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Category: It’s Worth Discussing

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Editor’s note: The following is part of a resource collection called It’s Worth Discussing, in which we feature research articles that are especially suitable for personal reflection and group discussion with your colleagues.

Why this article is worth discussing: For most teachers, change keeps their courses fresh and invigorated. It’s an antidote to all about teaching that doesn’t change: content fundamentals, courses taught, passive students, exams, assignments, and grading—a list we can polish off with committee work. Despite the importance of change, we don’t spend much time thinking about the processes associated with it: What makes teachers decide to change, do they make more than one change at once, do changes in one course migrate to another, does a pattern of change emerge across the teaching years? This article merits discussing because it explores what a faculty cohort said about why, how, and when they made changes and whether those changes fit into a trajectory of instructional growth. Reading their answers stimulates reflection on change and growth—that of oneself and one’s colleagues.

The article

Mesny, A., Rivas, D. P., & Haro, S. P. (2021). Business school professors’ teaching approaches and how they change. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 20(1), 50–72. https://doi.org/10.5465/amle.2018.0018  

A synopsis

A Canadian research team interviewed 49 business faculty at four large institutions. Analysis of interview transcripts uncovered four instructional objectives: student satisfaction (adjusting to student needs), teacher satisfaction (finding fulfillment in authentic teaching), short-term learning (performance in the course), and long-term learning (performance in the profession). These teachers reported that they made changes at points of tension between the objectives. For example, some realized that students could perform well on exams and still not be able to apply what they’d learned. The changes these faculty made did not cause them to abandon an objective. For example, faculty still worked to provide students with satisfying learning experiences, but they also recognized that they needed to teach in ways they found meaningful. Growth, the researchers posit, resulted from this enlarged understanding of the competing demands and priorities that make teaching effective.

Quotations and discussion questions

1. Up to this point, what’s been commonly believed about teacher change and growth?

“A frequent narrative about teaching change in higher education is that while many educators begin their teaching careers with content-centered approaches, most naturally move toward more desirable, learning-centered approaches over time. In other words, change is generally assumed to move along a continuum from less sophisticated, teacher-centered approaches to more sophisticated, student-centered ones, thus signifying growth” (p. 52).

2. What motivates instructional change?

“Our analysis of these excerpts [in transcripts of the faculty interviews] suggested that respondents changed their teaching approach when they perceived a tension between two objectives, leading them to prioritize one or find a balance between the two” (p. 56).

“We found three distinct tensions: (a) tension between educator satisfaction and student satisfaction, (b) tension between student learning and student satisfaction, and (c) tension between long-term student learning and short-term student learning” (p. 55).

3. How is teacher growth defined and understood?

“Teaching growth implies the perception of a self-directed progression toward becoming a “better” teacher, and we need a better understanding of the circumstances in which educators experience changes in their teaching approaches as growth” (p. 53).

4. What happens to beliefs about teaching? In what ways do they change over time?

“One theoretical perspective that has been particularly fruitful in understanding change as a gradual process of expanded awareness is phenomenography. This perspective states that the different ways of understanding teaching reflect different breadths of awareness of the phenomenon; that is, student-centered approaches incorporate teacher-centered approaches by focusing on what is happening for both teachers and students in a teaching–learning situation . . . The phenomenographic perspective stands in contrast to the cognitive perspective, which suggests that teacher-centered and student-centered approaches are independent and that moving from one to the other involves a shift from one set of beliefs to another” (p. 53).

For more highlights from this lengthy research article, see this recent column.