Pedagogy – the centrality of the pedagogue and what they believe

The following is the first part of the Pedagogy component of the Ps Framework with forms part of Chapter 2 of my thesis. As with previous thesis posts this is a rough first draft of the content, feedback welcome. This is the first of three parts to this component. The next will say something about “learning theory” and the final will draw some lessons.


This thesis draws on the definition of e-learning as “the use of information and communications technology to enhance and/or support learning in tertiary education” (OECD 2005). Other sections of this thesis have covered the “information and communications technology” (Product insert cross ref) and “tertiary education” (Place insert cross ref) components of this definition. This section pays attention to the “learning” component. Since the purpose of this thesis is to formulate an information systems design theory for e-learning within universities this precludes from consideration some aspects of individual or informal learning. It suggests that the practice of e-learning will almost certainly involve some input from a teacher, hence the use of Pedagogy (not to mention it fits within the naming scheme of the “Ps Framework).

The importance of learning is summarised by the point made by Alavi and Leidner (2001)

Most would agree that the objective of using technology in learning should be to positively influence learning in one way or another; that is, the student should either learn something that he/she would not have learned without the technology or learn it in a more efficient manner.

However, the approach taken here does not start with a focus on the learner, instead, – in line with the use of Pedagogy – it assumes that within a university context the teacher remains a significant, perhaps the most significant, direct influence on student learning. Consequently, this section starts by justifying this perspective and describing its implications in The centrality of the pedagogue (Section 2.1.1). It then moves more generally to examine Learning theories, research and advice for pedagogues (Section 2.1.2) before drawing some Lessons from Pedagogy for e-learning (Section 2.1.3).

The centrality of the pedagogue and what they believe

Alavi and Leidner (2001), in discussing technology-mediated learning, suggest that it is important to conceptualize technology features and attributes in a manner directly relevant to instructional and learning processes. For quite sometime there has been a growing recognition that student-centered approaches to learning are the most effective. The learning theories of greatest current influence suggest that learning occurs through student’s active construction of knowledge supported by various perspectives within meaningful contexts with social interactions playing a critical role (Oliver 2000). It is a view that suggests the highest levels of student learning occur when the focus is on what the student does (Biggs 2001). The question then is why start with and focus on the teacher, the pedagogue, and what they believe? This section seeks to answer that question and connect the pedagogue with the other aspects of the Ps Framework.

While agreeing that the main aim of university learning and teaching, and e-learning in particular, should be a focus on improving student learning it is the nature of university courses that they are designed by pedagogues within a particular context. Trigwell (2001) – in developing a model to evaluate good teaching – argues that rather than separating learning, teaching, context and other aspects associated with university learning, all these aspects must be considered together and, in order for learning to be judged effective, they must be aligned. Figure 2.1 is a representation of Trigwell’s (2001) model of university teaching, it is intended as a set of concentric spheres. At the centre is the student and their learning, however, that learning is directly impacted upon by the strategies adopted by the teacher, which are in turn influenced by the other factors.

Trigwell's model of teaching

Figure 2.1 – Trigwell’s (2001) model of university teaching

Trigwell (2001) suggests that focusing more holistically on the combination of elements – especially on the teachers’ conceptions of teaching and a focus on students – makes the differences between teaching qualities more discernible and judgements easier. A focus on the strategies and technologies used by a teacher ignores the influence that their conceptions can have on how such strategies and technologies are used. Approaches to staff development that focus on the provision of prescribed skills and teaching recipes result, in many cases, in participants querying the feasibility of presented methods, defending methods they are already using, using new methods mechanically, or modifying methods intended to facilitate student learning into didactic transmission modes (Gibbs 1995; Trigwell 1995). A focus on strategies also ignores the likelihood that contextual factors also influence the appropriateness and implementation of strategies and techniques. Even a teacher with a student-centred conception of learning will adopt alternate strategies if the context is not appropriate.

Based on this argument, there is little value in examining the relative worth of various educational theories and pedagogical strategies without first having examined the context and the pedagogue’s thinking and planning. Various other sections of this chapter and other components of the Ps Framework (e.g. Place, Process, People and Product insert cross reference) have dealt with various aspects of the teaching and learning context. This section briefly repeats and expands on what is known about the thinking and planning of pedagogues within universities that was initially mentioned in the Past Experience section (insert cross reference). The following section (Section 2.1.2) examines what is known about learning and teaching strategies.

