skip to main content

Title: Context and content of teaching conversations: exploring how to promote sharing of innovative teaching knowledge between science faculty
Abstract Background

Change strategies may leverage interpersonal relationships and conversations to spread teaching innovations among science faculty. Knowledge sharing refers to the process by which individuals transfer information and thereby spread innovative ideas within an organization. We use knowledge sharing as a lens for identifying factors that encourage productive teaching-related conversations between individuals, characterizing the context and content of these discussions, and understanding how peer interactions may shape instructional practices. In this study, we interview 19 science faculty using innovative teaching practices about the teaching-focused conversations they have with different discussion partners.


This qualitative study describes characteristics of the relationship between discussion partners, what they discuss with respect to teaching, the amount of help-seeking that occurs, and the perceived impacts of these conversations on their teaching. We highlight the role of office location and course overlap in bringing faculty together and characterize the range of topics they discuss, such as course delivery and teaching strategies. We note the tendency of faculty to seek out partners with relevant expertise and describe how faculty perceive their discussion partners to influence their instructional practices and personal affect. Finally, we elaborate on how these themes vary depending on the relationship between discussion partners.


The knowledge more » sharing framework provides a useful lens for investigating how various factors affect faculty conversations around teaching. Building on this framework, our results lead us to propose two hypotheses for how to promote sharing teaching knowledge among faculty, thereby identifying productive directions for further systematic inquiry. In particular, we propose that productive teaching conversations might be cultivated by fostering collaborative teaching partnerships and developing departmental structures to facilitate sharing of teaching expertise. We further suggest that social network theories and other examinations of faculty behavior can be useful approaches for researching the mechanisms that drive teaching reform.

« less
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1726503 1726409 1726330
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
International Journal of STEM Education
Springer Science + Business Media
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    A frequently cited strategy for fostering science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) instructional improvements is creating communities where faculty can share and learn evidence-based teaching practices. Despite research-documented benefits, little is known about why (and with whom) faculty engage in teaching-related conversations, including those fostered by initiative communities. We explored how STEM faculty engage in teaching-related conversations, via analysis of faculty interviews and discussion networks, to identify factors potentially influencing teaching-related conversations over the life of an initiative. Our results suggest aspects that might inhibit STEM faculty from engaging in teaching-related conversations, including: 1) faculty members’ autonomy with teaching practices; 2) faculty members’ varied interests in teaching improvements; 3) varied degrees of support to engage in teaching-related conversations; and 4) a lack of inclusive and non-judgmental spaces to talk about teaching. We suggest that those fostering STEM faculty communities consider working with others across the institution to map the instructional improvement opportunities faculty may already take part in and attend to areas lacking support. Initiative leaders and designers should also elicit and build off faculty members’ teaching-related knowledge and concerns. We further suggest making conversational spaces inclusive and safe, to help faculty honestly share teaching-related challenges and insights. Wemore »recommend creating and fostering spaces that bring faculty together across department boundaries. Our study echoes prior research by drawing attention to administrative support for instructional improvement initiatives, which can foster and sustain opportunities for faculty to talk about teaching and learn instructional improvements.

    « less
  2. Abstract Background

    Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) and Faculty Online Learning Communities (FOLCs) are ways to support STEM faculty implementing research-based curricula. In these communities, faculty facilitators take on the role of sharing expertise and promoting discussion. However, as members gain more experience, their needs change from addressing logistical to pedagogical issues. Hence, facilitators need to change their practices in response. However, there is little research on the mechanisms of faculty facilitator change. In this article, we provide a case study of a specific STEM FOLC facilitator and demonstrate the usefulness of a teacher change model to investigate facilitator change.


    Guided by our adaptation of the InterconnectedModelofProfessionalGrowth(IMPG), we conducted interviews with FOLC facilitators, and selected a case facilitator who reported changes in facilitation goals and strategies over time. The model helped us identify specific areas of change and potential mechanisms for these changes. Using themes of change identified in the case facilitator interview, we developed coding schemes to analyze his FOLC meetings over a 2-year period. We found empirical evidence from multiple data sources, including FOLC meetings and facilitator reflections, that supported the change themes, including: changing his role as an “expert” by sharing his own expertise less and drawing on others’ expertise moremore »frequently, changing his response to members’ comments by jumping in to answer less frequently and withholding his own responses more often to encourage member sharing, and a change in group discussions towards less logistical and more pedagogical conversations.


