University of Houston-Downtown
Implementation Issues: New Instructor Role
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UHD's implementation of college algebra reform has resulted in an enormous transformation for the faculty in their role as teachers. Simply put, the faculty involved in this reform moved from the
model of teacher-as-expert to the model of teacher-as-facilitator who coaches and helps students who are engaged in an active learning process. In that new role, faculty have faced frustration from some students who expect a
learning environment (defn),
where the teacher presents content while the students sit passively and listen. One reformer describes the challenges inherent in this transformation:
I think we're all sharing the same experiences. The old-fashioned way of the lecture method is very efficient. You have a syllabus and, if the students don't ask any questions, you can tell yourself, "Well, even if they don't understand it, I've covered every topic on this syllabus." But with the new way, you try to stop being the "Sage on the Stage" and become a facilitator. You try to become someone who initiates discussion. Of course, there goes your time, so you don't cover everything that's listed on the syllabus. Sometimes instead of trying to give answers directly when they ask a question, you try and give hints to get them to see what the answer is, what points they're missing. As a result, you sense a little frustration. They say, "Why don't you just tell me the answer?" You try and get them to be more independent learners, to learn to teach themselves, to be lifelong learners. How do you accomplish that? I don't know, but it's not by just giving answers. I know that much. So this has influenced me in every one of my courses. I try not to be simply an answer machine but instead someone who somehow engages the students to break down problems so that they can become better learners.
(Linda Becerra, Faculty)
The change in roles resulting from the reform process has other benefits for faculty as well, namely richer interactions with students and an opportunity to reflect upon the new curriculum and teaching methods. Said one reformer:
I feel like it has made me a lot closer to the students. I talk with them more, so I understand their point of view better. Overall, it made me connect to the students a lot better. Just thinking about changing the curriculum makes you a more effective teacher all the way around, in all of your courses. In your other courses, you naturally start asking yourself, "Why am I teaching this course this way? Am I just teaching it because this is the way I was taught, or just because this is the way the textbook presents the material? What's a better way to teach the class?" And for someone who is thinking about technology, curriculum reform is a side effect, a real benefit. If they start to think about how they're going to incorporate technology into their classes, naturally they're going to start thinking about the curriculum. They're going to benefit from that, being reflective about the curriculum.
(Bill Waller, Faculty)
Faculty role transformation does not appear to be limited to changes in this college algebra course. These reformers are bringing newfound knowledge and practice to other courses as well. One of them comments:
It changed the way I teach all my courses. I haven't been teaching math courses now for five years-I've been teaching exclusively computer science courses. But in those CS courses, I use that [reform] experience in the way I present the material. I always give an example first that's similar to something in engineering. We have the example and tie it into the concepts. That's the way I now teach all my courses.
(Ongard Sirisaengtaksin, Faculty)
In teaching courses where reform has not yet been integrated, these reformers are finding it difficult to revert to the old ways, and they are identifying numerous opportunities for incorporating reformed-minded activities. Said one instructor:
I'm teaching a remedial math course, something I haven't done for a long time. It's intermediate algebra, so it's really high school algebra in one semester. I haven't had time to work on developing anything new, so there's no software. It's just a blackboard lecture-style class with no cooperative learning in it, and it's very difficult for me. I'm always thinking; I see all these opportunities where we could use technology, or all these places where I wish they had a group activity to work on because it's just fruitless for me to stand there and talk to them. So what I'm saying is, once you've engaged in this kind of reform, you realize that it's powerful. It has something to offer.
(Bill Waller, Faculty)
It's clear that having experienced the efficacy of active learning techniques in one course, instructors know that the new teaching methods offer powerful opportunities for students to learn, so they want to incorporate them throughout the curriculum.
1. Wilson, B. G. (1995). "Metaphors for instruction: Why we talk about learning environments. Educational Technology", 35 (5), 25-30, available at http://www.cudenver.edu/~bwilson/metaphor.html.