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Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494

DOI 10.1007/s11162-008-9088-5

The Effects of Discipline on Deep Approaches to Student
Learning and College Outcomes
Thomas F. Nelson Laird Æ Rick Shoup Æ George D. Kuh Æ Michael J. Schwarz

Received: 9 January 2007 / Published online: 12 February 2008
Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract ‘‘Deep learning’’ represents student engagement in approaches to learning that
emphasize integration, synthesis, and reflection. Because learning is a shared responsibility
between students and faculty, it is important to determine whether faculty members
emphasize deep approaches to learning and to assess how much students employ these
approaches. This study examines the effect of discipline on student use of and faculty
members’ emphasis on deep approaches to learning as well as on the relationships between
deep approaches to learning and selected educational outcomes. Using data from over
80,000 seniors and 10,000 faculty members we found that deep approaches to learning
were more prevalent in Biglan’s soft, pure, and life fields compared to their counterparts.
The differences were largest between soft and hard fields. We also found that seniors who
engage more frequently in deep learning behaviors report greater educational gains, higher
grades, and greater satisfaction with college, and that the strength of these relationships is
relatively consistent across disciplinary categories.

Deep learning  Discipline  College seniors  Faculty

Marton and Sa¨ljo¨ (1976) introduced the phrase, deep processing, to qualitatively distinguish among students’ responses to learning tasks. ‘‘Deep’’ approaches are usually
preferred because it represents students looking beyond the signs associated with information (surface approaches) to the more important underlying meaning (Marton and Sa¨ljo¨
1976). As Ramsden (2003) stated, ‘‘Surface approaches have nothing to do with wisdom
T. F. Nelson Laird (&)  R. Shoup  G. D. Kuh
Center for Postsecondary Research, Indiana University Bloomington, 1900 East Tenth Street,
Eigenmann Hall Suite 419, Bloomington, IN 47406-7512, USA
M. J. Schwarz
Las Positas College, Livermore, CA, USA



Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494

and everything to do with aimless accumulation. They belong to an artificial world of
learning, where faithfully reproducing fragments of torpid knowledge to please teachers
and pass examination has replaced understanding’’ (p. 59).
A growing body of research suggests that educationally effective learning environments
are characterized by the promotion of deep approaches to learning. Students who use deep
approaches to learning tend to perform better as well as retain, integrate, and transfer
information at higher rates than students using surface approaches to learning (Biggs 1988,
1989; Entwistle and Ramsden 1983; Prosser and Millar 1989; Ramsden 2003; Whelan
1988). Simply put, deep approaches to learning lead to more meaningful learning. As a
result, particularly in this period of increased emphasis on assessment and accountability,
deep learning and the processes that produce it are of interest to those investigating and
documenting student engagement and learning in higher education.
To better understand where and how deep approaches to learning are used and the
effects of these approaches on students, we focused this study on the relationships between
disciplines and deep learning approaches. In what fields do faculty members emphasize
and students use deep approaches frequently? Where are these approaches used less frequently? Is the positive effect of deep approaches to learning on students’ outcomes less in
those fields that use these approaches less? To place our research in context, we provide
some background about deep approaches to learning and the effects of discipline on
student and faculty practices, particularly deep approaches to learning and related

Deep Approaches to Learning
Scholars investigating ‘‘deep learning’’ avoid confusion by distinguishing ‘‘approaches to
learning’’ from the learning that results. Approaches to learning describe the types of
activities and behaviors students participate in or utilize in their studies (e.g., Biggs 1987,
2003; Ramsden 2003). What results from those approaches is some form of learning. By
definition, deep approaches lead to deep learning and surface approaches lead to surface
In developing these distinctions, researchers found that deep learning reflects a personal
commitment to understand the material which manifests itself in the use of various
strategies such as reading widely, combining a variety of resources, discussion of ideas
with others, reflecting on how individual pieces of information relate to larger constructs or
patterns, and applying knowledge in real world situations (Biggs 1987, 1989, 2003; Entwistle 1981; Ramsden 2003; Tagg 2003). Also characteristic of deep learning is integrating
and synthesizing information with prior learning in ways that become part of one’s
thinking and approaching new phenomena and efforts to see things from different perspectives (Ramsden 2003; Tagg 2003). By contrast, students using ‘‘surface’’ approaches
focus on the substance of information and emphasize rote learning and memorization
techniques (Biggs 1989; Tagg 2003). With surface approaches, the goal of studying for a
test or exam is to avoid failure, instead of grasping key concepts and understanding their
relation to other information and how the information applies in other circumstances
(Bowden and Marton 1998).
Colleges and universities are paying increased attention to the benefits of learnercentered approaches to teaching and learning, such as deep approaches. Faculty members
are being encouraged to shift away from pedagogical approaches that emphasize surface
learning (Biggs 1989; Tagg 2003). Instructors are instead expected to foster learning


the difference is attributable to deep learning activities being emphasized to similarly differing degrees by the faculty in those areas. Ramsden 2003). If faculty and the learning environment influence the learning approaches utilized by students. Entwistle and Ramsden 1983). and student– faculty interaction (NSSE 2003.. It is entirely possible that faculty in those two areas emphasize deep approaches to learning equally or that engineering faculty value and emphasize these activities to a greater degree than their colleagues in the social sciences. Since context is critical. That is. Because students and faculty are the key actors in collegiate learning contexts. That is. Gow et al. that students. Contextual Effects on Deep Approaches to Learning Context plays an important role in how students approach learning tasks (Beatie et al. Such disciplinary differences are observed in the adoption of what NSSE calls ‘‘effective educational practices. Biggs and Moore 1993. Tagg 2003. Although choice of learning approach may be influenced by personal characteristics such as ability (Biggs 1987). The increased emphasis on active. and at times requiring. 1994. learner-centered approaches seems to have had a positive impact. Ramsden 2003. for example. do what faculty ask them to do). To illustrate. in general. more frequently students participate in that type of activity (Kuh et al. 2004). consistent with results from much of the research on college teaching and learning (Pascarella and Terenzini 2005). 2005). Such a mismatch would suggest a disconnect between what faculty emphasize and what students do and. curriculum content. 2001. For example.Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 471 environments that encourage students to grasp the underlying meaning of information. 1997. the patterns of learning approaches students use and faculty emphasize likely vary in similar ways (Ramsden 2003).e. gaining a personal interest in the learning process. While this confirms a foundational assumption about education (i.’’ a phrase intended to encompass concepts such as deep approaches to learning as well as active and collaborative learning. 2002. as the designers and facilitators of learning activities and tasks. 2003. Zeegers 2001). while the existence of such a mismatch 123 . often the learning task itself and the conditions under which the task is performed affect which approach is utilized (Biggs 1987. because academic tasks differ from one discipline to another. academic challenge. but take a surface approach when studying for a multiple choice test in an elective course outside of her major. and methods of teaching and assessment shapes whether a student will gravitate toward a surface or deep approach (Biggs 1989. when faculty emphasize active learning. Zeegers 2001). one should not assume that if engineering students report using deep approaches to learning less often than students in the social sciences. a student studying for an essay exam within her major may take a deep approach. findings from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) (2000. it stands to reason that such approaches would be influenced by the field in which one is studying (National Research Council 1999. 2004. Eley 1992. Thus. such engagement. For example. we cannot obtain a comprehensive understanding of the college student learning process without examining what both parties do. student work tends to reflect the assignments given by faculty (Umbach and Wawrzynski 2005). Biggs 1987. play a key role in shaping students’ approaches to learning. At the campus level. it is not sufficient to ignore the potential for inconsistency when examining disciplinary areas. the interaction between a student and the course structure. faculty members. 2005) demonstrate that a majority of undergraduates at 4-year institutions engage in activities indicative of a deep approach at least ‘‘sometimes’’ during a given academic year and that faculty are encouraging.

