How approaches to teaching are affected by discipline and teaching context

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  • This article was downloaded by: [UZH Hauptbibliothek / Zentralbibliothek Zrich]On: 12 July 2014, At: 07:37Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    How approaches to teaching areaffected by discipline and teachingcontextSari LindblomYlnne a , Keith Trigwell b , Anne Nevgi a & PaulAshwin ca University of Helsinki , Finlandb University of Oxford , UKc Lancaster University , UKPublished online: 24 Jan 2007.

    To cite this article: Sari LindblomYlnne , Keith Trigwell , Anne Nevgi & Paul Ashwin (2006)How approaches to teaching are affected by discipline and teaching context, Studies in HigherEducation, 31:03, 285-298, DOI: 10.1080/03075070600680539

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  • Studies in Higher EducationVol. 31, No. 3, June 2006, pp. 285298

    ISSN 0307-5079 (print)/ISSN 1470-174X (online)/06/03028514 2006 Society for Research into Higher EducationDOI: 10.1080/03075070600680539

    How approaches to teaching are affected by discipline and teaching contextSari Lindblom-Ylnnea*, Keith Trigwellb, Anne Nevgia and Paul AshwincaUniversity of Helsinki, Finland; bUniversity of Oxford, UK; cLancaster University, UKTaylor and Francis LtdCSHE_A_168023.sgm10.1080/03075070600680539Studies in Higher Education0307-5079 (print)/1470-174X (online)Original Article2006Society for Research into Higher Education313000000June 2006SariLindblom-Ylnnesari.lindblom-ylanne@helsinki.fi

    Two related studies are reported in this article. The first aimed to analyse how academic disciplineis related to university teachers approaches to teaching. The second explored the effects of teachingcontext on approaches to teaching. The participants of the first study were 204 teachers fromthe University of Helsinki and the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration and136 teachers from the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University who returned universityteaching inventories. Thus, altogether there were 340 teachers from a variety of disciplines in Finlandand the UK. The second study involved only the Finnish sample. The results showed that there wassystematic variation in both student- and teacher-focused dimensions of approaches to teachingacross disciplines and across teaching contexts. These results confirm the relational nature of teach-ers approaches to teaching and illustrate the need, in using inventories such as the Approaches toTeaching Inventory, to be explicit about the context.

    Introduction

    A growing body of research on university teachers approaches to teaching showsevidence of variation in the ways teachers approach their teaching. Furthermore,there is evidence that teachers approaches to teaching are connected with theirconceptions of teaching. A majority of researchers distinguish between a teacher- orcontent-centred and a student-centred approach to teaching. Teachers whoseapproach to teaching in a certain context can be categorised as being teacher-centredsee teaching mainly as the transmission of knowledge. These teachers concentrate onthe content of teaching and on what they do in teaching. Thus, the emphasis is on

    *Corresponding author: Centre for Research and Development of Higher Education, Faculty ofBehavioural Sciences, P.O.Box 9, 00014 University of Helsinki, Finland. Email: sari.lindblom-ylanne@helsinki.fi

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  • 286 S. Lindblom-Ylnne et al.

    how to organise, structure and present the course content in a way that is easier forthe students to understand. On the other hand, teachers whose approach to teachingis categorised as student-centred in a particular context see teaching as facilitatingstudent learning or students knowledge-construction processes or as supportingstudents conceptual change. These teachers focus on what students do in relation totheir efforts to activate students existing conceptions, and on encouraging them toconstruct their own knowledge and understandings (Samuelowicz & Bain, 1992,2001; Prosser et al., 1994; Trigwell & Prosser, 1996; Biggs, 1999; Prosser & Trigwell,1999; Vermunt & Verloop, 1999; Kember & Kwan, 2002).

    Are approaches to teaching stable or dynamic in nature?

    Researchers have different views of the stability of approaches to teaching. Kemberand Kwan (2002) see approaches to teaching as relatively stable. Kember (1997)further argues that enormous efforts are needed in order to change teachers under-lying beliefs. On the contrary, Prosser and Trigwell (Trigwell & Prosser, 1996;Prosser & Trigwell, 1999), as well as Samuelowicz and Bain (2001), emphasise thecontextual and dynamic nature of approaches to teaching. Thus the same teachermay sometimes use features typical of student-centred teaching, and sometimesfeatures typical of teacher-centred teaching, depending on the teaching context. Alimited awareness of student-centred conceptions of teaching may reduce the extentof this dynamic relationship, and in some cases effectively prevent adoption ofapproaches other than those with teacher-centred elements (Prosser & Trigwell,1999; kerlind, 2003). These somewhat contrasting views indicate that there is aneed for further research on the relational nature of the approaches to teaching.

