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Teaching in an age of complexity: exploring academic change and development in higher education
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education. Centre for teaching and learning (UPL), Umeå University.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3448-7964
2018 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Higher education (HE) has expanded and diversified at an unprecedented rate over the last two decades in response to a rapidly changing educational and political climate. Change and development are omnipresent, a constant part of university teachers’ sociocultural and organisational practice at multiple levels; the micro-level, the meso-level and the macro-level Against this background, the aim of this thesis is to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that influence academic change. A further aim of the thesis is to provide insight into factors that may be relevant in the design of academic development activities to support teachers and managers in the enhancement of teaching and learning. A twelve-year longitudinal study of teachers on an online pharmacy programme forms the basis for the research, where a multilevel approach is used to investigate academic change and development in a teaching and learning environment supported by educational technology (Edtech). The approach captures the influence of factors such as conceptions and approaches to teaching at the micro-level of the individual teacher, as well as the influence of systemic factors such as the sociocultural context at the meso-level of the department or programme and the structural context at the macro-level of the institution.

To explore and understand the complexity of change and development in academic practice at micro-, meso- and macro-level two theoretical frameworks are used: conceptions of and approaches to teaching (CAT), and Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT). An interventionist method based on the tenets of CHAT was also employed. Data analysed in the thesis includes interviews with teachers (n=57), observations (n=27 hours), student evaluation surveys (n=30) and document analysis (n=11) collected over a 12-year timespan (2004-2016). The analysis indicated that at the micro-level a critical factor in the choice and use of Edtech is the underlying conception of and approach to teaching and learning of the teacher. Opportunities for change and development were found to be facilitated by the sociocultural context at the meso-level of the department, where support from the community and mediating tools for communication were present, but could also be hindered when this was lacking. At macro-level, institutional policy and strategy documents were seen to impede change and development, where research is consistently prioritised over teaching. At the meso-level of the department or programme, the opportunity to work together as a team to collaboratively construct and develop practice was found to be of significance in the development of agency and academic practice.

Taking into account a combined analysis of the five papers included, it can be concluded that if a deeper understanding of academic change and development is to be achieved, it is necessary to adopt a holistic approach, considering factors at micro-, meso- and macro-level and the interrelationships between these factors. This thesis discusses the consequences of the research for the facilitation of academic change and development. A multilevel, holistic approach is suggested, building on the principles of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) model. SoTL initiatives at all levels should be aligned to promote academic change and development through: the development of teachers’ individual practice at micro-level, the collaborative development of scholarly practice at the meso-level of the department and a strategic institutional approach at macro-level linking SoTL to employment and promotion frameworks and the recognition of teaching quality.

The main contribution of this thesis lies in the adoption of a holistic approach to understanding academic practice in higher education, taking into consideration factors at micro-, meso- and macro-level and the interrelationships between these factors. 

Abstract [sv]

Det akademiska landskapet har expanderat och diversifierats i snabb takt under de senaste två decennierna. Detta på grund av stora förändringar i det pedagogiska såväl som det politiska klimatet. Förändring och utveckling är en ständigt pågående del av universitetslärarnas sociokulturella och organisatoriska praktik på flera nivåer: på mikronivå, mesonivå och makronivå. Mot denna bakgrund är syftet med avhandlingen att utveckla en djupare förståelse för de faktorer som påverkar akademisk förändring. Vidare är syftet att bidra med förståelse för faktorer som kan vara relevanta när en akademisk verksamhet som ska stödja lärare och chefer att förbättra undervisning och lärande ska utformas. En longitudinell studie av lärare på ett nätbaserat apotekarprogram utgör den empiriska grunden för avhandlingen. Studien har genomförts under en 12-årsperiod (2004-2016). En holistisk metod har tillämpats för att kunna undersöka akademisk förändring och utveckling i en undervisnings- och lärandemiljö som stöds av informations- och kommunikationsteknologi (IKT). Metoden har valts för att närmare kunna studera: betydelsen av faktorer som begreppsläggning och undervisningsdesign på den individuella lärarens mikronivå; betydelsen av systemfaktorer som den sociokulturella kontexten på institutionens eller programmets mesonivå; samt strukturella sammanhang på institutionens makronivå.

