Review: Undergraduate Teaching Faculty

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By Tonya Kowalski from Washburn University School of Law

Sylvia Hurtado, et al., Undergraduate Teaching Faculty: The 2010-2011 HERI Faculty Survey, Higher Education Research Institute [Read full text of survey (1.2 MB PDF)]

This month’s recommended article is a survey report from UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute. The survey as been summarized by Scott Jaschik in his Inside Education post “Teaching, Stress, Adjuncts.” Although the survey addresses full-time undergraduate faculty rather than graduate or law professors, it raises important questions overall about student-centered teaching practices, as well as various faculty status and quality of life issues. This synopsis will focus on the reported use of student-centered teaching methods.

The survey identifies nine categories of “student-centered teaching and evaluation methods,” including student presentations, peer evaluation, class discussion, cooperative/small group learning, experiential learning and field studies, group projects, student-selected topics for course content, reflective writing and journaling, and the use of student inquiry to drive learning. The survey asked about several additional forms of assessment and teaching methods that could be considered student-centered, including information about the use of various writing assignments, quizzes, and so on.

Interestingly, women professors tend to use student-centered methods more frequently than men. In addition, women use “extensive lecturing” far less often than men. For most of these teaching methods, the gender disparity becomes even more pronounced in science and mathematics. At the same time, however, both men and women professors increased their use of certain student-centered methods over the last decade, even while lecture use held relatively steady. The student-centered methods that increased were class discussion, cooperative learning, and student presentations. The report does not note whether other forms decreased or stayed the same.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in most situations faculty reported using student-centered methods less often as class sizes increased. Because we know that a number of student-centered techniques can be large-class friendly, it may be worth evaluating whether the survey needs to add additional methods to its questionnaire, whether educators would benefit from greater exposure to large-class techniques, or perhaps both. The exhibits contain data regarding professional development, but the survey did not appear to ask about opportunities for in-house teaching workshops.

With some adaptation, the HERI faculty survey may provide a useful starting point for future empirical study of law professors’ use of student-centered methods for both teaching and assessment.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning