How Faculty Spend Their Time Relates to Teaching Practices

How Faculty Spend Their Time Relates to Teaching Practices

Joe Strickland, Bridget Yuhas, Kyle Fassett — At the American Educational Research Association annual meeting in New York City this past April, we presented a paper, along with co-authors Allison BrckaLorenz and Thomas Nelson Laird, at a roundtable titled: Faculty types and effective teaching: A cautionary exploration of how faculty spend their time.

This study incorporated responses from approximately 16,000 faculty members, employed at bachelor’s-granting institutions using data from the 2017 administration of the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE). We were able to determine relationships between time spent on teaching, research, and service and the use of effective teaching practices as well as construct five distinct groups of faculty determined by how they spend their working hours. Teaching-Heavy faculty were the largest group (33%) while Service-Heavy faculty were the smallest group (9%).

To explore the connections between these five groups and teaching practices, we turned to the FSSE Scale measures constructed around good teaching practices. These scales measure aspects of academic challenge, learning with peers, and experiences with faculty, among other constructs. We conducted eight OLS regressions, in each of which a FSSE Scale was the outcome, the five groupings of faculty were the independent variables of interest, and additional faculty characteristics served as controls. Some brief findings include:

  • Classic Faculty use all these FSSE Scale teaching practices more than the average faculty member.
  • Moderate-Load Faculty had a less substantial emphasis on higher-order learning activities and less-than-average use of effective teaching practices.
  • Service-Heavy Faculty exhibited above average use of higher-order learning activities and effective teaching practices.
  • Teaching-Heavy Faculty had less-than-average out-of-class interactions with students and placed less-than-average emphasis on higher-order learning activities in the classroom.
  • Differences for the Research-Heavy Faculty from average were all trivial – against stereotype, perhaps.
  • No “type” of faculty was found solely in one group (e.g. not just Lecturers in the Teaching-Heavy group).

These findings indicate that even with the increase in specialized roles for faculty, most instructors will likely not be able to focus solely on one type of activity: within the groups, there’s still variation in time spent on each activity. For example, Service-Heavy Faculty spend lots of time on service activities, but they have a very wide range of variation in the time they spend on teaching activities. Although our cluster analysis produced distinct groups, it’s likely an oversimplification: many faculty may find themselves represented between groups or not perfectly represented within a single group.

Future research should explore how or why these divisions in faculty time are created. The connection between role definitions, faculty autonomy, and the five groups is worth additional exploration. Further, the connections to effective teaching practice are quite striking and worthy of further investigation. The Moderate-Load Faculty also raise additional questions about time spent by faculty on activities outside the teaching-research-service triumvirate.

If we missed you we hope to see you next year at AERA or other upcoming conferences. In the meantime, you can see the featured draft here. Highlights from the paper can also be found on the Chronicle of Higher Education.