Development of new teachers in higher education: interactions with students and other influences upon approach to teaching
There is little longitudinal, empirical evidence on which to base our understanding of teacher development in higher education. Although there is an extensive literature about teachers’ conceptions of and approaches to teaching, which acts as a useful theoretical foundation, there are a number of limitations in using these broad categories of description for investigating complex experiences such as teaching and teacher development. The aim of the current investigation was to provide an insight into how new lecturers in higher education develop as teachers and to identify some of the main influences upon this development. An important consideration in this was the use of fine-grained analysis to produce a more detailed account of teachers’ experiences than the traditional conceptions of teaching categories allow. The study employed a qualitative, longitudinal design with three semi-structured interviews over a two-year period. The eleven participating teachers had less than two years experience and were from a range of higher education institutions and settings. The teachers were from the subject areas of Sport, Physiotherapy, Psychology and History. Interviews were designed to encourage the participants to describe their everyday teaching experiences. The purpose of this was to ensure that the data represented real and specific instances rather than the questions generating general, idealistic responses. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed based upon the principles of building theories from case study research. In the first part of the main analysis, full case studies for three participants were developed to illustrate their experiences of development over the two-year period. This approach allowed for the generation of fine-grained and idiosyncratic insights into how new teachers in higher education typically develop. The second main part of the analysis identified a number of common themes in the data. This stage of the analysis was a highly iterative process that moved between the case studies, the interview transcripts and the literature. A range of criteria were used to check the analysis and ensure its quality. The principal finding from the current study was the identification of a number of influences upon the new teachers’ development. At the core of these influences were instances of interactions with students. These instances provided the teachers with richer and fuller feedback about their teaching, which appeared to support their development. There were also a number of other influences upon development, which in themselves impacted upon the amount and level of interaction between the teacher and students. These included confidence as a teacher and familiarity with the teaching situation, both of which were strongly related to the teacher’s content and pedagogical knowledge. The final influence, which also was seen to interact with the other influences, was the peer support and training received by the teacher in relation to teaching. Despite these common influences the idiosyncratic contextual factors, such as topic to be taught, also emerged as being significant for the way an individual taught and developed as a teacher. Based upon these insights, it is suggested that teacher development could be enhanced by focussing upon specific instances of interactions with students. These instances appear to provide highly specific and tangible moments that allow the conceptual aspects of teaching and development to be discussed, but also give an insight into the real challenges that a particular teacher is facing in their subject at a particular time.