Faculty Members' Attitudes Predict Adoption of Interactive Engagement Methods

By Madson, Laura; Trafimow, David et al. | The Journal of Faculty Development, September 2017 | Go to article overview

Faculty Members' Attitudes Predict Adoption of Interactive Engagement Methods


Madson, Laura, Trafimow, David, Gray, Tara, The Journal of Faculty Development


COMPARED TO LECTURE, interactive engagement methods, such as class discussions, cooperative learning, and team-based learning, facilitate more learning than traditional lecture (Deslauriers, Schelew, & Wieman, 2011; Freeman et al., 2014; Hake, 1998). Of course, some faculty members use interactive engagement methods more frequently than others. In the largest study of its kind, roughly half of U.S. instructors reported using cooperative small group learning, inquiry-based learning, or student presentations. In contrast, roughly half of surveyed U.S. faculty members reported relying extensively on lecture (Eagan et al., 2014, p. 6).

These data beg the question: Why do some faculty members frequently use interactive engagement methods and other faculty members rely on lecture? Interestingly, previous research has yielded more information about what factors do not predict faculty members' use of interactive engagement methods than what factors do predict their use. For example, our initial study of faculty members from a single U.S. university indicated that neither characteristics of the course nor demographic characteristics of the instructor predicted use of interactive engagement methods (Madson, Trafimow, Gray, & Gutowitz, 2014). Our study also found that faculty members across disciplines who had been teaching undergraduates for many years were no more or less likely to report using these methods than were newer teachers. Similarly, other research found that age, research productivity, class size, type of institution, departmental encouragement related to teaching and percentage ofjob devoted to teaching were unrelated to physics instructors' use of interactive engagement methods (Henderson, Dancy, & Niewiadomska-Bugaj, 2012; see also Singer, 1996).

If broad descriptive characteristics of courses and instructors do not predict use of interactive engagement methods, what does? Social psychology offers a tool called the reasoned action approach that offers a robust and effective way to predict a wide range of behavior (Fishbein & Ajzen, 2010). According to this approach, behavior is a function of behavioral intentions. Behavioral intentions are "indications of how hard people are willing to try, of how much of an effort they are planning to exert, in order to perform the behavior" (Ajzen, 1991, p. 181). Behavioral intentions are themselves determined by attitudes, subjective norms, perceived control and perceived difficulty (Trafimow, Sheeran, Conner, & Finlay, 2002). Briefly, attitudes are beliefs about the consequences of behavior. Subjective norms are beliefs about what important others think should be done. Perceived control is the degree to which people believe the behavior is under their voluntary control. Perceived difficulty is the degree to which people believe the behavior is easy or difficult to control.

Thousands of studies conducted since 1980 have demonstrated that the reasoned action approach is very effective at predicting behavior (Fishbein & Ajzen, 2010). Furthermore, attitudes are typically a much better predictor of behavioral intentions than subjective norms, perceived control, or perceived difficulty (Fishbein & Ajzen, 2010). For example, in an earlier study we found that faculty members' attitudes about interactive engagement methods were excellent predictors of their intentions to use these methods and these intentions were very good predictors of faculty members' self-reported frequency of use of these methods (Madson et al., 2014; see also Singer, 1996).

A logical next step for our investigation is to replicate and extend these results using a larger, cross-disciplinary sample of U.S. faculty members and examining specific beliefs that instructors report being relevant to their pedagogical decisions. Specific beliefs include those about potential benefits of using interactive engagement methods, as well as potential costs of or barriers to using these methods (see Goffe & Kauper, 2014; Henderson & Dancy, 2007; Maier, McGoldrick, & Simkins, 2012; Tagg, 2012; Grasha, 1994). …

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