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Thesis abstracts

This section publishes abstracts from theses in education from Australian tertiary institutions. Abstract information for future editions is welcome. Contributors should forward a copy of their abstract, together with relevant biographic and institutional information to: The Editor, Queensland Researcher, Research Services Branch, Queensland Department of Education, PO Box 33, North Quay, Q 4002.

Title:Social Competence: Ecobehavioural and Intrabehavioural Complexities in Preschool Settings
Author:Willis, M.A.
Degree:Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
Institution:Schonell Special Education Research Centre, Department of Education, University of Queensland


This thesis explores notions of social competence and examines intervention program which concentrate upon improving preschool children's social skills. A descriptive methodology focussing upon the classroom as a total unit, rather than upon targeted children or targeted behaviours, is used to study the ecobehavioural and intrabehavioural complexities of children's social competence in a preschool setting.

Psychological literature concerning children's social competence and social skills intervention programs is reviewed. The results of two studies are presented.

In the first study, various commonly used methods of data collection are combined to describe in detail the interplay of behaviour-behaviour relationships, behaviour-environment relationships, and the effects of different play contents in one preschool classroom.

The intrabehavioural relationships are studied by obtaining many measures of each child's sociability: a global measure of social competence (participation), two specific behaviours (sharing and watching), sociometric data, and a teacher's rating scale. The ecobehavioural complexities are explored by studying these intrabehavioural complexities for all children within various play contexts. Specific attention is paid to the effects of the different play activities upon the meaning and interpretation of sharing.

The second study is a case study of an intervention program where sharing is selected as a target behaviour. This study describes the differing effects of a clinically proven program upon each child in the classroom and upon play patterns in each activity area.

For this second study, the intrabehavioural complexities are studied by describing the differing program effects upon children identified as unpopular and/or low participators, and then comparing the play patterns of these children with those of the other class members. To study the ecobehavioural complexities, across-setting and normative data are used to assess the validity of using single behaviours as measures of treatment outcome.

The results of the first study show the patterns which emerged for the total class and the varied pattern of the children's preferences for the different play areas. A hierarchical clustering based upon each child's presence in each area is used as a measure of the similarity of each pair of play activities. The patterns of behaviour for the class and the individual behaviour patterns of children and adults are reported separately for each of the five clusters formed by this hierarchical clustering. These results are discussed from three perspectives: patterns of play behaviour, relationships between specific behaviours and social competence, and the implications for early childhood education.

The results of the second study show how the intervention program increased the presence and sharing of the total class in three targeted activity areas but did not increase sharing in either the nontargeted indoor or outdoor activities. At an individual child level, the children's results show differing effects of the intervention program. Five case studies are selected to allow further analyses of these individual differences and to compare the results for children identified as unpopular and/or low participators with the results for other class members. The results of this intervention program raise many questions concerning the contextual factors affecting social skills intervention programs. The personal and situational factors which form the context for intervention programs are discussed.

The complexities identified in the two studies provide many directions for future research concerning social skills intervention programs. Emphasis is placed upon the need for future research to solve problems relating to the construct and content validity of intervention programs before focussing prematurely upon rigorous experimentation with intervention techniques. The research results are discussed in terms of their implications for development of theory, trends in research methodology, and applications to educational settings.

Title:A Personal Construct Inquiry into the Education of College Based Nurses
Author:Suddick, J.K.
Degree:Masters of Educational Studies
Institution:University of Queensland

A Personal Construct Theory (PCT) approach was adopted to investigate the education of college based nursing students and graduates. Previous Australian research was reviewed. It consisted mainly of comparisons of hospital and college trained nurses under the auspices of the evaluative studies program (Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission). The nature of college nursing courses was discussed, and it was argued that a study of college nurses' constructs in nursing was needed. The study was also based on a conceptual framework developed from socialization theory and cognitive approaches to socialization. PCT was reviewed with particular emphasis placed on its social aspects. Socialization into nursing was conceptualizsed in terms of anticipatory socialization, socialization into the occupation, and occupational practice. A personal construct conceptualization of social influence involved: socializing events, represented by a universe of discourse for nursing; interstitial space, in which personal constructs were elicited; psychological space, in which constructs were structured and events anticipated; and behaviour, being a function of the anticipation of events, which fed back to the socializing events. Three research questions were posed: 1. What personal constructs evolve in interstitial space while nurses experience a college-based nursing course and after initial practice as a registered nurse? 2. How does construct structure change in psychological space while nurses experience a college-based nursing course, and after initial practice as a registered nurse? 3. How will nurses educate in a college based nursing course anticipate their behaviour when construing nursing?

The research design entailed a descriptive, phenomenological, cross-sectional approach. Sixty one participants were divided into a matched entry group (N=20), an exit group (N=21), and a graduate group (N=20). The methods employed included: a Repertory Grid Form in which ten constructs were elicited, and two were constructs supplied for ideal and actual nursing. Twelve elements that represented nursing activities were rated between 1-5. Analyses of grids included: content analysis of construct labels using conceptual criteria, and SOCIOGRIDS analysis of construct ratings. The content of construct labels were presented in terms of themes, conceptual and literal similarity. Mode grids illustrated the construct structure of groups, and supplied constructs were focused to indicate groups' behavioural expressions for ideal and actual nursing.

The discussion centred on answering the research questions and implications of the findings. Main issues identified and discussed related to patient centredness, theoretical orientations of college nurses, as well as to bureaucracy and professional nursing practice. Main conclusions were drawn.

Constructs became more interrelated as participants progressed through the college nursing course. All three groups clustered nursing activities which could be interpreted as medically oriented tasks, or problem solving. The medically oriented and problem solving tasks were described by the entry and graduate groups as patient related. The exit group employed theoretical concepts as descriptions for these tasks. Professional activities tended to be contrasted with patient-centred ones. Priority ratings for actual and ideal nursing were significantly more congruent for the entry and exit groups than for the graduates. In comparison with their ideal nurse, graduates gave a higher actual priority to medically oriented and bureaucratic activities and a lower priority to professional activities. High priority was generally given to patient-centred nursing activities. The exit students were the most theoretically oriented group of nurses. Task assignment nursing was a major component of the exit students' subjective culture. Application of the nursing process to activities was implicit in the grids of the college nurses. Professional activities were contrasted with patient care and throughout the course were given low priority. There were more descriptions for bureaucratic aspects of nursing than patient care in the exit and graduate grids. Graduates gave priority to bureaucratic activity when ideally they indicated they would not. The bureaucratic activity of nurses increased and became patient-centred the longer they remained in nursing.

It was recommended that programs aimed at assisting students to adapt to hospital employment on graduation be developed. College nurses need to be employed in areas which allow their theoretical and problem solving abilities to be utilized and developed. Nurses ought to direct their efforts to emphasizing the professional aspects of clinical practice, and departments of nursing in universities may need to be established to assist in the development of further clinical research.

Please cite as: QIER (1988). Thesis abstracts. Queensland Researcher, 4(1), 63-67. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr4/thesis-abs-4-1.html

[ Contents Vol 4, 1988 ] [ QJER Home ]
Created 7 Mar 2008. Last revision: 7 Mar 2008.
URL: http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr4/thesis-abs-4-1.html