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Knowledge and use of student-centered instructional techniques, alternative assessment methods, and new educational technology in adult business education

Dissertation
Author: Gardner A. Lepp
Abstract:
Research conducted over the past two decades indicates that adult students, regardless of demographic background and scholarly discipline, experience better overall outcomes from the use of student-centered practices, alternative assessment, and the use of modern educational technology in the classroom; these three concepts fall under the broad heading of "constructivist" instructional practices. Previous research also shows that faculty in adult education settings do not make regular use of these constructivist instructional concepts and practices in their classrooms. Instead, they more often use a behaviorist approach to instruction (employing the lecture model of instruction during about 80% of class time) which is generally not as effective, especially for adult students. The current descriptive research study was conducted to determine if the level of knowledge and use of these practices (student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and new educational technology) is changing among adult business/management faculty. A corollary purpose of this study is because the use of student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and new technology is encouraged by the accrediting agency for the participating schools. The population ( N = 43) for this research included groups from two institutions of higher learning in the upper Midwest of the United States. The results of the study indicate that awareness of the aforementioned instructional concepts may be increasing when compared to previous studies. Most notably, awareness of new educational technology seems to have risen significantly. The use of these same practices, however, does not seem to have increased when compared to previous studies.

Table of Contents Acknowledgments iv List of Tables vii CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION Introduction 1 Background 2 Statement of the Problem 4 Purpose 5 Rationale 6 Research Questions 7 Significance of the Study 7 Definition of Terms 8 Assumptions and Limitations 10 Nature of the Study 12 Conclusion of Chapter 1 15 CHAPTER 2. LITERATURE REVIEW 17 Review of Traditional Practices 17 Review of New Instructional Paradigms 23 Background of Research Methods in this Study 43 CHAPTER 3. METHODOLOGY 46 Descriptive Research 47 Participants 50

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Instrumentation 51 Data Analysis 53 Remainder of the Study 54 CHAPTER 4. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS 55 Subquestion 1 58 Subquestion 2 61 Subquestion 3 62 Subquestion 4 64 Subquestion 5 66 Subquestion 6 67 Teacher-centered instruction data 69 Primary research question 71 CHAPTER 5. RESULTS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATIONS 73 Overview of Significant Findings 74 Limitations of the Current Study 84 Conclusions 86 Recommendations for Future Research 87 REFERENCES 91 APPENDIX A. SURVEY INSTRUMENT 98

APPENDIX B. CODED SURVEY ITEMS 101

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List of Tables Table 1. Descriptive Statistics for Awareness Ratings of Student-Centered Instruction Items (Research Question 1) 60

Table 2. Descriptive Statistics for Awareness Ratings of Alternative Assessment Items (Research Question 2) 61

Table 3. Descriptive Statistics for Awareness Ratings of New Educational Technology Items (Research Question 3) 63

Table 4. Descriptive Statistics for Use Ratings of Student-Centered Instruction Items (Research Question 4) 65

Table 5. Descriptive Statistics for Use Ratings of Alternative Assessment Items (Research Question 5) 67

Table 6. Descriptive Statistics for Use Ratings of New Educational Technology Items (Research Question 6) 68

Table 7. Descriptive Statistics for Awareness Ratings of Teacher-Centered Items 69

Table 8. Descriptive Statistics for Use Ratings of Teacher-Centered Items 70

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CHAPTER 1. INTRODUCTION Research across different demographic groups and scholarly disciplines indicates that the use of various instructional methodologies – including student- or learner- centered instruction, alternative assessment, and modern educational technology – in the practice of adult education leads to improved outcomes, improved student satisfaction, and increased student retention (Choi and Johnson, 2005; Felder, Felder and Dietz, 1998; Johnson, 2000; Mayville, 2007; McShannon et al., 2006). While alternative, student-centered instructional practices and their effects have been promoted by educational specialists for years, many researchers and authors contend that at least some educators in varying fields are not aware of, and/or do not engage in any kind of alternative instructional practice, including alternative assessment and the use of newer educational technology. Instead, they rely on lecture as their primary instructional tool (Becker and Watts, 2001; Finkelstein, Seal, and Schuster, 1998; Jones, 2003; McShannon et al, 2006; National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2002; Newman and Scurry, 2001; Waskow, 2006). Perhaps as a default instructional practice, some instructors who may be experts in their field of study, but do not understand educational theory, simply rely on their past experience to inform their teaching methods. Indeed, research supports the assertion that instructors in adult settings often teach they way they were taught, using the teaching/learning style that is most comfortable for them (B. L. Brown, 2003).

