Research Approach

Research Approach


PIKT Research Goals 

  1. To establish a Framework for Teacher Professional Identity in Cambodia incorporating aCapability Framework that informs individual professional learning plans.
  2. Design an evidence-based Teacher Professional Identity Module that is suitable for deployment in the context of teacher professional development policies in Cambodia.
  3. Develop a context appropriate methodology for investigating teaching practices in Cambodian schools
  4. Enhance the research and collaboration capacity of DoPo, Phnom Penh Teacher Education College, SeeBeyondBorders, and NCI’s Centre for Education and Lifelong Learning so that further, much needed research projects may be undertaken to tackle the extensive challenges of education in Cambodia.


Method and Analysis

This study combines data gathering through field work with learning design. This research may best be described as design-based research using mixed methods. Design-based research (DBR)[1] is regarded as a suitable approach as the problem being addressed is both conceptual and practical. DBR is used to study learning in environments which are designed and systematically changed by the researcher. This design process allows the researcher to move beyond simply understanding the world as it is and involves working to change it in useful ways with the broader goal of examining how these systematic changes influence learning and practice[2].

The first goal as stated above is to establish a Framework for Teacher Professional Identity in Cambodia. To accomplish this, researchers will initially investigate what’s happening in school classrooms and to the best possible extent, to understand how teachers see the world in relation to the epistemological positions mentioned above. This will involve fieldwork with participant teachers of early grades in Battambang Province.

SeeBeyondBorders already has a network of schools that it works with on an on-going basis in Battambang Province. The 25 teacher participants will be drawn from this existing network. SBB will arrange for information and a call for participation to be included in its regular communication within the network. The SBB network has a good working relationship with the schools leaders, school teachers and provincial administrators.

The SeeBeyondBorders network provides an accessible data source upon which to ground the first iteration of the learning design process. The clear intent is to widen the range of inputs once an initial model has been developed. The DBR approach will facilitate this as the two of the research partners, DoPo and Phnom Penh Teacher Education College have access to other cohorts[3].

The sample of 25 early grade teachers will be recruited as volunteer teacher research participants. Teachers will be provided full details of the nature and purpose of the study. The sample size will ensure a wide cross section of teachers in terms of years of experience, class size, school size, and setting. Reflecting the demographic of that target group (most early grade teachers are female) it is expected that the majority of the participants will be female. 

Participation is voluntary and may be withdrawn at any time. Participation may require permission from the school principal and local district. For the most part, teacher participants will come from different schools. Full details of the level of commitment (involving participation in two rounds of observations, interviews and workshops) will be explained in advance. Data will be gathered and managed by the research team and will not be available to other parties. 

Data gathering will comprise (i) in-class observations (using a component checklist discussed below), (ii) one-to-one structured interviews and (iii) the compilation of a school and community profiles. In-class observation will be carried out by trained research assistants using a specially designed Component Checklist. The PI previously used a component checklist to study Digital Literacy in Irish Primary Schools[4]; the approach proved useful in gathering information on classroom practices in school settings. That study also combined the observations with teacher interviews so that a fuller picture of classroom capability could be established. 

Essentially, a component checklist is an observation instrument that allows the observer to categorise classroom activities. The process involves the observer in-class and is unobtrusive. Full permissions from schools will be obtained. In some cases, the research assistant may take photographs for illustration purposes. Parental permission will be required where children are pictured in class. Importantly, there is no requirement in this study for the research assistant to talk to pupils or for any data regarding individual children to be collected. The focus of interest is what is happening in the classroom setting and what the teacher does. 

Participant teachers will be individually interviewed using a structured interview set designed specifically for this project. The interviews will focus on the epistemological positions discussed above. Questions will be prepared by the PI and CoPI and members of the SeeBeyondBorders and PTEC research teams. This is to ensure they are framed in a culturally appropriate manner. The interviews will be conducted by the trained research assistants. Data will comprise audio recordings – they are available only to the research team – they will be subsequently transcribed and translated. An individual’s interview data will be associated with their classroom component checklists and the School and Community Profile for the purposes of research analysis.  However, in any publication of research sensitive personal data related to teacher’s views of professional identity shall only be presented in anonymised or aggregated formats.

