Teaching and Learning Forum 95 [ Contents ]

Valuing teaching and learning in a university:
Differing academic staff perceptions

Robert G. Baker
Faculty of Education
Curtin University of Technology
This paper reports the findings which have emerged from a mail survey and follow-up interview of almost 400 academics who represent 42% of the full-time staff at a major university. A comprehensive questionnaire containing almost 200 items was used to investigate the relationship between teaching and research, publications, staff selection/induction/promotion and student learning and the value placed on teaching and learning by various groups or levels within the university. Results revealed significant differences in the perceived value placed on teaching and research by university administration, school/department, and individual academic staff. Indeed significant differences in perception were apparent across professional and teaching qualifications, gender, teaching service, academic position and status, and faculty affiliation. A 'greater recognition of teaching' was the most frequent comment staff made about ways to improve the quality of teaching at the university. The most frequent comment by staff, about ways to improve their own teaching, related to a desire to improve their repertoire of teaching skills and processes. There was also a desire for using new teaching technologies and audio-visual aids; updating current knowledge base; and learning about different assessment strategies. A substantial number of academics referred to the need for more academics to gain qualifications, or training, in teaching and learning processes. These findings have wide implication for academic staff development programs and the actions of universities responding to recent moves toward quality assurance and the advancement of quality teaching and learning in universities.

Introduction

This paper reports findings from a study commissioned to investigate the perceptions of teaching and learning held by academic staff in a large Australian University. The specific brief given for this study was to survey academic staff in the university and report on: how they value teaching in the university, particularly in relation to other aspects of academic life ie., administration, research and publishing; the attitudes they hold about teaching and teaching processes in the university; their perceptions of the importance and place of teaching in the university. While the study reported in this paper has covered a broad range of issues that may be related to teaching (e.g., research, publications, promotion, administrative policy etc), the paper focuses mainly on how different sectors within the university value teaching, how academics rate themselves on various aspects of teaching, and how academic staff perceive the quality of teaching and learning may be improved within the university. A full report of the study is contained in Valuing Teaching and Learning: Academic Staff Perceptions (Baker, 1994).

Recent moves toward quality assurance and the advent of federal grants to advance the quality of teaching and learning in higher education has rekindled interest in restoring a balance between teaching and research in Australian universities. In introducing a qualitative study based on interviewing lecturers about academic work in universities, Neumann (1993) reported finding 64 documents on the topic, 33 of which referred to the nexus between university teaching and research, however 'a few only' endeavoured to explain this relationship and explore the concepts further. Many large surveys investigating university teaching and academic work have been conducted overseas since the late 1960's, however, it is only since the latter part of the 1980s that much has been done in Australia (Neumann,1993).

Method

The conceptual framework which emerged and guided the development of the survey instrument was derived from: a) an analytically based definition of what is teaching, b) literature outlining what it is that teachers do, c) a model of the study of teaching well established for use in educational research, d) current documents used by universities as guidelines for quality teaching in universities (eg., AV-CC Guidelines for Effective University Teaching, HERDSA Checklist for effective teaching), and e) academic staff and stakeholders with a special interest in the project.

Preliminary interviews were held with academic staff who were considered stakeholders and who held a special interest in the project. These interviews, together with current literature on quality teaching in universities, were instrumental in defining the scope of the survey instrument and the issues to be investigated. The final version of the questionnaire consisted of fixed format items (mostly Likert Scale), rating scales, and open ended items. Considering the comprehensiveness of the instrument a return rate of 42% (N=368) was considered to be a reasonable result (eg., the previous response rate of a 1992 survey of all academic staff at this university was 37%).