För att på mikro-, meso- och makronivå kunna studera och förstå komplexiteten i en akademisk praktik har två teoretiska ramverk applicerats: begrepp och förhållningssätt till undervisning (i avhandlingen förkortat CAT) och kulturhistorisk aktivitetsteori (i avhandlingen förkortat CHAT). Avhandlingens empiri består av intervjuer med lärare (n = 57), observationer (n = 27 timmar), studentutvärderingsundersökningar (n = 30) samt policydokument (n = 11). Analysen visar att en kritisk faktor i val och tillämpning av IKT i undervisning på mikronivå är lärarens underliggande syn på lärande och undervisning. På mesonivå, framkom att lärarens möjligheter till förändring och utveckling underlättades av den sociokulturella kontexten på institutionen, där stöd från kollegor och medierande kommunikationsverktyg fanns tillgängligt, men när detta saknades hindrades istället både förändring och utveckling. På institutionens eller programmets mesonivå visade det sig vara betydelsefullt om det fanns möjlighet för lärarna att arbeta tillsammans med att gemensamt utveckla deras akademiska praktik. På makronivå kunde förändring och utveckling hindras av institutionell politik och reglerande policydokument, till exempel när forskning konsekvent prioriterades framför undervisning.

I avhandlingen ingår fem artiklar. En kombinerad analys av dessa fem inkluderade visar att om en djupare förståelse för akademisk förändring och utveckling ska utvecklas så är det centralt att anamma en helhetssyn som tar hänsyn till faktorer på mikro-, meso- och makronivå, samt relationerna mellan dessa faktorer. Utifrån avhandlingens resultat diskuteras design av pedagogiska utvecklingsaktiviteter och hur de kan bidra till akademisk förändring och utveckling. Ett holistiskt tillvägagångssätt som bygger på principerna för Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) föreslås. SoTL-initiativ på alla tre nivåer har potentialen att främja akademisk förändring och utveckling genom: utveckling av lärarnas individuella praktik på mikronivå, kollaborativ utveckling av akademisk praktik på institutionens mesonivå samt en genomtänkt institutionell strategi på makronivå som kopplar SoTL till anställnings- och befordringsramar och som identifierar och belönar undervisningskvalitet.

Avhandlingens huvudsakliga kunskapsbidrag är att den pekar ut betydelsen av att anamma en helhetssyn för att förstå akademisk praktik inom högre utbildning, genom att beakta faktorer på mikro-, meso- och makronivå samt relationerna mellan dessa faktorer.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå University , 2018. , p. 92
Series
Akademiska avhandlingar vid Pedagogiska institutionen, Umeå universitet, ISSN 0281-6768 ; 125
Keyword [en]
Higher Education, Academic Development, Educational Technology, Conceptions of Teaching and Learning, Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, Change and Development
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-144536ISBN: 978-91-7601-833-0 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-144536DiVA: diva2:1180527
Public defence
2018-03-02, Hörsal E, Humanisthuset, Umeå, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2018-02-08 Created: 2018-02-05 Last updated: 2018-02-07Bibliographically approved
List of papers
1. Teaching with technology in higher education: understanding conceptual change and development in practice
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Teaching with technology in higher education: understanding conceptual change and development in practice
2017 (English)In: Higher Education Research and Development, ISSN 0729-4360, E-ISSN 1469-8366, Vol. 36, no 1, p. 73-87Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Research indicates that teachers’ conceptions of and approaches to teaching with technology are central for the successful implementation of educational technologies in higher education. This study advances this premise. We present a 10-year longitudinal study examining teachers’ conceptions of and approaches to teaching and learning with technology. Nine teachers on an online Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy and a Master of Pharmacy programme at a Swedish university were studied using a phenomenographic approach. Results showed clear differences between novice and experienced teachers. Although novice teachers initially held more teacher-focused conceptions, they demonstrated greater and more rapid change than experienced colleagues. Experienced teachers tended to exhibit little to no change in conceptions. Supporting conceptual change should, therefore, be a central component of professional development activities if a more effective use of educational technology is to be achieved.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Routledge, 2017
Keyword
Conceptual change, conceptions of and approaches to teaching, educational technology, higher education, teaching with technology
National Category
Pedagogy
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-119327 (URN)10.1080/07294360.2016.1171300 (DOI)000390698500009 ()
Available from: 2016-04-15 Created: 2016-04-15 Last updated: 2018-02-05Bibliographically approved
2. Exploring approaches to teaching in three-dimensional virtual worlds
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Exploring approaches to teaching in three-dimensional virtual worlds
2017 (English)In: The international journal of information and learning technology, ISSN 2056-4880, E-ISSN 2056-4899, Vol. 34, no 2, p. 140-151Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore how teachers’ approaches to teaching and conceptions of teaching and learning with educational technology influence the implementation of three-dimensional virtual worlds (3DVWs) in health care education.

