Initial Publication Date: October 8, 2007

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

(Note: this dilemma can be approached as written, that is from the perspective of the faculty member dealing with the situation below, or you can put yourself in the position of a developer working with this faculty member.)

Joe recently completed his PhD and has landed a tenure track faculty position in the psychology department at "Research U" for the fall semester. Joe will be teaching a large intro 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 a small upper level course, 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?

Note: This dilemma was written by Jennifer Stempien & Jeff Johnston at the SERC Affective Domain workshop in February 2007 and modified for the POD workshop.

Proposed Solution to this Dilemma

Written at the 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.