The third component of Round 1 data is the School and Community Profile. This is prepared by the research assistant. Although the teacher’s engagement and interaction with parents and community is not the prime focus of this research it is very much regarded as an important influence on the research question. The teacher (and therefore teacher professional identity) does not exist in isolation from the school which in turn is embedded in the community that it services. Insights to inform the development of the teacher professional identity framework would not be complete without the completion of the School and Community Profile. The profile will provide information on the school setting and demographics and historical data on aggregated student performance, the local community and the challenges faced by parents in keeping their children at school. Some insights on parental attitudes will also be gathered. 

Analysis of the field data will seek to glean insights on the three core questions discussed earlier namely, teacher’s theory of learning, understanding of teaching and approach to professional practice improvement. The six domains of self-image, motivation, commitment, self-efficacy, task perception, and job satisfaction will also provide an organising structure for emerging themes. Valuable insights may also be gained by triangulation of the in-class observations and interview responses. The School and Community Profiles will further add to the picture. 

Informed by the initial analysis of the field data, a newly designed professional development workshop will take place involving all 25 of the participants. The PI, Co-PI along with SeeBeyondBorders and PTEC experts will design and lead this workshop. The focus of this workshop will be on emergent Teacher Professional Identity. Throughout the workshop participant teachers will be encouraged to examine their own perceptions of learning, teaching and paths to improvement. The research team are experienced and realistic about what may be achieved in terms of this first workshop. Teachers will be encouraged to develop a draft capability framework and to commit to specific practice improvements and reflections in the following months. Follow-up reflections will be gathered at the next data round.

Approximately 9 months following the initial field visit to the school a second visit will take place. The follow-up component checklist will also feature the identified practice improvements (self-selected by the participant teacher in Workshop 1). This visit will involve a follow-up semi-structured interview. The second-round questions will be similar to the first but with additional questions. It will be a semi-structured interview format (in contrast with the previous structured interview); the research assistants will have more discretion to ask follow-up questions. We expect to be able to follow-up on topics in the workshop and connect with the in-class observations. The subsequent analysis will seek to elicit a fuller picture of what’s happening in practice and any sense in which change has occurred due to teacher agency or if not, what prevented it from happening. 

In keeping with the DBR paradigm, there is a subsequent analysis of the new data to inform the design of the final Professional Identity Workshop. It is intended that this final workshop will provide the full Teacher Professional Identity Framework and associated Teacher Capability Framework for use by the participants. The participants will be regarded as co-authors of the framework. The credibility of the framework derives from its development in collaboration with the views and experiences of Cambodian teachers.

The two workshops, together with the resource materials, exercises and individual learning plans will form the basis of a new teacher professional identity module. Although outside the scope of this research the intent would be to propose the module for formal accreditation and recognition within the Cambodian professional development framework. 

The intent is to provide MoEYS and all the research partners with a collection of materials and resources to subsequently deploy the framework and associated workshops for the improvement of teaching and learning outcomes in Cambodia. At this stage the Professional identity Workshop will also be delivered (as a pilot) to pre-service and in-service teachers at PTEC.

A final round of analysis (incorporating insights and feedback from second workshop) will take place and the final report with conclusions and recommendations will be completed by Q4 2024. The culmination of the research project will be a seminar in NCI to coincide with the joint launch of the Final Report in Ireland and Cambodia. 

This project is funded by the Irish Research Council.

Irish Research Council Logo


[1] Sasha Barab, “Design-Based Research,” The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences  (2006).

[2] Barab. p 153

[3] DoPo’s involvement in the School’s Partnership Project has 20 to 30 lower and upper schools across the country and PTEC’s pre-service and in-service programme delivery. These are discussed further in the Outputs and Impact section below.

[4] Leo Casey et al., Digital Literacy: New Approaches to Participation and Inquiry Learning to Foster Literacy Skills among Primary School Children (Dublin: Centre for Research and Innovation in Learning and Teaching, National College of Ireland, 2009),