Exemplary University Teachers: Knowledge and Beliefs regarding Effective Teaching Dimensions and Strategies

By Hativa, Nira; Barak, Rachel et al. | Journal of Higher Education, November-December 2001 | Go to article overview

Exemplary University Teachers: Knowledge and Beliefs regarding Effective Teaching Dimensions and Strategies


Hativa, Nira, Barak, Rachel, Simhi, Etty, Journal of Higher Education


Rationale and Theoretical Framework

The quest for excellence in college and university teaching is now a worldwide concern. Universities pay increasing attention to the quality of the pedagogy practiced in their classrooms and to assessing how effectively professors are teaching (Ovando, 1989). At the same time, educators and researchers are looking for ways to increase knowledge about teaching effectiveness. A good way to achieve this goal is to learn from outstanding teachers about how they think about teaching, about their pedagogical knowledge, and about their instructional behaviors in order to convey all these to less successful teachers.

Teachers' Thinking, Beliefs, and Knowledge About Teaching

We refer to teacher thinking and knowledge interchangeably because separating these two notions is difficult, if not unfeasible (Clark & Peterson, 1986). Of all components of teacher thinking, we are particularly interested in teachers' beliefs. The need to learn about teachers' thinking, beliefs, and knowledge results from an emerging image of the teacher as a "thoughtful professional." Teachers' thought processes, pedagogical knowledge, and beliefs were found to substantially affect their classroom behavior at the precollege level (Clark & Peterson, 1986; Fennema & Franke, 1992; Peterson, 1988; Thompson, 1992). Effective teaching requires a wide knowledge base that can be broken down into several main categories (Shulman, 1987; Wilson, Shulman, & Richert, 1987). We concentrate here on general pedagogical knowledge defined as "knowledge of, and skill in, the use of teaching methods and pedagogical strategies that are not subject-specific" (Wilson et al., 1987, p. 114).

University professors, not having received any systematic preparation for their teaching role, gain beliefs and knowledge about good pedagogy through trial-and-error in their work, reflection on student feedback, and by using self-evaluation. To a much lesser extent, they learn from having observed their own teachers while they were students (Hativa, 1997). This unplanned and nonsystematic process may lead to fragmented pedagogical knowledge and to unfounded beliefs about what makes teaching effective. It is interesting to learn about the pedagogy-related thinking, beliefs, and knowledge, particularly of outstanding teachers, because these probably contribute to their excellent instruction.

Exemplary Teachers' Teaching-Related Thinking, Beliefs, and Knowledge

Research at the precollege level provides considerable evidence that exemplary teachers (sometimes referred to as expert teachers) differ from their colleagues, and particularly from novice teachers, in the complexity and sophistication of their thought about teaching; in their cognitive schemata and pedagogical reasoning skills (Borko & Livingston, 1989); in their decision making (Westerman, 1991); and in their teaching-related knowledge. They integrate the different categories and forms of knowledge in ways that allow them to optimally structure the physical, social, and intellectual environment of their classrooms (Gudmundsdottir & Shulman, 1987).

There is similar evidence at the college level. Exemplary teachers, usually selected on the basis of high student ratings, were found to prefer a deep approach to teaching, which is incongruent with students' more common surface approach (Andrews, Garrison, & Magnusson, 1996). Compared with other teachers, they have a more extensive, complex, and flexible repertoire of concepts of teaching effectiveness, they hold more developed concepts of self-efficacy, they use a wider range of criteria for self-evaluation, and they draw upon almost twice as many strategies for enhancing student learning. In addition, exemplary teachers were more inclined to believe that they played a significant role in their students' learning, and they were significantly more confident that they possessed the teaching skills necessary to give effect to their potential (Dunkin, 1995; Dunkin & Precians, 1992).

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