Disciplinary Culture and Effective Teaching: A Cultural Anthropological Study

  •  Saeid Safaei Movahhed    


During the last couple of decades, many researchers have been trying to explicate "effective teaching" in higher education. As a result, when one searches the term, a vast amount of papers and research reports pop up in the literature, involving lists of attributes and competencies of effective teachers. But the impressive point is that "effectiveness" has been viewed mostly from a technical vantage point and disciplinary differences have not received proportionate attention. At the same time, some sociologists of science began to view disciplines as tribes and territories who own their exclusive norms, rituals, and values. Hence, this research aims at investigating effective teaching in higher education within the framework of disciplinary culture. Methodologically, the research may be deemed as interpretive ethnography as it aims at representing emically how members of disciplinary cultures perceive and interpret effective teaching. Hence, based on Tony Becher classification of disciplines into civil and rural, two postgraduate classes were selected, namely from Pure Mathematics (involving 15 students to represent civil disciplines) and Education Studies (involving 18 students to represent rural disciplines). To collect data, the researcher deployed non-participant observation for a full semester and informal interviews were also conducted at regular intervals. The field notes and interview protocols were analyzed thematically to produce meaningful categories for results representation. As credibility was of great concern in the research, three strategies were used for this purpose namely member check, peer debriefing and prolonged engagement. Based on the interpretations, members of rural disciplines evaluate teaching as effective when it focuses on classic texts, cares about human and social issues, approaches laymen jargons, emphasizes understanding, appreciates variety of teaching strategies and learning styles, holds a critical stance towards cultural issues, and takes on a lenient approach in marking. On the other side, members of civil disciplines evaluate teaching as effective when it focuses on updated resources, is content-oriented, approaches professional terminology, emphasizes practicality, and takes on a tough stance on marking.

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