Pedagogical choices depend on academic disciplines

5 questions for the researcher: Anna Bager-Elsborg

1. What was the object of your research?

I have examined how lecturers at Aarhus BSS – more specifically lecturers at the Department of Law and the Department of Management – make sense of their teaching. That is, I have examined the explicit and implicit reasons and arguments behind the pedagogical choices lecturers make.

2. Why was this interesting?

It was interesting to examine because lecturers at the universities are primarily recruited because of their research skills. They do not necessary possess great pedagogical knowledge or experience. Despite that, they teach quite a lot, and they make many independent choices about teaching. I was curious to find out what informed all those choices, especially if they were not informed by a pedagogical knowledge.

3. What are the main conclusions of your research?

The main conclusions were that academic disciplines play an important role for lecturers’ choices in and about their teaching. Not only for their choice of content, which of course relates to their academic discipline, but also for their pedagogical choices that were informed by their academic disciplines. For instance, the 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 that fact that their students were resource optimizing. Therefore, they implemented incentives in their teaching designed to make students participate.

4. How can lecturers at Aarhus BSS use this knowledge?

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 be able to independently apply legal method, but at the same time lecturers stressed that students should accept the given structures of the laws. 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.

5. Which consequences do your findings have for educational development? 

The results point to the importance, for supporters of pedagogical competence development, of being attentive to disciplinary explanations and reasons. My dissertation showed that the same activity, a lecture, could have very different reasons in two different disciplines, and that the reasons behind pedagogical choices are  embedded in a disciplinary logic. Thus, we cannot make one size fit 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.