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A Pedagogy of Larger Concerns: Grounding Engineering Faculty Development in Research on Teaching Conceptions

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Faculty Development I

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.80.1 - 26.80.11



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Paper Authors


Jim L Borgford-Parnell University of Washington

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Dr. Jim Borgford-Parnell is Associate Director and Instructional Consultant at the Center for Engineering Learning & Teaching at the University of Washington. He taught design, education-research methods, and adult and higher education theory and pedagogy courses for over 30 years. He has been involved in instructional development for 18 years, and currently does both research and instructional development in engineering education. Jim has taught courses on the development of reflective teaching practices, and has presented workshops on learning how to learn and developing metacognitive awareness. He has published and presented on engineering design, engineering pedagogies, and instructional development topics.

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A Pedagogy of Larger Concerns: Grounding Engineering Faculty Development in Research on Teaching ConceptionsThis paper presents the results of a phenomenographic study that explored the teachingconceptions of exceptional teachers at a large research university. The study identified a set ofconcepts or elements that played important roles in the teaching lives of the participants.Together, these elements form a conception of the teaching endeavor entitled a Pedagogy ofLarger Concerns (PLC), and have come to exert both a philosophical and practical influence onthe faculty development services offered at an engineering-specific teaching and learning center.The research was initially inspired by the plethora of negative critiques of teaching in researchuniversities that is found in the teaching and learning scholarship. Excellent teaching in thosesettings had been generally overlooked, and much of the existing research on effective teachingwas focused on instructors’ actions rather than their thinking. Research on why effective teachersare able to be effective was limited. The study described here sought to explore the thinking ofoutstanding professors in order to improve our understanding of the basis of their effectiveness,for as Christopher Clark (1995) proposed, “the mental lives of teachers are at least as importantto understanding and supporting the profession as are their visible behaviors.”Rich, deep qualitative interview data was collected from eight participants from a range ofdisciplines, including STEM. The data afforded an opportunity for two types of analyses andresults. The first were descriptive analyses that focused on developing richer, second-orderunderstandings of individual participants’ conceptions—what Ashworth and Lucas (2000)termed “lifeworlds.” The lifeworlds provided touchstones for contextualizing the results of thesecond analysis, which was interpretive and comparative across all eight data sets, and resultedin the formation of the PLC. A PLC is a conception of the teaching endeavor, wherein theinstructor holds a personal commitment to a personal ideal outcome of her or his teaching.Although varied, the ideal outcome encompasses a future-oriented vision in which students areindependent actors functioning positively, creatively, and critically in the larger world. As aconceptual network, a PLC contains (at minimum) five elements: • Teacher’s power is leavened with responsibility. • Students are synonymous with positive vision of future. • Learning to learn takes precedence. • Teachers are essential to student learning. • New learning fits to a student’s lifetime of learning.Along with those five elements, the research also identified six essential building blocks of aPLC, which included: • Teaching is a personal choice and commitment. • Work ethic is core to teaching. • Effective teaching has a reflective foundation. • Metacognitive awareness of students’ learning is maintained. • Teachers and students share benefits of interaction. • Collegial support is important.Those PLC elements have had a profound influence on the design of faculty developmentservices at our center and in the instructional consultant’s interactions with engineering facultyand students. This paper describes some of those interactions, the services that correspond with aPLC, and why understanding a Pedagogy of Larger Concerns can help sustain a facultydevelopment mission.ReferencesClark, C. M. (1995). Thoughtful Teaching. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.Ashworth, P. & Lucas, U. (2000). Achieving empathy and engagement: A practical approach tothe design, conduct, and reporting of phenomenographic research. (electronic version) Studies inHigher Education, 25 (3), 295-307.

Borgford-Parnell, J. L. (2015, June), A Pedagogy of Larger Concerns: Grounding Engineering Faculty Development in Research on Teaching Conceptions Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23421

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