This interplay of people influencing fields and fields influencing people complicates one’s ability to understand the root causes of observed disciplinary effects or differences. researchers examining variations in teaching and learning have relied frequently on a disciplinary categorization created by Biglan (1973a. The observed effects do not unravel this interplay. Students and faculty tend to gravitate to fields consistent with their personalities (see. faculty and students learn what is appropriate. The hard–soft dimension distinguishes between fields with a high degree of consensus about the knowledge and methods in the field and fields where there is low consensus (Braxton and Hargens 1996). but spans a range of related teaching issues (Braxton and Hargens 1996). Holland 1997 or Smart et al. in their review of different classifications of fields of study. Based on measures of faculty social connectedness and commitment to different areas of their work and later with characteristics of subject matter and departmental organization. Consequently. (2002) and Braxton and Hargens (1996) analyzed studies on a variety of topics to determine how discipline influences teaching. a discipline or field usually reflects the values and norms held by its constituent individuals or dominant groups. using different terminology (e. b) dimensions identify groupings of disciplines or fields with similar approaches to academic tasks.. for example. Socialization is one way to conceptualize the primary manner through which a discipline influences its constituent students and faculty. are more likely to discuss alternative or critical perspectives in their courses (Gaff and Wilson 1971. Becher and Trowler 2001). paying particular attention to the effects of being in hard and soft fields.. Braxton and Hargens. However. including how to teach and how to learn (Becher and Trowler 2001). Through socialization into the field. expected. Biglan’s (1973a. Biglan’s two other dimensions distinguish between fields that concentrate on creating knowledge (pure) or applying knowledge from other fields (applied) and those that focus on ‘‘life systems’’ (life) or deal with inanimate objects (non-life).472 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 would certainly complicate our understanding of disciplinary contexts. The dimensions help identify culturally similar fields. Neumann et al. Research on the effects of discipline among faculty does not directly address faculty emphasis on deep approaches to learning.g. and accepted in terms of their behavior in the field. Lattuca and 123 . 2000). In addition to distinguishing between content or research methods used by faculty. in many investigations—like the study reported here—it is assumed that student and faculty behaviors and attitudes at a given point in time result from the complicated interplay between personalities and context.g. such as the social sciences. However. b). level of consensus or paradigm development). most scholars focus on the first (hard–soft) and sometimes include the second (pure–applied). Biglan developed and tested this three dimensional classification of fields of study. such as teaching and learning. their possible existence should not be ignored. For example. Faculty in soft disciplines were more likely than those in hard disciplines to emphasize instructional approaches or assignments that probably foster deep approaches to learning. by scholars interested in identifying ways of modeling or typifying academic disciplines. Understanding Disciplinary Effects As a way to frame and understand the effects of discipline. The third (life– non-life) is rarely used. one’s choice of a field typically is not left to chance. which has been further explicated or adapted by others (e. While Biglan identified three dimensions. they simply document some of its outcomes. note that this dimension has been identified. faculty members in soft disciplines.

student–faculty contact. accounting students are more likely to use surface learning approaches compared with arts and sciences students (Booth et al. Surface learning tends to dominate in engineering (Woods et al. Deep Approaches to Learning and Student Outcomes Do fields need to change their practices when disciplinary differences are observed? To answer this question. such as academic achievement. when comparisons are made. changing practices may not produce the desired effects on students. studies have examined deep learning in fields such as chemistry (Eley 1992. 1994. deep approaches to learning are emphasized less in engineering (a hard–applied–non-life area) than in other fields. Smart and Ethington 1995).Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 473 Stark 1994). are still connected positively to student outcomes. it is important to understand the connection between deep approaches to learning and student outcomes. Neumann et al. However. if the connection is as strong in engineering as it is in other fields. The studies of differences in deep approaches to learning among students by discipline generally ignore methods for grouping or categorizing disciplines. In such a case. 1998). While much of this work lacks disciplinary comparisons and no studies have samples of students from a wide range of disciplinary areas. however. the results suggest that deep learning is used more frequently by students in ‘‘soft’’ disciplinary areas and less frequently in ‘‘hard’’ fields of study (the implications for Biglan’s other dimensions are difficult to discern). As indicated earlier. as Felder and Brent (2005) noted: ‘‘A single approach has dominated engineering education since its inception: the professor lectures and the students attempt to absorb the lecture content and reproduce it in examinations. and that students in those fields can. Zeegers and Martin 2001). 123 . A few scholars described distinctions among disciplines using multiple Biglan dimensions. the lower emphasis may be due to a weak or non-existent connection between deep approaches and certain outcomes. no studies systematically address the variability in the relationships between student outcomes and deep approaches to learning. and active learning (Braxton et al. In addition. Several studies suggest that in hard fields deep approaches to learning. 2000). perhaps because only a few specific fields are involved. Biglan’s life–non-life dimension is all but ignored in the research on faculty teaching methods. 2002). increase their use of deep approaches to learning and consequently improve their outcomes (Gow et al. as a result of altered teaching practices. For example. Additionally. while developing critical perspectives is a strength in soft–pure fields (Lattuca and Stark 1994. 1990. 1999) such as English majors (Eley 1992). and how the connection varies by disciplinary area. and physics (Prosser and Millar 1989). If. Woods et al. Meyer et al. then change may be warranted. 2000). geography (Hill and Woodland 2002). To date. particularly hard–soft and pure–applied. Faculty members from soft disciplines are more likely to encourage analysis and synthesis while their counterparts from hard disciplines require more memorization and application of course concepts (Braxton and Nordvall 1985. That particular size fits almost nobody: it violates virtually every principle of effective instruction established by modern cognitive science and educational psychology’’ (p. findings that are important for making decisions about how to address changing teaching and learning practices within different fields. which are emphasized less in these fields. for example. 57). noting that curricular coherence is relatively simple to achieve in hard–pure fields where single paradigms dominate. health sciences (Newble and Clarke 1985). faculty members in soft disciplines are more likely than their colleagues in hard disciplines to emphasize high expectations.

Methods Data Sources The data for this study come from the 2005 administrations of NSSE and its companion. If the relationship is weak or near zero in fields that score low on deep approaches to learning. At the same time. particularly if they are interested in improving student performance on the outcomes under study. Institutions chose their administration mode (via the Web. Kuh 2001. paper questionnaires. the Faculty Survey of Student Engagement (FSSE). The number of undergraduate students and mode of administration determined the number of students sampled at each institution. 2003. First. 22% were in hard fields and 78% in soft. on the other hand. with an average of 39%). Pascarella and Terenzini 2005). If. there is little reason to argue that those fields should consider changing their practices. Given our focus on disciplinary area. NSSE is an annual survey of first-year students and seniors at baccalaureate degree-granting institutions that measures students’ participation in educational experiences that prior research has connected to valued outcomes (Chickering and Gamson 1987.474 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study is twofold. we examine the effect discipline has on the use of deep approaches to learning. The second purpose of the study is to examine the relationships between deep learning approaches and three student outcomes: student self-reported gains in personal and intellectual development. there is an equally strong connection. Smart and Ethington 1995). Eley 1992. students and faculty in lower scoring fields should consider changing their practices. or a combination of web and paper) and response rates varied across institutions (from 8% to 89%.124 randomly sampled seniors from 517 4-year colleges and universities. Does discipline systematically influence the preference for deep learning approaches and is the influence consistent across students and faculty? Prior findings from NSSE and FSSE suggest that we will find many students engaging in deep approaches to learning and many faculty members emphasizing these practices (NSSE 2004. Responses from seniors from 62 different fields were used. as suggested by previous research (Braxton and Nordvall 1985. satisfaction with college. 123 . seniors were selected because they have the most experience in their chosen fields. and self-reported grades. the respondent pool consisted of 80. Of the seniors in the sample. we are interested in whether the strength of the relationship varies by disciplinary area in a manner consistent with differences in the amount deep approaches to learning are utilized in disciplinary areas. the utilization of deep approaches to learning will likely vary across major fields. Table 1 contains the breakdown of fields by Biglan’s categories. In particular. 2005). 46% were in pure fields and 54% in applied. and 45% were in life fields with 55% in non-life. Samples Students After deletion for missing data. FSSE measures the value and emphasis faculty members place on these same activities in their teaching.