As outlined in the Past Experience section (insert cross reference) there is a significant body of literature that establishes the conceptions of learning and teaching held by academics and links those conceptions to the quality of student learning outcomes (Kember and Kwan 2000; Biggs 2001; Trigwell 2001; Norton, Richardson et al. 2005; Eley 2006; Gonzalez 2009). That literature generally places pedagogue conceptions into one of two main orientations: teacher-centered/content-oriented and student-centered/learning-oriented. Figure ?? shows a graphical representation of these orientations and five underlying conceptions identified by Kember (1997). As mentioned above, a student-centered/learning-oriented orientation is broadly agreed to contribute to better student learning outcomes.

There has been only a small amount of research on conceptions of and approaches to e-learning that allows understanding of this phenomenon (Gonzalez 2009). However, the level of reported work is increasing (Roberts 2001; Smyth, Mainka et al. 2007; Gonzalez 2009). Gonzalez (2009) in the most recent work and attempting to build on the work of Roberts (2003) identified three conceptions of e-learning: web for individual access and assessment, web for learning related communication and web for networked learning. Pedagogues with the first conception were found to have a content-centered orientation to learning and teaching while pedagogues with the other two conceptions of e-learning had or were moving towards a learning-centered conception of learning and teaching. Table 2.1 summarises the conceptions of e-learning identified by Gonzalez (2009) and describes the associated dimensions. Table 2.2 provides a description of approaches to e-learning that fit within the conceptions from Table 2.1 along a number of dimensions.

Table 2.1 – Dimensions delimiting conceptions of online teaching (adapted from Gonzalez 2009)
The web for individual access to learning materials and information; and for individual assessment The web for learning related communication (asynchronous and/or synchronous) The web as a medium for networked learning
Teacher Provides structured information/directs students to selected web sites Set up spaces for discussion/facilitates dialogue Set up spaces for communication, discussion and knowledge building/facilitates-guides the process
Students Individually study materials provided Participate in online discussions Share and build knowledge
Content Provided by lectuerer Provided by the lecturerer but students can modify – extend it through online discussions Built by students using the space set up by the lecturer
Knowledge Owned by lecturer Discovered by students within lecturer’s framework Built by students

The literature is also in general agreement that pedagogues generally teach the way they were taught (Dutton, Cheong et al. 2004). It has been suggested that in the absence of formal teaching qualifications, many university pedagogues teach in the didactic way that they were taught (Phillips 2005). Conceptions of teaching that are at the content end of the orientation spectrum. What’s more this predilection shapes the outcomes from the introduction of e-learning as educators see the technology as a means for carrying on doing what they have done before with more expensive technologies (Dutton, Cheong et al. 2004). In an effort to survive the difficulties of coping with the new introduced technology pedagogues can focus on content rather than the process of educating the student (Herrington, Reeves et al. 2005). Increasingly, organisational priorities can also negatively impact upon how pedagogues approach their teaching responsibilities with the consequence that students can sense the pedagogue’s distance from teaching (White 2006).

Table 2.2 – Dimensions delimiting approaches to online teaching (adapted from Gonzalez 2009)
Informative/individual learning focuses Communicative/Networked learning focused
Intensity of use Small range on media and tools used to support learnign tasks and activities (mainly sources of information with small opportunities for interaction and communication) Wide range of media and tools used to support learning tasks and activities (with emphasis on interaction and communication)
Resources Web pages with information. Lecture notes. Links to websites. Web pages with information. Lecture notes. Links to web sites. Discussion boards. Chat. Blogs. Spaces for sharing. Animations. Videos. Still images.
Role of the learner Select and present information Design spaces for sharing and communication. Support the process.
Role of the students Study individually information provided Participate in a process of knowledge building

Changing conceptions of learning and teaching

The relationship between conceptions of learning and teaching has implications for educational change (Tutty, Sheard et al. 2008). Change towards more sophisticated forms of teaching is only possible if the pedagogue’s conception of teaching are addressed first (Ho, Watkins et al. 2001). There is little evidence to show that pedagogue’s conceptions of teaching will develop with increasing teaching experience or from formal training (Richardson 2005). Pedagogue’s approaches to teaching change slowly, with some change coming after a sustained training process (Postareff, Lindblom-Ylanne et al. 1997). Given that it appears most university pedagogues hold content-centred conceptions of learning and teaching and that the majority of e-learning appears focused on distributing content, there appears to be a need to change the conceptions held by pedagogues.

