An instructor’s conceptions of teaching and learning contribute to the establishment of learning environments that may benefit or hinder student learning. Previous studies have defined the continuum of teaching and learning conceptions, ranging from limited to complete, as well as the instructional practices that they help to inform (instructor-centered to student-centered), and the corresponding learning environments that these conceptions and practices establish, ranging from traditional to student-centered. Using the case of one STEM department at a research-intensive, minority serving institution, we explored faculty’s conceptions of teaching and learning and their resulting instructional practices, as well as uncovered their perspectives on the intradepartmental faculty interactions related to teaching. The study participants were drawn from both teaching-focused (called Professors of Teaching, PoTs) and traditional research (whom we call Research Professors, RPs) tenure-track faculty lines to identify whether differences existed amongst these two populations. We used interviews to explore faculty conceptions and analyzed syllabi to unveil how these conceptions shape instructional environments.
Overall, PoTs exhibited complete conceptions of teaching and learning that emphasized student ownership of learning, whereas RPs possessed intermediate conceptions that focused more on transmitting knowledge and helping students prepare for subsequent courses. While both PoTs and RPs self-reported the use of active learning pedagogies, RPs were more likely to also highlight the importance of traditional lecture. The syllabi analysis revealed that PoTs enacted more student-centered practices in their classrooms compared to RPs. PoTs appeared to be more intentionally available to support students outside of class and encouraged student collaboration, while RPs focused more on the timeliness of assessments and enforcing more instructor-centered approaches in their courses. Finally, the data indicated that RPs recognized PoTs as individuals who were influential on their own teaching conceptions and practices.
Our findings suggest that departments should consider leveraging instructional experts who also possess a disciplinary background (PoTs) to improve their educational programs, both due to their student-centered impacts on the classroom environment and positive influence on their colleagues (RPs). This work also highlights the need for higher education institutions to offer appropriate professional development resources to enable faculty to reflect on their teaching and learning conceptions, aid in their pedagogical evolution, and guide the implementation of these conceptions into practice.