    Does discipline have an effect on approaches to teaching?

    There is little research on the effect of discipline on approaches to teaching whenapproaches are defined as above. Lueddeke (2003) showed that teachers who teachin the hard disciplines, such as the physical sciences, engineering and medicine,were more likely to apply a teacher-centred approach to teaching, whereas teachersfrom soft disciplines (such as social sciences and humanities) took a more student-centred approach to teaching. Trigwell (2002), in a study of design and physicalsciences teachers approaches to teaching, showed that design teachers were signifi-cantly more student-centred than science teachers. However, in that study, nocontrol was imposed on the teachers experience of the teaching context, and it canbe considered to be no more than an indicator of the possibility of disciplinarydifference.

    Even though we know little about the relations between disciplines andapproaches to teaching, there are some studies which have focused on the disciplin-ary differences in the academic culture. The epistemological beliefs and the knowl-edge structures of different disciplines have been analysed in many studies (Biglan,1973; Kolb, 1981; Becher, 1987, 1994; Neumann et al., 2002). Furthermore, there

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  • Approaches to teaching 287

    is research on disciplinary ways of thinking and the effect of discipline on teaching,learning and doing research (Smeby, 1996; Neumann, 2001).

    Becher (1989) modified Biglans (1973) sixfold classification and identified fourcategories of discipline, namely pure hard and pure soft and applied hard andapplied soft, on the basis of cultural and epistemological differences. According toNeumann et al. (2002), pure hard knowledge can be described as cumulative innature. Teaching content is linear, straightforward and uncontentious. Instructionalmethods are mainly mass lectures and problem-based seminars. The focus of studentlearning is on fact retention and on the ability to solve logically structured problems.Pure soft knowledge, on the other hand, is holistic and qualitative in nature.Teaching methods include more face-to-face class meetings and tutorial teachingincluding discussions and debates. Creativity in thinking and fluency of expressionare emphasised in student learning. Applied hard knowledge is linear in sequenceand based on factual understanding. These sciences are concerned with the masteryof the physical environment. Teaching methods concentrate on simulations and casestudies in relation to professional settings. As in pure hard sciences, students areexpected to learn facts, but in applied hard sciences there is more emphasis on prac-tical competencies and on the ability to apply theoretical ideas to professionalcontexts. Finally, in applied soft disciplines knowledge is accumulated in a re-itera-tive process. Teaching methods are close to those of the pure soft disciplines. Theemphasis is on personal growth and intellectual breadth.

    Becher (1989) developed the concept of academic tribes on the basis of Biglans(1973) and Kolbs (1981) research. According to Ylijoki (2000), the core of eachdiscipline can be conceptualised as a moral order which defines the basic beliefs,values and norms of the local culture. She also found differences in the ways of under-standing the virtues and vices of studying, and in the social identities that areconstructed in different disciplines. Ylijoki argues that improvement of the quality ofteaching can only be achieved by influencing the cultural basis of the discipline. Theproduction of knowledge, as well as means for communication, varies in differentdisciplines, and students learn tacitly the norms of their disciplinary culture (Parry,1998; Ylijoki, 2000).

    Self-efficacy beliefs of university teachers

    Self-efficacy beliefs can be defined as individuals beliefs about their performancecapabilities in a particular domain (Bandura, 1982, 1997; Pintrich & McKeachie,2000; Zimmerman, 2000). The construct of self-efficacy is not considered as a globalpersonality trait, but includes instead persons judgements about their ability toaccomplish certain goals or tasks by their actions in a specific situation (Pintrich &McKeachie, 2000, p. 36). Thus, self-efficacy beliefs are relative and situational innature (Bandura, 1997; Pintrich & McKeachie, 2000).