Sample

The demographic characteristics of the respondents (Table 1) indicate their representativeness as a sample of the total academic population of the university. Based on the institutional data available (ie., sex, position, status, years of service, etc) the sample profile appeared to be reasonably representative of the overall university academic population profile. Most of the sample report being heavily involved with teaching duties. Six classes per week was the most frequently reported 'class loading' with more than 75% of the respondents teaching between 3 and 6 classes each week. In contrast, almost 75% reported little or no hours (0-3 hours) officially allocated for research with approximately 20% allotted between 4-9 hours (mode=4 hours). Almost one-third of the respondents reported teaching first year students, and almost one-half teaching post-graduate students. Staff reported that teaching post graduate students increases the opportunities to become involved in research and publications whereas teaching undergraduates reduces these opportunities.

Valuing teaching and research

The key findings of the study were that while staff felt both research and teaching were important they consistently rated teaching more important; however, they perceived the current institutional values and rewards were heavily weighted toward research to the detriment of teaching at the university. The phrase 'lip service only' was most frequently used in the staff's written responses to how teaching was valued at the university level.

When academic staff were grouped according to teaching qualifications, professional qualifications, gender, teaching service, academic position and status, and academic affiliation, significant differences in perception were apparent across most of these groupings. A major one of these differences occurred between academic staff with teaching qualifications (35% of the sample) and their non-qualified colleagues. Qualified teachers rated significantly higher their ability to develop all key aspects of the teaching/learning processes and the quality of their teaching in terms of their teaching skills, and the variety of different teaching methods and learning activities they used. The more highly qualified staff were more likely to a) agree with the university's promotional system, b) believe that sufficient recognition was given to teaching, and c) value research more highly. There were significant differences between the way male and female academic staff members valued teaching and in the way they perceived some aspects of teaching were valued at the university.

More males agreed that sufficient weight was given to teaching excellence in the promotional system, more females were likely to use student evaluations and formal feedback in their teaching and more of them rated highly the importance of using a variety of student learning activities and teaching methods. The longer their length of service at the university the more that staff were likely to feel the university a) did not value teaching highly, and b) placed too much value on research and publishing. Similarly, the higher the promotional position of staff the more they valued research, the more they felt the university valued research and the more they felt the promotional system was appropriate. In terms of their teaching development, staff in their first years of service (1-5 yrs) rated significantly lower the quality of their teaching; however, the more likely they were to use student evaluations and formal feedback procedure.

The majority of academic staff felt there were more effective ways to teach than the lecture/tutorial mode and an almost unanimous number stressed the importance of small lab/workshops for skills development. Most staff supported continuous assessment and did not think final exams were a most effective means for assessing student learning; however, this view varied widely across different academic areas at the university, particularly in the areas of engineering, science and business. Staff strongly valued student learning and the importance of undergraduate teaching. The majority of staff reported regularly using formal student evaluations of their teaching; however, this varied widely across different groups with significantly less use by high status, senior male academics.

Academic staff felt their strengths were in a) the personal attributes they brought to their teaching (eg., enthusiasm, personality, being interesting, inspiring, humorous, etc), b) their subject knowledge and experiences, c) their teaching skills and processes, and d) their rapport with students. The most frequent comment concerned with the improvement of teaching related to a desire to improve teaching skills and processes (eg., presentation skills, alternative teaching methods, different learning activities, etc). Other areas highlighted by these comments were a desire for using new teaching technologies and audio-visual aids, updating current knowledge base, and learning about different assessment strategies.

Staff strongly voiced their concerns about the way support for teaching was not perceived to be forthcoming at the institutional level; this was particularly apparent in terms of 'the allocation of resources for teaching'; and the 'visible public actions' of the university toward teaching. There was a similarly strong feeling that over recent years there has been a tendency for more resources to move to non-teaching areas. These views were reasonably consistent across all academic positions; indeed, the more senior the status of staff the more support there was for the view that scarce resources were being moved into non-teaching areas. The biggest differences in this set of attitudinal scales occurred in staff perceptions of how university action supported the dissemination of information about research and development but failed to do so at the same level for teaching. The most frequently written comments by staff supporting these attitudinal scales referred to the positive role of the academic staff development group as a source of information.

