Agricultural Sciences

Researchers at Penn State identify key elements of quality instruction

A commonly held belief that college students are only interested in courses where they can earn an "easy A" is not supported by research study conducted at Penn State. What college students really value is how much they feel they learn in a course, according to recent findings from a survey reported at online.

"In our surveys of students at University Park, we found the single best predictor of how much students liked and positively evaluated the quality of instruction in courses was how much they had learned," said Fern K. Willits, distinguished professor emerita of rural sociology in the College of Agricultural Sciences, one of the members of the research team. "The belief that difficult courses and too much classwork will result in low student ratings is not supported by our data."

The research also probed the differences between students and faculty in their perceptions of the pedagogical procedures and practices viewed as most important to quality teaching. Students and instructors evaluated teaching practices and behaviors indicative of instructional quality. Both groups agreed that instructors who are knowledgeable, well organized, clear in their presentations and enthusiastic are key elements of instructional quality. Students were more likely than teachers to feel that having instructors who are easy to talk to and who use technology were also important elements. Instructors were more likely than students to rate as important stimulating students' intellectual curiosity and encouraging class discussion.

"Quality instruction is absolutely critical to preparing our learners for work in the real world," said Lawrence C. Ragan, director of faculty development, Penn State World Campus, and research team member. "This research will hopefully help inform how we approach course preparation and teaching."

In addition to Willits and Ragan, the research team includes James W. Beierlein, Barbara K. Wade, Mark Brennan, Janet May Dillon, Jeannette Brelsford and Noelle Waggett. Additional surveys are currently under way to assess the views of instructors and students at other Penn State campuses, including the World Campus. The research is supported by the Penn State Alumni Association's Teaching Fellow Program, Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, Penn State World Campus and College of Agricultural Sciences.

Penn State student Spyridon Ziangos studies on the University Park campus. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated June 25, 2012