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Departments with high usage of active learning instruction: How did they get there?
What makes some departments stand out in terms of high quality teaching? We report on an interview-based study of 29 instructors in 18 departments to help answer this question. In Fall 2019, we distributed the Research-Based Instructional Strategies (RBIS) national survey to 18,129 US instructors who had taught first-year General Chemistry, Quantitative-Based Physics, or Single-Variable Calculus in the previous two years. Sampling was done by institution, with the goal of obtaining multiple responses from each of the three target departments (chemistry, mathematics, physics) at each institution. We ranked departments in terms of their use of active learning based on the average self-reported percentage of class time spent lecturing, with lower percentages of lecture as a proxy for higher use of active learning. From the departments with multiple instructors in the top quartile of active learning users, we selected a diverse set based on institution type (TYC, undergraduate college, graduate college), discipline, and location. We invited two survey respondents from each department to participate in a semi-structured interview about the teaching in their department. This talk focuses on the qualitative analysis of these interviews. A grounded theory approach was used to develop a theory about why these departments engage in high use of active learning. In all cases, we found that departments do not become high users of active learning by accident. Rather, it is typically the result of consistent efforts by dedicated individuals over a significant period of time. In this talk, we will present our preliminary theory. An important take-away message is that department cultures can change to focus more on high quality teaching, but that this does not happen spontaneously. It requires both an appropriate institutional context (e.g., teaching is valued in tangible ways) as well as motivated individuals who are knowledgeable about educational research.
Departments with high use of active learning - Poster (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 7.2MB Jun4 21)