The professional life of the school science technician: the daily reality lived in schools and the virtual community of their professional websites

  • Joyce Elizabeth Barker

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The topic of this study is the school science technician and their work in the prep room of the school science department preparing practical materials for science lessons. It provides information about their work and their use of the professional websites for school science technicians. The lack of information on school science technicians has resulted in a situation where assumptions have been made about the work they do and the knowledge needed to undertake their work. The knowledge gap has resulted in a disregard of the effect of school wide changes on technicians, leaving them without a voice and vulnerable to change. Yet science technicians have alternative spaces where they can communicate, collaborate and create a close professional network. The aims of this thesis are: to reveal the work undertaken by science technicians; to show the effect of changes on school science technicians caused by the lack of understanding of their role, and to reveal the value of their professional closed websites to school science technicians.

    The approach used the naturally generated digital artefacts of school science technicians belonging to three virtual professional websites. Such artefacts, in the form of questions asked by technicians and the comments received from technicians were collected over a period of two years with the full knowledge and consent of technicians. Content analysis was used to examine work practices and the effect of school wide changes on school science technicians. This approach provided a unique opportunity, as an insider at several levels, to represent the authentic voice of technicians. Besides the use of such material, the study also made use of a survey to gather demographic and job related evidence which could be used as a comparison with the few surveys presently available.

    The findings on the technician profile show concurrence with previous surveys, showing that the population is ageing. The findings also reveal that the comparatively large reduction in numbers from the age where recruitment was traditionally expected is likely to create a catastrophic decline in school science technicians as many older technicians reach retirement age.

    Evidence from the websites reveals the nature and extent of the unrecognised knowledge needed by technicians in order to do their work. As well as showing the extent of the work of technicians in the preparation for practical work of the laboratory the ‘hidden’ work they carry out is also shown. The complexity and diverse nature of the work of technicians revealed shows that they are an essential member of the science team. It does not appear that marginalisation or gender are the root causes of their present position. However, technicians are vulnerable to changes and their views on the remodelling of school support staff and the unification of all council workers onto one pay scale- the ‘single status’ agreement- show that a better understanding of their role is needed to support and protect technicians.

    The lack of opportunity for technicians to attend training results in technicians becoming even more isolated. However the social and professional value of the websites in enabling the free exchange of knowledge and the establishment of supportive networks is also shown to be a means of filling the gap left by unavailable training opportunities. Nevertheless in view of the changing profile of technicians the establishment of suitable training platforms that would provide training by experienced technicians is needed. Although the exact nature of their community suggests that it is not a virtual version of a community of practice and may not exactly fit the criteria to be defined as an electronic network of practice, the use of websites should be encouraged so that all technicians can benefit from its use.
    Date of Award2016
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Northampton
    SupervisorCristina Devecchi (Supervisor) & David Hill (Supervisor)

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