Self-Reported Behavior

The importance of student engagement as a way to enhance student learning is the foundation of many faculty development workshops. Faculty constantly hear the drum beat of “active learning” and “high-impact practices” (such as learning communities, service-learning, collaborative assignments, and writing-intensive courses), which promise higher levels of engaement and student learning. But, as in many aspects of life, “knowing” does not necessarily lead to “doing.”

Following professional development “interventions” (workshops on collaborative and/or active learning, for example), 89% of the faculty respondents to a survey stated that they made changes in their courses that included active, learner-centered instruction (Ebert-May, et al 2011). In contrast, observational data showed that participation in the professional development workshops did not result in learner-centered teaching. Direct observation revealed that the majority of faculty (75%) still used lecture-based, teacher-centered pedagogy, showing a clear disconnect between faculty’s perceptions of their teaching and their actual practices.

Why did faculty use teacher-centered rather than student-centered practices after professional development activities designed to encourage student engagement? The resesearchers speculate that traditional beliefs, self-efficacy, values, level of dissatisfaction with student learning, and attitudes about teaching and learning probably influence the degree to which faculty create learner-centered classrooms, despite participation in workshops that are designed to promote such pedagogies.

Ebert-May and her colleagues also suggest that true understanding and implementation of learner-centered teaching cannot be taught without direct practice and feedback on that practice, which parallels how students learn. The faculty in their study learned what was taught in the workshop, but they were left alone to successfully develop and implement active-learning teaching strategies.

The full report on their research, “What We Say Is Not What We Do: Effective Evaluation of Faculty Professional Development Programs,” published in the July 2011 edition of BioScience is available here:

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