Educational Beliefs and the Learning Environment

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper explores the formative context within which students' beliefs develop, the nature of student beliefs, and the relationship of these beliefs to the learning environment. These 'beliefs' and 'learning environment' concepts will be clarified through the use of frameworks that identify two types of learning environments and three sets of beliefs about education that various groups of education stakeholders may hold. A recent empirical study will examine the ability of the 'beliefs' to predict positions within the 'learning environment' framework.

"Learning does not occur in a vacuum ... The classroom environment ... can have significant impacts on student learning." (APA Board of Educational Affairs, 1997)

Introduction

This edition of Academic Exchange Quarterly focuses on the relationship between the classroom learning environment and aspects of students' belief systems. The call for papers stated: "Student perceptions, beliefs, motivations, and attitudes, are constantly changing. As educators.., it is our responsibility to measure these variables continuously in order to enhance the learning environment" (McCollum, 2006). This educator responsibility, as set out by McCollum, may more likely be fulfilled as conceptual frameworks that focus our thinking concerning the concepts of 'students' beliefs' and 'the learning environment' are examined. The 'concepts' will be identified through the use of frameworks put forward by Silvernail (1992a) regardingbeliefs about education, and Willower, Eidell, and Hoy (1967) regarding learning environments. A research precedent that examines the relationship between these concepts will also be considered. In this regard, Rideout's (2005) examination of the ability of the 'beliefs' frameworks to predict positions within the 'learning environment' framework will be considered. on this basis, this paper will explore the formative context within which students' beliefs develop, the nature of beliefs about education, and the relationship of these beliefs to the learning environment.

The Influence of Non-Student Stakeholders

In an examination of the formative context within which students' beliefs develop, it is necessary to identify some of the confounding variables that complicate the relationship between the learning environment and students' beliefs. There is no exclusive symbiotic relationship. Both are influenced by a wide range of contextual factors such as the media, social interactions, interpersonal relations, and communication with others (APA Board of Educational Affairs, 1997). Additionally, the beliefs and practices of a number of educational stakeholders shape student beliefs (Haney, Czerniak, & Lumpe, 2003), and by extension, the learning environment Along with the beliefs of students, the beliefs and practices of these education stakeholders, who are 'above', 'beside', 'around', and 'within' the school may also be significant predictors of the learning environment of the classroom.

Reed (1999), Manzer (1994), and Marshall (1997) have examined the impact on learning environments of the 'above the school' influence of education policy. They suggest that the very presence of educational policy is an indication of the bureaucratic and institutional nature of the school, and that educational policy is a reflection of the institutionalized, bureaucratic beliefs about education held by policymakers in general. According to Creemers and Reezigt (1996), these influences find their way into the classroom learning environment. Bedard and Lawton's (2000) work affirmed this bureaucratic influence of policy on education during the 1980s and 1990s in Ontario, Canada.

From a 'beside the school' perspective, Barnard (1938) identified the informal authority historically resident in the larger group surrounding the formal structures of the workplace. For instance, a group such as a school community (parents, local business, local politicians) may influence the learning environment of the school. …