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180 points to the bachelor’s level and a further 120 points to the master’s level.

The graduates from the programme work in various fields of education such as teaching multicultural classes in different countries; performing project leader and coordinator duties as well as international consultant work; educational policy and administration; and taking part in multidisciplinary research projects. As in any teacher education programme, ITE includes studies in educational sciences and various school subjects including teaching practice periods. To direct students towards international perspectives, they provide many special courses as part of the programme that focus on intercultural education, global education, comparative education, educational policy and leadership, and development and education.

The programme includes studies abroad for at least one term. The language of instruction is largely English, so the programme is also suitable for students from other countries, provided their language skills are adequate (Master of Education, International Programme homepage.) Students who come to study in the programme have very different backgrounds.

Some have lived abroad for several years, while others have lived in rather monocultural environments their entire lives and started their studies straight after secondary school. When selecting students for the ITE programme, one starting point has been to form study groups that are as multicultural as possible, as a diverse student teachers’ group in itself is seen as an important resource for the prospective teachers’ learning. However, one can assume that global issues are of interest to all these different ITE groups since they have applied for this special teacher education programme and have been accepted through a rather tight application process.

I have chosen teachers who have graduated from this programme to be my research subjects, because one can assume that they are able to elaborate their intercultural learning experiences and intercultural competence as they have got an education which focuses on those issues. When conducting this research, I have sometimes been criticised for choosing former ITE teachers to be my research subjects. I have been told that because these teachers are already interested in intercultural issues before undergoing this education, their learning processes are very likely to be different than those of most ‘ordinary’ teachers. I am sure that there are plenty of teachers who have not studied in the ITE programme but who have gone through significant intercultural learning processes. However, my aim in this study is not to evaluate whether my research subjects are interculturally competent or not, or how competent they are compared to, for example, teachers who are not interculturally trained.

According to Hirsjärvi and Hurme (2001), rather than choosing our research subjects accidentally, we should choose people from whom we can best get the knowledge regarding the issues we find to be of interest. In addition to the assumption that my research subjects can provide me with knowledge on intercultural competence and intercultural learning, I have chosen them because I am also interested in the role of teacher education in the process of their intercultural learning. However, again, I want to emphasize that my aim in this study is not to evaluate ITE programme or its effectiveness in producing intercultural competence. Furthermore, I think that by investigating these teachers’ learning processes, we can learn about the conditions that are important for intercultural learning.

My research subjects are working in various fields of education and teaching.

Some are working as teachers in international schools, language immersion classes or immigrant preparatory classes. Others work as teachers in ‘ordinary’ Finnish schools, which are, nowadays, more and more multicultural. However, as diversity is understood broadly in this study (and includes subcultural differences), one can argue that all classrooms are diverse and that everyone needs intercultural competence.

As Nieto (1996) points out, it is often the so-called mainstream students who need multicultural education most as they have possibly never needed to look at issues from various cultural perspectives or tried to understand diversity and global issues.

Most of my interviewees are females; however, there are also some males involved as can be seen from Table 1. This amount reflects the male-female ratio in Finnish primary teacher education. Because most of my research subjects are female, I use ‘she’ in this summary when writing about my research subjects.

All the interviewees whom I asked to participate in this research were willing to participate. The criteria that I used when selecting my research subjects were their various backgrounds and work experiences. Some of my research subjects have multicultural and multilingual backgrounds, while others have lived in the same city or village nearly all their lives. However, this does not mean that these people would not have faced diversity and intercultural experiences during their lives.

For the second data collection phase (biographical interviews), I chose only those former ITE students who were working or had been working as teachers on different levels; from primary to adult education. In the first data collection phase, there are some who work as other type of educational experts rather than as teachers. All the research subjects started their studies in intercultural teacher education in the 90s, when the programme was still relatively new. When the data was collected, my research subjects were all relatively young – from 25 to 32 years old. As mentioned earlier, I had known some of the interviewees as classmates beforehand and knew the others by name only before the interviews.

3.2 Phenomenographical approach

Phenomenography is a relatively new research approach developed by Ference Marton’s research group in Sweden in the 1970s. It traditionally concentrated on the research of learning but later broadened to describe different views and ideas about reality. Phenomenography is not a coherent methodological approach; it has been argued whether it is a whole methodological approach or just a method of analysis.

I agree with Huusko and Paloniemi (2006, p. 163), who see phenomenography as being not only a method of analysis but also a wider approach that guides the whole research process and includes certain ontological and epistemological assumptions.

Phenomenography focuses on people’s conceptions and ideas and their qualitative differences (Ahonen, 1994; Ashworth & Lucas, 1998; Marton, 1986, 1994; Metsämuuronen, 2006; Uljens, 1989; Åkerlind, 2005). Conception is understood to be the dynamic construction on some phenomenon of a reality. It can refer to ‘ways of experiencing’, ‘ways of conceptualizing’ or ‘ways of understanding’ a phenomenon. Phenomenon thus refers to human experience of the world from which an individual actively constructs his/her conception (Marton & Pong, 2005, p.