2% other racial/ethnic background. 2% multi-racial or ethnic.) Environmental science Psychology Microbiology or bacteriology Sociology Zoology Kinesiology Pure–Non-life Astronomy Art. 5% Asian. int’l rel. 1% Native American. with 7% 123 . geology) Language and literature (except English) Mathematics Music Physics Philosophy Statistics Theater or drama Geography Applied–Life Speech Theology or religion Medicine Business education Dentistry Elementary/middle school education Veterinarian Music or art education Pharmacy Physical education or recreation Agriculture Nursing Allied health/other medical Social work Family Studies Criminal justice Applied–Non-life Aero-/astronautical engineering Journalism Civil engineering Accounting Chemical engineering Business administration (general) Electrical or electronic engineering Finance Industrial engineering Marketing Materials engineering Management Mechanical engineering Architecture General/other engineering Urban planning Economics Communications Public administration Note: Categorization based on Biglan (1973a. 73% were white (6% African American. fine and applied Atmospheric science (incl. 5% Hispanic. b. Malaney (1986). Malaney 1986. approximately 66% of the respondents were female. Stoecker 1993).Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 475 Table 1 Disciplinary areas by Biglan categories Hard Pure–Life Soft Biology (general) Anthropology Biochemistry or biophysics Ethnic studies Botany Political science (incl. In addition. meteorology) English (language and literature) Chemistry History Earth science (incl. and Stoecker (1993) Students from some fields such as military science and international business were not included in these analyses because their majors are not yet classified (Biglan 1973a. b). gov’t.

Faculty members from the same 62 fields in Table 1 were included in the study. and 25% were full professors. Although not representative of all U. 36% transferred from another institution. For example.365 faculty members. a true response rate cannot be calculated. of the 109 institutions. the 109 participating institutions represent a wide cross-section of U. 2% other racial/ethnic background. and 19% are baccalaureate general. The average faculty member in the sample had taught at the college level for about 16 years prior to the 2004–2005 academic year. while soft fields have relatively low consensus (coded as 0). 4-year institutions of higher education. After adjusting for bad email addresses. In addition. The vast majority of institutions survey all undergraduate teaching faculty. about 13% were members of a social fraternity or sorority. fields are divided by their focus on pure (coded as 1) or applied content (coded as 0). we separated fields into categories according to the degree of consensus in the field. we rely on Biglan’s (1973a. and 10% preferred not to identify their racial or ethnic background.476 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 preferring not to identify their racial or ethnic background). 4% Asian. Faculty Sample The faculty sample for this study. Measures To explore disciplinary effects. In addition. Third. The 517 institutions attended by the senior respondents in this study represent a wide cross-section of U. respectively). Life fields (coded as 1) have a direct connection to the study of life. and 7% fit under other categories in the 2000 Carnegie classification. 4-year institutions (see NSSE 2005). Of the faculty members in the sample. 18% were liberal arts colleges. public and private institutions are about equally represented among the FSSE colleges and universities (52% and 48%.S. Almost one third (31%) were first generation college students. 65% were from pure fields and 35% in applied. consists of 10. 24% were associate professors. About 41% were female. Institutions that participate in NSSE can choose to participate in FSSE and select their own sample of faculty to survey. Just over 46% were public institutions. and 33% were in life fields and 67% in non-life. about 50% are master’s level. Three variables corresponding to Biglan’s three dimensions were used. b) classification to separate seniors by major and faculty by the field in which they teach. Second. 18% were doctoral. Almost 9 out of 10 (87%) were working full-time. while the connection is less direct for non-life fields (coded as 0). fields are divided by their relative focus on living organisms. 47% lived on or near campus. Hard fields have relatively high consensus (coded as 1). In particular. First. 9% are liberal arts. 44% were master’s institutions. institutions are encouraged to submit contact information only for those faculty members who teach undergraduates. 4-year colleges and universities. 1% multi-racial or ethnic. 77% were White. \1% Native American. FSSE staff estimate that the average institution had 54% of its sample respond. The 123 .S. 23% are doctoral. 4% African American. about 23% were lecturers or instructors. 3% Hispanic.S. 28% were in hard fields and 72% in soft. 28% were assistant professors. Because faculty responses are anonymous. Given that the focus of the survey is on undergraduate teaching and learning. and 87% were full-time students. after deletion for missing data. 13% were baccalaureate general institutions.

students identify the degree to which their courses emphasize different mental processes (e. a single self-reported item that ranges from C. 2006 for a detailed discussion of the structure of this scale). soft–pure–life (SPL)..91) that measures how much students believe they have gained in areas such as acquiring a broad general education.or lower to A. a two-item measure of students’ satisfaction with their collegiate experience (a = 0. Entwistle and Ramsden 1983). learning effectively on their own. as well as how they would characterize their relationships with people on campus. soft–pure–non-life (SPN). soft–applied–life (SAL).edu.8 or so) with actual grades (Olsen et al. participate in a community-based project as a part of a course. a 16-item scale (a = 0. 2006). and discussing ideas with others outside of class. more complex interpretations. As Table 1 illustrates. In addition. or theory and synthesizing ideas. evaluating. or experiences into new. information.72) contains items that center around the amount students participate in activities that require integrating ideas from various sources.g.iub. the items in Table 2 combine to form a reliable measure of student participation in activities that represent a deep approach to learning (a = 0. the fields can be divided into eight groups: hard–pure–life (HPL). working. The reflective learning sub-scale (a = 0. synthesizing). The items ask. Dichotomous measures representing these eight groups are also used in several analyses. thinking critically and analytically. integrative learning. Satisfaction. and reflective learning—that reflect areas tapped by other measures of deep learning (Biggs 1987. The integrative learning subscale (a = 0. including diverse perspectives in their academic work. www. writing clearly and effectively. and solving complex real-world problems. Student-Specific Measures NSSE focuses on student participation in effective educational practices.78) represented by students’ rating of their entire educational 123 . Central to the reflective learning behaviors is the notion that students can learn and expand their understanding by investigating their own thinking and then applying their new knowledge to their lives. These behaviors are divided into three sub-scales—higher order learning. hard–applied–non-life (HAN).nsse. for example. The complete survey is available at the NSSE website. Key to this study. Grades. hard–applied–life (HAL). and soft–applied–non-life (SAN). using these three dimensions.81) was developed to complement the higher order and integrative learning items that have been on the core survey for several years (Nelson Laird et al. and work with faculty members on activities other than coursework.82) focuses on the amount students believe that their courses emphasize advanced thinking skills such as analyzing the basic elements of an idea. experience.Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 477 breakdown of fields by dimension is given in Table 1. how often students examined the strengths and weaknesses of their own views and learned something that changed their understanding. For example. how many hours per week they spend studying. understanding themselves.72) (see Nelson Laird et al. The higher order learning subscale (a = 0. students are asked to identify how often they make class presentations. memorizing. Ramsden and Entwistle 1981. Self-reported grades correlate well (0. three student outcome measures are used in our analyses (for a complete description of these measures see Appendix A): (1) (2) (3) Student gains in personal and intellectual development. hard–pure– non-life (HPN). Beyond the deep approaches to learning items. 1998). or participating in co-curricular activities.

edu. 2 = Some. etc. For many questions on the survey. experience. such as examining how others gathered and interpreted data and assessing the soundness of their conclusions Applied theories or concepts to practical problems or in new situations Integrative learning (a = 0. or methods.82) Analyzed the basic elements of an idea.iub.72) Worked on a paper or project that required integrating ideas or information from various sources Included diverse perspectives (different races. The survey is available at the FSSE website. including the deep learning items discussed below. political beliefs. information. 123 . genders. 2 = Sometimes.) in class discussions or writing assignments Put together ideas or concepts from different courses when completing assignments or during class discussions Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with faculty members outside of class Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with others outside of class (students. indicating that the structure of the faculty items is similar to that of the student items. 3 = Quite a bit. 4 = Very much experience at an institution and the likelihood that they would attend the same institution if they were to start over again. arguments. subscales. The scale. FSSE. family members. or theory. coworkers. www. sub-scales. such as examining a particular case or situation in depth and considering its components Synthesized and organized ideas. etc. As would be expected. The faculty version focuses on faculty perceptions of how often their students engage in different activities. however. focuses on the importance and emphasis that faculty give to these activities in their courses.478 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 Table 2 NSSE deep approaches to learning scale. Faculty-Specific Measures The faculty survey was designed to complement the NSSE instrument for undergraduate students. and how faculty members organize class time. religions. variables were measured on a 4-point scale (1 = Never.fsse. 4 = Very often) a Responses for component items were 1 = Very little. and component items from the faculty survey are given in Table 3.81) Examined the strengths and weaknesses of your own views on a topic or issue Tried to better understand someone else’s views by imagining how an issue looks from his or her perspective Learned something that changed the way you understand an issue or concept Note: Except where noted. 3 = Often. the nature and frequency of faculty–student interactions. very similar items exist on both surveys.) Reflective learning (a = 0. and component items Deep approaches to learning (a = 0.72) Combination of the three subscales listed below Higher-order learninga (a = 0. more complex interpretations and relationships Made judgments about the value of information. the importance faculty place on various areas of learning and development. or experiences into new. The internal consistencies are very close to those on the student version (see Table 2). faculty respondents were instructed to answer based on a particular course taught during the 2004–2005 academic year.

