Exploring the Moral Dimension of Professors' Folk Pedagogy

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Virginia Tech

This study explores the intersection of two major conceptions in higher education: professors' folk pedagogies and teaching's moral dimension. Folk pedagogy is the accumulated set of beliefs, conceptions and assumptions that professors personally hold about the practice of teaching (Bruner, 1996). When these beliefs and conceptions are enacted as a teaching practice, they are conceivably undertaken on behalf of students as the means to a good end. Professors, in the course of enacting their folk pedagogies, make educational decisions -- value determinations in essence -- about what they believe are in the best interests of their students. In so doing they have entered moral territory. To make these decisions, issues related to moral perception, moral imagination, and moral responsiveness are present. This moral dimension of teaching was found in this study to be an inherent feature of the participants' folk pedagogy.

Pursuing tangible exemplars of these ideas, this study accomplished three key objectives. First, it explored and described some key features of professors' folk pedagogies. Second, it examines the discourse that emerged from the folk pedagogy investigation for its moral expressions and the insights it offered toward understanding how professors conceive of teaching as a moral endeavor. Finally, using narrative analysis as the guiding methodology, it retold professors' personal narratives - their discursive practices - as a unified story of moral agency and moral discourse in university teaching. These objectives were satisfied through case study investigations of three professors, wherein each participant professor was interviewed and observed teaching over the course of nine weeks.

Although this investigation sought to explore moral discourse, four additional discourses were discovered interacting with the moral discourse - the personal discourse, a professional discourse, an academic discourse, and the institutional discourse. It was found that rather than there being one singular moral discourse, each independent discourse possessed its own moral substance. A full view of the moral discourse, therefore, can only be achieved by looking across all of the independent discourses themselves. Interestingly, the nature of the moral discourse and moral agency varied for each professor depending upon which independent discourse dominated her or his practice. For example, those professors engaged in professional disciplines (i.e., business and engineering) exhibited practices dominated by what is termed here a professional discourse. In contrast, the practice of the philosophy professor was dominated by the academic discourse. In each case, however, the moral discourse revealed itself most often when professors' engaged in closer, more personal interactions with students and during their consideration of students in their course planning. Moral discourse and moral agency for the professors in this study played an important role in their overall folk pedagogy and in many instances served as an unintentional pedagogical tool.

narrative analysis, moral discourse, Education, Higher, moral education