Jo McKenzie

  • Changing teaching to improve student learning: variation in teachers’ intentions

    Jo McKenzie
    University College London

    Session 5f

    Wednesday 5 September 2007, 09.30-10.30

    Research paper

    Themes: Lifelong learning, Better practitioners, Better understanding of the discipline

    A range of research over the past decade has focused on university teachers’ conceptions of teaching and their relation to students’ approaches to learning (Prosser and Trigwell, 1999). More recently, interest has turned to teachers’ experiences of change in their teaching (McKenzie, 2003) and of growing and developing as teachers (Åkerlind, 2003; 2007). Some ways of experiencing growth, development or change focus on improvements for teaching or the teacher, while others focus on improvements in student learning.

    This paper is based on a further analysis of a study of teachers’ ways of experiencing change in teaching (McKenzie, 2003). Twenty-seven university teachers were interviewed either twice over one year or three times over two years about their ways of experiencing teaching and change in teaching. A number of these teachers were then interviewed some years later. The interview transcripts were analysed using phenomenography and variation theory. A way of experiencing change in teaching was constituted as a related set of aspects of what teachers changed, acts of changing teaching and intentions of these acts.

    Four broad categories were constituted. Change in teaching was experienced as:

    1. changing the content that is taught in order to improve teaching
    2. changing teaching strategies in order to improve teaching
    3. relating teaching more closely to learning in order to improve students’ learning
    4. coming to experience teaching in a more student-focused way through improving understanding of teaching and students’ learning

    Within category C, there was further variation in teachers’ conceptions of student learning and their intentions for improving learning. Four sub-categories were constituted. Improving student learning had the intention of:

    • C1 helping students acquire and apply material more effectively so that they would become more competent for the discipline or profession;
    • C2 satisfying students’ needs as customers of higher education so that they experience value for money;
    • C3 improving students’ capacity to develop their own understandings and sense of purpose in learning the subject, so that they can gain more value from their learning;
    • C4 improving students’ lifelong learning capabilities, to enable them to learn and grow beyond the educational context.

    In the first category, improving learning was focused towards the provision of more competent entrants to the discipline or professions. In the second, both the professions and students were seen as ‘customers’ of higher education. In the third and fourth categories, improving student learning was focused more towards improving learning for its own sake and for the personal benefit of the students. This paper will describe these categories and illustrate them with quotes and vignettes from university teachers.


    • Åkerlind, G.S. (2003) Growing and developing as a university teacher – variation in meaning. Studies in Higher Education, 28, 375-390.
    • Åkerlind, G.S. (2007) Constraints on academics’ potential for developing as a teacher. Studies in Higher Education, 32, 21-37.
    • McKenzie, J. (2003) Variation and change in university teachers’ ways of experiencing teaching. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Technology Sydney.
    • Prosser, M. and Trigwell, K. (1999). Understanding learning and teaching: The experience in Higher Education. Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press.