Orientations to Teaching and Their Effect on the Quality of Student Learning

Article excerpt

There exists now a voluminous literature that characterises "student learning." Of particular importance to this article are the attempts to categorise and classify underlying conceptions of student learning. Conceptions of student learning have been divided into five hierarchical categories: learning as the quantitative increase in knowledge, learning as memorisation, learning as acquisition of facts and procedures that can be retained and/or utilized in practice, learning as the abstraction of meaning, and learning as an interpretative process aimed at the understanding of reality |28~. Beaty, Dall'Alba and Marton |2~ have subsequently identified the same five conceptions and added a sixth: "changing as a person."

These conceptions of learning are important because of the evidence that they have a strong influence upon the study approach students use for particular study tasks |for example, 34~. The terms "surface" and "deep" are now commonly used to describe student approaches to learning after the pioneering work of Marton and Saljo |23~. With the surface approach the student concentrates upon the surface features of a text or study task, resulting in a tendency toward a reproductive orientation to study tasks: the student attempts to memorise material thought likely to be relevant to examination questions. A deep approach, on the other hand, is evidenced when students concentrate upon the underlying meaning of readings or projects, usually because of an intrinsic interest in the material.

We might want to speculate whether there is a similar relationship between conceptions or orientations to teaching and the way courses are taught, for this relationship might, in turn, affect the quality of student learning. There has been less research, however, into corresponding classifications for teaching. Because it is now widely agreed that teaching does have a profound effect on student learning, such work could be quite useful. There is now a substantial body of evidence on the effect of teaching method, learning tasks, assessment demands, and workload on student approaches to learning. Observations that students make heavy use of reproductive approaches have been found to coincide with factors such as: high workloads |6, 7~; surface-level assessment demands |9, 33~; low levels of intrinsic interest in the course |10~; and lack of freedom in the learning environment |27~.

In this article we discuss data from a questionnaire we developed, which identifies two orientations to lecturers' teaching at institutions of higher education: "knowledge transmission" and "learning facilitation." The learning facilitation orientation is made up of five subscales with labels: problem solving, more interactive teaching, facilitative teaching, pastoral interest, and motivator of students. The knowledge transmission orientation has four subscales: training for specific jobs, use of media, imparting information, and knowledge of subject.

We go on to relate data from this questionnaire to results of longitudinal surveys on the quality of student learning using the Biggs |3~ Study Process Questionnaire (SPQ). This instrument incorporates scales that examine the extent to which deep and surface approaches to study are employed. We believe that our study does establish a relationship between lecturers' orientations to teaching and the quality of student learning.

Pratt |26~ has recently reported a phenomenographic study of the conceptions of teaching of adult educators. He suggests five classifications for conceptions of teaching: delivering content, modelling ways of being, cultivating the intellect, facilitating personal agency, and seeking a better society. Our orientations are rather broader than Pratt's conceptions but there is a correspondence between our "knowledge transmission" orientation and Pratt's "delivering content" conception. Our learning facilitation orientation seems to encompass both the "cultivating the intellect" and the "facilitating personal agency" conceptions. …


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