The importance of disciplines

Purpose/research question

The objective of this study was to examine how lecturers at BSS - more specifically lecturers from the Department of Law and the Department of Management - make sense of their teaching. The study investigated the explicit and implicit reasons and arguments behind the pedagogical choices lecturers make.


University teaching is a complex process, with many different factors having a bearing on the success of the teaching and the learning outcome of students. One of the most significant factors for effective teaching is the lecturers' conception of their own role and the purpose of teaching (Hattie, 2012; Kember & Gow, 1994; Samuelowicz & Bain, 2001).Therefore it is both relevant and important to examine how university lecturers conceive teaching and learning in their own particular contexts (Dunkin, 2002).

In continuation of this, it is worth exploring the extent of the impact of the characteristics of individual disciplines on the way university lecturers perceive their teaching. On the one hand, there is general consensus that disciplinary differences have a bearing on the organisation of the teaching, forms of examination etc. On the other hand, context-independent theories on university teaching and learning are constantly being developed. The connection between lecturers' conceptions of their profession (disciplines) and their teaching could also be explored.


Research question

How is teaching embedded in academic disciplines?

Data basis

The data basis for the project was interviews with seventeen university lecturers from the Department of Law and Department of Management. The project aimed at looking at disciplines which are closely related theoretically (soft and applied, Biglan, 1973) and finding out how the perceived teaching practices were interpreted.


The main conclusions were that academic disciplines play an important role for lecturers’ choices in relation to their teaching. Not only for their choice of content, which of course relates to their academic discipline, but also for the pedagogical choices that were informed by their academic disciplines. For instance, academic law lecturers planned very well-structured teaching events because the content of law was perceived as being very structured. The lecturers from management were very attentive to the fact that their students were resource optimising. Therefore, they implemented incentives in their teaching designed to make students participate.

Discussion and perspectives

My dissertation showed that teaching that is well substantiated in line with the logic of the academic discipline can also contain pedagogical challenges. I hope that my research will draw attention to some blind spots by providing different explanations for contradictions in teaching. For instance, lecturers in law emphasised that students should independently be able to apply a legal method, but at the same time lecturers stressed that students should accept the given structures of the law. Historically, law teaching prioritised the structure in the first part of the study programme. As a result, many students had difficulties applying legal method, which traditionally was given more attention in the second part of the study programme.

The results indicate how important it is for promoters of pedagogical competence development to be attentive to disciplinary explanations and reasons. My dissertation showed that the same activity, a lecture, could have very different foundations in two different disciplines, and that the foundations of pedagogical choices are embedded in a disciplinary logic. Thus, we cannot give one-size-fits-all guidance in our development activities. We need to be more curious about why teaching has been conducted the way it has, and if it serves a specific purpose in the academic discipline.

Status: finished

PhD defence may 2017


Anna Bager-Elsborg

Assistant Professor
H 1323, 320
P +4587164732
P +4587164732