Masters Thesis

Attitude is (mostly) everything: a multi-institutional exploration of teaching practices, attitudes, and organizational climate

Fewer than 40% of students that pursue college degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) do not graduate with a STEM degree. The rate of college degree attainment in STEM is about 20% lower for women, people with disabilities, and people of color. They do not have equal access to STEM education and thus are unequally represented in STEM fields. One of the reasons students struggle in STEM are ineffective experiences in the college classroom. Active learning, also known as evidence-based teaching practices, are more effective than traditional lecture style teaching. However, despite its lack of efficaciousness, 50-75% of North American STEM professors continue to use lecture as their only teaching method. Why do most faculty not use active learning? Adoption of active learning is influenced by both factors external to an individual (time, policy, resources, student resistance) and personal knowledge and beliefs (loss of autonomy, lack of or efficacy in pedagogical skills). Prior work in this area often looks at these variables in isolation, reducing the complex world in which faculty teach into a laundry list of levers and barriers. These studies also often lack a cohesive theoretical framework to explain findings in light of broader educational and socio-psychological work. The goal of my study was a quantitative examination of variables that contribute to active learning adoption through the lens of a framework for individual-level change: The Theory of Planned Behavior I used valid and reliable surveys to examine faculty teaching practice at 7 institutions (N=424 STEM faculty), including their (a) personal attitudes, (b) norms, (c) perceived behavioral control, and (d) self-reported teaching practices. I then explored correlations among these variables using a k-means cluster analysis to find four distinct teaching-attitude-norm ‘clusters.’ The most predictive variable for the differences in clusters was faculty attitudes about teaching. I also found normative differences by cluster for women, international faculty, faculty with Asian ethnicities, and faculty from engineering disciplines. Contextual variables like class size and class layout had some effect on teaching practices, as did views about leadership and organizational support, but these variables did not explain overall cluster patterns with the same consistency as faculty attitudes about teaching.