Currently reading: “Teachers interacting with students: an important (and potentially overlooked) domain for academic development during times of impact” (Roxå & Marquis, 2019)

I’m currently talking about trust between students and teachers at every opportunity I get, and recently Torgny pointed me to an article that he wrote a while back that I wasn’t aware of, on “Teachers interacting with students: an important (and potentially overlooked) domain for academic development during times of impact” (Roxå & Marquis, 2019), which I am summarizing here.

In the article, Roxå & Marquis address a challenge that academic developers are facing, which is that they are asked to provide evidence of impact (fair enough, since tax payers are paying for our salaries, me thinks). But that results in three sub-challenges: Actually figuring out how to provide the evidence, not taking on more than we can chew (and not pretending to do more than we actually can do), and problematize our work and practices in order to improve them (or, as they say, “to problematize our own practices and do it better than can be done by others“).

For example, teaching teachers a student-focus has long been one of the goals of academic development, under the assumption (which there is a lot of evidence for) that this will result in more students with a deep approach to learning, which will result in better learning outcomes. However, bad student-centered teaching is not necessarily more effective than good teacher-centered teaching. One problem is that what teachers think and what they do is not necessarily linked. Another example is constructive alignment (according to Biggs (2012) “if you get all the parts in order and you have thought about everything, then students can hardly avoid learning the right things. They are entrapped in a web of consistency”). This is a good idea as in it is probably better to be organized and have thought through things before teaching, but it is impossible to think everything through so deeply that there might not still be gaps, and especially if we assume that students are smart and engaged and will bring their own thoughts and experiences. And a constructively-aligned course can be done really well — or not.

So it is not enough to teach teachers these kinds of models, we also need to focus on what they actually do in the classroom, how they interact with their students, and what they think while doing it. Roxå & Marquis refer to studies that have investigated what teachers are thinking about while teaching, and it is not just following the model of their own teachers, it is also a lot about feedback they have received, conversations with peers, and their experience as researchers. And, of course, their perception of what is happening in the moment: teachers have a  corridor of tolerance (McAlpine et al., 1999), within which they are willing to deviate from their planned teaching in reactions to cues that they get from students (e.g. questions, confused looks, misconceptions, …). McAlpine et al. (2006) describe four zones of how teachers’ thinking relates to their actions:

  • a conceptual zone which consists of abstract thoughts and beliefs
  • a strategic zone with considerations of instructional design and relationships between elements
  • a tactical zone with focus on specific processes and procedures
  • an enactive zone of in-the-moment action

According to them, strong teachers can easily switch between the very concrete, enactive zone to the more abstract zones, and back, to inform their teaching. As academic developers, we should support teacher thinking across all zones, and indeed our impact would be largest if we did.

But of course all the thinking alone isn’t enough if it isn’t accompanied by observations of what is actually going on in the classroom, and historically maybe the focus of academic development has been too much on the theoretical, scholarly aspects or on methods, not on actually being focussed on what students are doing and how they are doing it. There is some research from other educational settings that looking out for specific types of cues is more effective than others (duh!), but nothing like this exists for higher education (as far as I know).

So to come back to trust. Since in all our interviews and survey data, we find that students state that trust plays a major role in their learning. How can we help teachers build trust, and help them monitor for whether students react to those trust-building moves? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out! :-)

McAlpine, L., Weston, C., Beauchamp, C., Wiseman, C., & Beauchamp, J. (1999). Monitoring student cues: Tracking student behaviour in order to improve instruction in higher education. Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 29(2/3), 113-144.

McAlpine, L., Weston, C., Timmermans, J., Berthiaume, D., & Fairbank‐Roch, G. (2006). Zones: Reconceptualizing teacher thinking in relation to action. Studies in higher education, 31(5), 601-615.

Roxå, T. & Marquis, E. (2019) Teachers interacting with students: an important (and potentially overlooked) domain for academic development during times of impact, International Journal for Academic Development, 24:4, 342-353, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2019.1607743

Leave a Reply