    Our findings suggest that the IMPG can be fruitfully adapted to study facilitator change. A diagrammatic representation of the IMPG provides a description the types of change the case facilitator experienced and the factors that supported those changes. We discuss how the methodology used to analyze facilitator actions in FOLC group meetings may be useful to study other types of professional growth. Finally, because our analytical model allowed us to identify mechanisms of facilitator change, we describe the implications and provide suggestions to support facilitators in other faculty community groups.

    « less
  3. Abstract Background

    Efforts to achieve improved student outcomes in STEM are critically reliant on the success of reform efforts associated with teaching and learning. Reform efforts include the transformation of course-based practices, community values, and the institutional policies and structures associated with teaching and learning in higher education. Enacting change is a complex process that can be guided by change theories that describe how and why a desired change takes place. We analyzed the utility of a theory-based change model applied in a higher education setting. Our results provide guidance for change efforts at other institutions.


    Use of the CACAO model to guide the transformation of STEM instruction at a large public university resulted in changes to faculty teaching practices and department culture consistent with the vision defined for the project. Such changes varied across STEM departments in accordance with the emergent nature of project activities at the department level. Our application of the CACAO model demonstrates the importance of (1) creating a vision statement (statement of desired change or end-state); (2) attending to different levels of the organization (e.g., individuals, departments, and colleges); (3) working with change agents who are situated to be effective at different organizational levels; and (4)more »employing strategies to meet the needs and interests of faculty at different stages of adoption with respect to the desired change.


    Our work, which demonstrates the utility of the CACAO model for change and captures its key elements in a matrix, provides a potential foundation for others considering how to frame and study change efforts. It reinforces the value of using change theories to inform change efforts and creates a structure that others can build on and modify, either by applying our CACAO matrix in their own setting or by using the matrix to identify elements that connect to other change theories. We contribute to the growing body of literature which seeks to understand how change theories can be useful and generalizable beyond a single project.

    « less
  4. Abstract Background

    There is overwhelming evidence that evidence-based teaching improves student performance; however, traditional lecture predominates in STEM courses. To provide support as faculty transform their lecture-based classrooms with evidence-based teaching practices, we created a faculty development program based on best practices, Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate STEM Education (CAUSE). CAUSE paired exploration of evidence-based teaching with support for classroom implementation over two years. Each year for three years, CAUSE recruited cohorts of faculty from seven STEM departments. Faculty met biweekly to discuss evidence-based teaching and receive feedback on their implementation. We used the PORTAAL observation tool to document evidence-based teaching practices (PORTAAL practices) across four randomly chosen class sessions each term. We investigated if the number of PORTAAL practices used or the amount of practices increased during the program.


    We identified identical or equivalent course offerings taught at least twice by the same faculty member while in CAUSE (n = 42 course pairs). We used a one-way repeated measures within-subjects multivariate analysis to examine the changes in average use of 14 PORTAAL practices between the first and second timepoint. We created heat maps to visualize the difference in number of practices used and changes in level of implementation of each PORTAAL practice. Post-hocmore »within-subjects effects indicated that three PORTAAL practices were significantly higher and two were lower at timepoint two. Use of prompting prior knowledge and calling on volunteers to give answers decreased, while instructors doubled use of prompting students to explain their logic, and increased use of random call by almost 40% when seeking answers from students. Heat maps indicated increases came both from faculty’s adoption of these practices and increased use, depending on the practice. Overall, faculty used more practices more frequently, which contributed to a 17% increase in time that students were actively engaged in class.


    Results suggest that participation in a long-term faculty development program can support increased use of evidence-based teaching practices which have been shown to improve student exam performance. Our findings can help prioritize the efforts of future faculty development programs.

    « less
  5. Abstract

    Instructional reform in STEM aims for the widespread adoption of evidence based instructional practices (EBIPS), practices that implement active learning. Research recognizes that faculty social networks regarding discussion or advice about teaching may matter to such efforts. But teaching is not the only priority for university faculty – meeting research expectations is at least as important and, often, more consequential for tenure and promotion decisions. We see value in understanding how research networks, based on discussion and advice about research matters, relate to teaching networks to see if and how such networks could advance instructional reform efforts. Our research examines data from three departments (biology, chemistry, and geosciences) at three universities that had recently received funding to enhance adoption of EBIPs in STEM fields. We evaluate exponential random graph models of the teaching network and find that (a) the existence of a research tie from one faculty member$$i$$ito another$$j$$jenhances the prospects of a teaching tie from$$i$$ito$$j$$j, but (b) even though faculty highly placed in the teaching network are more likely to be extensive EBIP users, faculty highly placed in the research network are not, dimming prospects for leveraging research networks to advance STEM instructional reforms.