The most frequent comments staff made about the ways to improve the quality of teaching at the university related to a greater recognition of teaching. A related group of comments referred to the ease of measuring research performance (eg,. counting publications) against the difficulty of measuring teaching excellence. They felt the situation would improve if there were more recognition and rewards for teaching excellence at the institutional level and less emphasis on research. Associated with this 'recognition of teaching' was the expressed desire for more time and resources to be devoted to teaching, and generally, more staff and less students. More than half the academic staff reported they had participated in a teaching development activity over the last 12 months. Most of this was as a result of involvement in the academic staff development centre activities, however, a number were a result of individual pursuits. A substantial group of comments referred to the need for more academics to gain qualifications or training in teaching and learning processes.

Conclusion

It appears, from this study, that university teachers who have some qualification in teaching have a significantly higher opinion of their teaching competence and ability to impact on student learning than do non-qualified teachers. Academic staff possessing teaching qualifications rated significantly more highly their own teaching skills and the importance of, and their use of, a variety of teaching and learning activities. This notion of self efficacy among successful university teachers has been posited by others in recently reported studies in Australia. Dunkin and Precians (1993) recently reported a study which revealed significant differences between 12 award winning university teachers and other teachers in terms of self-rated competence in teaching. The study investigated the 'conceptual repertoire' of academics (the variety of teaching models available for use), 'self efficacy', and attitude to student feedback. Award winning teachers rated themselves significantly higher in maintaining student attention, arousing student enthusiasm, eliciting worthwhile discussions with students, and giving students helpful feedback. However, Pitney and O'Neill (1993) also studied ten award winning teachers in a large university and discovered only one had previous training in teaching. This study however, highlighted the importance of a reflective teaching process in the teacher development of university teachers.

Greater recognition of teaching excellence has been a strong recommendation from the academics participating in this study. In an attempt to meet some of these recommendations and in the face of increasing interest in quality university teaching, the university has since introduced and supported interested staff toward a Graduate Certificate in Education (University Teaching) to enable them to upgrade their knowledge and skills in teaching/learning processes and practices. Beginning university teachers, at least those without a teaching qualification, will be expected to participate in the program. When beginning teachers and even committed experienced teachers, hear that teaching is important but see the rewards go to research and publishing then teaching is bound to be neglected and the recipients, the students, the programs, and educational quality suffer.

Teaching portfolios are a less formal way than graduate certificates to promote teaching development and are becoming popular in North American universities. The use of teaching portfolios to promote and help reward quality teaching, in addition to the teaching certificate, also seems likely to be adopted by the university in this study. Using teaching portfolios has been a growing trend in Canada and the US. Zubizarreta (1994) cites the work of Seldin (1993) to report this extraordinary growth. In 1991 only 75 institutions in the US were using teaching portfolios to develop, monitor, and reward the teaching excellence of academics. Two years later in 1993, the number had increased to over 400 universities. In Canada the system has been used successfully for almost 20 years where Dalhousie University has been recognised as having a model portfolio program. Typically, portfolios contain a lecturer's account of his or her teaching beliefs and practices, goals for teaching, past and present teaching responsibilities, descriptions of course materials, student learning data, student and peer evaluations, and records of professional development activity. "The portfolio emerges as a crucial facet in the process of revaluing teaching in a system that has long reserved its rewards primarily for research." (Zubrizarreta, 1994). The process may go some way towards counteracting what academic staff see as the poor promotional practice of simply counting publications . Whether graduate certificates, portfolios and grant monies can overcome entrenched value systems and bring about a change in current university attitudes and practices remains to be seen. At least the raw material, the strong nucleus of a committed teaching staff, is present and ready to respond to support at the institutional level.

