CASE STUDIES OF TENURE-TRACK SCIENCE PROFESSORS: EXPLORING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TEACHING AND RESEARCH

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CASE STUDIES OF TENURE-TRACK SCIENCE PROFESSORS: EXPLORING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TEACHING AND RESEARCH

ABSTRACT

Current STEM workforce issues and retention problems faced by postsecondary STEM education have renewed educational research efforts in this arena. A review of literature on STEM professors indicates that although this population reports difficulties integrating teaching and research responsibilities, there have not yet been any qualitative studies conducted to deeply investigate the complexities of the relationship between teaching and research. This study utilized a set of four phenomenological case studies to address the following research questions:

  • What is the relationship between the teaching and research roles for individuals in a sample of tenure-track science professors at an RU/VH institution?
  • What types of activities and experiences (particularly professional development) do participants engage in to support their roles as teachers? What types of activities and experiences impede their roles as teachers? In what ways do these activities support or impede participants’ roles as teachers?
  • What connections can be made between the participants’ personal, cultural, and professional histories and the way they are currently experiencing the relationship between teaching and research?

The results of this study suggest that science professors might make decisions about the way they allocate limited time in an unlimited work environment based on their intrinsic, personal career goals and desire to help students. Furthermore, all of the participants in the study indicated that other than research training, they received little to no preparation for their jobs. These findings provide the field with points of interest for further study as well as the design of educational support and interventions.

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF FIGURES ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. vi

LIST OF TABLES ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. vii

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ……………………………………………………………………………………….. viii

Chapter 1  Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 1

STEM Workforce and Calls for Reform ……………………………………………………………….. 2

The Link to Teaching Practices……………………………………………………………………………. 7

Research Problem ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 9

Purpose of This Study ………………………………………………………………………………………… 10

Research Questions ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 11

Initial Expectations and Assumptions …………………………………………………………………… 11

Chapter 2  Theoretical Framework and Literature Reviews ……………………………………………. 13

Sociocultural Theoretical Framework …………………………………………………………………… 13

Epistemological and Ontological Considerations …………………………………………………… 16

The Relationship between Teaching and Research …………………………………………………. 17

Balancing teaching and research …………………………………………………………………… 17

The teaching-research nexus ………………………………………………………………………… 22

Miscellaneous empirical studies ……………………………………………………………………. 23

Implications ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 24

The Scholarship of Teaching ………………………………………………………………………………. 26

Professional Development ………………………………………………………………………………….. 29

Professors’ Conceptions of Science ……………………………………………………………………… 31

Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 33

Chapter 3  Methods …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 35

Research Questions ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 35

Methodological Frameworks ………………………………………………………………………………. 37

Case study …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 38

Phenomenology ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 39

Ethnography ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 40

Grounded theory …………………………………………………………………………………………. 41

Techniques ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 42

Interview …………………………………………………………………………………………………… 42

Observation ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 44

Document collection …………………………………………………………………………………… 46

Data analysis ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 47

Analytical memos ……………………………………………………………………………………….. 49

Research Site and Participants …………………………………………………………………………….. 50

Research site ………………………………………………………………………………………………. 50 Participants ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 50

Validity ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 53

Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 56

Chapter 4  Results …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 58

Case 1: Henry ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 59

Themes ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 65

Research questions ……………………………………………………………………………………… 82

Case 2: Ben ………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 90

Themes ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 95

Research questions ……………………………………………………………………………………… 114

Case 3: William …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 119

Themes ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 124

Research questions ……………………………………………………………………………………… 143

Case 4: Pierre ……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 153

Themes ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 160

Research questions ……………………………………………………………………………………… 184

Cross-Case Analysis ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 189

Themes ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 191

Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 204

Chapter 5  Discussion ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 205

Initial Expectations and Assumptions …………………………………………………………………… 209

Limitations ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 210

Reframing Research Questions ……………………………………………………………………………. 211

Implications and Future Work …………………………………………………………………………….. 213

Intrinsic motivation …………………………………………………………………………………….. 214

Students …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 216

Lack of training ………………………………………………………………………………………….. 218

Time management ………………………………………………………………………………………. 220

Follow-up ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 221

Conclusion ……………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 222

Appendix  Autoethnography ………………………………………………………………………………………. 225

References ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 230

Chapter 1

 

Introduction

This study is inspired by science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce issues in the United States. More narrowly, this work is concerned with student retention and the quality of STEM teaching in postsecondary institutions. In order to contribute to the scholarly conversation on student retention and the quality of STEM teaching in postsecondary institutions, I have focused on an understudied group of stakeholders in college science classrooms: tenure-track science professors at RU/VH institutions[1] . My research answers the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between the teaching and research roles for individuals in a sample of tenure-track science professors at an RU/VH institution?
  • What types of activities and experiences (particularly professional development) do participants engage in to support their roles as teachers? What types of activities and experiences impede their roles as teachers? In what ways do these activities support or impede participants’ roles as teachers?
  • What connections can be made between the participants’ personal, cultural, and professional histories and the way they are currently experiencing the relationship between teaching and research?

It is my hope that this work will lead to research aimed at supporting these individuals as teachers, thereby increasing the quality of their teaching and enabling them to excel within their careers and possibly to help alleviate the retention issues in their fields.

STEM Workforce and Calls for Reform

It has become commonplace for STEM education research and reform literature to reference “the STEM pipeline” when describing the progression of individuals from K-12 students to STEM workers. However, current political investigations, news commentaries, and academic studies question the validity of a linear pipeline model to represent STEM workforce issues in the United States (National Science Board, 2015; Teitelbaum, 2014; Xie & Killewald, 2012). It is clear that stakeholders disagree on several STEM workforce matters, including the current supply and demand of qualified STEM workers, anticipated changes in STEM workforce demand, and our nation’s ability to supply a sufficient number of STEM-educated individuals in the coming years (National Science Board, 2015). However, it is widely accepted that the increased technological demands of our society require that we become increasingly proficient in STEM-related skills. For this reason, contributors to conversations on K-16 STEM education improvement have begun to shift from the linear STEM pipeline representation to a more comprehensive “workforce pathways” model (Bradforth et al., 2015; National Science Board, 2015). This model acknowledges that graduates of the American education system are very likely to use STEM-related skills to such an extent that comprehensive STEM training is justified and even necessary, even if they do not pursue careers directly related to STEM fields. In fact, the National Science Board reports that according to data from the 2010 National Science Foundation (NSF) Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System, only about 5 million individuals were classified as having a “science and engineering” job, but nearly 16.5 million people reported having a job that “requires bachelor’s degree level science and engineering expertise” (2015).

In addition to the general STEM education demands anticipated by the workforce pathways paradigm, it is important to realize that many analysts do forecast an increased need for traditional STEM workers in the coming years. It is expected that from 2008 to 2018, the need for STEM occupations will have grown by 17 percent, compared to only 9.8 percent for nonSTEM jobs (Langdon, McKittrick, Beede, Khan, & Doms, 2011). Some worrisome statistics suggest that American universities might not be able to provide a sufficient number of STEM graduates to keep up with this projected growth in the demand for traditional STEM workers:

  • From 2000-2010, university enrollments increased, but the proportion of STEM bachelor’s degrees remained at approximately 15-17 percent (Association of American

Universities, 2011; National Science Board, 2010b). The proportion of freshmen entering

STEM majors has remained roughly constant at around 25 percent (Association of American Universities, 2011).

  • 50 percent of students who begin a degree program in the physical and biological sciences and 60 percent of students in mathematics programs drop out of STEM fields by their senior year, compared with a 30 percent drop rate in social sciences and humanities (Committee on Science and Technology, 2010).
  • The United States is ranked 27th among 29 developed countries for proportion of students receiving undergraduate degrees in STEM fields (“Rising above the Gathering Storm”

Committee, 2011).

In light of these demands for a STEM-educated workforce, American universities have been renewing interest in the quality of postsecondary STEM education (Association of American Universities, 2011). As data mount about problems in undergraduate STEM education, various agencies and institutions have begun to call for reform (for a survey of these, see Table 1.1). Though these reports are issued from a wide variety of stakeholders ranging from government agencies (e.g., President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, PCAST) to groups of professors and administrators (e.g., those tasked by American Association for the Advancement of Science, [AAAS] , to prepare theVision and Change report), there is a general consensus with respect to recommendations for improving undergraduate STEM education:

  • Current research on teaching and learning in STEM fields supports a curricular emphasis on discipline-specific practices and overarching concepts.
  • STEM colleges need more support to transform current teaching practices (including assessment) into ones more closely aligned with research on teaching and learning.
  • Current and prospective STEM professors need professional development and training to learn more about research-based pedagogical practices.
  • Proposed changes will only take place in environments supported by administration

(“top-down” reform) AND faculty members (“bottom-up” reform).

All of these recommendations point to a need for more research on interventions that might improve STEM faculty teaching practices. However, well-designed interventions and subsequent studies must be based on a firm foundation of formal knowledge on professors’ beliefs and practices. My work contributes to filling this gap in the literature by providing a deeper understanding of a set of science professors’ lived experiences, particularly with respect to the relationship between teaching and research.

 

6

Year Title Publisher Summary
2010 Preparing the Next Generation of

STEM Innovators: Identifying and Developing our Nation’s Human Capital

National Science Board (NSB) – The NSB makes recommendations to “identify and develop…STEM innovators”

(P. 2).

– For each recommendation, the NSB proposes federal policy actions as well as research agendas.

2015 Vision and Change in

Undergraduate Biology Education:

Chronicling Change, Inspiring the Future

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) –                      This report summarizes and updates findings from a conference of the same name hosted by AAAS and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

–                      Topics covered include student knowledge, progressive pedagogy, assessment, faculty professional development, institutional change, and supportive tools for change.

2011 Expanding Underrepresented

Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads Committee on Underrepresented Groups and the

Expansion of the Science

National Research Council (NRC) –                      The NRC makes recommendations on improving diversity in the sciences by starting in K-16 education.

–                      Postsecondary suggestions include improving access, affordability, and academic and social support.

2011 Five-Year Initiative for Improving Undergraduate STEM Education Association of

American Universities

(AAU)

– The AAAU announces the formation of an advisory committee to address the following goals: develop a framework to assess STEM teaching and learning, create pilot program for tools in development, design faculty training and rewards programs, and disseminate effective programs and strategies.
2011 Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited National Academy of Sciences (NAS) –                      This report revisits recommendations made in a 2005 report of the same name in order to renew funding for programs implemented under its counsel.

–                      Many of the reports’ recommendations focus on providing funding for science research and scholarships.

2012 Engage to Excel: Producing One

Million Additional College

Graduates with Degrees in

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology

(PCAST)

– This report to the president focuses on ways to provide a larger STEM workforce. – Major recommendations include supporting pedagogical reform and creating new pathways to STEM careers.
2013 Adapting to a Changing World – Challenges and Opportunities in

Undergraduate Physics Education

NRC  – The recommendations in this report are based on the assumption that due to connections between physics and other STEM disciplines, focused physics education reform will have broader impacts.

            Table 1.1. Survey of recent reports on postsecondary STEM education.

 

 

 

 

The Link to Teaching Practices

In addition to the statistics reported above, recent studies have been investigating STEM attrition issues. In a report by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), it was revealed that freshman STEM majors are more likely not only to change majors, but also to withdraw from college than their non-STEM counterparts (2010). Indeed, less than 50% of students intending to major in STEM fields complete a STEM degree within five years (Committee on Underrepresented Groups and the Expansion of the Science and Engineering Workforce Pipeline, 2011). As mentioned previously, other indicators show that it is unlikely that the United States will be able to meet upcoming demands for STEM specialists and is falling behind other countries’ production of STEM graduates. These data have drawn a great deal of attention from postsecondary educators, administrators, and policy makers, leading to investigations of potential reasons for these shortfalls. Though there have been no comprehensive studies linking undergraduate attrition with professors’ teaching, one extensively cited study by Seymour and Hewitt showed that a staggering 90% of students leaving STEM majors cite poor teaching as one of their concerns (Graham, Frederick, Byars-Winston, Hunter,

& Handelsman, 2013; President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997; Ulriksen, Madsen, & Holmegaard, 2015). This publication sparked a movement to investigate the quality of college STEM teaching as one possible target for improvement to both generate more STEM graduates and to alleviate overall college attrition rates.

As some educational researchers continue to investigate the link between teaching quality and undergraduate retention in order to strengthen the case for teaching reform, STEM professors who are actively engaged in improving undergraduate education are making a different argument. These practitioners argue that it is not necessary to establish that traditional teaching practices contribute to student attrition; indeed, they assert that as the science of teaching and learning has revealed new and effective teaching methods, responsible educators must respond to these findings by modifying their practices (Bradforth et al., 2015; Eddy & Hogan, 2014; Freeman et al., 2014).

Reasons for the persistence of traditional teaching practices at the college level remain speculative in the literature. The Association for American Universities (AAU) proposes that universities’ emphasis on research over teaching could partially explain this phenomenon (2011). In a 2010 survey of university professors (Savkar & Lokere, 2010), 48% of respondents indicated that for a new professor hire, “a star researcher with significant research publications but who has no significant teaching experience” would be favorable over applicants with either balanced teaching/research experience or “superb teacher[s] …with no significant research projects.” Forty-one percent of respondents felt that their institutions valued research over teaching. Given the lack of data on these types of phenomena, it is impossible to construct comprehensive explanations for them. One might speculate that institutions view teaching as an easily attainable skill, a craft best learned by informal professional development, or even an unimportant component of a professor’s job. However, some literature suggests that professors interpret this type of data as evidence that institutions prioritize research over teaching

(American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2010, 2015; W. A. Anderson et al.,

2011). Bradforth and Miller add that “research universities rarely provide adequate incentives, support or rewards for the time that faculty members spend on improving teaching” (2015) – a sentiment that is repeated throughout similar commentaries.