3 = Important. 2 = Somewhat important. political beliefs. arguments. Each model contained measures of the three Biglan dimensions as well as all possible interaction terms between these discipline indicators (three two-way interactions and a single three-way interaction).5 = 25–49%. 3. and life versus non-life field and also tested 123 . etc. 4 = Very important) it was for students to do this in a selected course c Faculty were asked how often (1 = Never. The item was scaled so that its range (1–4) would match that of the other items Data Analyses Disciplinary Effects on Deep Approaches to Learning To estimate the effects of discipline on the amount seniors engage in deep approaches to learning and to examine the consistency of the effects across our measures. The models controlled for the effects of student and institutional characteristics. discuss ideas from your readings or classes with you outside of classd Discuss ideas or readings from class with others outside of class (other students. coworkers. and component items Emphasis on deep learning (a = 0. genders.71) Work on a paper or project that requires integrating ideas or information from various sourcesb Have class discussions or writing assignments that include diverse perspectives (different races.75 = 1–24%. race/ethnicity. family members. 3 = Often. fraternity or sorority membership and Carnegie type. 2.25 = 50–74%. experience. or methods. The models produced estimates of the effects of majoring in a hard versus soft field. 3 = Quite a bit. Appendix B contains the complete list of student control variables. more complex interpretations and relationshipsa Making judgments about the value of information.73) Analyzing the basic elements of an idea. 4 = Very often) students in a selected course engage in this d Faculty were asked the percentage (1 = None. 2 = Sometimes.)b Importance of reflective learning (a = 0. or experiences into new. enrollment status. 4 = 75– 100%) of students in a selected course that did this. such as examining how others gathered and interpreted data and assessing the soundness of their conclusionsa Applying theories or concepts to practical problems or in new situationsa Emphasis on integrative learning (a = 0. including gender. 1.Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 479 Table 3 FSSE emphasis on deep approaches to learning scale. such as examining a particular case or situation in depth and considering its componentsa Synthesizing and organizing ideas. 2 = Some. religions.76) Combination of the 3 subscales listed below Emphasis on higher-order learning (a = 0. 4 = Very much) a selected course emphasized this b Faculty were asked how important (1 = Not important. information. or theory. one each for the deep approaches to learning scale and its subscales. etc.)c Put together ideas or concepts from different courses when completing assignments or during class discussionsb At least once. subscales. we ran four separate regression models.82) Examine the strengths and weaknesses of their views on a topic or issueb Try to better understand someone else’s views by imagining how an issue looks from that person’s perspectiveb Learn something that changes the way they understand an issue or conceptb a Faculty were asked how much (1 = Very little. pure versus applied field.

characteristics of the faculty member responding including gender. Results The mean deep approaches to learning scores indicate that faculty members emphasize and seniors use deep approaches to learning regularly across the disciplinary types. which had possible values from 1 to 4. with a one-unit separation. The other key independent measures were the deep approaches to learning scale and seven interaction terms equal to the product of each discipline indicator and the deep approaches to learning scale. including the four dependent measures. and academic rank. Consequently. Appendix B contains a complete list of faculty control variables. race. This allowed for the testing of the difference in effect for the widest range of effect sizes. the meaning of standardized regression coefficients for dichotomous measures is generally of little use. 2003). (2003) point out. For the overall scale. This is statistically identical to an ANCOVA that uses the dichotomous discipline indicators as factors and the control variables as covariates (Cohen et al. Otherwise. The approach for faculty was nearly identical. Continuous variables. such as discipline variables. We standardized or mean-centered the independent variables (except for the interaction terms) in order to simplify the meaning and interpretation of the coefficients in the models and to reduce multicollinearity (Cohen et al. In addition. By standardizing the dependent measures and leaving the dichotomous variables. means ranged from 2. This same approach was repeated for each of the deep approaches to learning sub-scales as well. We used multiple regression to estimate the disciplinary effects of three dichotomous variables and their interaction terms on a continuous dependent variable while controlling for the effects of other variables. the independent measures included dichotomous variables representing the eight separate discipline categories.78 in the 123 . were standardized prior to entry into the models. as Cohen et al. 2003). The interaction terms were products of the centered discipline indicators. the Biglan dimensions represent the disciplinary areas in which they teach. multiple regression analyses were run on each outcome measure within the senior sample. All dichotomous independent variables were mean centered prior to running the analyses. 12 regressions were run. the analyses included the control variables in Appendix B.480 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 whether these effects varied by the other disciplinary dimensions as represented by the interaction terms. in these analyses. In total. and such institutional characteristics as Carnegie classification and control. The results from the previous analyses suggest that there are distinctions between all eight of the disciplinary categories that can be derived from the Biglan dimensions. the unstandardized regression coefficients are akin to effect sizes with pooled standard deviations. Disciplinary Variation in the Effects of Deep Approaches to Learning on Outcomes To determine whether much disciplinary variation exists in the effect of the deep approaches to learning scale on the three student outcomes (Appendix A). The faculty models controlled for characteristics of the course such as whether it is an upper or lower division course. The reference group for each analysis was the disciplinary category in which the estimated effect of the deep approaches to learning scale (or sub-scale) was the largest. For faculty members.

001 for all. IL = integrative learning.365) Constant Hard (v.01 *** -0. including Hard.01 0.14 0.01 -0. B B ILa SE B Sig. and 0.02 *** -0.43 0.01 0.35 0. and reflective learning.00 0.124) Constant Hard (v. Applied) 0.13 0.00 0.22 0.13 0. respectively. The results in Tables 4–6 show that student and faculty reports of their emphasis on deep approaches to learning vary significantly by disciplinary area.30 0. Non-life) 0. pure.39 0.26 0.01 *** 0.62 0.02 *** -0.02 0. The NSSE survey was not specifically designed to assess certain precursors to deep approaches to learning.02.01 -0. were mean centered prior to entry and interaction terms were products of mean centered variables * p \ 0.12 0.01 *** 0.04 *** Hard 9 Pure 9 Life 0. The models predicting deep approaches to learning among seniors explained a trivial amount of variance.03 in the soft–pure–life fields for seniors and from 2.05 for the overall scale and 0.04 *** Pure 9 Life -0.02 *** 0.05 *** 0.09 0. In addition.02 Pure 9 Life -0.01 -0.01 -0.04 *** -0.04 *** -0.04 *** -0.29 0.02 ** 0.02 *** -0.09 0. All variables.01 -0.10 0.00 0.00 0. In all but one of the models.23 0.00 0.18 0. B B RLa SE B Sig.06 0.26 0.01 *** -0.18 0.02 0.49 in the hard–pure–non-life fields to 3.02 0.00 -0.09 Notes: Regression coefficients for the control variables in Appendix A (for seniors) or B (for faculty) not reported to save space.Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 481 Table 4 Effects of discipline on deep approaches to learning scale and sub-scales DLa B HLa SE B Sig.02 * -0.01 0.01 *** -0.73 0. life) were significant predictors.18 0.001 a Variable was standardized prior to running the models. integrative learning.01 *** 0.05 *** Hard 9 Life 0.16 0.02 *** -0.02 *** -0.05 0.20 in the soft–applied–life fields for faculty.04 *** Faculty (N = 10.04 *** 0.18 0.31 0.02 *** Hard 9 Pure 0. This almost certainly reduced the overall fit of the models.25 0. and RL = reflective learning hard–applied–life fields to 3. B Seniors (N = 80. HL = higherorder learning.02 *** 0.02 *** Pure (v.01 0.04 *** -0.17 0.02 *** 0.26 0.01.01 *** 0.04 for higherorder learning.02 *** 0.14 0.01 *** Pure (v. the models explained a greater 123 .01 *** -0. *** p \ 0.06. R2 was 0.35 0. Also.01 -0.01 0.04 *** 0.07 0. Pure.01 *** 0.42 0.00 0. Applied) 0.01 0.25 0.29 0.02 -0.11 0.09 0. 0.04 *** Hard 9 Pure 9 Life 0. such as student motivation for learning.02 Hard 9 Life -0. ** p \ 0. Among faculty. Soft) 0. Soft) 0. the results suggest relative consistency across disciplines in the strength of the relationships between deep approaches to learning and the three student outcomes (see Table 7).08 0. Non-life) 0.00 0.10 0. B B SE B Sig.02 *** Hard 9 Pure -0.23 0.04 *** -0.01 0.00 0.04 *** -0.10 0.06 0.15 0.01 *** Life (v.17 0.18 0.00 0. each discipline indicator frequently moderated the effects of the other discipline indictors.02 *** 0.01 *** 0.04 *** -0.00 0. DL = deep approaches to learning.25 0.34 0.89 0.41 0. p \ 0.09 ** -0. and Life.01 *** 0. two or three of the discipline indicators (hard.05.04 *** 0.01 0.02 *** Life (v.06 0.

