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Teaching the way they were taught? Revisiting the sources of teaching knowledge and the role of prior experience in shaping faculty teaching practices

Abstract

An oft-cited maxim in higher education is that “faculty teach the way they were taught” because they receive little formal training in teaching before entering the classroom. However, little is known about the origins of faculty knowledge about teaching or the role their prior experiences play in the development of their teaching practices. In this exploratory study, we interviewed and observed 53 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics faculty at three research institutions. Using qualitative analysis methods (i.e., thematic and causal network analysis), we find that faculty do not only model their teaching after previous instructors, but also draw upon a varied repertoire of knowledge and prior experiences. These include knowledge derived from their experiences as instructors (46 respondents), their experiences as students (22 respondents), their experiences as researchers (9 respondents), and from their non-academic roles (10 respondents). In-depth analyses of two faculty members elaborate on the relationship between these varied types of prior experiences and how they interact with other factors including beliefs about teaching, instructional goals, and features of the organizational context to ultimately shape their classroom practice. The results suggest that instead of assuming that faculty lack any knowledge about teaching and learning, professional developers and policymakers should instead acknowledge and build upon their preexisting “craft” knowledge as professional teachers. Future research should focus on relationships between specific types of knowledge and teaching practice and how these varied experiences influence identity formation.

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Notes

  1. By faculty, we mean all people who hold undergraduate teaching positions—whether full- or part-time, tenured or untenured—in postsecondary institutions. Throughout this paper we use the terms “faculty” and “instructor” interchangeably.

  2. While the disciplinary context of instruction is an important factor that influences teaching (e.g., Lindblom- Ylänne et al. 2006), due to space limitations we do not focus on this topic in this paper.

  3. Thus, four respondents did not provide sufficiently detailed responses about this topic to merit inclusion in the study sample.

  4. Interviews and classroom observations were conducted with all respondents in the study, but observation data are reported for only two individuals.

  5. For each 50-min class period a total of 10 intervals were observed.

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Acknowledgments

Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (Award Number DRL-0814724). Authors are solely responsible for publication content. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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Correspondence to Amanda Oleson.

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Oleson, A., Hora, M.T. Teaching the way they were taught? Revisiting the sources of teaching knowledge and the role of prior experience in shaping faculty teaching practices. High Educ 68, 29–45 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-013-9678-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-013-9678-9

Keywords

  • Undergraduate instruction
  • Prior experiences
  • College faculty
  • Faculty teaching
  • Teaching practices
  • Knowledge base