Peter Arvidson

  • Putting ideas into practice. When ATI teaching intentions and strategies don't match

    Peter Arvidson and Torgny Roxå, UCLU, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

    Research seminar

    Themes addressed: Learning environments, Theories of learning and teaching

    The analyses and conclusions drawn in this paper (abstract) are rather freely presented. When put in the form of a scientific article it will be taken down to size. But with this paper, being offered in a discussion group, we hope to provoke the reader into challenging our avenues of thought and perhaps finding others. In that way we may find at least some 'truth' together.

    In the spring of 2001 668 teachers (72% of the entire population) at the Lund University School of Technology (LTH) took the ATI-test for teaching intentions and strategies (Approaches to Teaching Inventory, Prosser M & K Trigwell, 1999, Understanding Learning and Teaching). Along with the 16 items in the ATI-questionnaire several other variables were measured, for instance gender, age, years of teaching, main teaching subject, department of employment, courses taken in the pedagogy of higher education and others.

    One line of results that proved to be interesting was the matching of intention and strategy, the ideal being that you do teach as your philosophy tells you. If not there must be something in your way, hindering you to do as you would wish. The problem could be in the teacher as individual (lacks the ability), in the student group (not prepared for this kind of teaching), or in the 'structure', outside both teacher and student group (resources, physical means, tradition and culture - 'it isn't being done!', etc).

    We found the structure line of reasoning most interesting. So we followed it looking at data on a group level. The first set of data is for all the 668 teachers from the ATI typology and its four types showing how loaded LTH is on each one of them. In each of the four cells it gives the proportion of teachers giving the two highest values (4 and 5 on a 1-5 scale) on the scale in question.

      Teacher centered Student centered
    Intention 40% 50%
    Strategy 36% 30%
    Difference +4% +20%

    (Each cell containing about 668 teachers setting the base of 100%).

    Here we see, on a group level, that contrary to teacher centered intention the student centered intention is not very well followed up by matching strategy. Half of the teachers have positive student centered intentions but less than a third teach in the same vein. Why do some teachers "change their minds" when actually teaching? One way to find the answer to this puzzle is to go by asking who and then where? In what different contexts may this group be found, and does it matter? So how about gender? Is there a difference between male and female teachers in this respect, and can we find different male and female contexts?

    To save space in this abstract we will do without regular tables. Data will at all times be taken from tables set exactly like the one above in the same way that we here again give data from the very same table: TCI 40% (668) and SCI 50% (668) in row one, TCS 36% (668) and SCS 30% (688) in row two, and finally Diff-TC +4% (668) and Diff-SC +20% (668) in row three.

    Looking at the two gender groups of teachers we find that the big mismatch is with female teachers resulting in Diff-SC +30% (153). That is to say that although female teachers, as a group, have very student centered intentions they do not follow it up very well in strategy. Why is that? Assuming, for a moment, that teaching in a student centered way is very much a female thing (female SCI 67% (153), male SCI 45% (514)) then we must ask if we can find a context where this might be freely practiced, and in contrast, one where it may be blocked by something. Before going into that we notice that Diff-TC is very low for both gender groups: +4% (514) for males and +3% (153) for females, from which we draw the conclusion that teacher centered intentions are well followed by teacher centered strategies for both males and females.

    Sticking to the structural or cultural perspective we next turn to data showing the gender situation in differently gendered cultures or rather work places. We simply took the figures on the proportion of male/female teachers at different departments as a crude way of labelling them male or female departments. Now LTH is a male dominated place of work on the whole (77% male teachers, 23% females) which makes it hard to find truly female departments. We will have to do with the following halting polarities: a group of seven male departments containing 0 to 5% female teachers, and a group of four mixed departments with 28 to 49% female teachers. These two groups gave the following results in our hunt for reasons telling us why female teachers have trouble putting their student centered intentions into practice:

    In 'male' departments the greatest mismatch is Diff-TC +36% (123) for female teachers. This comes from female teachers in these male departments having a very high intention, TCI 53% (123), this being even 1% higher that the male teachers, but they fail in putting these ideas into practice, their TCS being only 17% (123). The latter should be compared with the female SCS 43% (123) telling us that despite it being a male department the female teachers mainly teach student centered. The corresponding figure for male teachers is very low: TCS 16% (514), which tells us that being a male teacher in a male department you don't have to bother with student centered teaching.

    What about the situation in 'mixed' departments? Here we have the highest portion of all tables in the cell student centered strategy, STS 53% for female teachers. But even here strategy is not as intention would have it resulting in Diff-SC +20%. Maybe the result we should be most eager to notice is not the mismatch between intention and strategy. That can perhaps best be explained by still other factors than those we have taken up here. But what we do find, looking at the two last set of tables, is a female reluctancy to teach teacher centered wherever she works, and an inspiration towards student centered intention for both male and female teachers in what we have labelled 'mixed' departments.

    So to sum it up at least three interesting results appear in the mixed departments. One is that for both male teachers and female teachers we have the highest proportion of student centered intentions: Male SCI 71% (214) and Female SCI 73% (79). Another is that there is very little difference between the genders; male teachers in a mixed gender department seem to take to student centered ideas. A third thing to notice is that the lack of following ideas into practice is not as pronounced as in other tables, and about the same for male and female teachers: Male Diff-SC +25% (214) and Female Diff-SC +20% (79). So in mixed departments there is less of a block against actual student centered teaching.


    From our data we suggest that student centered teaching is partly blocked by old structures being upheld in male dominated contexts. In a mixed gender context both male and female teachers find inspiration and space for both student centered intentions and strategies. But even so, in the mixed gender context we still find some degree of mismatch in that student centered teaching is practiced to a lower degree than expected from intention figures. Are there other factors that can take the responsibility for this? Yes most probably, but do we find it in the structure or in reluctancy and conservativeness on the part of the students not being 'used' to new ways of teaching?