Conceptualising (and operationalizing) education transitions in research: more than just a change of scene

Year: 2013

Author: Johnstone, Kate

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

While there is a wide field of research that focuses on transitions between and within education settings, studies that focus on education transitions rarely provide an explicit outline of how the term ‘transition' was operationalized. The meaning of transition in these reports is often only implied or simply stated (ie: change). The problem that this raises is that if transition is simply viewed as ‘change', any change of any magnitude can then be deemed to be a transition. This kind of broad operationalization of ‘transition' may pose problems for researchers who need to identify and refine the aims of projects that explore education transitions since any occurrence could be identified as a transition. In addition, this broad view of transition as change may also pose problems for those who wish to examine patterns in findings and gaps in the existent research field. By drawing on theoretical discussions of the concept of transition (including Bronfenbrenner, 1978/2005; 1979; Cowan, 1991; Glaser & Strauss, 1968), and data drawn from a study focused on students' experiences of their transition to high school (Johnstone, 2010), this paper suggests that the general view of transitions simply as ‘change', particularly in education contexts, should be supplemented to consider four common threads. These include that while transition refers to ‘change', change is experienced by (1) individuals, change has (2) effects, and that change is influenced by (3) contexts (and vice versa). Finally, for individuals who experience the effects of change in education contexts, the importance of (4) (re)capturing a sense of belonging as a result of change should also be considered. These four threads may provide avenues for refining and focusing the aims and methods of research projects that examine transitions in education contexts, and assistance for those who wish to navigate and explore this expanding research field.