Teaching and Learning Forum 97 [ Contents ]

Evaluation of a change in teaching methods using the College and University Classroom Environment Inventory (CUCEI)

David Booth
School of Oral Health Sciences
University of Western Australia
This study was undertaken to evaluate a change from formal lectures to raised student - teacher interaction in one learning environment. This report considers a teacher who was dissatisfied with the lack of responses from students to questions asked in class and sought a strategy to overcome the perceived problem. It was believed that the introduction of something innovative into the classroom would challenge and interest the students further. The proposal was to improve the learning environment through raised teacher-student interaction by involving the students, at both an individual and a group level, in the learning process. The students' reaction to that change was sought using the College and University Classroom Environment Inventory (Fraser, 1992). The CUCEI Instrument contains seven scales: Personalisation, Involvement, Student Cohesiveness, Satisfaction, Task Orientation, Innovation and Individualisation. The learning environment used in this project was a class of thirty final year dental students. The learning module was "Fractures of the Jaws". The students entered their actual perceptions before and after the module. The teacher entered his preferred perceptions. There were improvements in the students' ratings of all scales over the test period. The teacher rated the student cohesiveness higher than the students.

In the pursuit of professional excellence, it is important for practitioners to review their thoughts, feelings and knowledge, so as to learn from their experience, to find solutions to problems and to invent new approaches to their practice (Newell, 1992). As Schwab (1973) illustrates, this is a maturation process through which the goals of curricular intentions are attained.

However, the pursuit of professional excellence does not always provide the ideal learning environment. In fact certain occupations may be more difficult to teach than others. For example, although a warm, supportive and challenging environment is considered to encourage learning, this is hard to achieve in dental and medical education because of the complex nature and stress involved in the clinical work and the variety of people involved (Harth, Bavandan, Thomas, Lai and Thong, 1992). Therefore it is essential in the pursuit of professional excellence that clinical health care teachers regularly review their teaching methods to maintain their effectiveness. Otherwise one may find as Ramsden did that the students, may be present in body but not necessarily present in mind, and they may not be on task, as well (Ramsden, 1992). When a new innovation is introduced to a class, it is advisable to find out whether or not the change has produced an improvement in the situation that the project was aimed to change (Patel, et al, 1991). This assessment can be done by the students who are experiencing the class.

Two aspects commonly considered in the process of reflective teaching are the study of the teacher as a person and a study of the environment created by that person (Fraser, 1983). However, whilst both are significant, perhaps the study of the environment created by the teacher, as Harth et al (1992) commented above, is of greater significance. A student's experience of the course creates the educational environment or context of their learning (Ramsden, 1992).

The aim of this study was to examine student - teacher interaction in the area of the learning environment and changes within that environment brought about by a change in teaching style. In particular, this report considers a teacher who was dissatisfied with the lack of responses from students to questions and sought a strategy to overcome the perceived problem. The teacher had begun teaching this group of students in 1994 when the classes consisted of one 50 minute lecture per week during the year. The lectures were a traditional, formal presentation of the curriculum. When questions were asked in the lecture to determine the students' initial knowledge, the students claimed they had no idea of the answers to even simple questions. So the answers were supplied by the lecturer. It then became easier to lecture without referral to the students. By the second semester the only attempt at staff - student interaction was the enquiry "Are there any questions?" at the end of most lectures. Ramsden (1992) found that in a traditional lecture, teachers are expected to put forward as the authorities on the subject and are expected by the students just to give forth their knowledge of the subject, especially after they have spent a year or so experiencing traditional lectures at University.

The teacher believed that it would be a more satisfying learning experience if the students were actively involved during the lesson period rather than just sitting there and being lectured at. He believed that the introduction of something innovative into the classroom would challenge and interest the students further. The proposal was to improve the learning environment through teacher-student interaction by involving the students, at both an individual and a group level, in the teaching process. He then sought the students' reaction to that change.