43 -0.80) 0.02 0.12 -0.388 0.12 0.83) 0.02 (1. Mean Mean (SD) Adj. Mean Mean (SD) RLa Adj.80 Total 10. Mean SPL 12.90) -0.91) 0.01 (0.11 -0.40 HAN 496 -0.84 HPN 1. adding the discipline variables and the interaction terms explained 13% more 123 .68 -0.91) -0.98) -0. SPL = soft–pure–life.11 0.97) 0.10 -0.06 (0.98) -0.677 -0.97) 0.03 0. HAN = hard–applied–non-life. SPL = soft–pure–life.09 (0.02 (0.00) -0. Mean SAL 1.21 (1.32 (1.90) 0.29 -0. IL = integrative learning.01 (1.02) -0.27 -0.11 -0. SAN = soft–applied–non-life.26 0.00) -0.97) 0.21 (1.91) -0.00 (1.13 -0.08 (1.01) 0.56 -0.216 0.00) -0.98) 0.14 -0.00 (1.00) 0.97) 0.22 (0.00) 0.01 0.97) -0.23 (0.97) -0.02) -0.277 0.28 (0.00 (1.00 0. and HAL = hard–applied–life a Variable was standardized prior to analyses.00 (1.92) -0.06 (0.01 0.30 0. HAN = hard–applied–non-life.07 (0.90) 0.00 (1.08 0.02 -0.00) -0.09 (0.00 -0.85) 0.04 (0.91) -0.96) 0.01) 0.11 (1.23 -0.02 (0.94) -0.00 (0.93) -0. SPN = soft–pure–non-life.41 (0. IL = integrative learning.727 -0.97) 0.001 for all.22 (0.19 SPN 13.00 (1.28 (1.19 (0.00) -0.00) 0.000 -0.17 0.98) -0.98) ILa 0.35 SPL 1.38 SAN 1.00) 0. HL = higher-order learning.30 SPN 3.05 (0.00 0. and RL = reflective learning proportion of variance: R2 equaled 0.45 (1. Mean Mean (SD) Adj.98) -0.38 -0.02) -0.97) -0. However.94) -0.05 HAL 219 -0. The discipline indicators explained more variability in faculty emphasis on deep approaches to learning than it did among seniors (except for higher-order learning).89 (0.01) -0. SAL = soft–applied–life.20 (0.21 (0.02 HPL 762 -0.12 (0. HL = higher-order learning.81 (0.90) 0.13 HAN 5.00) 0.19 0.95) -0.04 -0.10 SAN 21.22 and 0.13 0.12 -0.540 -0. and RL = reflective learning Table 6 Faculty mean emphasis on deep approaches to learning scores by disciplinary categories DLa N Mean (SD) HLa Adj.07 (1. For example.12 -0.01) 0.12 (0.05 (0. SAN = soft–applied–non-life.780 0. Mean Mean (SD) ILa Adj.17 0.96) 0.07 -0.02) -0.11 0.00 0.08 7.14 (1.03) -0.17 (1.03 0.81) 0.08 (0.01) -0.09 (0.00) 0.00) -0.35 (0.61 (0.04 (0.91) -0. SAL = soft–applied–life.47 (0.00 0.03 HPL 0.01 Notes: Adjusted mean scores computed using coefficients in Table 4.28 (1.22 (0. DL = deep approaches to learning.05 0.30 HAL 1.41 (1.39 (1. respectively.20 (0.21 SAL 14.27 (1.18 0.17 (1.20 (1.96) 0.124 0.96) 0.25 (1. Mean Mean (SD) RLa Adj.47 (0.23 -0.746 0.87) 0.05 -0.00 (1.29 (0.24 0.39 (0. HAL = hard–applied–life.00) 0.482 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 Table 5 Senior mean deep approaches to learning scores by disciplinary categories DLa N Mean (SD) HLa Adj.01 Notes: Adjusted mean scores computed using coefficients in Table 4. HPL = hard–pure–life.97) -0.00 (1.96) 0.29 0.00) 0. Mean Mean (SD) Adj.519 0.18 0.12 HPN 3.98) 0.04 -0.98) 0.11 (0.78 (0. HPL = hard–pure–life.10 0.25 -0. SPN = soft– pure–non-life.11 (1. and HPN = hard–pure–non-life a Variable was standardized prior to analyses.527 -0.78) 0.12 (0.02) -0.36 (0.00) 0.85 (0.438 -0. HPN = hard–pure–non-life.40 -0.15 -0.07) -0. the R2 of 0.365 0.09 (1.00) -0.177 0.22 for the overall scale and 0.04) -0. p \ 0.31 (0.69 -0. DL = deep approaches to learning.03 (0.06 (0.01 0.23 Total 80.06 for faculty emphasis on higher order learning was also quite low.33 0.24 for integrative learning and reflective learning.99) -0.

01 0.27 -0.01 0.05*** 0.05.30 ref 0. HPL = hard–pure–life.12 -0.00 Notes: B = the estimated partial regression coefficient for the deep approaches to learning scale or sub-scale based on models including interactions between the disciplinary categories (ref indicates the reference category) and the scale.08 -0.25 -0.05*** 0.06** 0.26 -0. *** p \ 0.01.02 0.27 -0.B B ILa Bref . ** p \ 0.01 HAL 0.22 -0.01 0.12 -0.04 -0.28 -0.04* 0.25 -0.08 -0.02 0.03* 0.02 SAN 0.36 -0.01 0.18 -0.01 0.15 -0.08*** 0.35 -0.04 0.45 -0.02* 0.35 -0.05* HPN 0.05** 0.08*** 0.12 -0. Then.26 -0.11 -0.12 -0.25 -0.30 -0.54 -0.00 SPN 0.26 -0.46 -0.27 -0.23 -0. In the following paragraphs we report the findings related to disciplinary effects on the overall deep approaches to learning scale for both students and faculty and address similarities and differences in the results across the two samples.00 SAL 0.07 -0.05*** 0.B is equivalent to the partial regression coefficient for the corresponding interaction term.30 -0.10*** HAL 0.03 HPN 0.46 -0.54 -0.01 0.05* 0.45 -0. we note how the results for the sub-scales compare to those for the overall scale and report how discipline effects 123 .49 ref 0.04*** 0.13 -0.01 0.03* 0.02 0. SAL = soft–applied–life.14 -0.05* SAL 0.17 -0.48 -0.14 -0.03 0.04* 0.03 0.43 -0.03 0.B B RLa Bref .05*** 0. HAN = hard–applied–non-life.47 ref 0.28 -0.02 0.13 -0.47 -0.32 ref 0.04 0.26 -0.53 -0.04*** 0.01 ref Effects on grades SPL 0.B Effects on gains in personal and intellectual development SPL 0.00 0.28 -0.01 HPL 0. HPN = hard–pure–non-life.51 -0.08** HAN 0.05** HAN 0. DL = deep approaches to learning.40 ref Effects on satisfaction SPL 0.51 -0.B B Bref .05** 0.001 a Variable was standardized prior to analyses.32 -0.Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 483 Table 7 Disciplinary differences in the effect of deep approaches to learning on three student outcomes DLa B HLa Bref . HL = higher-order learning.18 ref SAN 0. SPL = soft–pure–life.13 ref 0.01 0.03 0.06** 0.47 -0.04* HAN 0.02 SAL 0.46 -0.27 -0.01 0.03 0.05** 0.15 -0.05* SPN 0.03 0.45 -0.04 0.13 -0.01 0.03 0.16 -0.17 ref 0.03* HPN 0.07** 0.18 ref 0.11 -0.02* 0.10 -0.17 -0.00 0.09 -0.02 0.45 -0.09 -0.52 -0.26 -0.12 SPN 0.05*** 0.42 -0.04 SAN 0.29 ref 0.29 -0.12 -0.04** 0.06* 0.08*** HAL 0. SAN = soft–applied–non-life.13 -0.06*** 0.04 0. compared to an additional 2% for seniors.14 -0.17 -0. Bref .55 ref 0.04** 0.03 0.27 -0.12 -0.02 0.05*** 0. and HAL = hard–applied–life * p \ 0.02 0.08 -0.36 -0.12 -0.04* 0.11 -0.51 -0.23 -0.14 -0.17 -0.44 -0.04 HPL 0. and RL = reflective learning variance than the control variables alone for the overall deep approaches to learning scale among faculty. SPN = soft–pure–non-life.04** 0.06* 0.45 -0.05*** 0. IL = integrative learning.03 0.03** HPL 0.18 -0.36 -0.

