asked the three teachers who had a bigger role in my study (in Article 5) to read the article before its publication. I think that I got rich data as some of the interviews lasted as long as three hours. As mentioned previously, I felt that the atmosphere in interview situations was confidential. However, I admit that having several interviews with the same informant could have made it possible to derive deeper meanings and themes from the data.

As I have mainly discussed the questions of reliability in narrative research, it is also important to say something about the phenomenographical part of this study.

Gröhn (1993 in Metsämuuronen, 2003, p. 176) has raised four critical aspects about phenomenographical research. First, she points out that generalizing the research findings is problematic. Secondly, conceptions are contextual. Thirdly, conceptions are not stable but change and fourthly, peoples’ conceptions are genuinely different – how is it possible to compare their differences? In the phenomenographical part of this study, I am aware of these limitations, but on the other hand, I think that we have more or less similar problems in all qualitative (and in many quantitative) studies. However, given the contextual and dynamic nature of conceptions, I think that it is important to keep in mind that my research subjects at this phase of the research were rather young and newly graduated, which may have affected their ideas. Their conceptions of intercultural competence have probably changed as they have got more experience. For example, one of my findings was that the emphasis on their conceptions of intercultural competence was mainly on ethics.

This emphasis may derive from their studies in teacher education, where ethics is emphasized a lot, as the data was collected only a few years after their graduation.

The relevance and reliability of my data analysis and findings have also been checked in various peer reviews (e.g., Seale 1999, p. 472). First, in our EDGE research group33, where ‘critical friends’ – supervisors, other researchers and PhD students – have commented and given feedback as well as suggestions concerning the methods, meanings, interpretations and so on. At a later date, my articles also went through an external peer review process.

EDGE (Education, diversity, globalization and ethics) is a postgraduate group in the Department of Educational Sciences in Oulu University that studies education from the perspectives of diversity, multiculturalism, globalization and ethics at local and global levels.

Many of the ethical aspects of the qualitative research are intertwined with the questions of reliability. I have attempted to be as transparent in each stage of the research process as possible, and also show it in this summary by, e.g., describing the data analysis process rather extensively. However, it is still important to discuss two more aspects related to research ethics: the issues of informed consent and confidentiality (Kvale, 1996, pp. 109–143) of the study. Informed consent requires that research subjects be informed about the overall purpose of the study (Kvale, pp. 109–143). The overall purpose of my study was to gain an understanding on teachers’ intercultural competence and learning and this is also what I openly told my research subjects. I sent written information about my research before the interviews, explaining what I am studying and why this study is important. I explained basically the same issues again in the interview situations and also gave my research subjects the opportunity to ask about my research. Because I told my interviewees that it is important to study these issues in order to develop teacher education, many of my research subjects assumed that the main purpose of my research was to evaluate the ITE programme. This was the only evident misunderstanding that I noticed in my research subjects’ ideas concerning my study, and I made it very clear that evaluating was not my purpose.

I have protected the privacy of my research subjects by changing the names and places of the quotations I have used in the articles. I told all my research subjects, that if they like, they could see all the articles before they are published. In the phenomenographical part of the study, the data was looked at as a whole and interest was on various conceptions, not on individuals, and that is why I think that it was relatively easy to ‘hide’ the participants’ identities. In the narrative part of the study, I sent the manuscript of Article 5 to those three teachers whose stories were chosen as examples of various types of intercultural learning processes and asked them to comment on whether there was anything they wanted me to remove. On the basis of these comments, I made some clarifying additions to the stories, but did not really change anything of significance. I have tried to minimize the possible harm that this study could cause to my research subjects. In the interview situations I asked my research subjects to share only those experiences with me that I could use for my research. Still, I left out some interesting episodes and life experiences, if evaluated them to be too personal and sensitive. It is possible that teachers who have studied under the ITE programme at the same time as my research subjects might be able to recognize some of the stories from my data, but for the wider audience, my research subjects will remain anonymous.

8 Final remarks Providing student teachers with intercultural competence is not an easy task, but it is possible and is a necessary task for any teacher education, if we want to educate teachers who can equally support the growth of all diverse students and give a many-sided and wide world view for all students. As final remarks of this thesis, I want to discuss the future prospects and challenges concerning teacher education in Finland and the interesting research themes that arise on the basis of this study.

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