Dr. Ayelet Becher

Discipline: Education

Expert in: Professional education, expertise in teaching, professionalism in educational systems, curriculum in higher education,

Google scholar >>


Key words: Professional education, teacher education, teacher professionalism, mentoring, curriculum, distance education 

What are you currently researching?
My research work focuses on three theoretical fields in educational studies: First, I study professional learning and the development of expertise in clinical and online settings. I also study curricular design in onsite and online environments of higher education. Finally, I study teacher professionalism in schools and distance education frameworks.
I am currently leading several ongoing research projects. The first project, funded by the Lion Family Foundation, examines the professional authority and autonomy of homeroom teachers from the perspective of elementary and high school teachers and principals. Specifically, I explore how constructs of professionalism are shaped by various institutional mechanisms of control. The second research project, conducted together with colleagues from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and funded by the Rothschild Foundation, explores the implications of the move to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, we look at the effect on disadvantaged students in Israeli higher education. The third project is part of an MA thesis under my supervision. It investigates the interprofessional dynamics between school principals, educational counselors, and teacher inclusion coordinators (acting as street-level bureaucrats) as they implement inclusion policies. Fourthly, I am systematically reviewing (together with a postdoctoral fellow mentored by me), a substantial body of empirical literature published between 2020-2022. This body of material focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the professional work of school teachers. Through this review, we aim to identify current challenges, as well as opportunities for occupational and organizational professionalism, in the teaching profession.      

How did you become involved in your research field?
I was introduced to the field during my MA studies, as I specialized in curriculum studies and mentoring. My supervisor at the time had introduced me to various research activities in her field of study, which focused on issues of professional learning and mentoring in teaching. She challenged and supported me in publishing findings from my thesis in leading international journals and in presenting my work at major international conferences. Through my participation in the research community, I began building relationships with additional scholars in Israel and abroad. Working as a research assistant with faculty helped me assimilate into academic life in general and encouraged my growing fascination with educational research. Finally, during my postdoctoral fellowship, I worked in a vibrant and intellectually enriching laboratory in education. Here, I was fortunate to be able to deepen my understanding of the educational issues at the heart of my theoretical interest and to have a meaningful role as a leader within the field of professional development.       

What inspired you to become a researcher?
I have a strong belief in the power of education to shape our social reality and I view teachers working in schools as important social agents. Encountering educational work in the field which meaningfully impacts student lives inspires my educational research. Portraying the complex reality of educational work and shedding some light on possible ways to empower education professionals and increase their sense of agency is my calling.  

Which of your research findings would you like to highlight?
Overall, initial findings from our research on disadvantaged students’ experiences of emergency remote learning in Israeli higher education suggest that flexibility in online learning can either facilitate or impede effective learning, depending on the student's capacity to adapt to a distance-learning environment. The ability to adapt was found to depend on a student's access to time and space; factors which were not uniform across different social groups. Results suggest that for disadvantaged students with limited access to temporal and spatial resources (e.g., Arab students residing in small houses, mothers of young children, and students with financial concerns), flexibility may produce educational expectations that are insufficient to inform learning behaviors. In the absence of formal settings for learning, such as classrooms, libraries and campus surroundings, these students found it very difficult to recruit the personal, family, and physical resources for optimal learning. Paradoxically, it is exactly the need to study in a specific time and place that protects students of underserved backgrounds from competing financial, family, and social obligations.

How does your research link to todays’ challenges?
Over the past three decades, public criticism of schools in Israel and in other OECD countries has included dissatisfaction with the level of teacher professionalism. As a result, many countries have initiated major reforms aiming to address this perceived crisis through, for example, improving working conditions for teachers, creating alternative teacher education programs, attracting promising candidates into the field, enhancing the scientific base of teaching, etc. However, nowadays, there is an acute concern that such efforts may have paradoxically lead to the de-professionalization of educational work in schools, due to a strong emphasis on accountability and performativity. Against the background of such efforts, my investigation of the ways in which different components of teacher professionalism (e.g. authority, autonomy, knowledge expertise, and the regulation of work) are perceived, shaped and enacted becomes crucial now, more than ever.
 The sudden move from face-to-face to distance learning in the field of higher education has presented a unique opportunity to take advantage of this "natural experiment" to learn something about distance learning. Particularly, the move to emergency remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered the digital gap from which students from disadvantaged groups suffer, both in terms of their actual access to technologies, and in terms of their cultural and social capital that affect their ability to use distance learning platforms. Thus, underprivileged students who suffer from economic, geographical, spatial, linguistic, gender and digital disadvantage are likely to experience e-learning differently from those belonging to the dominant group, and it is possible that they will find themselves even at greater disadvantage than in face-to-face teaching and learning. In line with the above, our study seeks to ask: How do disadvantaged groups experience the digital gap? And how does it intersect with other vulnerabilities? What other hidden disadvantages does the digital gap expose during this time of crisis? This line of study could assist higher education leaders in learning about the various practices of remote learning; their affordances, constraints, and challenges. They could also enlighten educators as to how they are experienced by different students; the unique challenges different groups of students encounter, and their implications for learning.