Indeed, lack of support for faculty professional development is clearly reported in the literature (Myers & Kircher, 2007). This is in contrast to the fact that 77% of respondents in

Savkar and Lokere’s survey indicated that teaching and research were equally important missions of their schools (2010). Discrepancies such as this underscore the need to support professors who are dedicated to improving educational outcomes for STEM students, especially in large, research-intensive universities. For a more detailed discussion of related work, see The Scholarship of Teaching and Professional Development in Chapter 2.

Research Problem

It is clear that educational stakeholders in the United States have a strong desire to increase the number of college students entering and being retained by STEM disciplines. Professional and government agencies agree that the quality of university science teaching is a priority for targeted improvement (see Table 1.1). Furthermore, STEM professors who publish educational research and commentaries on postsecondary STEM education assert that their peers should implement research-based teaching methods as a matter of professional excellence. To that end, educational researchers must begin to investigate new ways to train and support STEM professors as teachers. A logical starting point for the thoughtful design of pedagogical interventions is a thorough understanding of the current state of professors’ professional lives. Current literature lacks this type of research, and this study contributes to the literature by analyzing one major component of science professors’ careers: the relationship between their roles as teachers and researchers.

Purpose of This Study

Given the practical and scholarly interest in improving postsecondary STEM teaching, this study seeks to understand the current lived experiences of science professors. This study should lead to more empirical studies as well as theoretical work that might examine teaching interventions, professional development programs, novel theoretical frameworks, and so on. Through these four case studies, I

  • Describe the relationship between my participants’ roles as teachers and researchers. How do my participants describe this construct (the relationship between teaching and learning)? How can I interpret my participants’ descriptions of this construct, utilizing the

qualitative methods described herein?

  • Identify and describe factors that influence this relationship. How do factors such as personal and professional experiences and culture affect the relationship between teaching and research? What other factors affect this relationship?
  • Explain the evolution of this relationship through my participants’ lived experiences.

How has this relationship developed? How does it change over the course of the study?

  • Identify themes and trends in these participants’ professional lives that provide a starting point for future work such as larger-scale theoretical and experimental research and pedagogical interventions. Where should educational researchers begin to focus future studies to improve college science teaching? How can professional development (PD) experts begin to aid professors as further research is underway?

Research Questions

A better understanding of tenure-track science professors’ roles as teachers and researchers could lead to innovative methods to support their teaching. Thus, this research answers the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between teaching and research roles for individuals in a sample of tenure-track science professors at an RU/VH institution?
  • What types of activities and experiences (particularly professional development) do participants engage in to support their roles as teachers? What types of activities and experiences impede their roles as teachers? In what ways do these activities support or impede participants’ roles as teachers?
  • What connections might be made between the participants’ personal, cultural, and professional histories and the way they are currently experiencing the relationship between teaching and research?

Initial Expectations and Assumptions

My personal experiences in the field of STEM higher education have given me unique insight into this area. I entered this study as a researcher and participant observer but also as a practitioner.[2] For this reason, I began with some initial expectations about what I might find. Qualitative methods, particularly phenomenological analysis, require the researcher to acknowledge and bracket her initial expectations and assumptions in order to more fully understand the phenomenon being studied through her participant’s experiences, rather than her own. Additionally, it is helpful to disclose these expectations and assumptions to the reader to maintain transparency and bolster methodological validity.

First, in my own experience and from past informal conversations with colleagues, I expected that my participants might experience the relationship between teaching and research as a tension. That is, the activities associated with research and teaching are not, in the culture of a typical RU/VH institution, aligned in such a way that one can easily integrate both components of the profession. Furthermore, I anticipated that my participants would report that cultural norms and expectations within science departments would tend not to support teaching activities. Second, I expected that among the wide variety of activities in which these professors participated, few of those activities would be intended to support their roles as teachers, either implicitly or explicitly. In fact, I felt it was conceivable that my participants would encounter a variety of cultural and perhaps personal impediments to their growth as teachers. I imagined that most of the PD activities that my participants did engage in would be informal (e.g., consulting with colleagues). Finally, I expected that the relationships between each participant’s personal, cultural, and professional history and his[3] current career decisions would be complex and subconscious. In other words, I did not expect my participants to be readily able to explicate these relationships, as I expected that STEM professors do not often consider these matters within the normal courses of their daily lives. For further discussion of these initial expectations as compared to actual findings, see Chapter 5.

[1] RU/VH is the Carnegie classification for Research Universities (very high research

activity), previously known as R1 universities. For more information see http://carnegieclassifications.iu.edu/.

[2] See Chapter 3 for a discussion on my personal experiences and the validity of this work.

Also see the Appendix for my autoethnography.

[3] Throughout this text, male pronouns will be used when discussing study participants because all participants are male. See Chapter 3 for a discussion of recruiting efforts and gender disparity in this study.

CASE STUDIES OF TENURE-TRACK SCIENCE PROFESSORS: EXPLORING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TEACHING AND RESEARCH

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