Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Quality teaching in science at New Zealand universities: Views of ‘excellent’ teachers (#21)

J. Zoe Jordens 1
  1. Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

There is an apparent disparity between professional scientific laboratory practice in biotechnology, medical and other fields, and observed undergraduate teaching in universities. This prompted an exploration of what is considered quality teaching in science by Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award (TTEA) winners in science in comparison with other (non-award winning) university science lecturers, and forms the basis for a PhD study in New Zealand higher education.

The first phase of this study sought views from an ‘expert’ panel of TTEA winners in science using the Delphi method. Although often used to determine consensus, the Delphi method also can be used as an exploratory tool to collect the breadth of views on a topic. The Delphi study used three rounds with open questions in round one, and a rating scale (strongly agree-strongly disagree) for feedback on statements developed from the initial responses, in round two.  In round three, the combined feedback was sent to participants together with statements about quality teaching revised in light of the feedback received. These formed the basis of the survey for science lecturers.

The main themes identified in the Delphi study are authenticity and connection, critical thinking, interactive teaching, reflective practice, scientific process, motivation and New Zealand context. These findings suggest that TTEA winners view quality teaching in science similarly to guidelines for good practice in tertiary education literature, with the addition of the discipline-specific ‘scientific process’. 

The second phase of the study will explore the views of non-award-winning university science lecturers and compare these views with TTEA winners’. Comparing the views of the two groups may suggest factors contributing to quality teaching in science.

Questions for discussion:

How can we stimulate debate between science lecturers about the findings of the Delphi study?

How can we maximise interest and participation in the national survey of science lecturers?

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference 

Despite overwhelming evidence in the educational literature that active learning strategies and ‘learning by doing’ aid learning, there is little evidence of these in many undergraduate science courses. Many laboratory classes remain prescriptive with ‘cookbook’ type experiments whereas the working world of science mostly requires hands-on and real-time problem solving skills. Also, skills to find, evaluate and apply relevant information are preferable in the workplace to memorisation of information which is rapidly outdated. Despite this, lectures remain the predominant class format, often with a focus on content. Closer alignment between what students learn at university, and more importantly, how they learn, and the skills they need to be responsive and adaptable science professionals is required.

The teacher has a significant influence on the complex teaching and learning environment and is therefore the focus of this study. As a teacher’s practice is influenced by her beliefs, and what she considers to be quality teaching, an exploration of Tertiary Teaching Excellence Award (TTEA) winners’ views in comparison with other (non-award winning) university science lecturers is being undertaken to provide data that will resonate with science lecturers, enabling them to close the existing gap between undergraduate education and professional scientists’ practice.

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