    There is plenty of research on the self-efficacy beliefs of school teachers. The workof Bandura, in particular, is exhaustively detailed and broad (e.g. 1982, 1997).Research on school teachers self-efficacy beliefs and the learning outcomes of their

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  • 288 S. Lindblom-Ylnne et al.

    pupils indicates that pupils of teachers with higher self-efficacy beliefs tend to havebetter learning outcomes (Bandura, 1997). There is also evidence that pre-serviceteachers with high self-efficacy beliefs are likely to select more efficient teaching prac-tices, which lead to better learning outcomes, than teachers with low self-efficacy(Gordon & Debus, 2002).

    Research on university teachers self-efficacy beliefs is scarce. Bailey (1999) exam-ined the effects of faculty affiliation, level of appointment, gender, qualifications andresearch productivity on staffs self-efficacy beliefs and their motivation to teach andto do research. The results showed that the level of appointment and faculty of affil-iation were related to staffs self-efficacy beliefs for research and to motivation to doresearch, but not to their self-efficacy beliefs for teaching, nor to their motivation toteach. Even though women teachers were found to be more motivated than menteachers to teach, no differences were found in women and men teachers self-efficacybeliefs for teaching. Furthermore, Bailey showed that low success in research corre-lated with higher motivation for teaching.

    Postareff et al. (2004) showed an effect of pedagogical training on teachers self-efficacy beliefs. Teachers who had completed an extensive pedagogical trainingcourse scored the highest on the self-efficacy scale. However, teachers who hadparticipated in a short course for university teachers scored lower than teachers whodid not have any pedagogical training at all. Thus, it seems to take at least a year forthe positive effects of pedagogical training to emerge. Shorter training periods seemto make teachers more uncertain about themselves as teachers. These results implythat self-efficacy beliefs, and approaches to teaching, change slowly.

    Two studies are reported here. The first aimed to analyse how discipline is relatedto university teachers approaches to teaching and to their self-efficacy beliefs. Thesecond explored the effects of teaching context on approaches to teaching and self-efficacy beliefs.

    Method

    Participants

    The participants of the first study were 204 teachers from the University of Helsinki(201) and the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration (3), and136 teachers from the Universities of Oxford (72) and Oxford Brookes (64). Thus,altogether there were 340 teachers (from a variety of disciplines) in two differentnational contexts (Finland and UK). The second study involved only the Finnishsample.

    While the University of Helsinki and the University of Oxford are both research-intensive universities and Oxford Brookes University is a former polytechnic, a compar-ison of the means of the variables used in the studies between the two Oxford samplesand the UK and Finnish samples showed no statistically significant differences.

    The teachers covered a typical range of status and experience and represented avariety of disciplines. Of the 340 teachers, 303 reported their discipline. Of these, 76

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  • Approaches to teaching 289

    (25%) represented the pure soft disciplines, such as history, arts, philosophy andtheology. Ninety-one teachers (30%) represented the applied soft disciplines, suchas education, law and social sciences. The pure hard disciplines, such as mathemat-ics, chemistry and physics, were represented by 39 teachers (13%). Ninety-seventeachers (32%) represented the applied hard disciplines, such as medicine,dentistry, veterinary medicine and pharmacy.

    Approximately a quarter of the returns came from teachers attending pedagogicalworkshops and seminars, where return rates were about 80%. The remainder werereturned by teachers, who were randomly selected. The return rate from this groupwas about 35%.

    Materials

    The inventory used in this study consists of two parts: the Approaches to TeachingInventory (ATI) (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999; Trigwell & Prosser, 2004) was devel-oped from the identification of qualitatively different conceptions of, andapproaches to, teaching. It is composed of 16 items, with eight items in theconceptual change/student-focused (CCSF) approach scale and the other eightitems in the information transmission/teacher-focused (ITTF) approach to teach-ing scale. The second, and new, part of the inventory was designed by three of theauthors of this article: Trigwell, Ashwin and Lindblom-Ylnne. The aim of thispart is to explore teachers motivational aspects to teaching and the regulationstrategies they use. Items from the self-regulation, external regulation and lack ofregulation subscales are derived from the work of Vermunt and colleagues,whereas items from the self-efficacy and task value subscales are derived from thework of Pintrich and colleaguessee Table 1 (Pintrich et al., 1989; Lindblom-Ylnne & Nevgi, 2003; Trigwell et al., 2004). All items in the second part aremeasured on a 5-point Likert scale, from strongly disagree to strongly agree, andfrom this part only a four-item scale measuring self-efficacy was used in the analysisfor this study.

