Individual and situational factors related to undergraduate mathematics instruction
Keller, Rachel E.
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Background In the US, there is significant interest from policy boards and funding agencies to change students’ experiences in undergraduate mathematics classes. Even with these reform initiatives, researchers continue to document that lecture remains the dominant mode of instruction in US undergraduate mathematics courses. However, we have reason to believe there is variability in teaching practice, even among instructors who self describe their teaching practice as “lecture.” Thus, our research questions for this study are as follows: what instructional practices are undergraduate mathematics instructors currently employing and what are the factors influencing their use of non-lecture pedagogies? Here, we explore these questions by focusing on instruction in algebra courses, an upper-division mathematics course that is particularly well positioned for instructional reform. Results We report the results of a survey of 219 abstract algebra instructors from US colleges and universities concerning their instructional practices. Organizing our respondents into three groups based on the proportion of class time spent lecturing, we were able to identify 14 instructional practices that were significantly different between at least two of the three groups. Attempting to account for these differences, we analyzed the individual and situational factors reported by the instructors. Results indicate that while significant differences in teaching practices exist, these differences are primarily associated with individual factors, such as personal beliefs. Situational characteristics, such as perceived departmental support and situation of abstract algebra in the broader mathematics curriculum, did not appear to be related to instructional differences. Conclusions Our results suggest that personal bounds in general, and beliefs in particular, are strongly related to the decision to (not) lecture. However, many of the commonly cited reasons used to justify the use of extensive lecture were not significantly different across the three groups of instructors. This lack of differentiation suggests that there may be relevant institutional characteristics that have not yet been explored in the literature, and a transnational comparison might be useful in identifying them.