Understanding how instructional change works

Stephanie Chasteen
University of Colorado at Boulder
Stephanie Chasteen, University of Colorado at Boulder
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published Jan 22, 2020 11:55am

Recommended article: "It's Personal: Biology Instructors Prioritize Personal Evidence over Empirical Evidence in Teaching Decisions," by Tessa Andrews and Paula Lemons, CBE-Life Sciences Education, 14 (2015).

I am involved in several projects which aim to help faculty learn about and implement effective teaching practices. To design or evaluate such programs, it's useful to have a model of how faculty take up new teaching practices. I want to highlight an article by Andrews and Lemons which recently influenced my thinking. (Note that Tessa Andrews co-leads ASCN Change Theories working group). One model that is often used in faculty change projects is the Rogers' Diffusion of Innovations model, which suggests that in order to adopt a new idea a person must become aware of it, be persuaded that it is useful, decide to use it, implement it, and then decide to continue to use it; this linear process is shown below (Figure 1 from Andrews and Lemons, 2015).

However, anybody working with faculty on changing their teaching practices knows that there is something a bit dissatisfying about this model, suggesting that change is a "one and done" process and that persuasion is the key to action. It also doesn't take into account situational characteristics as much as I would like, such as whether the faculty member is in a supportive environment for teaching innovation. In their article, Andrews and Lemons find that instructors were more likely to change their teaching when they were dissatisfied with the results of traditional lecture, and they felt that they were in a situation where they could enact some change (a finding which resonates with the Theory of Planned Behavior which suggests perceived behavioral control as a lynchpin between intention and action). They also found that faculty change was a more cyclical and iterative process, which involved experimentation and reflection, resulting in additional knowledge-seeking behavior. (This finding corresponds well to work by Manduca et al. (2017) who noted that professional development often launched faculty on a trajectory of life-long learning.) Based on these results, Andrews and Lemons suggest a modified, cyclic version of the decision-making process (see below, Figure 2, Andrews and Lemons 2015).

This small change in the model has sparked my thinking about workshop design profoundly. For example, I now imagine that the main goal of a workshop might be to set faculty up for a successful first implementation of a strategy, to prompt reflection and further knowledge-seeking. And for those who have already experimented with teaching change, it is to leverage their reflection on that implementation, and provide useful knowledge that will help them productively iterate on that experiment.

What other models for change have you used, and how have they sparked your thinking?

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