Conceptions of teaching among Colombian engineering faculty: An exploratory study
In Colombia, as in the US, higher education institutions are charged with the twofold responsibility of training well-rounded professionals and pushing the boundaries of knowledge. Faculty enact this dual responsibility through their teaching and research duties, among other job-related functions. Also like in the US, research has increasingly become the foremost function of faculty at most prominent Colombian universities. As the emphasis on research increased, teaching became regarded as a simpler activity that requires less effort and resources. Moreover, while discussions about the importance of quality teaching and the need to better train faculty to enact their teaching function are common, promotion and rewards systems at Colombian universities fail to reflect a real commitment to quality teaching. Research has taken precedence over teaching, and often is perceived as the only scholarly function of faculty. While this continued perception cannot be attributed to a single reason, I hypothesize that how faculty conceive of their teaching role impacts our ability to make a compelling case for the scholarly nature of teaching.
Testing this hypothesis requires a systematic approach to exploring faculty’s conceptions of teaching within a context. To that aim, I pose this research question: What are conceptions of teaching held by Colombian engineering faculty interested in improving their teaching? I advance a framework for exploring conceptions of teaching drawing from Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory and previous scholarly works on faculty’s conceptions and beliefs about teaching. Drawing upon this framework, I explore the beliefs, practices, and contextual factors of Colombian engineering faculty at three institutions. While these faculty members differ in terms of their disciplinary backgrounds, teaching experience, and research activity—both disciplinary and educational, they all share an interest in improving their teaching practice. This exploration first takes an analytic approach to identify the pieces that constitute participants’ conceptions of teaching, and then knits those pieces together to look at participants as wholes.
The literature on conceptions of teaching has usually classified them between traditional teacher-centered to more sophisticated student-centered views. However, I believe that there is a continuum worth exploring defined by these extreme views. In fact, I argue that there are multiple continua—or dimensions—that merit exploration. Such dimensions include perceptions about the role of teachers, the role of students, the nature of knowledge, the purpose and means of assessment, and the outcomes of education—previously explored in the relevant literature—and views of the interaction between college teaching and research—a dimension distinctive of the present study. My findings suggest that while the role of the teacher and of students, and the nature of knowledge can be described by the teacher- to student-center and knowledge-transmission to knowledge-construction continua, the latter three dimensions are better described along different scales. Moreover, while there are certain correlations between these dimensions (e.g., perceptions of the role of the teacher as a guide correlate with perceptions of a more active role of the students) none of them alone can accurately describe the nuances of an individual’s conception of teaching.
Conceptions of teaching uncovered and characterized in this multidimensional way can inform professional development programs that go beyond the diffusion of pedagogical innovations to a perspective transformation among participants. Specifically, my findings corroborate that changes in faculty views of assessment toward more formative stances foster positive transformations in faculty’s overall conception of their teaching role and duties. My findings also suggest that faculty members intrinsically interested in improving their teaching constitute the seed to start educational reform. Community-building efforts to bring together these faculty should, in the long term, help transform the views of academic administrators, thus fostering lasting reform in the perception and recognition of teaching as a scholarly function of faculty.