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This research study attempted to examine the level of knowledge that adult educators have of student-centered instruction, alternative forms of assessment, and new technology in the classroom. It also tried to assess their current level of practice of these techniques. The research focused specifically on the instructional practices of business/management faculty at two small liberal arts schools. The literature review in Chapter 2 outlines student-centered instruction, alternative assessment theories, and current educational technology, and provides research indicating their effects on adult learners.

Background A precise and universally accepted definition of “student-centered instruction” does not exist. However, all the student-centered researchers and authors used in the research for this study employ very similar terms to define student-centered instruction. Student-centered instruction is defined as an approach to the practice of teaching which, based on the needs and strengths of the student, engages the student in the learning process, and provides the student an opportunity to be involved in the planning and delivery of material, assessment of the learning outcomes, and evaluation of the overall learning process. This active engagement uses the student’s natural abilities and curiosities as a springboard toward a more complete understanding of the material and higher-order thinking skills. This definition takes into account the specific needs of adult learners, as identified by Knowles (1970). The above definition is based primarily on the writings of several researchers and authors (Brookfield and Preskill, 2005; J. K. Brown, 2008; Hirumi, 2002). More specificity regarding the definition of student-centered

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instruction, including its relationship to teacher- or instructor-centered instruction, is included in the Definition of Terms section in this chapter. Student-centered instruction, alternative assessment and technology were chosen as the focus of this study for several reasons. First, these same three issues are addressed in the study upon which the instrument for this research is based (Nickel, 1984). Nickel’s study was based on a teacher improvement program that was being investigated for potential improvements. The three areas of focus in the improvement program were student-centered instructional techniques, alternative assessment, and technology. Nickel cites a need for faculty development in these areas (Nickel, 1984, p. 18). Second, the use of student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and technology can help institutions satisfy accreditation requirements. Specifically, Criterion 3 of the Handbook of accreditation published by the North Central Association (NCA) – the agency responsible for providing accreditation for the schools in this study – states that schools should use multiple forms of assessment, innovative teaching practices, and modern educational technology to enhance the learning environment (Handbook of accreditation, pp. 3.2-9 to 3.2-12). Third, much of the research indicates that the practice of using these instructional methods in an adult learning environment has been shown to have a positive effect on learning outcomes across many different demographic groups and disciplines (Anderson, 1988; DeVita, 2001; Felder and Silverman, 1988; Flint, 2004; Gay, 2000; Hoover and Marshall, 1998; Hulme, 1996; Philbin, Meier, Huffman and Boverie, 1995; Skinner, 2007; West, Kahn, and Nauta, 2007). The use of student-centered instruction also aids in student satisfaction and retention (Mayville, 2007; McShannon et al, 2006; Felder et al.,

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1998). And yet, anecdotal and scientific research indicates that many adult educators are not aware of, or do not practice, these proven methodologies (Becker and Watts, 2001; Finkelstein et al., 1998; Jones, 2003; McShannon et al, 2006; NCES, 2002; Newman and Scurry, 2001; Waskow, 2006). The difference between research-driven methods and actual practice seems incongruous. One of the reasons for this study was to further investigate if an incongruity exists, and to what extent. Also providing background for this research is the nature of education as an industry or institution. The apparent incongruity between theory and practice noted above might point to a possible flaw in the overall approach to education in this country. To state in the simple terms, despite decades of research, adults are taught in a manner very similar to the practices of 30, 40, and 50 years ago.