In an address to university administrators, Vice Chancellor Robert Smith reported on the inappropriate paradigms operating in Australian universities:

"The present situation is a clash of paradigms: the internal, discipline - centred paradigm against the one held by society at large, in which the legitimacy of research is conceded only to the extent that it supports and enriches the teaching of undergraduates." Smith (1992)
Smith reported the work of Pannabaker (1992) in Canada who sees Canadian universities as also employing a discipline-centred paradigm. Pannabaker believes this paradigm is only appropriate in times of economic prosperity and growth. The paradigm, according to the Canadian critic, 'defines scholarship too narrowly -- because peer reviewed publications are easiest to measure -- and allow five to ten years to training academics as researchers, a few weeks of training, at best, in pedagogy and none in administration and management'. If the dominant discipline-centred paradigm in our universities is to move more toward the paradigm supported by the society at large, then attitudes will need to change suggests Smith. Two preconditions he posits for this change are developing an understanding to the organisational culture of universities and understanding what is involved in effective leadership, management and administration of that organisation.

Based on the findings from this survey of academic staff, the seeds of change are there but unless the rewards for excellence in teaching move more into line with those for research and peer reviewed publications, there seems little hope of a paradigm shift occurring. CAUT grants and Quality Audit rewards for excellence in teaching and learning, appear to be making some progress in this direction, however, even the most optimistic of concerned academics would see little chance of this lasting more than a year or two in current circumstances, with even less chance of it becoming an established part of university organisational culture when the dollar incentives disappear.

References

AV-CC (1992). Guidelines for Effective University Teaching. Published by the Australian Vice-Chancellors' Committee

Baker, R. G. (1994). Valuing University Teaching and Learning: Academic Staff Perceptions. Curtin Printing Services.

Berliner, D. (1982). Recognising Instructional Variables. In Orlosky (Ed), Introduction to Education. Columbus Ohio: Charles E. Merrill.

Dunkin, M., & Precians, P.(1993). Award-winning University Teachers' Self-efficacy Regarding Teaching. South Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 21, No. 1.

HERDSA (1992). Checklist for Effective Teaching. Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia.

Hogg A. C. and Foster J. K. (1974). Understanding Teaching Procedures. Melbourne: Cassells Australia.

Neumann, R. (1993). Academic Work: Perceptions of Senior Academic Administrators. Australian Educational Researcher, Vol. 20, No. 1.

Pannabaker, J. H. (1992). The University for Tomorrow. Unpublished paper presented to the Canadian Corporate-Higher Education Forum, Montreal, in Smith (1992) op cit.

Pitney, D. & O'Neill, M. (1993). Confessions of Experts: Reflective Teaching in Large Lectures. AARE Annual Conference, Fremantle.

Smith, R. H. T. (1992). Management and University Culture. Australian Educational Researcher, Vol. 19, No. 3.

Zubizarreta, J. (1994). Teaching Portfolios and the Beginning Teacher. Kappan, 76,4.

Tables

Table 1. Survey sample: Demographic characteristics profile
Academic Staff(N = 368 -- 42% of the population)
Sample Population

SexMale
Female
62%
38%
66%
34%
Position:Assoc. Lecturer
Lecturer
Senior Lecturer
Assoc. Professor
Professor
16%
45%
24%
10%
5%
17%
44%
23%
11%
5%
Status:F/T Tenured
Non-Tenured
65%
35%
63%
37%
Yrs at universityFirst Year
2 - 5 yrs
6 - 10 yrs
11 - 15 yrs
16 + yrs
10%
33%
22%
13%
22%
12%
23%
31%
13%
21%
Academic disciplinesArts
Business
Science
Health Services
Others
31%
16%
17%
30%
7%
26%
17%
22%
26%
9%
School/college teaching(eg., primary, secondary, college level)
Approximately 50% previously taught at school/college level.
Teaching qualificationYes
No
35%
65%
Highest level qualif.Bachelor
Grad Diploma
Masters
Doctorate
Other
15%
18%
32%
33%
2%

