Public Release: 

Teaching workshops fail to spur learner-centered teaching

Participants in professional development programs for teachers reported they had changed their teaching style; objective assessment indicated otherwise

American Institute of Biological Sciences

Professional development workshops for college teachers, designed to encourage the use of active, "learner-centered" teaching methods, may be less effective than the participants believe, according to research reported in the July issue of BioScience.

Diane Ebert-May of Michigan State University and her colleagues studied the teaching of participants in two such established programs for faculty teaching introductory biology courses. Although after the workshops most of the faculty judged themselves to be providing the favored, learner-centered teaching, which encourages student engagement and exploration rather than lecture-style presentations, analysis of video recordings showed that most of the participants were still using traditional styles of teaching up to two years later. More experienced teachers were less likely to adopt the favored teaching styles than early-career teachers.

Ebert-May and her five coauthors examined data from two multi-day programs, one of which occurred over several years and one of which was repeated annually. Both programs led to participating faculty knowing more about inquiry-based teaching, as expected, and a large majority of them also reported later in questionnaires that they were actually using such practices. But 75 percent were not in fact doing so substantially, according to Ebert-May's study. The researchers state that the results call into question the value of the self-assessment method frequently used in education studies, and recommend that in future, researchers should rely on validated independent assessments of teaching performance. Although a lack of support from colleagues for adopting learner-centered teaching methods is often suggested as an explanation when they are not adopted, the participants in Ebert-May's study reported that having insufficient time was the main impediment to their revising their teaching.

Ebert-May and her coauthors conclude that changes are needed in professional development programs if they are to bring about real improvements in teaching practice. In particular, they favor providing participating faculty with more opportunities for direct practice of what they have learned. "Instant replays of teaching with expert commentary may become our most powerful tool to improve outcomes," they conclude.


By noon EST on 6 July 2011 and until early August, the full text of the article will be available for free download through the copy of this press release available at

BioScience, published 12 times per year, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles covering a wide range of biological fields, with a focus on "Organisms from Molecules to the Environment." The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an umbrella organization for professional scientific societies and organizations involved with biology. It represents some 200 member societies and organizations with a combined membership of about 250,000.

The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the July 2011 issue of BioScience is as follows:

Spring Flowering Response to Climate Change between 1936 and 2006 in Alberta, Canada by Elisabeth Beaubien and Andreas Hamann

Borders of Biodiversity: Life at the Edge of the World's Large Lakes by Yvonne Vadeboncoeur, Peter B. McIntyre, and M. Jake Vander Zanden

Correlates of Vertebrate Extinction Risk in Canada by Sean C. Anderson, Robert G. Farmer, Francesco Ferretti, Aimee Lee S. Houde, and Jeffrey A. Hutchings

What We Say Is Not What We Do: Effective Evaluation of Faculty Professional Development Programs by Diane Ebert-May, Terry L. Derting, Janet Hodder, Jennifer L. Momsen, Tammy M. Long, and Sarah E. Jardeleza

Crop Wild Relatives--Undervalued, Underutilized, and under Threat? by Brian V. Ford-Lloyd, Markus Schmidt, Susan J. Armstrong, Oz Barazani, Jan Engels, Rivka Hadas, Karl Hammer, Shelagh P. Kel, Dingming Kang, Korous Khoshbakht, Yinghui Li, Chunlin Long, Bao-Rong Lu, Keping Ma, Viet Tung Nguyen, Lijuan Qiu, Song Ge, Wei Wei, Zongwen Zhang, and Nigel Maxted

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