Statement of the Problem Despite a growing body of research showing the benefits of student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and modern technology in higher education, many instructors do not employ these theories in their practice (Felder and Brent, 2005; Newman and Scurry, 2001). Instead, behaviorist-based models of adult education are used in which the instructor is viewed as the lecturer and dispenser of knowledge, and the role of the student is to absorb the information (Becker and Watts, 2001; NCES, 2002). The fact that many instructors are not aware of, or choose to not implement, research- supported instructional theories may have an effect on the quality of education provided to students. Studies indicate that students have a greater likelihood of retaining course information, and ultimately displaying more positive overall course outcomes, when

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student-centered practices, alternative assessment, and updated technology are employed in the teaching process (Choi and Johnson, 2005; Diaz-Lefebvre, 2004; Flint, 2004; Hannafin and Land, 1997 Johnson, 2000; McShannon et al, 2006). In light of the improved outcomes noted above, it is natural to suggest or expect a change, however slowly, to occur in how adults are taught. This research addressed the question of whether or not a change is taking place to a more student-centered approach involving the use of various student-centered instructional theories, as well as alternative assessment methods and updated technology. If a change is not taking place, it might point to an incongruity between evidence-based best practices and the practices actually used to instruct adults. As support for this approach, the accreditation criteria by the NCA specifically states that alternative assessment should be employed, innovative instructional practices should be employed and technology should be used effectively (Handbook of accreditation, pp. 3.2-9 to 3.2-12). Chapter 2 of this study provides more detail on these theories, and the background research that has been conducted on the outcomes of using student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and the integration of technology in the classroom.

Purpose The purpose of this study was to determine whether instructors in higher education are aware of, and use in their practices, student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and modern technology. Past research shows a difference between the outcomes generated from a teacher-centered approach, and the outcomes generated from

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a student-centered approach. Generally, the student-centered approach yields more positive outcomes for adult students (Choi and Johnson, 2005; Diaz-Lefebvre, 2004; Flint, 2004; Hannafin and Land, 1997 Johnson, 2000; McShannon et al, 2006). The study intended to examine the level of knowledge that adult educators have of student-centered instruction, alternative forms of assessment, and the use of technology in the classroom. It also attempted to assess their current level of practice of these techniques. The data produced by this research yields important information for schools for several reasons. First, the use of “innovative” instruction (which can include student- centered practices), alternative assessment, and technology are cited in the NCA accreditation requirements (Handbook of accreditation, pp. 3.2-9 to 3.2-12). Implementation of the methods mentioned in this study may assist in the accreditation process for some schools. Second, prospective students may be able to discern the style of education practices they can expect at the schools in the study. Students may elect to attend a specific school based on the style of instruction used. At a time when higher education is under unprecedented competition and pressure (due in part to the advent of online learning), appealing to a broad student candidate pool may be important to school administration.

Rationale The purpose of this study was to determine whether instructors in higher education are aware of, and use in their practices, student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and modern technology. The reason this study was conducted is because it may help some institutions recognize and satisfy specific accreditation requirements.

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Ideally, administrators may use this research to investigate the knowledge and use of student-centered teaching practices in their institutions.

Research Question The primary research question for this study is: What is the level of faculty awareness of, and to what degree do faculty use, student-centered instruction, alternative assessment methods, and new educational technology to create a learner-centered environment in their college classrooms? There are six subquestions: 1. What is the level of faculty awareness of student-centered instruction? 2. What is the level of faculty awareness of alternative assessment methods? 3. What is the level of faculty awareness of new educational technology? 4. To what extent do faculty report that they use student-centered instruction? 5. To what extent do faculty report that they use alternative assessment methods? 6. To what extent do faculty report that they use new educational technology?

