University professors' perceptions about authentic learning in undergraduate teaching : a case study
In the 21st century employers put a higher value than ever before on the interpersonal and thinking competencies of employees such as skills of teamwork, problem solving, and communi-cation, and the capability of creativity as the most important abilities (A. Herrington & J. Her-rington, 2006; Ramsden, 2003). Based on some of these learning theories, J. Herrington and Oliver (2000) further developed an “authentic learning” framework (p. 30). In this study, I re-ferred to their framework to build a rationale for my research design. The elements of critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration, expressed in this authentic learning framework, are the core concepts in my study. My past teaching experiences in China sparked my interest in the study because I wit-nessed an inconsistency between teaching practices in higher education and the needs of students in schools and workplaces. Further, my learning experiences in Canada as a full-time student deepened my research interest. Thus, I devised the purpose of my study to probe the perceptions of professors in the University of Saskatchewan about their philosophies and practices with re-spect to their undergraduate teaching. I wanted to examine the perceptions of their teaching re-garding the authentic learning process in terms of critical thinking, problem solving, and collabo-ration. My study was a qualitative case study and I used semi-structured interviews to collect the data from six participants with diverse backgrounds from three different disciplines. I organized the findings of the data in the following categories: Understanding of Authentic Learning (which provides the introduction to understanding the authentic learning process); themes of Context, Diversity of Perspectives, and Relationship; and the special theme of Dina’s Belief Construction. There were similarities and variations emerging from the data. The varied backgrounds of participants such as their discipline, class size, teaching level, and administrative position appeared to exert influence on the participants’ perceptions of their teaching. Most of the differences occurred within themes of context and relationship. Apart from the pre-existent features, personal belief was another factor that might be seen to have led to some different perceptions. The data findings provided a foundation to address the level of consistency between the findings and the literature. The discrepancy between my research findings and literature primarily consisted of the conflicting perceptions of teaching practices in relation to collaboration and problem solving. Collaboration was an important area in the literature but the participants’ per-ceptions of their teaching practices concerning collaboration varied. The adoption of technology in the teaching of my participants (e.g., the use of the Internet and video) was an unexpected finding in my study. Most participants described that the blending of technology in their teaching practices reinforced the cultivation of critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. Some implications rendered from the discussions are noteworthy for future research. In the belief construction, Dina (2007) described how implicit and explicit beliefs steered students’ thinking, transformed their behaviors, and eventually enhanced students’ abilities in critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. From the constructivist perspective, Dina and Mary (2007) viewed learning as a process of constructing the understanding of diverse contexts in a community. Some teaching practices described by the participants were the special features of a particular discipline. Technology was a new focus in much of the literature of the past 10 years, which was closely linked with “real life” and “collaboration” nowadays. In addition, I found that each component of authentic learning (i.e., critical thinking, problem solving, and collabora-tion) deserved further exploration in the future. Although some deficiencies existed, I learned how to design a qualitative case study and these research experiences will become valuable ref-erences for my future research.
professors' perceptions, undergraduate teaching, collaboration, critical thinking. problem solving, Authentic learning
Master of Education (M.Ed.)