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The Legacy of "We've always done it this way"


Jennifer Stempien, Jeff Johnston

Joe recently completed his PhD and has landed a tenure track faculty position in the geology department at "Research U" for the fall semester. Joe will be teaching a large introduction to physical geology course in the spring. Research U has a variety of resources to help Joe develop his course and integrate the "affective domain," active learning, "clickers," etc. into his teaching. However, the department has a strong emphasis on research and does not view innovative teaching as a priority. While in graduate school, Joe TAed both lower level introductory lectures and an upper level lab class, but received no formal training in teaching and was encouraged by his research advisor to "just get by teaching."

In conversations with other new faculty members, Joe has expressed a tolerance for incorporating active teaching techniques into his class, but has been very dismissive of considering student motivations and attitudes in an introductory course. When asked why, Joe responded that intro courses are filled with students that don't care to begin with and it's not worth the effort to try to change student attitudes. Further, Joe sees the "weed out" nature of the intro courses as not necessarily a bad thing. "It was good enough when I was an undergraduate, it should be good enough for these students too."

How do we encourage new faculty to break the "it was good enough for me" cycle, and consider the importance of the affective domain?


Mimi Fuhrman, Cinzia Cervato, Dorothea Ivanova

Problem: New faculty resistant to incorporating "affective domain" – dismissive of idea to take into account attitudes and motivations

Affective issue: Joe doesn't see the importance of the affective domain

Specific Suggestions:

  1. Educate Joe as to what is MEANT by the affective domain
  2. Let Joe know that his tenure decision will be based partially on enrollment of majors and the primary pool of potential majors attend the intro classes –ignoring the attitudes and motivations (not paying attention to immediacy) will alienate students who don't find an obvious connection between themselves and the professor or other geoscientists
  3. Educate Joe as to the importance and methods of increasing immediacy
  4. Chances are, Joe already is doing many of the things that do address students' attitudes and perhaps needs only to widen his perspective
  5. Student evaluations of his course will depend almost entirely on students' attitudes and motivations
  6. Convince Joe that if he becomes more aware of affective issues, his own enjoyment and satisfaction in teaching will increase. The "mood" of the classroom is dependent on the interaction of affective attributes of the instructor and the students.
  7. Doing it "this way" doesn't work for everybody—we need to encourage more diversity among geoscientists because the New Millennial students are different form his generation for many reasons. Learning strategies, multiculturalism, lifestyles, and motivations for learning are all closely related to affective issues of attitude and motivation
  8. Invite Joe into classrooms where student attitudes are taken into account and model for him how easy and successful it is to implement these strategies.
  9. Give him an affective "toolbox"–provide suggestions that he can incorporate into his classroom, one thing at a time as he feels comfortable doing so

More Responses

Written at the October 2007 POD workshop

Solution I

What is Joe's motivation? Research?

What is his experience? What motivates Joe? Why did Joe become a professor? Engage students with his own research.

Students don't care? Joe's perspective. Wouldn't he prefer teaching a course with more engaged students? What about course as feeder for major?

Joe is tenure track. Underlying assumption that a new technique will take more time. Can we tweak w/o making major change?

Will faculty developer actually be working with this person?

Faculty developer:
I am going to find out more about Joe. What motivated him to become a psychology professor? What is his research specialty? Can he use his research to motivate students?
We will try to start with "clickers" and help Joe see that students are concerned about issues related to his course. Joe could ask the class their emotions about a certain current psychology topic to engage students. These would be small changes, not course redesigns. Our goal would be to raise Joe's awareness about the effect his teaching has on his students in terms of interest in psychology and careers.

Solution II

As an instructional developer, I would consider the issues brought up by Joe as ones that many new faculty may have. There are many ways that I can possibly help faculty break the "it was good enough for me" cycle. I would offer these services directly to all faculty, with special emphasis to new faculty. I would also make department chairs aware of these services so they can suggest their faculty take advantages of these opportunities.

Services and strategies may include:

  • Invite new faculty to participate in workshops or discussions or learning communities about general teaching. They can then share ideas interdisciplinarily and possible start to see things differently. Discussions could include those about the overview of tenure and how to document their teaching effectiveness.
  • Find them mentors. (maybe someone outside of their department - someone who is a leader in that other department
Get at motivation issues for him.
Help faculty understand differences in current students and society in general. Find articles on the research on active learning (for Joe, by psychologists—in his field). Explain the concepts on affective domain and how that effects students in the classroom and their motivation. I may need to try to convince him to try something little, not to change his entire teaching style. I also need to understand their motivations (about teaching in general) first to try to "enter in" to the space that may allow them to embrace change. I may also try to explain that how it "worked" for them (as graduate students) probably does not work for their students.

The legacy of we have always done it this way  

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