An exploration of the relationships between factors influencing STEM instructors' thinking and practices within the Teacher-Centered Systemic Reform (TCSR) Model

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Kraft, Annika, Chemistry - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Stains, Marilyne, AS-Chemistry (CHEM), University of Virginia

For several decades, there have been national calls for reform in teaching of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses to address the problematic retention of college STEM majors. In response to this issue, researchers have developed evidence-based instructional practices (EBIPs) which have been shown to enhance retention and support student learning, especially for underserved students. While the widespread dissemination efforts of EBIPs in the last few decades has led to an increase in STEM instructors’ awareness of EBIPs, the dominant instructional practice remains didactic lecture. This lack of EBIP adoption has prompted researchers to investigate why; studies have investigated factors that influence instructors’ teaching decisions. This dissertation leverages the Teacher-Centered Systemic Reform (TCSR) Model to explore factors influencing STEM instructors’ thinking and instructional practices. Chapter 2 seeks to characterize changes in early-career instructors’ teaching beliefs and factors associated with these changes over time. Nine faculty were interviewed in Fall 2016/Spring 2017 and then again in Spring 2019. Constant-comparative analysis and cluster analysis were utilized to characterize faculty beliefs after each data collection cycle. Faculty also completed four surveys over the course of this longitudinal study. These surveys were analyzed to identify personal and contextual factors from the TCSR model that could relate to changes in faculty beliefs over time. Findings demonstrate that early-career instructors expressed more unique beliefs about teaching and learning later on in their career but that the substance of those beliefs remained fairly similar over the course of this study. Some instructors demonstrated a desirable shift in beliefs toward student-centered thinking (i.e., reflects the view students learn by constructing their own understanding through engaging with the content and their peers), while others did not change and some shifted toward teacher-centered thinking over time (i.e., reflects the view students learn from listening to the instructor teach). Analyzing factors relating to change in beliefs showed that access to chemistry education researchers and use of chemical education research journals, repeated opportunities to teach the same course, and instructor’s continued learning efforts with respect to teaching were more pronounced among instructors who shifted toward student-centered thinking over time. Chapter 3 investigates chemistry instructor’s perspectives about content coverage. Despite instructors reporting content coverage as a barrier to the implementation of EBIPs, few studies have focused on characterizing STEM faculty members’ perspectives on content coverage. Nine chemistry assistant professors were interviewed, and constant comparative analysis was used to reveal patterns in faculty thinking. Findings indicate that most chemistry instructors lean to one side on “the debate” of content coverage (i.e., depth versus breadth) and generally expressed that they were acting in the best interests of their students. For some instructors, their personal beliefs primarily drove their preference for depth or breadth while for others, contextual factors, such as preparing students for the second course in a series (e.g., General Chemistry I and II) or use of an American Chemical Society (ACS) standardized exam, dictated their choice. Chapter 4 explores factors influencing future STEM instructors’ decisions to use specific EBIPs. A growing body of research has identified contextual factors (e.g., classroom layout, departmental norms) as primary influencers of STEM instructors’ decision to implement EBIPs in their courses. However, models of influences on instructional practices indicate that context is only one type of factor to consider. Other factors fall at the individual level such as instructors’ past teaching experience and their views on learning. Few studies have been able to explore in depth the role of individual factors, such as instructors’ prior experiences and thinking about teaching, on the adoption of EBIPs since it is challenging to control for contextual features when studying current instructors. Moreover, most studies exploring adoption of EBIPs do not take into account the distinctive features of each EBIP and the influence these features may have on the decision to adopt the EBIP. We used a case study approach to conduct an in-depth exploration of individual factors and EBIP features that influence nine future STEM instructors’ decisions to incorporate a selected set of EBIPs in their teaching. Findings indicate that the main drivers of future STEM instructors’ decisions to adopt an EBIP were 1) the compatibility of the EBIP with their past experiences as students and/or instructors and teaching values, and 2) experiences provided in a pedagogical course.
In summary, this dissertation contributes to the exploration of the complex relationships influencing STEM instructors’ teaching practices outlined in the TCSR model. This work highlights the need to look beyond solely contextual influences on instructional decisions concerning adoption of evidenced-based practices. The findings demonstrate how instructors’ beliefs, values, and past experiences directly inform and influence their instructional practices. This work provides actionable implications for future research and professional development programming in order to support STEM instructors’ adoption of EBIPs, thereby improving learning in STEM courses and student retention in STEM fields.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Teacher-Centered Systemic Reform (TCSR), Teacher Thinking, Teacher Beliefs, Content Coverage, Innovation-Decision Process Model, Evidence-Based Instructional Practices (EBIPs), Instructor Decisions
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