• Improving Student Learning Theory and Practice - 10 Years on

    Title:Inquiring into a Higher Education Classroom: Insights into the Different Perspectives of Teacher and Students  
    Author(s):Sarah J Mann
    Institution: University of Glasgow
    Session: Research paper  

    Research on higher education has tended to investigate teaching and learning outside the context of the classroom. Qualitative interview and questionnaire-based studies have focused on the relationship between learning approaches and learning outcomes, on student motivations and orientations to learning, on problem-solving strategies, and on student and teacher conceptions of learning and teaching (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999; Marton et al., 1997; Ramsden, 1992; Schmeck, 1988). Some studies have also been undertaken on the impact of departmental context on teaching and learning processes (Ramsden, 1997). Little research has been done on observing and understanding these processes within the actual context of the higher education classroom. Exceptions include Hodgson's study on students' experiences of lectures (Hodgson, 1997) and Martin and Ramsden's study of teachers' intentions, adopted methods and perceived outcomes (Martin & Ramsden, 1998). However, these studies have tended to focus on either the student's perspective or the teacher's perspective with less attention paid to possible inter-relationships between the two perspectives.

    The research reported here sought to understand and illuminate the processes of teaching and learning within higher education by bringing these different perspectives together through a video and interview based case study of a single higher education classroom. The data was collected through observation and video-recording of a class and through interviews with the relevant teacher and students, focused on their subjective accounts of their experience of the session. This data provides insight not only into the ways in which teaching and learning are socially negotiated in the higher education classroom, but also into the contribution different subjective meanings and actions have to this process, and how such perspectives might arise through prior experience.

    In this paper, after a brief introduction to the research and its methodological approach, I will offer a description of the class observed and an account of the different teacher and student perspectives on their experience of the particular class. I will then examine the data from the perspective of the following questions:

    • What can this data tell us about how teaching and learning processes in higher education engage and alienate students and teachers?
    • What is the students experience of learning in this case? The teacher's experience of teaching?
    • How do teachers/students make sense of the teaching and learning process? How do the ways in which they make sense of the teaching and learning process impact on how they learn and teach?

    One of the striking findings that emerge from this data is how both teacher and students seem to comply with each other in such a way that restricts and constrains actions they might each otherwise take which would enrich and enliven the teaching and learning process. In essence, it seems that both teacher and learner have the possibility of becoming alienated from the teaching and learning process through the interplay of assumptions they make about what is and is not possible in the classroom.

    I will conclude the paper by drawing implications from these findings for our understanding of relevant theory and practice, particularly as it relates to learning environments and learning and teaching methods.