Jim Borgford-Parnell

  • A pedagogy of larger concerns: conceptions underlying effective teaching in a research-intensive university

    Jim Borgford-Parnell
    University of Washington

    Session 4f

    Tuesday 4 September 2007, 16.00-17.00

    Conceptual paper

    Themes: Global citizenship, Lifelong learning, The teaching-research nexus, Learning for learning’s sake

    For decades, educational scholars have criticized the quality of teaching in large research universities, largely discounting the outstanding teaching that takes place on these campuses. This session reports on a phenomenographic study examining the teaching conceptions of eight university instructors, recognized for their outstanding teaching. The research question was, “What conceptions of teaching do these faculty members hold that help them to be effective in their teaching while successfully interpreting and navigating within a research-intensive university setting”? Findings demonstrated that effective teachers’ conceptions are characterized by a complexity of dimensions that, altogether, make up each teacher’s pedagogy of larger concerns, and individually answer “why learning matters” and “why improving learning is important.”

    Conceptual basis of the research

    Research efforts have been underway for much of this past century to understand variables that make up effective teaching. However, until the last few decades most of the research focused on teachers’ characteristics, learners’ behaviours, and environmental factors. Cognitivist research turned our attention to understanding the mental activities of learners and the frameworks of goals, expectancies, beliefs, and values, within which cognitive activity occurs (Bruning et. al., 1999).

    Within the cognitivist research paradigm, teaching effectiveness research is generally focused on what students bring to their interactions with each other and how teachers might modify the learning process and context in response to students’ cognitive needs. That research has resulted in well-supported learning theories and many excellent pedagogical models (e.g. cooperative learning, problem-based learning).

    Few researchers, instructional developers, or knowledgeable teachers would deny that cognitivist research continues to have a profound and positive effect on postsecondary teaching. Implicitly, however, much of the current research perpetuates old unexamined assumptions about the teacher, with regard to learning. Clearly, teachers continue to be conceived as the embodiment of a set of pedagogical techniques, institutional policies, and content knowledge, with little consideration for teachers themselves as cognitive beings who bring their biases, values, beliefs, judgments, assumptions, and epistemologies into their work.

    Research into conceptions of teaching (e.g. Hativa, 2000; Kember, 1997; Samuelowicz & Bain, 1992, 2001) are important exceptions to the norm in teaching effectiveness research. From this research have come much better understandings of the possible effects of teachers’ ways of knowing, prior knowledge, motives, values, and beliefs on their teaching practices. The study we will focus on in this session builds upon this important category of research.

    Session activities and interactions

    This session will begin with a presentation and interactive discussion of a recent study examining the value constructs that underlie exceptional teaching practice. Participants will engage in critical discussions of the study’s implications. We will discuss how teachers’ beliefs and values might impact their development as effective teachers, and how instructional developers might utilize a better understanding of teachers value constructs to design better or different development activities. Participants will leave with a broader understanding of the fundamental importance of teaching conceptions to practice. Additionally, participants will be better able to assess current instructional development practices, with regard to consideration of teachers’ conceptions.