336). People experience the phenomena of a reality differently and that is why they construe different conceptions of the same issue. It is assumed that the experiences and knowledge that a person has gained in a particular social context affect his/her way of interpreting and giving meaning to the surrounding world (Marton, 1986, 1990; Uljens, 1989). In this research, phenomenography has been used to describe intercultural competence through teachers’ conceptions of that phenomenon.

In recent years, phenomenography has been further developed and made even more systematic. According to Marton and Pong (2005, p. 336), conception can be characterized as being composed of both a particular meaning of an individual object (referential aspect) and the combination of features discerned and focused upon by the subject (structural aspect). While capturing the meaning of a concept is a matter of interpreting what a person is saying, the structural aspect can be identified by linguistic markers. These two aspects are intertwined in nature (Marton & Pong, p. 336). However, in my research, the meaning aspect of the conceptions is prevalent. In the following chapters, I first describe how I collected data for this part of the research and then introduce how I analysed and interpreted the data.

3.3 Phenomenographical theme interviews

The first data collection, which took place in 2001, is the data that has been used in articles II and III. I first sent a rather open questionnaire (see Appendix 1) to all the former ITE students who had graduated from the programme by August 2001.

I sent a total of 30 questionnaires, and despite the reminders, only 15 of them were returned. The feedback I got feedback from some of the informants stated that answering the questionnaire was very time-consuming; there were a lot of questions and it was difficult to answer them briefly. However, the data I managed to get was valuable, as most of the people who replied wrote really long answers to the questions (in some cases, several pages) to describe their ideas and experiences.

In phenomenographical study, the dominant method for collecting data has been the individual interview as it is thought that an interview is the best way to explore people’s awareness (Marton, 1994). That is why I also interviewed 10 people (7 of which had also answered the questionnaire). The interview type was a theme interview (see Appendix 2). According to Hirsjärvi and Hurme (2001, pp.

47–48, 66), the theme interview is more structured than the open interview, as the themes are the same for all the informants although the order of discussing the themes is not necessarily the same. I first tried to start with rather open questions related to my interview themes and then asked more specific questions if needed.

In the phenomenographical interview, most questions should follow from what the subject says. I think that I managed to provide room for my research subjects’ free speech as assumed in the theme and phenomenographical interview, but I am also aware that in some situations I too eagerly wanted to lead the discussion back to those themes that were, in my opinion, relevant. Being a novice interviewer, I also felt that I was not always able to fully concentrate on the interviewee but was also checking my papers now and then to make sure that all the themes were discussed.

Still, I feel that in all cases, the interviews were rather free and relaxed discussions.

Marton (1994) emphasizes that phenomenographical interviews should be carried out as a dialogue. The ideal is that experiences and understandings are jointly constituted by interviewer and interviewee and they are aspects of the research subject’s awareness that change from being unreflected to being reflected (Marton, 1994). In practice, I tried to get teachers to tell about their experiences of situations where they needed intercultural competence and to reflect on those experiences.

These interviews lasted from 45 to 90 minutes each and were recorded and transcribed word by word. I let the interviewees choose the interview location.

Three of the interviews took place at interviewees’ homes, two at their work places, two at the University of Oulu, two at my home and one outside in a park.

3.4 Phenomenographical data analysis

Marton has developed a rather clear model of data analysis for phenomenographical research (see Marton, 1994; Uljens, 1989). I used both open-ended questionnaires and theme interviews as my data. After transcribing and reading the data several times and getting an overall idea of its contents, I started the process of looking for the relevant meaning units. Usually, this meaning unit was a broader episode from the text that was somehow related to my research questions. As Marton (1994) points out, interpretation should focus on ideas, not on separate words. First, I did this by colouring all the meaning units from the text. Next, I started the process of coding by giving more general labels to all meaning units to better understand the similarities and differences between the meaning units. At this stage, I collected all the labels to a file and moved my analysis from paper to computer. I then compared these labels or codes and defined the qualitative differences between them. On the basis of this first coding, the first level description categories were formulated.

As Marton and Booth (1997, p. 125) point out, when forming the categories, the amount of meaning units that support the formation of the same category is not important. Interest is in qualitative differences, not on quantity. The idea in phenomenographical study is that these description categories on each level have certain criteria that describe their qualitative differences. This was the challenge in my study. It seemed that many of the categories were overlapping and it was difficult to determine the qualitative difference between the categories. Sometimes I had to go back to the context (interview or questionnaire) where I had taken the meaning unit. The analysis process continued in a similar way on each level, so next, I started to find out what was still similar on these first level categories and combined the first level categories under more


ideas. Finally, I managed to get to third level categories through this process. To make this more concrete,

an example of this categorisation system can be found in Figures 2, 3 and 4 below:

Figure 2. Third level description categories regarding teachers’ intercultural competence.

The figure above (2) shows the third level of meaning categories, which also form one result of this study. On the third level of meaning categories, intercultural competence was conceptualized as a) ethical orientation, b) efficiency orientation and c) pedagogical orientation. These categories were qualitatively different as they included different conceptions of the aims, emphasis and values of intercultural competence. In Figures 3 and 4, I demonstrate how one of these categories, ‘ethical orientation’, was created.

Figure 3. Example of second and first level categories.

Figure 4. Example of meaning units forming the first level categories.

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