22 SES 04 E, Student Engagement and Active Learning
Teaching is a most central part of university activities. It is also a necessary precondition to educate new professionals in a number of different disciplines, where previous knowledge is reproduced and successively renewed between generations (Stensaker et al 2017). Yet, there are relatively few of the university teachers who have an own pedagogical background (Levander 2017). Rather, most lecturers and professors are recruited based on research merits and other occupational specific competences in a wide spectra of disciplines, such as economics, law, psychology, music, medicine, chemistry, history etc. But, can it be taken for granted that practitioners and researchers with professional backgrounds as economists, lawyers, psychologists, musicians, clinical doctors, chemists or historians will become good university teachers? From this rhetorical question the overriding research question for this paper is formulated: What is the difference between knowing a subject and teaching it? By answering this question, the paper aims to provide knowledge about possibilities and challenges related to teaching in higher education. Two specific research questions support the analysis:
1) How do university teachers in different subject areas reflect on the enactment of teaching?
2) What processes of interpretation and guidance can be found in different ways to enact the relations between curriculum, student and teacher?
Theoretically, the study is supported by John Dewey’s reasoning as formulated in The Child and the Curriculum (1902), which we for our analysis translate to higher education. Although this means that we move Dewey’s thoughts from one educational context to another, we find his reasoning on educative process and the relation between curriculum, student and teacher highly relevant also for higher education. In contrast to a more everyday understanding of the concept of curriculum as a single policy document, we understand curriculum as a much broader concept that opens for analysis of how knowledge and content is chosen and organised within and between different educational levels (Bergh 2010; Englund; Forsberg & Sundberg 2012; Priestly & Biesta 2013). Seen in this way, the content that forms the base for teaching in higher education is not just a question for the single teacher. On the contrary, this wider understanding of the concept of curriculum calls for the need to understand local teaching activities in the light of different contextual conditions. For example, the content taught in medical schools builds on discipline specific knowledge that has developed over time through clinical as well as research based experiences (cf. Carlgren 2015). Moreover, situated in higher education, it also means that the content to be taught as well as the local teaching situation needs to be understood in relation to institutional conditions, such as the influence by national and local policies (Barnett 1997, 2011; Sugrue et al 2017). With other words, the relation between curriculum, teachers and students take place in situations ‘in which different types of traditions, expectations and other conditions ‘become interpreted and translated and reconstructed and remade in different but similar settings, where local resources, material and human, and diffuse sets of discourses and values are deployed in a complex and hybrid process of enactment (Ball, Maguire & Braun 2012, p 6).
To support the analysis, we borrow two analytical concepts from Dewey, interpretation and guidance, which become pivotal for setting the varied experiences of university teachers in motion. With these concepts, it becomes possible to analyse and understand teaching as an educative process in which teachers interpret and guide between the curriculum and students.
The empirical material for the study comprises focus-group interviews with university teachers from a wide array of disciplines and subjects within one medium-sized university in Sweden. For our analysis, we have selected four interviews out of a larger number of fourteen with the intention of covering a broad range of subjects, knowledge traditions as well as a wide variety of subject-related teaching traditions and theories (Carlgren 2015). The four subjects selected are chemistry, music, business and medicine. The university’s Centre for Academic Development helped us to establish contacts with six to eight teachers per subject who were contacted individually and asked whether they would be willing to share experiences about teaching in higher education. They were also informed about ethical issues and the purpose with the interview. All those who were contacted responded in the affirmative. Each focus group interview (cf. Bergh 2010) lasted for 60 minutes, was semi-structured and organised around two overriding thematic questions: A) What characterises good teaching in higher education and what is required for it to be realised? B) Is there a difference between knowing a subject and teaching it? The interviews were audio recorded and afterwards transcribed. The analysis was conducted in two steps. The first step was empirical by its character and aimed at answering the first research question, i.e. how university teachers in different subject areas reflect on the enactment of teaching. This was done by analysing and mapping the respondents’ answers to the two thematic questions discussed in the interviews (A and B). More concretely, we listened to the interviews one by one and concurrently made notes in order to gain an overview, which successively helped us to categorise different ways to answer the questions. Based on that first step, the second step was driven by our theoretical interest as formulated in research question 2, i.e. to analyse what processes of interpretation and guidance that could be found in different ways to enact the relations between curriculum, student and teacher.
