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Navigating the Problem Space of Academic Work

Resource Type
Dataset : other, text
  • Hora, Matthew (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Publication Date
Funding Reference
  • National Science Foundation
    • Award Number: 0814724
Free Keywords
higher education; teaching; instructional design; curriculum design; faculty teaching; STEM education
  • Abstract

    Despite an increasing focus on the quality of teaching in postsecondary institutions, little research exists that examines how faculty actually plan their courses in real-world settings. In this study the idea of the “problem space” from cognitive science is used to examine how faculty construct mental representations for the task of planning undergraduate courses. Using data from free lists and retrospective interviews, I report the factors that most shape the planning space and subsequent strategies and curricular artifacts used by a group of 58 faculty. Results indicate the primacy of fixed affordances, such as workload constraints, course content, and class size, and that these constraints contribute to the routine maintenance of preexisting lecture notes and PowerPoint slides. I recommend that educational leaders consider these cultural practices when designing instructional reforms and enact policies that require faculty to engage in brief, postclass reflection that results in minor updates to these artifacts.
Temporal Coverage
  • 2008-09-01 / 2012-09-01
    Time Period: Mon Sep 01 00:00:00 EDT 2008--Sat Sep 01 00:00:00 EDT 2012
Geographic Coverage
  • United States
The cases analyzed in this study are of the course-planning
practices of 58 faculty in math, biology, chemistry, geology,
and physics departments at three large, public research universities.
The three study institutions were selected on the
basis of the interests of the larger study from which this analysis
is drawn—that of educational practice in undergraduate
science and math departments. The three institutions shared
similar undergraduate populations (approximately 25,000),
numbers of science and math departments, and numbers of
pedagogical reforms underway. The sampling frame for this
study included 170 individuals listed in the spring 2012 timetable
as the instructor of record for undergraduate courses in
the departments being studied. Individuals were contacted up
to two times via e-mail for participation in the study, and 58
faculty ultimately self-selected into the study.

Collection Mode
  • The data collected for this study include semistructured
    interviews and classroom observations, both of which are
    well suited to answer the four research questions motivating
    the study. Interview data were analyzed for the entire study
    sample of 58 faculty, whereas observation data were used
    only for the two participants in the in-depth analysis. All
    data were collected by three analysts who underwent extensive

    training in the research protocols.

    Semistructured interviews. The interview protocols
    included a free-list exercise and a series of questions about
    instructional decision making. First, the free-list exercise
    involved asking respondents to report the first thing, using
    single words or short phrases, that came to mind when they
    thought of the contextual factors that most influenced their
    own course planning. The free-list technique is commonly
    used in cognitive anthropology research, especially to
    identify “emic,” or insider, cultural domains in ethnographic
    fieldwork (Bernard, 2011; Quinlan, 2005). The
    method assumes that when people report terms, they do so
    in order of familiarity and cognitive salience (Romney &
    D’Andrade, 1964). Second, respondents were asked questions about how
    they planned for a specific class using a variation of the
    critical decision-making technique (Crandall et al., 2006;
    Klein, 2008), which is a retrospective think-aloud technique
    that elicits details about how decisions were made in specific
    situations. Respondents were asked to report the steps
    they went through while planning for a class taught that
    week. Follow-up probes included questions about any
    contextual factor that influenced the decision, curricular
    artifacts that resulted from the planning process, and if and
    how these artifacts would be used in their teaching (see also
    Feldon, 2010). Interviews lasted 30 to 45 minutes and were
    recorded and transcribed.

    Classroom observations. The Teaching Dimensions Observation
    Protocol (TDOP) is a classroom observation instrument
    developed to produce fine-grained descriptions of
    instructional practice (see Hora & Ferrare, 2013). The version
    of the TDOP used in this study captured five different
    dimensions of teaching practice: teaching methods, pedagogical
    strategies, student-teacher interactions, cognitive
    engagement, and use of instructional technology. Within
    each dimension there exist several detailed codes that
    observers capture at 2-minute intervals in real time. Prior to
    gathering data in the field, the three researchers established
    a common understanding of each code through rigorous
    training that included in-depth discussions about the meaning
    of each code category and individual codes, practice
    coding of videoed class segments, and finally, the testing of
    interrater reliability.

  • Cites
    DOI: 10.1177/2332858415627612 (Text)
  • Hora, Matthew. “Navigating the Problem Space of Academic Work: How Workload and Curricular Affordances Shape STEM Faculty Decisions About Teaching and Learning .” AERA Open 2, no. 1 (January 19, 2016): 1–19.
    • ID: 10.1177/2332858415627612 (DOI)

Update Metadata: 2019-11-19 | Issue Number: 1 | Registration Date: 2019-11-19

Hora, Matthew (2019): Navigating the Problem Space of Academic Work. Version: V0. ICPSR - Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research. Dataset.