Jo McKenzie

  • Critical aspects and dimensions of variation: extending understandings of ways of experiencing teaching

    Jo McKenzie, University of Technology, Sydney

    Research paper

    Themes addressed: Theories of learning and teaching

    Research on university teachers beliefs about and conceptions of teaching has consistently shown a range of variation from teacher-focused to student-focused (Prosser, Trigwell & Taylor, 1994; Kember, 1997; Samuelowicz & Bain, 1992, 2001), with some disagreement on whether there are transitional conceptions. Approaches to teaching relate to conceptions of teaching, to teachers perceptions of their situations, and to students approaches to learning (Prosser and Trigwell, 1999; Kember and Kwan, 2002). More recently, Martin, Prosser, Trigwell, Ramsden and Benjamin (2002) have made connections between teachers' approaches to teaching and the objects of study that they constitute for their students.

    This paper extends understandings of these relationships through using the theoretical perspective of variation, learning and awareness (Marton and Booth, 1997). University teachers ways of experiencing teaching were constituted using a phenomenographic research approach along with an analytic framework adapted from that for the experience of learning (Marton and Booth, 1997). A way of experiencing teaching is constituted by focusing on complementary patterns of aspects of what is taught and how it is taught, where the how includes the acts of teaching and the indirect objects at which these acts aim. Differences between different ways of experiencing relate to teachers' simultaneous, focal awareness of different patterns of aspects and their intertwined meanings.

    The paper describes the critical aspects of six hierarchically related but qualitatively different ways of experiencing teaching, three teacher-focused and three student-focused, based on a study of 76 transcripts of interviews with university teachers. Student-focused ways of experiencing teaching were those in which the direct object of teaching was a relation between teacher and student understandings and the indirect object aimed at development or change in students' understandings, capabilities or ways of experiencing the world. The minimum critical aspects of student-focused ways of experiencing were:

    • two-way interaction which involves mutual learning
    • finding out about and taking into account students' understandings and experiences
    • students' understandings seen as potentially qualitatively rather than simply quantitatively different from teacher understandings
    • understanding seen as developing, interpreting and making connections with previous knowledge, rather than absorbing or acquiring untransformed knowledge
    • learning approaches as a relation between the student and their learning situation and open to variation

    Student-focused ways of experiencing were also related to explicit awareness of variation in ways of experiencing teaching. Teachers described teaching as facilitating, helping or guiding not just as telling or transmitting.

    The paper offers ways of helping teachers to simultaneously discern and focus on the critical aspects of student-focused ways of experiencing, through experiencing their related dimensions of variation. It also offers an alternative interpretation of 'transitional' ways of experiencing. When interaction is considered as part of a complementary pattern there is no transitional category. Interactive acts of teaching were either part of a teacher-focused pattern of helping students to acquire and practice external understandings or a student-focused pattern of responsively relating teaching to students' understandings and experiences to help students to develop or challenge them to change.