Science of Learning: Teacher Cognition

All of us in higher education know about teacher cognition even if we are not familiar with the term. Because of our own educational experiences, by the time we get to university, we are all experts at teaching, and our university experiences simply sharpen that expertise. If we look at what Borg has said about teacher cognition, we can pull out some of the features that will help us understand how teacher cognition influences higher education.

  • teachers are influenced by their own experiences as learners;
  • these experiences act as a filter through which teachers interpret new information and experience;
  • previous educational experiences determine much of what we do in a classroom;
  • teacher cognition is deep-rooted and very resistant to change;
  • educational experiences from k-12 through higher education exert a persistent long-term influence on teachers’ instructional practices;

In addition to some of Borg’s insights, we know that in higher education, the single largest influence on how we teach and how we develop our curriculum is what we were taught and experienced while at university.

The evidence we have for knowing that each of our individualized teaching expertise is the greatest teaching that can be done is you! Just look at how brilliantly you turned out! Given how brilliant you are, the methods used to get you to where you are must be just as brilliant. Why wouldn’t you use them to make your students just like you? If they fail to get there, it isn’t your fault. You are proof of that. If they don’t measure up, it the fault lies completely with the student.

We know that about 10% of the population consistently engage in higher order thinking skills. Although the 10% figure is the product of good research, I have no evidence for what I am about to say: I would think that those who end up in academic positions at universities would consistently use higher order thinking skills in viewing the world around us (although reading some of the comments posted and the resistance to change, I have to wonder). What that means is that we aren’t the same as most of our students. We somehow figured it out, in spite of the methods used to teach us, how to develop our higher order thinking skills. Why then would we continue to use the exact same methods that result in getting only about 40% of our graduates to demonstrate any measurable improvements in their higher order thinking skills?

We know from teacher cognition that teaching methods are deeply resistant to change which would account for some of the dogmatism found in the teaching methods used by 90% of academics. General inertia is some of it. A lack of interest on the part of the professoriate (5% will read or engage anything about teaching this year). I think willful blindness plays a big part. We know from mountains of evidence that what we are doing has been shown to be ineffective for learning, and yet we refuse to change.

Given how the teacher cognition research demonstrates that we are stubbornly resistant to change our teaching methods, along with the recent study that shows that professors don’t want to change because they might not look good in front of their students, all we can do is to keep talking about the need for change and hope that the integrity of the individuals brings them to a state of real self-reflection and a desire to find out – and then change.

One thought on “Science of Learning: Teacher Cognition

  1. When I was a young professor, I tried some new teaching methods in my class. I was working with a cohort of students in a new web design program. I thought the trust was there to do something new, and I also wanted the students to develop their skills in teaching themselves new skills. The test failed because the students were resistant to change. They wanted to be lectured to and not move out of their comfort zone. A year later I started teaching the program online. In that context, the students did not have the same expectations about lecture. By changing the medium of delivery, they were more open to taking ownership of their learning.

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