Examining Influences of Pedagogical Practice: A Mixed-Method Study of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Faculty at Research Universities
Increasing the production of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) undergraduate degrees is a critical component of maintaining the U.S.’s scientific edge in the face of increasing global competition in the areas of science and technology. Lagging graduation rates in STEM are a partial reflection of outdated, instructor-centered approaches that fail to engage students in the learning process. Shifting pedagogical practices in STEM undergraduate classrooms from traditional to student-centered teaching strategies has been recognized as a key strategy to avert projected shortfalls in the number of talented, well-trained baccalaureate graduates. As the country faces increasing pressure to boost the number of STEM graduates, a thorough understanding of the factors that influence STEM faculty’s use of active learning strategies in the classroom and the barriers that inhibit their adoption is warranted. This study draws upon cross-sectional data collected in the 2016 administration of the Higher Education Research Institute’s (HERI) Faculty Survey and semi-structured interviews with 17 STEM faculty to illuminate the factors that shape the extent to which faculty incorporate active learning pedagogy in their courses. Resource Dependence Theory (Pfeffer & Salancik, 1978) and Organizational Citizenship Behavior (Bateman & Organ, 1983) provide a framework for understanding external and internal factors and characteristics that motivate faculty to opt for student-centered instructional strategies. Situating influential factors and decision-making processes within an institutional and departmental environment provides greater context and clarity to the understanding of how a faculty member’s teaching style has evolved throughout the course of their career. Results indicate that faculty teaching approaches are strongly influenced by intrinsic factors, professional characteristics, and environmental pressures. Faculty who are employed as a non-tenure track faculty member, participate in professional development activities, curriculum development, and interdisciplinary research, and have higher levels of undergraduate engagement are associated with higher levels of student-centered pedagogy. Physical science and mathematics faculty are significantly less likely to incorporate active learning in their courses – relationships that are corroborated by interviews demonstrating the significant role of departmental culture in shaping faculty teaching. While peers, department chairs, and university administrators can promote or inhibit the adoption of more effective teaching strategies via messages, policies, and model behavior, a lack of available time and (dis)incentive system prevent or delay faculty from incorporating more effective teaching practices. Implications for higher education policymakers and research universities include expanding professional development opportunities, rewarding teaching excellence, and changing departmental culture.