    Table 1. The self-efficacy items and origins of those items

    Teaching items Learning items from Pintrich et al. (1989)

    17. I am confident that my knowledge of this subject matter is not a barrier to teaching it well.

    17. I am confident I can understand the most complex material presented by the instructor in this course.

    19. I am confident that students will learn from me in this course.

    13. I am confident I can learn the basic concepts taught in this course.

    21. I am certain that I have the necessary skills to teach this course.

    32. I am certain that I can master the skills being taught in this class.

    30. I am confident that my knowledge of teaching is not a barrier to teaching well.

    7. I am certain I can understand the most difficult material presented in the readings for this course.

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  • 290 S. Lindblom-Ylnne et al.

    The full inventory was translated into Finnish by one of the researchers, back-trans-lated into English by a person not associated with the study, and the English versionchecked against the original by another researcher. The original English and back-translated versions of the inventory were very similar, with only one item being slightlydifferent, and the difference was considered not to have affected the item meaning.

    In the first study, 132 responses from Oxford and 171 responses from Helsinki,which contained a clear indication of the disciplinary context, were combined. In thesecond study, the group of Finnish teachers were given two inventories and they wereasked to select two different kinds of courses or teaching contexts. First, these teach-ers were asked to answer the items keeping in mind their most usual teaching contextand, second, to answer the same items on a second inventory focusing on another lessusual kind of context. Furthermore, they were asked to name the course in each caseand to report why they considered the selected courses were different. In order to helpthe teachers to describe the difference between the courses, they were asked to reportthe number of students, the main method of teaching and the study phase of thestudents. Of 204 teachers, 22 returned only one questionnaire. Thus, for this studyon the effect of context on approaches to teaching, a total of 182 matched pairs ofcompleted inventories were available.

    Data analyses

    The disciplinary differences in teachers approaches to teaching were analysed byapplying independent samples t-tests and one-way analyses of variance.

    The shift in the conceptual change/student-focused (CCSF) and informationtransfer/teacher-focused (ITTF) approaches to teaching from one teaching context toanother was analysed by computing change variables for each approach. This wasdone by subtracting the teachers approach scale scores when they were respondingabout a teaching context they sometimes teach (less usual context in Table 2) from thescores when responding about the most usual teaching context (usual context inTable 2). In both change variables the magnitude and the direction of the shift fromthe most usual to the less usual teaching context was used to create five categories of

    Table 2. Categories of the change variables

    The direction of change Explanation Difference in scores

    Strong negative change Scores in the less usual context clearly higher than in the usual context

    1.00 or more negative

    Negative change Scores in the less usual context higher than in the usual context

    From 0.5 up to 1.0

    No change or minor change Scores in both contexts equal or similar Between 0.5 and 0.5Positive change Scores in the less usual context lower

    than in the usual contextFrom 0.5 up to 1.0

    Strong positive change Scores in the less usual context clearly lower than in the usual context

    1.00 or greater

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  • Approaches to teaching 291

    change based on Likert scale point changes of greater or less than a half a Likert scalepoint. This procedure was used by Eley (1992) in investigating change, with context,of student approaches to learning. In his study, Eley used one Likert scale point,but this was considered to be insufficiently discriminating for the present study.Categorisation on the basis of median split was also considered, but that would havemade it impossible to compare the changes in CCSF and ITTF approaches from oneteaching context to another.

    The significance of the changes in the CCSF and ITTF approaches to teachingfrom one teaching context to another were tested by the Wilcoxon signed ranks test(Siegel & Castellan, 1988, pp. 8795). This test is a nonparametric alternative to thepaired t-test. The test assumes that there is information in the magnitudes of thedifferences between paired observations, as well as the signs.

    Results

    The relations between discipline and approaches to teaching and self-efficacy

    For the analysis of the first study, only those inventories returned by teachers whodescribed a typical or usual teaching context were used. Of a possible 340 teachers,303 (89%) had given sufficient information on their discipline. First, in order tocompare our results with those found by Lueddeke (2003), the disciplines wereassigned to two categories, namely, hard and soft sciences. An independentsamples t-test showed that the teachers from hard sciences scored significantly higheron the ITTF approach scale than the teachers from soft sciences (t[300] = 3.58, p