Donna Harp Ziegenfuss

  • The relationship of teacher and student perceptions in a course about teaching and learning

    Donna Harp Ziegenfuss, Widener University, USA

    Patricia A. Lawler, Widener University, USA

    Session 3c, Tuesday 10.10

    Research seminar

    Themes addressed:

    • Teaching methods
    • Course and programme design
    • Supporting learners
    • Faculty development methods and/or strategies

    With a growing emphasis on student learning outcomes and assessment, faculty and educational developers seek out theory and research to inform not only classroom teaching and learning, but also course design methodologies. (Bowden, 1989; Diamond, 1997; Fink, 2003; Saroyan & Amundsen, 2004; Toohey, 1999). With the design and delivery of a new doctoral level course, Improving Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, the researchers, a faculty and an instructional design specialist, were presented with a unique opportunity to examine the perceptions of faculty as they learned new course design methodologies in the role of student.

    The research that began in 2004 demonstrated that the student perceptions about teaching, learning, and the process of course design differed dramatically from the perceptions of the faculty teaching the course, as well as other students, even though the students were teachers in higher education. Review of the traditional literature on best practices of teaching and learning and the educational development of teachers could not explain these findings. This led to a shift in the research focus away from trying to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the new course design, to concentrating on unearthing the different student experience variations and how these experiences were related to their dual roles as teacher and student, as well as their learning. The purpose of this phase of the research is focused on how participation in a course designed to improve teaching and learning shapes students’ perceptions of learning immediately following the course and over time. This widened the scope of the research and necessitated the inclusion of literature that we had not previously investigated from the UK, Australia and Sweden on phenomenography and the identification of variations in experiencing teaching and learning. Prosser (2000) states, “The overall aim [of phenomenographic research methodology] is to develop an understanding of the relations between the teacher’s and the student’s experiences of teaching and learning, with the eventual aim of improving the quality of student learning”.

    Data collected from the continued correspondence between the researchers and the students after the course had ended demonstrated that the students needed to reflect and test their knowledge from this course in their own teaching before they could internalise and fully understand the significance of what they had learned. Teaching requires more than just knowledge or experience alone. “Development of any skill requires practice but that practice needs to be informed by critical reflection and theoretically informed instruction to suggest and demonstrate alternative approaches” (Beatty, 1998, p. 99).

    During this research seminar, we will present our phenomenographic study, the one-year qualitative follow-up currently in progress. The third phase of our research seeks variations in the perceptions of the course environment and the relationship of student and teacher perceptions through surveys and interviews. This data will be used to improve future course design planning and implementation that will in turn improve student-learning outcomes and inform future educational development practice.


    • Beatty L (1998). The professional development of teachers in higher education: Structures, methods and responsibilities. Innovations in Education & Training International, 35 (2), pp. 99 – 107.
    • Bowden JA (1989). Curriculum development for conceptual change learning: A phenomenographic pedagogy. Occasional Paper 90.3, ERADU, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.
    • Diamond RM (1997). Designing and Assessing Courses and Curricula: A Practical Guide. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
    • Fink LD (2003). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass
    • Prosser M (2000). Using phenomenographic research methodology in the context of research in teaching and learning, in J Bowden & E Walsh (Eds), Phenomenography: Qualitative Research Series. Melbourne: RMIT University Press, pp 34-47. Also available online at:;dn=733249777890325;res=E-LIBRARY.
    • Saroyan A, & Amundsen C (Eds) (2004). Rethinking teaching in higher education: From a course design workshop to a faculty development framework. Sterling, VA, Stylus Publishing, LLC.
    • Toohey S (1999). Designing courses in Higher Education. Buckingham, UK: SRHE and Open University Press.