the difference was nearly three quarters of a standard deviation. p \ 0. the models that produced these results contained the control variables in Appendix B. though it was relatively small (Bseniors = 0. and grades. p \ 0. Though not shown in Table 4. satisfaction with college. B) for models run within the student and faculty samples. p \ 0. controlling for the other measures in the model.001). How the Disciplinary Effects Vary The interaction terms in the models suggest that the disciplinary effects on deep approaches to learning varied significantly for both students and faculty by other discipline 123 .09.001). caution should be used in interpreting differences in the size of effects between the samples because the student and faculty scales and samples are quite different.17. p \ 0. and institutional characteristics.23. Life–Non-Life Effects The life–non-life indicator was the second strongest disciplinary predictor of emphasizing deep approaches to learning among faculty (Bfaculty = 0. The average student in a pure field using deep approaches to learning scored about two tenths of a standard deviation higher than the average student in a soft field (Bseniors = 0. Hard–Soft Effect For both the senior students and faculty.001).17.484 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 the relationships between deep approaches to learning and student self-reported gains in personal and intellectual development. Among seniors. p \ 0. The average student in a hard field used deep approaches to learning nearly a quarter of a standard deviation less than the average senior in a soft field.73. Effects of Discipline on Deep Approaches to Learning Scale Table 4 contains unstandardized regression coefficients (B). the strongest discipline predictor of deep approaches to learning was the Biglan hard–soft category (Bseniors = -0. p \ 0. and an indication of the p-value for rejecting the null-hypothesis that B = 0 (Sig. While the effect of being in a hard field appears to be stronger among faculty. For faculty. it was quite small (Bfaculty = 0. particularly compared to the effect for being in a hard field.001). the second strongest predictor of deep approaches to learning for seniors was whether they majored in either a pure or applied field. on average. the standard errors of the coefficients (SE B). Pure–Applied Effect Among the three discipline indicators. Though the effect of being in a pure field was also positive and statistically significant among faculty. there was also a positive effect for being in a life field.001. course. Faculty in life fields scored.001). about two tenths of a standard deviation higher than faculty in the non-life fields.08. Bfaculty = -0. after controlling for faculty.

more than a tenth of a standard deviation larger than in life fields (Bseniors = -0.28 and -0. The interaction terms were not always consistent in direction for the senior and faculty analyses. In fact.001) than in non-life fields for seniors. and HAL) make up a lower scoring group. We found. However. The Biglan types in Tables 5 and 6 are ordered from highest to lowest adjusted mean score on the overall deep learning measure. the effect of being in a hard field was similar in size (-0. among faculty. that the negative hard–soft difference was.30) and their colleagues in hard–pure–non-life fields score the lowest (adjusted mean = -0.001). p \ 0.001) indicates that the two-way interactions varied by disciplinary category among seniors. For seniors in pure–life fields and pure non-life fields.42. the hard–pure interaction also was negative (Bfaculty = -0. all of the two-way interaction terms were significant. a gap of 0. all of the interaction terms were significant and. p \ 0.15.001). this low scoring group of types falls into two groups: a near average group (SAN and HAL) and a low scoring group (HPL. the remaining types (HPL. faculty in soft–applied–life fields scored highest (adjusted mean = 0. p \ 0.26. The interaction was in the opposite direction for faculty (Bfaculty = 0. it seems that there is minimal variation in the interaction effects by disciplinary categories among the faculty.26. Among seniors. SPN. To illustrate. on average. For faculty. the results are most inconsistent for seniors and faculty in the hard–applied–life fields. Estimating Means for Disciplinary Categories Tables 5 and 6 show the means.17) and their peers in the hard–applied–life fields scored the lowest (adjusted mean = -0. For both seniors and faculty.27). the negative effect of being in a hard field was slightly more pronounced among seniors in pure fields than for those in applied fields (Bseniors = -0. while the effect in applied–non-life fields was relatively close to zero (-0. respectively. For example. p \ 0.33 and -0.25). for instance. and HPN). therefore. SAN. 123 . respectively. Because the three-way interaction term was not significant in the faculty model for emphasis on deep approaches to learning. and estimated means for the eight Biglan types. and SAL). for seniors in applied–life fields the effect was larger. suggesting that the average senior in a soft–pure–life field uses deep approaches to learning over four tenths of a standard deviation more than the average student in a hard–applied–life field. The estimated means were calculated based on the regression results in Table 4 and. But the eight types of fields are not arranged in the same order for faculty as for seniors.68). pure above applied. representing nearly a full standard deviation difference in the amount the average faculty member from the two types of fields differs in how much deep approaches to learning are emphasized. For example. control for the effects of the other variables in the models (differences between the adjusted mean and the mean result from differences between types of fields that are accounted for by variables in Appendix B).06. For faculty. and life above non-life. a gap of 0. among seniors. the hard–pure interaction was not consistent between life and non-life fields. standard deviations.27. HPN. Seniors in the soft–pure–life fields score the highest (adjusted mean = 0. That is. Despite the shifts in the order of discipline types from Tables 5 to 6. The significant and relatively large three-way interaction effect (Bseniors = 0. From this perspective.09. the three highest scoring types are the same across the two tables (SPL. HAN.01).Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 485 indicators. HAN. there is some consistency when similarly scoring types are examined. soft fields tend to score above hard fields. p \ 0.001).

01). the small overall effect for the hard–life interaction term indicates that the average interaction is close to zero. whereas it is -0. p [ 0. in turn. and this is the one instance among faculty where the threeway interaction term is significant (Bfaculty = 0.001). the disciplinary effects on integrative and reflective learning are similar to those for the overall scale. though the effect was quite small (Bseniors = 0. p \ 0. This resulted in largely the same disciplinary ordering among soft categories as for the overall scale. the hard–life interaction is stronger.B). p [ 0. The effect of being in a pure field is near zero. Given that the three-way interaction term remained significant in both models (though somewhat smaller in size for reflective learning).001). Yet. but the pattern of subtle differences are meaningful.02.30. For faculty.09 among seniors in pure fields. across students and faculty. First. the size of the effects is generally smaller indicating less disciplinary variation. as seen in Table 6. while it is -0.09 between pure–life and pure–non-life fields.05). p [ 0.29. For integrative learning. that interaction varied depending on whether a senior was in a pure or applied field (Bseniors = 0. p \ 0. the difference in the gap between hard–soft fields is 0. p [ 0. However. the hard–applied–non-life seniors had the highest average score (adj.05) and close to zero for reflective learning (Bseniors = 0. with hard–pure–life faculty emphasizing higher-order learning least (adjusted mean = -0. for example. mean = 0. but the hard fields are reshuffled. the model estimates suggest that the hard–life interaction is nearly 0. the effects on higher-order learning were not as radically different.16 among seniors in applied fields.06.001) and. In other words. though there are a couple of noticeable differences in the disciplinary effects on integrative learning versus the overall deep approaches to learning scale. For example. Among seniors the hard–life interaction effect was quite small for integrative learning (Bseniors = -0. That 123 . these effects have a net result on estimated means very similar to the overall scale. For faculty. the only significant discipline indicator was the life–non-life variable.486 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 Effects across the Sub-Scales Integrative and Reflective Learning For both seniors and faculty. The negative disciplinary effects were less negative than on the overall scale and the positive effects became non-significant (the effect of being in a pure field) or negative (the effect of being in a life field and the hard–life interaction). This pattern of effects resulted in a different rank ordering of the eight disciplinary categories compared to the overall scale (Table 5).05. Higher-Order Learning The disciplinary effects on higher-order learning are quite different than those of the overall scale and other sub-scales. there is little practical difference.38).25.12) on higherorder learning compared to the next to lowest mean on the overall scale.16 between applied–life and applied– non-life fields. Relationships between Deep Approaches to Learning and Outcomes The results in Table 7 represent estimated regression coefficients (B) and coefficient differences between the reference group and the other disciplinary types (Bref . For students. the life–non-life effect varied in size depending on whether a senior majored in a hard or soft field (Bseniors = -0.

