Boundary encounters: field experiences in undergraduate music teacher preparation through the lens of communities of practice
Dally Jr., John Wesley
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Most research in music education using the Communities of Practice (CoP) framework (Wenger, 1998) has focused on analyzing the creation or existence of a CoP. In contrast, this study used the CoP framework as a means to analyze and explore the potential of music education field experiences as boundary encounters—experiences where an individual engages with an unfamiliar CoP. The purpose of this descriptive collective case study was to investigate the tensions that occur at the boundary between music student and music teacher practices. Research questions explored (a) how undergraduate field experiences served as productive encounters for negotiating and exploring the boundary between music student and music teacher practices, (b) the tensions that occur at the boundary between music student and music teacher practices, (c) which boundary objects helped coordinate music student practices with music teacher practices, and (d) who acts as brokers at the periphery of music teacher practice, and how. Three undergraduate music education majors enrolled in a secondary music education methods course participated in this semester-long study. Analysis of interview transcripts, participant journals, course assignments, and observations revealed how undergraduate field experiences in this course served as productive encounters for negotiating the boundary between music student and music teacher practices. Practicum encounters and attendance at a professional arts conference provided the strongest opportunities to engage with the music teaching practice, whereas observations were less productive. Pursuant to Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner (2015), tensions were explored as learning assets. Findings highlight how the school check-in process, relationship with cooperating teachers, opportunities to participate, and lack of brokering generated tension for the participants. Further analysis revealed a general lack of boundary objects between practices and an absence of brokers beyond the university supervisor. Findings support the need for authentic field experiences, with sustained access to the CoP. Moreover, the identification of brokers to facilitate and coordinate these experiences emerged as paramount. Given the unique positionality of university supervisors, they appear ideally positioned to serve as brokers. Finally, results also offer insights into how the timing, type, and student placement in field experiences may impact their productiveness.