It's personal: biology instructors prioritize personal evidence over empirical evidence in teaching decisions

CBE Life Sci Educ. 2015 Mar 2;14(1):ar7. doi: 10.1187/cbe.14-05-0084.


Despite many calls for undergraduate biology instructors to incorporate active learning into lecture courses, few studies have focused on what it takes for instructors to make this change. We sought to investigate the process of adopting and sustaining active-learning instruction. As a framework for our research, we used the innovation-decision model, a generalized model of how individuals adopt innovations. We interviewed 17 biology instructors who were attempting to implement case study teaching and conducted qualitative text analysis on interview data. The overarching theme that emerged from our analysis was that instructors prioritized personal experience-rather than empirical evidence-in decisions regarding case study teaching. We identified personal experiences that promote case study teaching, such as anecdotal observations of student outcomes, and those that hinder case study teaching, such as insufficient teaching skills. By analyzing the differences between experienced and new case study instructors, we discovered that new case study instructors need support to deal with unsupportive colleagues and to develop the skill set needed for an active-learning classroom. We generated hypotheses that are grounded in our data about effectively supporting instructors in adopting and sustaining active-learning strategies. We also synthesized our findings with existing literature to tailor the innovation-decision model.

MeSH terms

  • Biology / education*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Curriculum
  • Decision Making
  • Faculty
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Models, Educational
  • Personal Satisfaction
  • Problem-Based Learning*
  • Teaching*
  • Universities