Torgny Roxa

  • Barriers to communication on teaching and learning among university teachers

    Torgny Roxå and Katarina Mårtensson, Lund University

    Conceptual paper

    Themes: faculty development methods and/or strategies, diversity and inclusivity, graduate outcomes, course and programme design, teaching methods

    Monday 7 September 2009, 15.45 - 16.45 in room G60

    Talking to colleagues about their teaching can be like ”speaking to them about their personal hygiene”, a group of university teachers exclaimed (Handal, 1999), it is just impossible. An alternative answer was formulated by another group of university teachers: “No, it is not culturally accepted.” Teaching and learning cultures, thus, influence what is acceptable to talk about, and what is not. Further, they govern the way things are talked about and consequently the meaning constructed during conversation. To influence these processes in higher education is vital if teaching and learning (T&L) is to be developed further.


    Teachers’ conceptions of T&L are linked to quality in student learning (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999). These conceptions vary, partly by discipline, but also by cultural context (Lindblom-Ylänne et al., 2006). T&L cultures have been discussed as teaching and learning regimes (TLR) (Trowler, 2009, Trowler & Cooper, 2002). Different TLRs support different conceptions. As in all cultural phenomena everyday talk and communication are the processes where meaning is constructed and maintained (Ancona et al., 2009). In the case of university teachers these conversations take place back-stage (Goffman, 2000) among a few selected colleagues, within significant networks (Roxå & Mårtensson, 2009). Consequently, cultural change is dependent on displacements in the conversational patterns wherein meaning in relation to T&L is constructed and maintained by university teachers.

    Academic teachers are reluctant towards engaging in critical conversations with colleagues (Becher & Trowler, 2001), still this is vital if ruling TLRs are to be challenged. This conceptual paper explores barriers to critical conversations on T&L among teachers. A vital component of the exploration is trust, especially as one possibility, mistrust is the other, to lower complexity during conversation (Luhmann, 2005).

    We explore barriers on three levels and relate them to each other: Individual (Marton & Booth, 1997), Socio-cultural (Säljö, 2000, Wenger, 1999), and Discursive (Foucault, 1993, 2008). 

    • Teachers may not individually have an enough complex understanding of T&L in order to initiate a conversation. (Individual teachers may lack knowledge, understanding, and vocabulary to reflect on T&L.)
    • The socio cultural context may inhibit or even punish conversations on T&L. (Violating local norms could effect status, professional identity, and perception of Self negatively.)
    • The available discourse on T&L may appear irrelevant and/or poor making it useless as building blocks in a conversation. (A shortage of shared intellectual tools, perspectives, and value-systems drastically raises the complexity within any conversation with colleagues not known.)

    During the session these perspectives are elaborated and related to each other. We will also consider faculty development approaches like pedagogical courses, communities of practice, and institutional strategies/policies as examples of measures taken on each level. The presentation will end with a discussion about strategies to promote conversations on T&L among university teachers.


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