As an outcome of the first step of the analysis, the result is structured under two thematic headlines, with a focus of what it means to know a specific subject and what it means to teach in each of the studied subjects (i.e. chemistry, music, business and medicine). Here, the result demonstrates many parallels and similarities, but also interesting differences, both with regard to what is perceived as knowledge as well as choices concerning content and forms for teaching. In the second step of the analysis we return to Dewey’s triad of curriculum, student and teacher. The differences identified between the four subject groups are usefully aligned with these categories: some take curriculum as their point of departure (not only from subject specific goals to be achieved but also with great influence from the local university managements’ emphasis on constructive alignment, cf. Wickström 2015); some the student (active, student-centred or student-directed learning or the like); and others concentrate on the role of the teacher (craving practical tools for performing good teaching). The result of the analysis demonstrates not only that there are great differences depending on disciplinary backgrounds, but more important that there is a need to better understand how these differences can both enable and hinder good educative processes. The study also identifies a risk of instrumentalism with an enforced over-reliance on contemporary (policy) trends, such as for example travelling concepts that have been recontextualised from their original contexts, concepts whose vagueness is perpetuated through continuous recurrence in local, national and international policy documents. There is a great temptation in the idea of quick fixes (introducing flipped classroom, building active learning classrooms), but such measures must be accompanied by qualified reflection and investments in time and support structures for university teachers (cf. Levander 2017; Stensaker et al 2017).
Ball, Stephen, J.; Maguire, Meg & Braun, Annette (2012). How Schools do Policy: Policy Enactments in Secondary Schools. London: Routledge. Barnett, Ron (1997). Higher education: A critical business. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University press. Barnett, Ron (2011). Being a university. Buckingham: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University press. Bergh, Andreas (2010): Vad gör kvalitet med utbildning? Om kvalitetsbegreppets skilda innebörder och dess konsekvenser för utbildning [What does quality do to education? Different meanings of the concept of quality and their consequences for education]. Örebro: Örebro Studies in Education, 29. Carlgren, Ingrid (2015). Kunskapskulturer och undervisningspraktiker. Göteborg: Daidalos. Dewey, John (1902). The Child and the Curriculum. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Englund, Tomas, Forsberg, Eva & Sundberg, Daniel (2012). Vad räknas som kunskap? Läroplansteoretiska utsikter och inblickar i lärarutbildning och skola. Stockholm: Liber. Levander, Sara (2017). Den pedagogiska skickligheten och akademins väktare. Kollegial bedömning vid rekrytering av universitetslärare. Uppsala: Digital Comprehensive Summaries of Uppsala Dissertations from the Faculty of Educational Sciences, 12. Priestly, Mark & Biesta, Gert (2013). Reinventing the Curriculum. New Trends in Curriculum Policy and Practice. London: Bloomsbury. Stensaker, Bjørn; Grahame, T., Bilbow; Breslow, Lori & van der Vaart, Rob (Eds). (2017). Strenghening Teaching and Learning in Research Universities. Strategies and Initiatives for Institutional Change. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Ciaran Sugrue, Tomas Englund, Tone Dyrdal Solbrekke & Trine Fossland (2017). Trends in the practices of academic developers: trajectories of higher education?, Studies in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2017.1326026 [Published online 170519]. Wickström, Johan (2015). Dekonstruerad länkning: En kritisk läsning av Constructive Alignment inom svensk högskolepedagogik och pedagogisk utveckling. Utbildning & Demokrati: Tidskrift för didaktik och utbildningspolitik, 24(3), 25-47. The paper presented is produced within the project “Formation and competence building of university academic developers” owned and headed by the Department of Education, University of Oslo, Norway, but managed in close collaboration with the partners from University College of Dublin, Ireland, The Arctic University of Tromsø, Norway, Uppsala University and Örebro University, Sweden and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, USA. The project is funded by The Research Council of Norway (01.09.2015-31.08.2019) within the FINNUT program (Research and Innovation in the Educational Sector) and the university partners.
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