Method

The learning environment used in this experiment consisted of a class of thirty 1995 final year (fifth year at University) dental students at the University of Western Australia's School of Oral Health Sciences. The Unit was Oral Surgery 534. The topic module was six lessons (previously lectures) on "Fractures of the Jaws". It was taught during semester 1, 1995. The proposal was to improve staff - student interaction by introducing a number of group activities, such as posing the students questions during each lecture, on matters which they had been previously taught in their course. The students were requested to write down the answers and then share their answers in groups of two or three. The groups then reported to the whole class. The students were also divided into groups of about 5 students in each group to work on a specific task and then report their work to the whole class. Thus new (to the class) strategies were introduced to elicit student responses and to elicit student participation in the class.

The students were told that the purpose of the research was to introduce a new method of teaching and to see if the students found it helpful. The students were not told the specific aim of the research so as not to bias their responses to the test Instrument. According to Cashdan and Lee (1971) different students approach different learning situations differently. So it was decided to determine the reactions of the class as a whole to the strategy and not individual responses through interview. The instrument used to measure the perceptions, by the teacher and the students, of the psychosocial teaching environment was the College and University Classroom Environment Inventory (CUCEI) designed by Fraser, et al (1992). The CUCEI Instrument contains following seven scales: Personalisation, Involvement, Student Cohesiveness, Satisfaction, Task Orientation, Innovation and Individualisation (Fraser, 1992). The Instrument contains 49 statements, making seven statements for each scale. The respondent is offered a four-point scale with the alternatives:

The scoring direction is reversed for about half of the statements. This avoids the students recognising a pattern to statements about any particular scale. The students were not asked their preferred psychosocial classroom environment so as not to bias their feelings for or against the teaching innovation. It also prevented the teacher emphasising his innovation towards the students' preferred responses because he did not know what those would be. The required instructions to respondents and method of scoring were carefully followed (Fraser, et al, 1992). The response sheet was completed by the teacher (the author) both as to his actual perception and his preferred perception of the teaching environment. The students were requested to scale the actual environment both before and after experiencing the teaching topic module. The CUCEI scores were calculated from the Response Sheets obtained from the students and the teacher. The students' responses were collated as the mean response of the class and tabled accordingly using the programme Microsoft Works 2.0 (Working Software, Inc., Box 1844, Santa Cruz, CA 95061, USA) on an Apple Macintosh Classic II microcomputer. The programme Statview (Brainpower Inc., 24009 Ventura Blvd., Suite 250, Calabasas, CA 91302, USA) was used to prepare the statistics.

Results

The CUCEI scores were calculated from the Response Sheets obtained from the students and the teacher. The students' responses were collated as the mean response of the class. Tables were prepared to show the relative scores for each scale.

Table 1: Teacher's actual and preferred scores.

Table 1 records the teacher's actual and preferred scores. The most notable differences are the ratings for personalisation, involvement, student satisfaction, innovation and individualisation. The actual and preferred ratings for task orientation were similar.

Table 2: All CUCEI Survey Results.

Table 2 presents the results of the teacher's actual and preferred scores with those of the students before and after the teaching module. For comparison, all the results are shown on the one diagram. It is noted that there are improvements in the students' ratings of all scales over the test period.

Table 3: Teacher's actual and Students' Before and After Results.

Table 3 compares the results of the teacher's perceptions with those of the students before and after the teaching module. This suggests that the students rated more highly their cohesion and the individualisation and innovation of the teacher than the teacher did. The teacher believed that their task orientation was higher than the students did.

Table 4: The Teacher's preferred scores and those of the student after the course.

Table 4 examines the teacher's preferred scores and those of the students after the course. Except for student satisfaction task orientation and individualisation, the scales showed a greater approximation than either the teacher or the students felt before the course, as was shown in Table 3.

Discussion

After the students had been asked to complete the first CUCEI Survey the teacher believed that the students appreciated his attempt to improve the quality of his teaching. Evidence of this was that the students went out of their way to speak to him outside of the classes. They referred their patients to him for specialist opinion (which seemed to upset another member of staff who circulated a memo of telephone numbers where he or his postgraduate student could be contacted at any day of the working week as the students had stopped asking his opinion). During lectures, they asked questions and they even laughed at the teacher's jokes.

