Evaluating the impact of university teaching on approaches to learning of two groups of first-year students in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University
The aim of this study was to evaluate contextual influences on student learning, and to show how teachers and departments might set up the learning situation so that it may promote students' deep learning. Teaching needs to take into account the different approaches to learning that students may adopt. The study assessed the impact of university teaching on the 'approaches to learning' taken by two groups of students from two different departments in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. The Study Process Questionnaire by Biggs (1992) was used to evaluate students' approaches to learning at two different points in their studies, viz. the beginning of their first and second year, respectively in 2000 and 2001. Twenty-eight students and thirteen teachers were interviewed to discover the reasons for the students' adoption of their particular learning approaches. Quantitative data showed that the 'surface' approach score of one group of students decreased significantly after one year, and interview analysis revealed that active student-centred teaching was the main reason for this change. The quality of teaching in the department was strongly related to the student-centred conception of teaching held by most of the teachers. Their approach was to motivate students and engage them in their learning with the aim of changing their students' conception of learning. The concept of the 'active classroom' served as a framework for teachers to consider in deciding on their teaching process, with the aim of promoting the quality of student learning. The task for staff developers working with university teachers is to increase their awareness of learning as a process in which students actively construct their own knowledge and understanding, while teaching is to provide the context for students in which learning can take place that will achieve the desired learning outcomes.