There was no discernable connection between the average student score in a disciplinary type and the relationship between deep approaches to learning and satisfaction. students and faculty with certain characteristics (e. one could argue that students’ level of engagement in deep approaches to learning is not important or should be decreased in those fields in order to promote the outcomes..29) was found in the type that scored the highest on higher-order learning (HAN) and the weakest relationship (0.S. the strongest connection between deep approaches to learning and grades was within the soft–pure–life and soft–pure–nonlife fields. the institutions included in this study represent a wide cross-section of U. The coefficients allow us to determine whether the strength of the relationships was connected to the pattern of disciplinary effects reported earlier. the disciplinary type that scored the lowest on reflective learning (this was also true for the overall scale and integrative learning). the strongest relationship (0. 123 . At the same time. but highest on higher-order learning. Satisfaction with college also is moderately related to deep approaches to learning. the weakest relationship (0. for example. In addition.. the relationships between deep approaches to learning and the outcomes were weak or meaningfully negative in fields that use and emphasize these approaches less. engineering). for example. This combination of self-selected students and institutions requires some caution be used when generalizing our findings to all seniors and faculty at these institutions of higher education or all U. However. Using the effect of higher-order learning as an example. the pattern falls apart among the other types. We did not. Limitations This study is limited by the fact that institutions self select to participate in NSSE and FSSE. The strongest relationship between reflective learning and the gains measure was for the hard–applied–life fields (0. female and White) respond at higher rates. Across the measures of deep approaches to learning. find that those types with the lowest average deep approaches to learning scores consistently have the weakest relationships.04) in the hard– applied–non-life fields (e. a discipline type that scored lowest or second to lowest on deep approaches to learning.S.g. we found positive relationships across the categories with no discernable connection to the pattern of differences in the amount students engage in deep approaches to learning. The strength of the relationships varied relatively little between the eight disciplinary types.30) between reflective learning and the gains measure was found for the second lowest scoring type (HAN). However. More frequent use of deep approaches to learning is positively related to higher levels of student self-reported intellectual and personal development. But. and reflective learning. baccalaureate degree-granting institutions. the two discipline types that scored highest on deep approaches to learning as well as integrative and reflective learning. the relationships between students’ grades and the deep approaches to learning scales were relatively weak.Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 487 difference is always negative because the reference group for each analysis is the discipline type with the strongest relationship between the deep learning measure and the particular outcome. Although the relationship between reflective learning and grades is almost zero (0. an indication of the lack of connection between how much students in a disciplinary type used deep approaches to learning and how much the deep approaches to learning indicator affected students’ gains in personal and intellectual development. integrative learning.22) was found in the type that scored second highest (SAL). However.40).g. If.

the students and faculty in this study did not come from the same institutions. It is likely that examples of how to increase one’s emphasis on higher-order. The results of this study indicate that this is true across all disciplinary areas. seniors who use deep approaches to learning are more satisfied with their collegiate experience. We chose not to limit our samples to only those students and faculty at the 95 institutions that did both surveys in 2005 in order to maximize our disciplinary coverage. and many seniors report using these approaches at least occasionally. the student outcome measures focus on students’ overall experiences.488 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 4-year colleges and universities and students and faculty mirror the populations at their respective institutions in many ways (NSSE 2005). student satisfaction is based on having intellectual experiences that are rigorous in nature and not routine or easy. Model specification problems can lead to unstable coefficient estimates. In other words. students who do so more frequently also report gaining more in intellectual and personal development. In addition. Though they are general measures that capture outcomes of interest across disciplinary areas (Association of American Colleges and Universities [AAC&U] 2007). Also. model R2 are quite low for the senior analyses. Happily. The outcome measures used in this study are those that are contained on the NSSE instrument. as mentioned previously. or reflective learning can be found down the hall or somewhere in one’s building. many aspects of college life affect student satisfaction. Discussion and Implications Faculty members across disciplines are emphasizing deep approaches to learning. integrative. This limitation likely dilutes the disciplinary differences and may have an effect on the strength of the relationships between deep approaches to learning and the outcomes. This might explain some of the differences in the patterns of disciplinary effects across the two samples. as with the deep approaches to learning measures. when the analyses were run on only those students and faculty from institutions that did both surveys. Finally. at least in part. they benefit more from the college experience (Pascarella and Terenzini 2005). suggesting that instructors interested in adopting promising pedagogical practices do not necessarily have to look externally for ideas about incorporating deep approaches to learning. since NSSE is not designed to measure all of the predictors of deep approaches to learning. The weak relationship between grades and student engagement in deep approaches to learning merits further examination. An obvious variable of interest not captured by NSSE is student motivation for learning. Nonetheless. However. Perhaps the low correlation is in part a function of the compressed variability in students’ grades as most seniors reported average grades of B or 123 . student satisfaction is not all about their social life and academic work that requires rote learning. though it is difficult to argue that such an effect would be large. they certainly do not capture all the key outcomes of certain disciplinary areas. the observed differences in the results were minor and would not change the conclusions of the study. Admittedly. If the curriculum is structured to induce students to invest more energy in taking responsibility for their learning and reflecting on what they are learning. at least some of the time. In addition. this finding suggests that. consistent with the notion that deep learning is more personally rewarding than surface learning (Tagg 2003).

The effect of being in a pure versus applied field was stronger than the life–non-life effect for seniors. it is not likely that the differences in approaches to teaching and learning between hard and soft fields are solely attributable to the level of consensus. where faculty members from pure fields emphasize deep 123 . Educators advocating such change will need to be aware that their approaches to change may need to vary by field and that. Students’ majoring in fields with less consensus about content and methods of inquiry (soft fields) tend to use deep approaches to learning to a greater degree than those majoring in fields with greater consensus (hard fields). these findings corroborate previous research showing that students majoring in fields such as engineering and the physical sciences use deep approaches to learning less frequently than students from other fields (Eley 1992.Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 489 better. and active learning) (Braxton and Hargens 1996. In fact. reflective. Smart and Ethington 1995). Proponents of liberal education posit that general education and career preparation must be the purview of every field. while the opposite was true for faculty. The two disciplinary areas scoring highest on deep approaches to learning—soft– pure–life and soft–pure–non-life—also have the strongest relationship between deep approaches to learning and grades. One explanation is that grades may more generally represent surface approaches to learning as contrasted with deep approaches. To some degree. Understanding why greater consensus exists for higher-order learning compared to the other sub-scales and why the pattern of disciplinary effects is different for higher-order learning than for the other scales are important avenues for future research that will have important implications for AAC&U and others promoting a reorganization of teaching and learning. applied faculty actually emphasize deep approaches to learning more than their pure colleagues. Conceptually. and integrative learning approaches. synthesis. Ramsdem 2003). However. This suggests. it is important to identify that differences in these practices coincide with differences in teaching goals. analysis. as others have (Biggs 2003. these effects seem reasonable. Rather. In fact. Gaff and Wilson 1971. these goals need to be inseparable and infused across the curriculum (AAC&U 2007). If this is so. with soft fields more inclined to value general education and the development of student character and hard fields more inclined to value career preparation (Gaff and Wilson 1971. Felder and Brent 2005. 1990. although there was a small overall positive pure–applied effect among faculty. including satisfaction and the outcomes covered in the gains in personal and intellectual development measure used in our study. It is in the soft–non-life fields (nearly half of the faculty respondents came from such fields). 1998. consensus on the value of deep approaches to learning may be easier to achieve in soft fields than in hard ones. Smart and Elton 1982). Lattuca and Stark 1994. what can be done to make grades better indicators of deep learning? One place to start is to make sure that the activities and assignments upon which we base students’ grades require students to employ higher-order. Zeegers and Martin 2001.. in soft–life. Placing greater emphasis on deep learning could well promote changes in teaching practices. Prosser and Millar 1989) as well as findings regarding faculty use of practices that encourage deep-like approaches to learning (e. using grading strategies that require students to take deep approaches to learning could result in improved student outcomes in several areas. and hard– non-life fields. Meyer et al. Neumann et al. perhaps ironically. High levels of consensus should not preclude the emphasis and use of deep approaches to learning. 2002.g. particularly if students majoring in soft fields are encouraged to engage the lack of consensus that exists in their major field. hard–life. Braxton and Nordvall 1985. Braxton et al.

