Date of this Version
Lund and Stains International Journal of STEM Education (2015) 2:13 DOI 10.1186/s40594-015-0026-8
Background: Research at the secondary and postsecondary levels has clearly demonstrated the critical role that individual and contextual characteristics play in instructors’ decision to adopt educational innovations. Although recent research has shed light on factors influencing the teaching practices of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) faculty, it is still not well understood how unique departmental environments impact faculty adoption of evidence-based instructional practices (EBIPs) within the context of a single institution. In this study, we sought to characterize the communication channels utilized by STEM faculty, as well as the contextual and individual factors that influence the teaching practices of STEM faculty at the departmental level. Accordingly, we collected survey and observational data from the chemistry, biology, and physics faculty at a single large research-intensive university in the USA. We then compared the influencing factors experienced by faculty in these different departments to their instructional practices.
Results: Analyses of the survey data reveal disciplinary differences in the factors influencing adoption of EBIPs. In particular, the physics faculty (n = 15) had primarily student-centered views about teaching and experienced the most positive contextual factors toward adoption of EBIPs. At the other end of the spectrum, the chemistry faculty (n = 20) had primarily teacher-centered views and experienced contextual factors that hindered the adoption of student-centered practices. Biology faculty (n = 25) fell between these two groups. Classroom observational data reflected these differences: The physics classrooms were significantly more student-centered than the chemistry classrooms.
Conclusions: This study demonstrates that disciplinary differences exist in the contextual factors teaching conceptions that STEM faculty experience and hold, even among faculty within the same institution. Moreover, it shows that these differences are associated to the level of adoption of student-centered teaching practices. This work has thus identified the critical need to carefully characterize STEM faculty’s departmental environment and conceptions about teaching before engaging in instructional reform efforts, and to adapt reform activities to account for these factors. The results of this study also caution the over generalization of findings from a study focused on one type of STEM faculty in one environment to all STEM faculty in any environment.