Table 2. Mean staff perceptions of how teaching and research are valued
Currently valued byTeaching(SD)Research(SD)
a)
b)
c)
the university
their school/dept
themselves
4.6
6.0
8.6
(2.3)
(2.5)
(1.4)
8.7
7.7
7.2
(1.5)
(2.0)
(2.2)

Ideally valued byTeaching(SD)Research(SD)
a)
b)
c)
the university
their school/dept
themselves
8.8
8.8
8.8
(1.4)
(1.4)
(1.4)
8.2
8.1
8.0
(1.7)
(1.7)
(1.9)
[Ten point scale (1=low...10=high)]

Table 3. University valuing of aspects of teaching (5pt Likert scale)
This university shows it values teaching by: Mean
a)the way it supports its students
(25% agreement, 35% disagreement)
2.9
b)the way it supports its teaching staff
(23% agreement, 54% disagreement)
2.6
c)the way it ensures good teaching facilities
(28% agreement, 52% disagreement)
2.6
d)the way it ensures good library resources
(58% agreement, 22% disagreement)
3.4
e)the way it ensures sufficient time for good teaching
(20% agreement, 56% disagreement)
2.5
f)its written mission statements
(33% agreement, 19% disagreement)
3.1
g)its visible public actions
(17% agreement, 41% disagreement)
2.6
h)the way it allocates its resources
(13% agreement, 63% disagreement)
2.3

Table 4. Importance of teaching practices (10 pt scale, 1=low, 10=high)
Teaching PracticesMeanSD

Written feedback assignments within a week7.52.1
Giving marking key in advance7.52.4
Using a variety of teaching methods8.21.7
Using a variety of teaching materials8.21.6
Using a variety of learning activities8.31.7
Using a variety of assessment methods7.92.0

Table 5. Staff Unsure/Disagreed about adequacy of training in teaching practices
Adequacy of training in teaching practices:
Disagreed+Unsure

to evaluate good teaching practice(36%)
to develop a course curriculum(30%)
to develop a variety of assessment methods(30%)
to develop a variety of good teaching methods(30%)

Table 6. Qualified teachers and valuing teaching
VariablesQualif.TchrsNon-Qualif.TchrsSignif.
(Frequency rounded to approx. %)

1. Use Student Evaluations75%55%p< .000
2. Lecture/tutorial - disagree70%55%p< .002
3. Final Exams- disagree75%60%p< .011
4. Importance of Variety
a) teaching methods
b) learning activites
86%
85%
68%
70%
p< .001
p< .010
5. Adequacy of Training
a) course curriculum
b) learning activities
c) assess methods
d) teaching methods
e) eval. teaching
f) to be a good teacher
85%
88%
80%
88%
85%
92%
60%
60%
62%
60%
50%
64%
p< .000
p< .000
p< .000
p< .000
p< .000
p< .000

6. Quality of Teaching in
a) skills
b) teaching methods
c) learning activites
83%
62%
60%
63%
40%
42%
p< .000
p< .000
p< .000

Table 7. Professional qualifications and valuing teaching
VariablesLow Qualif.Hi Qualif.Significance
(Frequency rounded to approx. %)
1. Valuing Teaching/Research
a) University Value T.
b) You Value R.
c) You Value T.
d) Research Benefits T.
5%
40%
90%
75%
20%
66%
75%
90%
p< .009
p< .001
p< .050
p< .003
2. Promotional System
a) Proper balance of Criteria
b) Teaching Rewarded
c) Proper Weight:Tenure
d) Proper Weight:Promotion
5%
5%
8%
10%
22%
15%
28%
22%
p< .000
p< .005
p< .006
p< .000
3. Adequacy of Training for:
a) Curriculum Development
b) Assessment Methods
c) Learning Activities
60%
65%
66%
80%
75%
72%
p< .000
p< .002
p< .020
4. Quality of Teaching
Knowledge Prep. for T. 80%92%p< .030

Please cite as: Baker, R. G.(1995). Valuing teaching and learning in a university: Differing academic staff perceptions. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p5-12. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/baker.html


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