Significance of the Study This study was conducted to reveal how well adult education business faculty know the concepts: student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and educational technology. The results of this research could potentially reveal an incongruity between “best practices” in higher education, and the practices currently in use. This may affect how institutions fare on an accrediting scorecard, which promotes the use of alternative

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assessment, student-centered instruction, and effective use of modern technology. This may also affect student satisfaction, educational outcomes, and student retention. The participants in this research study were business and management faculty members. It may not be inappropriate, therefore, to compare how new ideas, processes, and technology are used by two different groups of people: professionals in the business world, and professionals in the world of education. In a business environment, when a new process or product is revealed that yields better results, many professionals often quickly acquire that new process in order to meet customer demand, maximize profits, and ultimately thrive in their chosen industry. In academia, new ideas, processes, and products are not embraced as readily for a variety of reasons (Finkelstein et al., 1998, p.9; Flint, 2004, p.19). This research study supports previous findings by showing that business educators at these schools change their instructional practices very slowly, or not at all. This research study may prompt some action on the part of higher education administrators to more quickly adapt to change and lead faculty to adopt more effective instructional practices in an effort stay on the leading edge of research and implementation of quality academic programs.

Definition of Terms For the purposes of this survey, the following terms were identified as such.

Student-centered instruction: is defined as an approach to the practice of teaching which, based on the needs and strengths of the student, engages the student in the learning process, and provides the student an opportunity to be involved in the planning

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and delivery of material, assessment of the learning outcomes, and evaluation of the overall learning process. This active engagement uses the student’s natural abilities and curiosities as a springboard toward a more complete understanding of the material and higher-order thinking skills. This definition takes into account the specific needs of adult learners, as identified by Knowles (1970). The above definition is based on student- centered instruction as outlined by several researchers and authors including (Brookfield and Preskill, 2005; J. K. Brown, 2008; Hirumi, 2002). It is worth noting that student- centered instruction is in direct contrast to “instructor- or teacher-centered instruction” in which the instructor is at the center of the decision making process with regard to curriculum design, delivery of material, and assessment (B. L. Brown, 2003; Schaefer and Zygmont, 2003). Alternative assessment: is defined as any process used to determine a student’s mastery of subject by allowing the student to generate a response to a question or problem, as opposed to forcing the student to choose a response (Herman, Aschbacher, and Winters, 1992). Alternative assessment, however, should still be seen within the larger context of student evaluation, which is to provide “authentic and meaningful feedback for improving student learning, instructional practice, and educational options” (Marshall, 1992, p. vi). Alternative assessment may also be known as authentic assessment, and it includes many different specific assessment activities: performance assessment, formative assessment, portfolios, peer assessment, journals, and others. The unifying theme in all these types of assessments is that the student demonstrates mastery of subject in a setting more akin to the actual application of the material, than a standardized test. Research demonstrates that this type of assessment provides a better

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determination of the student’s grasp of the material than traditional assessment methods (Herman et al., 1992). Alternative assessment is in direct contrast to “traditional assessment” in which students are asked a series of multiple-choice or “true/false” questions. New educational technology: is defined broadly as any computer-based tool. This can include hardware, software, the Internet, and computer-based multimedia. This definition is based on the research of Ringstaff and Kelley (2002). Not included in this definition are older modes of technology which are, in essence, instructor-centered tools such as overhead projectors and slide projectors. Faculty: in this research study refers to tenured, non-tenured, and adjunct faculty of a four-year institution of higher learning. Included in this definition may be department chairs and other administration personnel who teach classes. The research study focuses specifically on faculty who teach in the management and/or business departments of their respective schools. Examples of specific fields include economics, accounting, marketing, organizational behavior, and management.