Changing pedagogues’ conceptions of teaching, however, are a necessary but not sufficient condition for improved student learning. While pedagogue’s are likely to adopt teaching approaches that are consistent with their conceptions of teaching there may be differences between espoused theories and theories in use (Leveson 2004). While pedagogues may hold higher-level view of teaching other contextual factors may prevent use of those conceptions (Leveson 2004). Environmental, institutional, or other issues may impel pedagogues to teach in a way that is against their preferred approach (Samuelowicz and Bain 2001). While conceptions of teaching influence approaches to teaching, other factors such as institutional influence and the nature of students, curriculum and discipline may also influence teaching approaches (Kember and Kwan 2000). Prosser and Trigwell (1997) found that pedagogue’s with a student-focused approach were more likely to report that their departments valued teaching, that their class sizes were not too large, and that they had control over what was taught and how it was taught. Other contextual factors that frustrate pedagogues’ intended approaches to teaching may include senior staff with traditional teacher-focused conceptions raising issues about standards and curriculum coverage and students who induce teachers to adopt a more didactic approach (Richardson 2005). In addition, teachers who experience different contexts may adopt different approaches to teaching in those different contexts (Lindblom-Ylanne, Trigwell et al. 2006).

Efforts to improve teaching have often failed because the complexity of teaching has been underestimated and such attempts should consider the integrated system of relationships that constitute the teaching experience as a whole (Leveson 2004). One such important complicating influence are differences that have found differences between discipline areas (Lindblom-Ylanne, Trigwell et al. 2006), which suggest a need to understand teaching from both a general and discipline-specific perspective (Leveson 2004). Beliefs about teaching vary markedly across different disciplines and these variations are related to the pedagogue’s beliefs about the naure of the discipline they are teaching (Richardson 2005).

There is a lack of empirical evidence that development in conceptions of teaching will result in prompt improvement in teaching practice (Ho, Watkins et al. 2001). There is at least one alternate model (Guskey 1986; Guskey 2002) of teacher change that suggest it is the experience of successful implementation that changes the attitudes and beliefs of pedagogues. Pedagogues believe change will work because they have seen it work and this experience is what changes their conceptions of teaching and learning (Guskey 2002). Existing research informs us of the static relationship between existing conceptions and teaching practice, but has limited findings in terms of the dynamics of the way changes in teaching conceptions are transferred to changes in teaching practice and at what rate (Ho, Watkins et al. 2001).

The way e-learning is adopted in tertiary education is most likely explained by the pedagogues’ approaches to teaching, in general, which are often the result of their conceptions about teaching and learning (Elgort 2005). As above, institutional factors play a mediating role. In examining conceptions of e-learning held by academic staff Gonzalez (2009) that institutional factors and the nature of the students were the most relevant contextual factors influencing teaching. Rhetorical claims espousing e-learning seek to appeal to a pedagogues’ vision with an emphasis on innovation at the expense of reflection on pedagogues’ thinking and practices (Convery 2009). The unrealistic expectations of e-learning inhibit pragmatic attempts by pedagogues to integrate technology into classroom contexts and contribute to pedagogues being blamed for the failure of technology to fulfill its promise (Convery 2009).


Alavi, M. and D. E. Leidner (2001). "Research commentary: technology-mediated learning – a call for greater depth and breadth of research." Information Systems Research 12(1): 1-10.

Biggs, J. (2001). "The Reflective Institution: Assuring and Enhancing the Quality of Teaching and Learning." Higher Education 41(3): 221-238.

Convery, A. (2009). "The pedagogy of the impressed: how teachers become victims of technology vision." Teachers and Teaching 15(1): 25-41.

Dutton, W., P. Cheong, et al. (2004). "The social shaping of a virtual learning environment: The case of a University-wide course management system." Electronic Journal of e-Learning 2(1): 69-80.