Design/methodology/approach

Data were collected through thematic interviews with eight teachers to elicit their approaches to teaching in a 3DVW and their conceptions of teaching and learning with technology in online health care education.

Findings

Results indicate that teaching in 3DVWs necessitates the adoption of a student-centred approach to teaching. The teachers’ underlying approaches to teaching and learning became evident in their student-centred approach and use of problem-based activities. The immersive, social nature of the environment facilitated the creation of authentic, communicative learning activities created by the health care teachers and was in alignment with their disciplinary approaches to teaching and learning.

Research limitations/implications

The sample size of the study is relatively small which limits the degree of external validity and generalisability of the results.

Practical implications

If sustainability of 3DVWs is to be achieved, academic development activities for teachers and their communities of practice may be necessary to support conceptual change and facilitate a shift to student-centred teaching where necessary.

Originality/value

There is limited research concerning the relationship between teachers’ approaches to teaching and the use of educational technologies, in particular the implementation of 3DVWs.

Keyword
Educational technology, Academic development, Approaches to teaching, Conceptions of teaching and learning, Three-dimensional virtual worlds
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-132895 (URN)10.1108/IJILT-12-2016-0058 (DOI)000399059300007 ()
Note

Special Issue

Available from: 2017-03-23 Created: 2017-03-23 Last updated: 2018-02-05Bibliographically approved
3. Teaching in higher education: contextual factors as facilitators of conceptual change and development in practice
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Teaching in higher education: contextual factors as facilitators of conceptual change and development in practice
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Considerable focus is frequently placed upon the 'development' of individual academics in order to improve the quality of teaching in higher education. However, research also shows that the context in which academics work has considerable influence upon practice. This study examines the working environments of teachers on an online pharmacy programme, investigating contextual factors that facilitate or impede academic change and development. Interview data and institutional policy documents are examined within a Cultural-Historical Activity Theory framework relating the individual experiences of the teachers to sociocultural and structural contextual factors. Distinct differences in the teachers’ sociocultural context were identified which in turn influenced possibilities for change and development. Departmental teaching cultures and patterns of communication were found to influence practice both positively, by offering collegial support and negatively, by impeding change. The findings have significance for academic development strategies. They indicate a need for departmental level support including the facilitation of communicative pathways that promote reflection and the development of conceptions of teaching and learning.

Keyword
Higher Education, Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, Departmental teaching culture, Institutional policy and strategy, Academic development
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-144531 (URN)
Note

Manuscript under review

Available from: 2018-02-05 Created: 2018-02-05 Last updated: 2018-02-06
4. Exploring interdisciplinary academic development: the Change Laboratory as an approach to team-based practice
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Exploring interdisciplinary academic development: the Change Laboratory as an approach to team-based practice
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Higher education institutions are under increasing pressure to offer interdisciplinary education programmes; however their implementation is not uncomplicated. Particularly where parts of a programme are delivered by different departments, academic development activities to change practices and develop a coherent interdisciplinary programme are problematical. This paper describes a team-based academic development activity aimed at improving student experiences of an interdisciplinary programme by seeking to resolve pedagogical, organisational and structural tensions. The activity is in the form of a Change Laboratory; a formative intervention method that builds on the theoretical framework of Cultural-Historical Activity Theory. Using this approach participants were able to analyse and discuss the programme in a neutral interdisciplinary forum not available in academic development initiatives at the micro-level of the individual teacher.

Keyword
Team-based academic development, Change Laboratory, Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, interdisciplinary education
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-144533 (URN)
Note

Article accepted for publication by Higher Education Research and Development

Available from: 2018-02-05 Created: 2018-02-05 Last updated: 2018-02-06
5. Facilitating agency: the Change Laboratory as an intervention for collaborative sustainable development in higher education
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Facilitating agency: the Change Laboratory as an intervention for collaborative sustainable development in higher education
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

To cope with the rapidly changing Higher Education climate, teachers need the agency to act proactively to initiate and steer changes to meet their needs. The results of this study indicate that transformative agency emerges when teachers are given the opportunity to analyse, envision and redesign their practice collaboratively with the help of mediating conceptual tools. This has implications for academic development, suggesting that activities providing a 'third space' for discussion and criticism of current practices is needed to support the development of agency. 

Keyword
Agency, academic development, Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, Change Laboratory
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-144534 (URN)
Note

Under review

Available from: 2018-02-05 Created: 2018-02-05 Last updated: 2018-02-06

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