Expanding knowledge: Education researcher lands SSHRC post-doctoral fellowship

Sep 1st, 2021

By Jeff Green

Dr. Andrew Coombs wears a light coloured checkered shirt in a hallway. Photo by Rich Blenkinsopp
Expanding knowledge: Education researcher lands SSHRC post-doctoral fellowship

It’s a time in his life he won’t soon forget.

Dr. Andrew Coombs, a researcher in the Faculty of Education, recently secured a $90,000 post-doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). He also recently welcomed a new daughter to his growing family.

“Exciting times in our home for sure,” he proudly told the Gazette during a recent conversation.

Experience shapes practice

As a new post-doc, Dr. Coombs says the federal fellowship allows him to expand his studies that focus on classroom assessment and evaluation.

He is conducting his research under the supervision of Drs. Joelle Rodway and Karen Goodnough.

“Without this funding, I wouldn’t be able to conduct my research. It’s that simple,” he said.

He says the funding also provides him with a formal relationship with Memorial, without which his involvement in other research projects at Memorial, and his collaborations with other researchers in Canada and abroad, pursuit of other funding opportunities at the institutional, provincial, and federal level, and even accessing current academic literature, would not be possible.

Originally, from Halifax, N.S., Dr. Coombs completed his B.Sc.(Hons.) from Dalhousie University, B.Ed. from Mount Saint Vincent University and M.Ed. and PhD from Queen’s University.

“I am examining how experiences throughout a teaching career shape assessment practice.”— Dr. Andrew Coombs

He recently moved to Newfoundland and Labrador with his young family and is busy settling into his new role and working with colleagues from the Faculty of Education.

“I now live in CBS with my wife, our daughters, a golden retriever and a housecat. I walk the T’Railway every day, tend to our vegetable garden and am very slowly becoming more skilled in carrying out home improvements.”

Teacher experiences

Dr. Coombs’ research centres on understanding the factors shaping early-career teachers’ assessment practices and assessment learning needs.

He says these include formal learning opportunities, such as professional development workshops, as well as informal interactions, such as the use of social media.

There is no shortage of evidence that teachers’ assessment practices are a fundamental influence on student learning and achievement,” said Dr. Coombs, who is an editorial advisory board member for the Canadian Journal of Education.

“Within the current accountability climate across Canadian schools, this influence is even more pronounced with provincial assessment policies requiring teachers’ integration of assessment throughout instruction to support student learning and achievement. These policies are predicated on research arguing the benefits of assessment-driven teaching on increased student achievement, metacognitive abilities, motivation and positive self-perception, and enhanced teacher instruction.”

He also says the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – with its online and blended learning environments – has increased inequities within the education systems.

“Inequities that research has repeatedly shown can be mitigated through teachers’ use of high-quality assessment practices. However, despite repeated calls for the integration of assessment within teaching, research continues to indicate that teachers struggle to fully harness high-quality assessment practices in the service of supporting student learning and achievement.”

Institutional reputation

Dr. Coombs says he wanted to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship at Memorial because of its reputation for leading research, public engagement and commitment to supporting communities.

“Dr. Rodway has introduced me to a range of new research methods and expanded my knowledge of the K–12 education system, all of which will greatly support my efforts to better support student learning and achievement.”

The SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowships is a key component of SSHRC’s Talent Program, which nurtures and supports the brightest Canadian social sciences and humanities research talent.

Jeff Green is manager of communications in the Office of the Vice-President (Research). He can be reached at jeffg@mun.ca.

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