‘Being an educator’ in university-based youth worker education: A hermeneutic phenomenological study

Author: Joshua Spier

Spier, Joshua, 2016 ‘Being an educator’ in university-based youth worker education: A hermeneutic phenomenological study, Flinders University, School of Education

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The purpose of this study was to understand shared meanings of ‘being an educator’ in the everyday context of Australian university-based youth worker education (UYWE). While it has long been known that university teachers are integral to the education of different health and social care professionals, research that seeks to understand the lived experience of educators is less common. My own experiences of being a lecturer within a youth work–specific bachelor degree provided the impetus for this inquiry.

The focus of this study is ‘being an educator’, a phenomenon that is ordinarily covered over as a person becomes absorbed in the busywork of their university world. Hermeneutic phenomenology provided a way of uncovering taken-for-granted meanings of ‘being an educator’ as revealed in the everyday experiences of lecturers in UYWE. In particular, Martin Heidegger’s unique approach to the question of ‘being’ in Being and Time (1962) instructed the design, sensibility and pathway of this research.

Over a span of eight months, twelve interview conversations with lecturers (from across five institutions) were digitally recorded and subsequently transcribed. The participant group reflected a diversity of academic ranks, professional backgrounds, disciplinary origins, and ideological and pedagogical approaches to the practice of UYWE. And yet, each participant had in common the experience of lecturing within a higher education youth work course.

Stories of lived experience that appeared to address the question of being an educator were derived and crafted from the transcripts. These weaved together a rich phenomenological text that was hermeneutically interpreted in light of the philosophical writings of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Martin Heidegger. The interpretive process looked beyond explicit meanings towards more primordial and tacit ontological understandings.

Three overarching existential themes came to light. When a person enters the university world of youth work education, their past is not dead but continues to be in play. In addition, the variable experience of being in conversation emerged as an integral aspect of being an educator. A further understanding is that being an educator is ‘dwelling in possibility’. That is, educators commonly appear to exist in an ontological state of flux in relation to their own possibility of being as an educator.

Discourses related to the practice of UYWE have been chiefly concerned with specific curriculum content, educational values, outcome-based rationales and pedagogical techniques. Expanding the horizons of these discourses, this research points to an overlooked meaningfulness of being an educator as it unfolds for practitioners within their everyday university communities. In doing so, this project highlights the humanness of educators as they support the professional development of aspiring youth workers.

Keywords: being an educator, teaching experience - higher education, youth work, Australian university youth work education, hermeneutic phenomenology, Heidegger, Gadamer

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2016
School: School of Education
Supervisor: Professor David Giles