Introducing QUINT postdoctoral research fellow Nora Elise Hesby Mathé
Nora Elise Hesby Mathé is a new QUINT postdoctoral research fellow who started in August. She has a background in teaching social science and English as a second language in upper secondary school. She received her PhD in social science education (didactics) in April 2019.
Nora Elise Hesby Mathé loves getting back in the classroom. Photo: Larissa Lily, QUINT/UiO
Tell us about your postdoctoral project?
My project is within social science education. The project aims to identify what kinds of knowledge domains teachers draw on in teaching and how they combine knowledge from different domains, as well as how students engage and interact with these different knowledge domains.
There is currently not a lot of research in social science education and there is particularly a lack of classroom research and especially video-based research.
There is also a theoretical debate going on about what kind of subject social studies or social science actually is and how it relates to subjects in other countries, such as specific citizenship education subjects. It is a multidisciplinary subject that draws on different social sciences like sociology, political science and social anthropology, as well as other knowledge domains. The diversity in the kinds of social studies subjects that exist in Europe and the US has made it difficult to get further in this debate. However, there are commonalities in the Nordic countries.
Can you tell us more about the knowledge domains?
One of the Principal Investigators of the QUINT project QUISST, Torben Christensen, is one of the researchers developing this framework in Nordic context. One example of a knowledge domain is the social sciences, such as political science and sociology. This includes social scientific concepts and forms of inquiry, for example.
Quality in Social Science Teaching (QUISST) is a project in QUINT, a comparative study, using video classroom data to analyse the quality of social science teaching in Nordic classrooms.
Social science teaching involves descriptive as well as normative domains aiming at active democratic citizenship in all Nordic countries. Comparing the teaching quality of these domains within Nordic classrooms will give new knowledge to the field of subject matter teaching.
Another knowledge domain relates to how our society is organised. This includes social structures and processes, as well as our institutions. It has to do with how our welfare state is built, how it works, or how democracy works. This domain includes current issues and events.
What goes on in the world is an important topic in social science education.
Another important knowledge domain is the students and their experiences. We call it the students’ life-world. It includes their own experiences, interests and questions. Part of this is the realisation that students are already part of society even if they are not always considered full citizens because they cannot vote yet. A fourth domain is the foundation of democratic values.
What are you particularly interested in finding out?
In the Nordic countries, social science education has a double mandate. It needs both to contribute to students’ knowledge and skills and to inspire students to engage politically and in democracy.
This combination of knowledge & skills with engagement necessitates addressing the students’ life world and the topics they care about. Theory suggests that we need to combine these different knowledge domains in teaching in order to reach the goals that are set for social science education. I want to study if and how that is done in the classroom.
For example, I am interested in seeing how student engagement in the classroom varies depending on the knowledge domain that is dominant. I also want to see how it looks when teachers combine these different knowledge domains, for example by relating social scientific concepts with students’ life-world or current issues. We really don’t know much about that.
There’s a Nordic dimension to your project?
The study is meant to be comparative and will look at data from at least Norway, Sweden and Denmark. QUINT has a social science education group called QUISST, which I am a member of. My study relates closely to the common project of QUISST, which is to look at and compare social science education across the Nordic region.
How does the Nordic collaboration work?
We are responsible for collecting data from our own countries that we will then be able to share. In this way we are able to do several comparative studies. In addition, the QUISST group is working on developing codes for coding and analysing video data that we can all use. Developing these codes and a common framework is an important contribution to bringing the field further.
Is there anything particular you hope to gain from this broader Nordic perspective?
If we think about the contribution to the field, it is quite significant that we look at several of the Nordic countries.
We have this commonality of Nordic welfare states and similar ambitions for social science education. In terms of developing both the theory and the instruments for analysing classroom instruction, this Nordic perspective is important. It allows us to say something more than just about Norwegian social science instruction.
Are you involved in the data collection yourself?
I will be collecting data as well.
For me it is really important to be in the classroom. I have been a teacher myself, so I love to get back in there. Also, when you are analyzing the videos, it is important not to get too detached from what is actually going on. It is important to remember how complex and hectic a teaching situation really is. On video everything looks a lot slower, but when you are in the room you know that things happen all the time. It’s a lot more hectic than it might look.
And finally, what do you do to relax?
I like reading fantasy fiction and walking in the woods.