30 April 2011

#H800 Students' approaches to learning and teachers' approaches to teaching

After a short Easter break the H800 course is back on track with this week, in week 13, a series of papers on students' approaches to learning and teachers' approaches to teaching.

Education is not a paradigm-driven discipline, unlike positive sciences, where there is general consensus on the problems, methodologies and interpretations required.  On the contrary, there has been considerable debate on the validity of research problems ("Is the Google generation different?") , the methodologies used (quantitative vs qualitative) and their interpretations.  In education we're not dealing with atomic particles in controlled settings, but with interactions between students, students and teachers, students and content and teachers and content.  All these relationships are complex and influenced by contextual factors.

Richardson (2005) presents an overview of 25 years of research on the relation between students, their learning, teachers and their teaching.  I tried to capture the main concepts and relations in a concept map.

Learning and teaching approaches (based on Richardson, 2005)
Richardson asserts there is a relation between how students perceive course quality, and how a course is structured (affected by learning design)  and how students learn:

" It has also shown that there is an intimate relationship between students’ perceptions of the quality of their courses and the approaches to studying that they adopt on those courses." (Richardson, 2005, p. 674).

However, the relationship is complicated, since students within an identical course may still adopt different learning approaches:

"Why should students with the same perceptions of the same course adopt different approaches to studying? One possibility is that students may adopt one approach rather than another, depending upon their  conceptions of learning and their conceptions of themselves as learners."(Richardson, 2005, p.675)

Similarly, how teacher teach is influenced by their conceptions about teaching.  However, this relationship isn't straightforward either, since teachers tend to be frustrated by contextual factors and often adopt a more teacher-centered teaching approach than would be expected based on their conceptions about teaching (Richardson, 2005, p.678).

In Cambodia we try to affect teaching approaches by equipping teachers with tools, materials and techniques to adopt a more student-centered approach in class.  Through capacity-building activities we aim at changing their teaching conceptions and by involving school directors, inspectors and the Ministry of Education we aim at lifting some of the contextual "frustrations" with teachers.  The article suggests that it would be interesting to investigate if and how pupils' conceptions of learning and learning approaches change when confronted with a more student-centered teaching approach.

We use the TPACK (Schmidt et al., 2009) questionnaire to asses teachers' understanding in integrating technological, pedagogical and content knowledge.  The article suggests interesting alternative questionnaires such as:
- Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) (Ramsden, 1991)
- Approaches to Teaching Inventory (ATI) (Prosser and Trigwell, 1993)
- Perceptions of the Teaching Environment Inventory (Prosser and Trigwell, 1997).

However, the article doesn't discuss these inventories in detail.

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