Venturing toward better teaching: Professors' knowledge base for pedagogical improvement in introductory STEM classrooms at major research universities.

Presentation Date: 

Thursday, November 5, 2009


The Association for The Study of Higher Education Annual Meeting (Vancouver, BC, Canada)
Educational reformers often portray the majority of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professors at American research universities as subject-matter experts but pedagogical novices (Baldwin, 2009; Boyer, 1998; Coopala, 2009; Handeslman et al., 2006; Wieman, 2006). Images of STEM professors as lacking knowledge about best teaching practices are especially prevalent in discussions about academic researchers: A wide array of constituents, from students and journalists to scholars of teaching and learning, have long proffered views of academic researchers as so heavily invested in research that they ignore their students and are clueless and careless in their undergraduate teaching (see Bok, 2006; see Boyer, 1998; Clark, 1997; Terosky, 2005). Although this view is peppered throughout the research literature, there have been few systematic studies of what research-active STEM professors may actually know about undergraduate teaching or how that knowledge base may influence their efforts to improve their pedagogy, if at all. This paper aims to address this problem by posing the following research questions: How might we categorize what a subset of highly research-active STEM professors explicitly indicate they know about teaching and learning in their introductory STEM classrooms at major American research universities? And How do they appear to use that knowledge in their efforts to improve their teaching and their students learning? To explore these research questions, the paper analyzes data from a yearlong study of 20 research-active STEM professors’ teaching improvement efforts in two major American research universities. Data include 40 in-depth interview transcripts (two per professor); 36 in-class observations and 36 corresponding post-observational interview transcripts; field notes; and several hundreds of documents (i.e. syllabi, professors’ reflective notes on teaching, etc).