The disparity in the actual and preferred Personalisation scores, seen in Table 1, indicates the difficulties felt by the teacher providing in empathy to the students through a traditional lecture. It is interesting to note that the teacher felt that a traditional, formal lecture was closely task orientated. The reality is that a traditional lecture is task orientated for the lecturer, but not necessarily for the students.

As can be noted in Table 2, the students' initial impressions of the classroom environment were similar to those of the teacher, except for the score for Innovation. This showed a marked difference between that of the teacher and those of the students. Probably the teacher was being self critical and relating his own perception of his teaching to his ideal model, whereas, it was found by informal enquiry from some of the students chosen at random, that the students compared him with their other lecturers when responding to the CUCEI statements on innovation. When Moir and Fraser examined the perceptions of 120 grade 11 students and 7 teachers of the learning environment in their inquiry-based computer classrooms, they also found that teachers' perceptions generally were more positive than the students.

A comparison between the results of the teacher's actual scores with those of the students before and after the teaching module is shown in Table 3. This indicates a positive effect of the programme in promoting a favourable learning environment. It also suggests that the introduction of the innovation brought the students' impressions of the classroom psychosocial environment close to that of the teachers' ideal. In the case of student cohesiveness, the lecturer gave the students a low score. The reason for this was he had noted that the bright students did not help their colleagues to answer questions posed to them in class. Whereas, by informal enquiry of the students it was found that to the students, it was a sign of solidarity for them all not to answer questions directed to them personally. Even when a question was posed "for anyone in the class" to answer, an individual answer was in fact being sought from one person in the class. Informal inquiry found that they felt threatened by such a technique. When the students were placed in groups, it was the group's answer that was being sought and no personal responsibility of a student was involved, so no conflict arose.

Table 4 indicates how the students' postcourse scores more closely approximated the desired scores of the teacher. There appears to be room for improvement in the areas of students satisfaction and task orientation. Student satisfaction did improve as a result of the innovations, so consideration should be given to further reducing the formal lecture component of the module in order to improve the level of student satisfaction.

Conclusion

As judged by the students' responses, there was an improvement in all scales as a result of the change to the teaching style. It was therefore concluded that an improvement in the learning environment had resulted from an increase in teacher-student interaction.

Acknowledgement

I thank the University of Western Australia's 4th year Dental Students of 1995 for their cooperation in completing the CUCEI Instrument forms.

References

Biggs, J. B. & Telfer,R. (1987). The process of learning. Sydney: Prentice-Hall Australia.

Cashdan, A. & Lee, V. (1971). Learning styles. Educational studies: A second level course. Personality, growth and learning units 1 and 2. The Open University Press.

Fraser, B.J. (1983). Use of classroom environment instruments in person-environment fit research. Bentley, WA: Western Australian Institute of Technology.

Fraser, B.J., Treagust, D.F. & Dennis, N.C. (1992). College and university classroom environment inventory (CUCEI): Summary of distinguishing features of CUCEI. Unpublished.

Harth, S. C., Bavandan, K. E., Thomas, K. E., Lai, M. Y & Thong, H. The quality of student - tutor teractions in the clinical learning environment. Medical Education, 26, 321-326.

Moir, D. & Fraser, B. J. (undated). Use of classroom environment perceptions in evaluating inquiry-based computer-assisted learning. Bentley, WA: Curtin University of Technology.

Newell, R. Anxiety, accuracy and reflection: the limits of professional development. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 17, 1326-1333.

Patel, V. L., Groen, G. J. and Norman, G. R. (1991). Effects of conventional and problem-based medical curricular on problem solving. Academic Medicine, 66, 380-389.

Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to teach in higher education. London: Routledge.

Schwab, J. J. (1973). The practical 3: Translation into curriculum. School Review, 81, 501-522.

Please cite as: Booth, D. (1997). Evaluation of a change in teaching methods using the College and University Classroom Environment Inventory (CUCEI). In Pospisil, R. and Willcoxson, L. (Eds), Learning Through Teaching, p44-49. Proceedings of the 6th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Murdoch University, February 1997. Perth: Murdoch University.
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