Eley, M. (2006). "Teachers’ conceptions of teaching, and the making of specific decisions in planning to teach." Higher Education 51(???): 191-214.

Elgort, I. (2005). E-learning adoption: Bridging the chasm. Proceedings of ASCILITE’2005, Brisbane, Australia.

Gibbs, G. (1995). Changing lecturer’s conceptions of teaching and learning through action research. Directions in Staff Development. A. Brew. Buckingham, SRHE and Open University Press.

Gonzalez, C. (2009). "Conceptions of, and approaches to, teaching online: a study of lecturers teaching postgraduate distance courses." Higher Education 57(3): 299-314.

Guskey, T. (1986). "Staff development and the process of teacher change." Educational Researcher 15(5): 5-12.

Guskey, T. (2002). "Professional development and teacher change." Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice 8(3/4): 381-391.

Herrington, J., T. Reeves, et al. (2005). "Online Learning as Information Delivery: Digital Myopia." Journal of Interactive Learning Research 16(4): 353-367.

Ho, A., D. Watkins, et al. (2001). "The conceptual change approach to improving teaching and learning: An evaluation of a Hong Kong staff development programme." Higher Education 42(2): 143-169.

Kember, D. (1997). "A reconceptualisation of the research into university academics’ conceptions of teaching." Learning and Instruction 7(3): 255-275.

Kember, D. and K.-P. Kwan (2000). "Lecturers’ approaches to teaching and their relationship to conceptions of good teaching." Instructional Science 28(5): 469-490.

Leveson, L. (2004). "Encouraging better learning through better teaching: a study of approaches to teaching in accounting." Accounting Education 13(4): 529-549.

Lindblom-Ylanne, S., K. Trigwell, et al. (2006). "How approaches to teaching are affected by discipline and teaching context." Studies in Higher Education 31(3): 285-298.

Norton, L., J. Richardson, et al. (2005). "Teachers’ beliefs and intentions concerning teaching in higher education." Higher Education 50(????): 537-571.

OECD. (2005, 17 January 2006). "Policy Brief: E-learning in Tertiary Education."   Retrieved 5 December, 2006, from

Oliver, R. (2000). When teaching meets learning: Design principles and strategies for Web-based learning environments that support knowledge construction. ASCILITE’2000, Coffs Harbour.

Phillips, R. (2005). "Challenging the primacy of lectures: The dissonance between theory and practice in university teaching." Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice 2(1): 1-12.

Postareff, L., S. Lindblom-Ylanne, et al. (1997). "The effect of pedagogical training on teaching in higher education." Teaching and Teacher Education 23(5): 556-571.

Prosser, M. and K. Trigwell (1997). "Relations between perceptions of the teaching environment and approaches to teaching." British Journal of Educational Psychology 67(1): 25-35.

Richardson, J. (2005). "Students’ approaches to learning and teachers’ approaches to teaching in higher education." Educational Psychology 25(6): 673-680.

Roberts, G. (2001). "Teaching using the web: Conceptions and approaches from a phenomenographic perspective." Instructional Science 31(1-2): 127-150.

Roberts, G. (2003). "Teaching using the web: Conceptions and approaches from a phenomenographic perspective." Instructional Science 31(1-2): 127-150.

Samuelowicz, K. and J. Bain (2001). "Revisiting academics’ beliefs about teaching and learning." Higher Education 41(3): 299-325.

Smyth, K., C. Mainka, et al. (2007). Teachers’ conceptions of and approaches to online teaching. 6th European Conference on e-Learning, Academic Conferences Limited.

Trigwell, K. (1995). Increasing faculty understanding of teaching. Teaching improvement practices: Successful faculty development strategies. W. A. Wright. New York, Anker.

Trigwell, K. (2001). "Judging university teaching." The International Journal for Academic Development 6(1): 65-73.

Tutty, J., J. Sheard, et al. (2008). "Teaching in the current higher education environment: perceptions of IT academics." Computer Science Education 18(3): 171-185.

White, N. (2006). "Tertiary education in the Noughties: the student perspective." Higher Education Research & Development 25(3): 231-246.

3 thoughts on “Pedagogy – the centrality of the pedagogue and what they believe

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s