Enhancing Student-Driven Learning Strategies by Examining the Faculty Conceptions of Teaching

Enhancing Student-Driven Learning Strategies by Examining the Faculty Conceptions of Teaching

Despina Varnava Marouchou (European University, Cyprus)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1689-7.ch019
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Despite the extensive interest demonstrated by academics and policy makers, and the vast amount of information written, during the past twenty years or so, in the area of student learning, very little of what has been written has been transformed into solid policies and practices, “the discourse advocates for learning, but seldom gets down to the level of detail” (Weimer 2002, p. xii). By making instructors aware of their own conceptions of teaching they will be informed of how such conceptions influence their teaching practices. Thus, a critical examination of the conceptions of teaching can initiate adjustments directed towards a reform-based perspective, leading to student driven learning strategies. In this chapter the findings of the conceptions of teaching identified by a group of lecturers in a small university are discussed, secondly, the possibility of a relation between the lecturers' conceptions of teaching and student-driven learning strategies are outlined and thirdly, the importance of taking these issues into consideration, when exploring learning environments, learning outcomes, curriculum design and the professional development of academics.
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In spite the fact that the majority of all school leavers in the European Union countries receive Higher Education (HE), few attempts have been made to examine the effectiveness of the learning experience these students receive. Moreover, the continuing economic crisis and the rising of youth unemployment have raised the need for radical reforms in education. Higher Education has the responsibility to prepare its students with adequate skills to cope with unpredictable challenges that may not even exist at present. The acquisition of these new competencies requires a commitment from the policy makers that places students at the centre of learning (Shapiro et al., 2008). These cannot be achieved through traditional teaching means.

In recognition of these challenges and in an attempt to rectify and improve the quality of instruction in the EU countries, the Bologna Process agreement together with the European Strategy for 2020 initiated a number of reforms. One of the overarching objective of the reforms was the improvement of the quality assurance of HE. This included the development of more flexible approaches to teaching. The European reform strategy for 2020 is also the focus of the EU new mandate. It aims to bring together a complete roadmap for the EU’s economic recovery and growth for the next ten years. The strategy has been praised by some but has also raised a number of reservations by others.

The Bologna Process agreement became the primary document used by all the signatory countries in establishing the general framework for the reforms in education. In 2010 the Bologna Process launched the European Higher Education Area, which deals specifically with issues on education in universities.

However, despite such efforts research in the area of teaching in Higher Education has been mostly steered from the standpoint of teaching methods and academic development. This is because most of the researchers assumed that learning is automatic and occurs as a result of good teaching and so most of the research was focused on developing good teaching skills. As a result educators are very well informed about teaching but noticeably less about learning.

In recent years, research focusing on the academics’ beliefs is considered as equally vital. Several studies have identified the importance of understanding the meaning of teaching as conceptualised by university teachers themselves, (Kember, 1997; Prosser & Trigwell, 1999; Samuelowicz & Bain, 1992, 2001, Åkerlind, 2005).

In general terms, conceptions have being identified as the conscious or subconscious perceptions, concepts, meanings, and beliefs of teaching, (Thompson, 1992). In practical terms, however, they are understood as the way lecturers go about what and how they teach, (Kember, 1997; Samuelowicz & Bain, 2001; Åkerlind, 2005). Over the past decades, much interest has been generated in exploring the variation of these conceptions, nevertheless, their effect on teaching practices (Kember, 1997) and student learning remains, as yet, unexplored.

On the other hand, student-driven or commonly known as student-centred teaching is not a new approach and has, been researched for many years at the university level. However, there is still evidence to suggest, that in actual practice, a teacher-driven approach is dominant in many universities across Europe. In fact, many academics underestimate the value of teaching since they have to secure employment contracts or promotion through productive research, rather than teaching approaches (Reid & Johnston, 1999).

At the same time the need to cultivate a learning culture that requires much closer attention to the different ways in which students learn more effectively is more apparent now than ever before. The on-going advances in technology, in a rapidly changing society that is overwhelmingly influenced by the current social and economic difficulties calls for much needed improvements in the quality of teaching. This creates some of the most immediate challenges for lecturers to question the ways in which they teach and consequently improve the quality of learning, and in doing so close the gap between teaching practices and the learning experiences acquire by students (Leoni, 2011)

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