Assumptions and Limitations

Assumptions

This study assumed that previous researchers have been honest and ethical in their reporting. Coffield, Moseley, Hall, and Ecclestone (2004) proposed that some theorists have been overzealous in reporting their research findings on learning styles (a type of student-centered instruction), which can lead to inaccurate perceptions of the data. It is understood that there is a broad range of quality and validity in the research conducted on

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the many forms of student-centered instruction. Even with a noteworthy amount of speculation, this study assumes that the over-arching epistemology of student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and the use of technology are valid instructional theories and methods. Furthermore, the immense quantity of research conducted over the last two decades indicates that student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and educational technology positively affect the classroom experience. In short, these are prominent forces in shaping the educational horizon, regardless of the irregularities in a small percentage of research studies. This study further assumed that the respondents (faculty) would provide accurate data on their knowledge and use of various instructional theories. Limitations

The limitations of this study were, in part, linked to the assumptions. In other words, this research study did not include a quantitative, on-site breakdown of faculty teaching methods. Instead, the research relied on the faculty members’ own self- perceptions about their knowledge and use of various instructional theories and methods. This method can give rise to the issue of the many biases linked to the use of a Likert- type survey (Podsakoff, Podsakoff, MacKenzie, and Lee, 2003). However, the instrument used in this research was tested by its creator (Nickel, 1984), which should help ensure maximum validity. Another limitation included the population of this study. This study only focused on a small population of higher education faculty members in northern Minnesota. Therefore, the results can only be generalizable to similar institutions of similar demographics.

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Nature of the Study

As previously stated, research on faculty instructional methods points to limited use of alternative teaching techniques throughout higher education (NCES, 2003), despite consistent reports of the benefits of these techniques, especially across a wide demographic student population. The impetus of this research was to determine if alternative teaching methods are still being under-utilized. If new methods are being tried, what types of techniques or theories are practitioners using to engage all types of learners? This research study was a descriptive study. A descriptive study is used to describe some given state of phenomena (Gall, Gall, and Borg, 2003, p. 290), and can be approached from either quantitative or qualitative standpoint. Important to note is that a descriptive study is not designed to establish correlation, or examine relationships between stimuli. It simply describes the events of phenomena, either at a given point in time, or at several points in time (Gall et al., 2003, p. 291). However, if one chooses to conduct future research on the relationships between a stimulus and a response, a baseline of knowledge about the phenomenon is necessary. This makes descriptive research an important link in the chain of scientific knowledge. A descriptive research study is often used as the starting point for future research (Fraenkel and Wallen, 2003, p. 15). The primary research methodology used in descriptive research is the survey (Fraenkel and Wallen, 2003, p. 15). This research study used a quantitative framework. The reason for using a quantitative descriptive methodology is to establish a baseline of knowledge about the

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particular faculty in two management/business programs at two institutions of higher learning in northeastern Minnesota. A body of research already exists indicating that adult education faculty members do not often employ student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and new technology (Finkelstein et al., 1998; Jones, 2003; McShannon et al, 2006; NCES, 2002; Newman and Scurry, 2001; Waskow, 2006). It can, however, be questioned whether previous research is generalizable to the faculty population in northeastern Minnesota. The studies referenced above were performed with different faculty from different institutions, at different times. What was known with those groups, at that time, does not necessarily translate today to the groups of faculty at the institutions in this study. What is important to the administration, students, and faculty of these schools in Minnesota is whether or not these instructors use the most effective instructional methods. Ideally, this research might be used to affirm, or highlight needed change in, the instructional practices of these departments. Also affected may be the accreditation reports of these two schools. The population for this study was all full-time, part-time, and adjunct business/management faculty currently teaching at two institutions of higher education in northeastern Minnesota. The population includes administrators who teach classes. The business/management departments at these schools were selected for several reasons. First, the leadership of these departments expressed an interest in seeking new ways to enhance the student experience. The hope was that this research might reveal if faculty are supporting that vision through their teaching methods. Second, the researcher has an interest and background in this particular scholarly discipline. The familiarity with this subject allows the researcher to be better informed of the instructional practices and