but that have niche undergrad programs in certain instances. than their applied colleagues (see Table 6). their involvement in these kinds of activities is associated with higher levels of personal and intellectual development as well as satisfaction with college. 2000. Smart and Umbach 2007). The factors that shape student approaches to learning such as motivation. In these fields. b) scheme is an instructive lens for viewing disciplinary differences. the pure–applied and life–non-life effects can vary not only in size. Additionally.490 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 approaches to a greater degree. Conclusion While the concerns about the quality of college student learning are legitimate. Soft–pure–life seniors and faculty could increase their emphasis on higher-order learning and hard–pure–non-life seniors and faculty could increase their use of and emphasis on integrative learning practices. Every disciplinary area has room for improvement in terms of using deep approaches to learning. Exploring disciplinary effects on educational practice should distinguish students and faculty in nuanced ways that are beyond simple breakdowns like using only the hard–soft dimension. Biglan’s (1973a. but also in direction. Future investigations should consider exploring faculty and student expectations as well as their behaviors. seniors used deep approaches to learning more than their soft–applied and hard–applied peers. In addition. the results of this study suggest that many students across all disciplinary areas engage in deep approaches to learning. It also seems important to develop additional empirically-derived methods of capturing disciplinary distinctions. While not all of Holland’s types of environments are as clearly connected to deep learning as the paradigmatic nature of the hard–soft dimension. As Becher and Trowler (2001) point out. expectations. especially if faculty instructional practices reinforce these discipline-specific patterns. Efforts geared toward improving undergraduate teaching and learning likely need to be as nuanced as these disciplinary effects on educational practices. such as the work of Holland (1997). respectively. Explaining the differences in patterns of effects between students and faculty is another important area for future research. his typology of disciplinary environments has proved useful in understanding certain areas of collegiate teaching (Smart et al. peer influence and faculty teaching practices may differ a great deal in these fields compared with others. If so. on average. The pattern is much more consistent for seniors. It may be potentially instructive to examine patterns of disciplinary socialization for students and faculty and their influence at different points in one’s academic development. seniors and faculty in hard–applied fields such as pharmacy and agriculture varied the most. Some but not all of these differences may be related to measurement issues. most of which are generally considered graduate programs. Our findings demonstrate that the hard–soft distinction can be meaningfully different in applied–life fields and pure–non-life fields. contributing substantially to the discontinuity discussed above. But there is also considerable room for improvement inasmuch as 123 . disciplinary socialization may start in one’s undergraduate years. Improvements in these approaches to learning are likely to payoff in terms of students’ sense of learning and development. relatively high faculty emphasis on deep approaches does not appear to translate into similarly high use among seniors. In soft–pure and hard–pure fields. but it may also wax and wane with the effects varying by field. To illustrate. students in different fields may approach academic tasks differently.

6 = B+. 3 = Probably yes. 2 = Probably no.91) Developing a personal code of values and ethics Contributing to the welfare of your community Developing a deepened sense of spirituality Understanding yourself Understanding people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds Solving complex real-world problems Voting in local. a = 0. 3 = Quite a bit. 3 = C+. state. 7 = A-. 4 = B-. 2 = Some. both within one’s discipline as well as in other disciplinary areas.Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 491 none of the disciplinary areas examined in this study scored at the top on all approaches to learning for either students or faculty.78) How would you evaluate your entire educational experience at this institution?b If you could start over again. 2000). More studies are needed to document the effects of changing practices in multiple types of fields and to better understand the discontinuities found between the faculty and student results in this study. 5 = B. Explaining how and why these different patterns exist may point to ways teaching and learning can be enhanced in various disciplinary areas.or lower. there is evidence that making instructional changes in hard fields benefits students majoring in these areas (Woods et al. variables were measured on a 4-point scale (1 = Very little. would you go to the same institution you are now attending?c Note: Except where noted. 4 = Definitely yes 123 . 3 = Good. 4 = Excellent c Responses for this item were 1 = Definitely no. the relatively high scores across disciplines suggest that there are probably good examples of productive instructional strategies and activities to emulate. In addition. 2 = C. or national elections Learning effectively on your own Working effectively with others Writing clearly and effectively Speaking clearly and effectively Thinking critically and analytically Acquiring a broad general education Acquiring job or work-related knowledge and skills Analyzing quantitative problems Using computing and information technology Grades What have most of your grades been up to now at this institution?a Satisfaction (2 items. 4 = Very much) a Responses for this item were 1 = C. 2 = Fair. Appendix A Outcomes scales and component items Gains in personal and intellectual development (16 items. For example. 8 = A b Responses for this item were 1 = Poor. a = 0.

B. Multiple ethnic identifications. 1 = 23 or younger Parent’s education level 0 = Either father or mother completed at least an associate’s degree. New York. Full professor Years of prior teaching Continuous variable Course level 0 = Lower division. DC: Author. (2007). (1988). Learning strategies and learning styles (pp.S. Deep and surface learning: A simple or simplistic dicotomy? Accounting Education. 1 = Upper division a Coded dichotomously (0 = not in group. Hispanic.). (1997). 1 = Full-time Live on campus 0 = Live off campus. 1 = International student or foreign national Transfer status 0 = Did not transfer. B. Associate professor. 1–12.. Student approaches to learning and studying. 6(1).. Schmeck (Ed. R. 123 . Biggs. J. 1 = Transferred Enrollment status 0 = Part-time. Victoria: Australian Council for Educational Research. Approaches to learning and to essay writing. V. B. Becher. Prefer not to identify Carnegie classificationa Doctoral—Extensive.S. Assistant professor. Baccalaureate—Liberal Artsb. NY: Plenum. College learning for the new global century. & McInnes. & Trowler. Buckingham. Doctoral—Intensive. 1 = Full-time Ranka Lecturer/instructorb. Other classification Institutional control 0 = Public. Washington. 1 = Foreign citizenship Employment status 0 = Part-time.492 Res High Educ (2008) 49:469–494 Appendix B NSSE and FSSE control variables Name Description Control variables for both groups Gender 0 = Male. Hawthorn. American Indian. Asian American. (1987). (2001) Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual enquiry and the cultures of disciplines (2nd ed. 1 = Neither father nor mother complete an associate’s degree or higher International status 0 = U. Collins. Biggs. In R. P. Whiteb.. Baccalaureate—General. 1 = Female Ethnicitya African American. R. 1 = in group) b Reference group References Association of American Colleges and Universities. national. UK: SRHE and Open University Press. 1 = Live on or near campus Greek membership 0 = Non-member. T.). 1 = Member of a social fraternity or sorority Student athlete 0 = Non-athlete. 1 = Student athlete on a team sponsored by the institution’s athletic department Faculty control variables Foreign citizenship 0 = U. B. J. Other. Beatie. Master’s Colleges and Universities I & II. citizen. 185–228). 1 = Private Student control variables Age 0 = 24 or over.

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