The Relationship Between Instructors' Conceptions of Geoscience Learning and Classroom Practice at a Research University
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Reform of undergraduate science education will need to be supported with effective professional development for current and future faculty. The professional development programs will need to address the knowledge, skills and beliefs of higher education faculty so that they can implement the kind of effective practices that results in the intended learning and meets the needs of diverse learners. To support the design of these programs, this research characterized the relationships between faculty's conceptions of teaching and learning on their teaching practices. Teaching faculty at a Doctoral/Research University were randomly interviewed to assess conceptions with respect to: 1) individual faculty learning, 2) student learning based on academic level, 3) how teaching is valued by the organization and 4) course goals. Additionally, classroom observations were conducted to determine the level of student-teacher interaction and cognitive engagement of the instructor and students with graphical and symbolic representations, as well as other manipulatives. Observations indicated teacher-centered classes across all academic levels. These data contrasted the subject's conceptions that cognitive and technical skill development is best achieved through self-directed learning. Analysis of the interviews and observations suggested the contradiction between learning practices the subject viewed as effective and the utilized teaching methods resulted from two major barriers: 1) the instructors' conceptions on the evolution of student learning and 2) an institutional reward structure that doesn't support the development of effective teaching practices.