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course necessities of this discipline. The other factor for the selection of these institutions was simple convenience and accessibility to the researcher. It is important to note that, prior to this study, the researcher had no professional relationships with any of the potential participants of the study. Two of the potential participants are informal acquaintances through mutual friends. None of the other participants are known to the researcher personally or professionally. Data collection for this study included a modified version of the “Survey of Faculty Awareness and Use of Alternative Teaching Strategies and Media Materials” survey first used by Donna Nickel in 1984. With permission of the author, the survey was modified for this study in an effort to capture specific information related to faculty knowledge and use of student-centered instruction, alternative assessment methods, and instructional technology in the classroom. The items in the survey were also updated to reflect recent technological advances as well as instructional and assessment strategies. Dr. Nickel tested the validity of this instrument as part of her original research by pre- testing a small group of faculty members. Dr. Nickel interviewed the pre-test group and made changes based on her observations to reduce uncertainties in the survey (Nickel, 1984, p. 3). The main body of the survey was a Likert-type survey. In the survey, the name of a teaching concept or tool was provided, and the respondents were asked, on two different scales, to provide their knowledge of, and use of, the given concept or tool. The entire list of items on the survey is included in Appendix A. The survey was administered electronically through a common web-based survey tool: www.surveymonkey.com. A web link to the survey was emailed to the participants

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by employees within the schools. A note from their department chair accompanied the survey and explained its relevance. The participants had three weeks to complete the survey. A reminder email was sent after each week passed. Once the survey period expired, the data was collected by the hosting web site and retrieved by the researcher. Data was analyzed using SPSS software. The data was analyzed for measures of central tendency, which included percentages of each scale item selected. The mean and median scores for each question were collected. Conclusion of Chapter 1

Three relatively recent advancements in education have been shown to enhance the learning environment for adult students in higher education: student-centered instruction, alternative assessment methods, and the use of modern educational technology. However, research has also shown that some adult educators have not adapted their instructional practice to include these advancements. This descriptive study was conducted to determine if a small population of instructors in the field of management and business are aware of, and using, these educational concepts and tools. The ultimate goal of this research was to encourage faculty (by reinforcement if they are already using these methods, or by education if they are not) to continually update their instructional practice by including research-approved advancements in education. Ideally, this will lead to better outcomes for students, and a lower attrition/departure rate for schools. A more modest expectation is that institutions will use this data to implement training procedures to educate faculty, thereby increasing the likelihood of a positive result on their accreditation procedure.

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The remainder of the study is organized into Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5. Chapter 2 includes a review of the relevant literature on this subject. Included in the literature review is a brief history of traditional educational practices, and an explanation of why those practices are not necessarily effective for all types of students. Also included in Chapter 2 is an explanation of student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and modern educational technology, and the benefits of each. Chapter 3 includes an explanation of the research methodology. The potential advantages, threats and limitations in selecting a descriptive methodology are reviewed. Also included in Chapter 3 is a review of the research procedures. Chapter 4 describes the results of the research in terms of the six original research questions. Chapter 5 summarizes the results, and provides analysis including possible conclusions one may draw, and possible factors that affected the data. Also included in Chapter 5 are suggestions for how to use the data from this research, and suggestions for future research.

Full document contains 111 pages
Abstract: Research conducted over the past two decades indicates that adult students, regardless of demographic background and scholarly discipline, experience better overall outcomes from the use of student-centered practices, alternative assessment, and the use of modern educational technology in the classroom; these three concepts fall under the broad heading of "constructivist" instructional practices. Previous research also shows that faculty in adult education settings do not make regular use of these constructivist instructional concepts and practices in their classrooms. Instead, they more often use a behaviorist approach to instruction (employing the lecture model of instruction during about 80% of class time) which is generally not as effective, especially for adult students. The current descriptive research study was conducted to determine if the level of knowledge and use of these practices (student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and new educational technology) is changing among adult business/management faculty. A corollary purpose of this study is because the use of student-centered instruction, alternative assessment, and new technology is encouraged by the accrediting agency for the participating schools. The population ( N = 43) for this research included groups from two institutions of higher learning in the upper Midwest of the United States. The results of the study indicate that awareness of the aforementioned instructional concepts may be increasing when compared to previous studies. Most notably, awareness of new educational technology seems to have risen significantly. The use of these same practices, however, does not seem to have increased when compared to previous studies.