The recent report Vision and Change for Undergraduate Biology Education articulated the acute need for changes in undergraduate biology pedagogy. Specifically, instruction must actively engage students in building competencies that facilitate learning and application of biological concepts. Many research studies support the claim that active, learner-centered instructional approaches are associated with enhanced student learning. This has prompted a multitude of professional development (PD) workshops designed to help faculty move from teacher-centered to learner-centered classrooms. These workshops are typically evaluated with self-report surveys addressing faculty satisfaction, what they learned, and what they applied in the classroom. Workshop and PD outcomes are seldom evaluated through critical analysis of actual classroom-based teaching practices. We used self-report and observational data to study teaching practices of faculty following completion of PD programs, Faculty Institutes for Reforming Science Teaching (FIRST) or the Summer Institutes (SI). Specifically, we designed a post hoc analysis of PD programs to address two questions: 1) How learner-centered was the pedagogy that faculty implemented following PD? and, 2) What variables predict teaching practice by faculty following PD? Videotapes of faculty teaching were analyzed using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP), a reliable instrument that defines and assesses learner-centered teaching.
Self-report data from participants indicated that the PD workshops resulted in significant gains in faculty knowledge of, and/or first-hand experience with specific aspects of learner-centered teaching. Following PD, 89% of respondents (n=110) stated they implemented reforms in the academic year following their initial participation in PD activities. Indeed, a high percentage (76%) of participants reported using specific inquiry-based and learner-centered teaching practices during their final year of PD. In contrast, observational results of teaching practice showed that participation in PD did not result in learner-centered teaching as defined by RTOP. The majority of faculty (75%) used instructional methods consistent with a lecture-based, teacher-centered pedagogy. These results show a clear disconnect between faculty perceptions of their teaching and the teaching they actually practice. Our expectation that faculty would synthesize and expand upon what was learned in PD workshops to produce learner-centered classrooms did not occur within our study period. We predict that regular and timely feedback is fundamental to the PD process and that one-on-one feedback from experts may facilitate faculty change in classroom practices is perhaps, necessary. We are testing the impact of “instant replays” of teaching with expert commentary as a potentially powerful tool to further reform professional development programs.