Source of the “Geek Gene”? Teacher beliefs: Reading on Lijun Ni, Learning from Helenrose Fives on teacher self-efficacy

July 3, 2015 at 8:31 am 6 comments

I discovered the below quoted post when I was looking up a paper by my former student, Lijun Ni.  It’s nice to see her work getting recognized and reviewed!  I talked a lot about her work when I was talking to PhD students at the University of Oldenburg program — Lijun has studied the beliefs of CS teachers, and that’s super important.

One of the other international guests at the Oldenburg program I attended last month (see post here) was Helenrose Fives who has literally written the book on teacher beliefs (see Amazon reference).  Several of the PhD students who presented their research talked about student teachers having lower self-efficacy after actually being in the classroom, less commitment to ideals like inquiry learning, and less belief that students can learn.  Helenrose said that that’s really quite common.  Teachers have a high level of self-efficacy (“I can teach using novel approaches that will really help students learn!”) before they enter the classroom, and that sense of self-efficacy falls off a cliff once they face the reality of the classroom.  The self-efficacy rises over time (up and down, but mostly up) but never reaches the optimism of before teachers enter the classroom.

I talked to Helenrose about what her work means for University CS teachers.  In general, the work she describes is about school teachers, not faculty.  She agreed that it’s possible for University CS teachers to have high self-efficacy even if they are not successful teachers, because University teachers define self-efficacy differently than school teachers.  School teachers are responsible for student learning.  They know individual students.  They actually know if they are successful in their teaching or not (in terms of student learning and engagement).  University teachers tend to have larger classes, and they tend to teach via lecture.  They usually have little knowledge of individual student learning and engagement.  Their sense of self-efficacy may arise from their ability to succeed at their task, “I can give great lectures. (Almost nobody falls asleep.)  I can manage huge classes.”  Where they do have knowledge of learning and evidence of ineffective teaching, they may simply decide that it’s the student’s fault. Perhaps this is where the Geek Gene is born.

Here’s a hypothesis: If a University teacher has high self-efficacy (great confidence in his or her teaching ability) and sees evidence of students not learning, it’s rational for that teacher to believe that the problem lies with the students and that the problem is innate — beyond the ability of the teacher to improve it.

 In the first study, Ni interviewed teachers about their identity in order to establish what strengths and weaknesses are common in high school computer science teachers. She found that the teaching identity of computer science teachers is largely underdeveloped compared to teachers in other fields, and that often computer science teachers prefer to identify as a math teacher or a business teacher, rather than a computer science teacher.

Further, she found that high school computer science teachers generally do not have any sort of teaching support community to turn to, because they are often the only computer science teacher at their school.

All of these problems combine to keep computer science teachers from developing a strong teaching identity centered in the computer science field. Instead, we have teachers with low commitment levels to the field training our next generation of programmers in basic computing skills that are generally unrelated to the field of computer science itself.

via Reading Lijun Ni | computing education.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized. Tags: , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. nickfalkner  |  July 7, 2015 at 1:49 am

    I can see how the hypothesis would form if self-efficacy is defined in this way but I wonder which way around it happened. Was efficacy defined in this inward-looking way initially, leading to problems, or is it a survival mechanism in the face of problems, shrinking back from an externally focused measurement of efficacy? (I hope I explained that properly.)

    Interesting! Than you for sharing.

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  July 7, 2015 at 12:06 pm

      We’d need some empirical data to know for sure. What are new CS faculty’s self-efficacy coming into teaching? What is the self-efficacy of current CS faculty? If the former is low and the latter is high, I think that supports your latter hypothesis. If both are high (which is what I predict), I think that supports my hypothesis.

      • 3. nickfalkner  |  July 7, 2015 at 6:43 pm

        Hmm. Good point. I’ll send you some mail.

  • 4. Bri Morrison  |  July 14, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    There’s another very key difference between school teachers and University teachers: only the school teachers are evaluated and held accountable for their students’ learning. K-12 Teachers (US) are largely evaluated on how well their students do on standardized tests (like the AP CS test) – so if they can’t get their students to do well, then they are (at least partially) blamed. In the University environment, if too many students fail a specific class, the instructor may be called into question, but generally it doesn’t affect their annual evaluation – thus it’s easy to shift the accountability to the student (“they didn’t learn” vs. “I couldn’t help them learn.”). The US high school system is designed for _all_ students to pass (inferring that they learned) while the university system is designed for testing whether they learned or not and failing those that didn’t. *begin sarcasm* Obviously if most of the students in the class were able to learn and pass the class, I must be a good teacher. *end sarcasm* Rarely is the university teacher required to understand _how_ the student learned (from them, their friend, or another website).

  • […] I often do, I was trying to convince my colleagues that there is no “Geek Gene.”  He agreed that there is no Geek Gene.  But still, some people can’t learn […]

  • […] which we’re trying to grow CS, we will have to provide incentives to make CS more attractive. Lijun Ni’s dissertation explored the barriers for teachers to become CS teachers (e.g., it’s a lot easier and more […]


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