This week the issue of teaching and learning inventories came up on two different occasions. Although the contexts of the conversations were different, the topic triggered my interest in the types and usage of inventories in university teaching.
What are the teaching and learning inventories? Inventories are basically self-scoring instruments that focus on some aspect of teaching or learning behaviour, approach, preference, attitudes, etc. A sound inventory is conceptually grounded in relevant teaching/learning theory and supported by extensive empirical studies. Inventories include a scoring sheet and descriptive categories that classify individuals into X number of distinctive types/profiles based on their scores. Some of you might have come across similar tools used in other contexts, for example the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI), a well-known personality inventory.
My quick search of educational literature and higher education websites revealed plenty of teaching and learning inventories (and critiques thereof). I worked with a couple of them in our teaching workshops. For example, Pratt’s Teaching Perspectives Inventory is the tool that we often use to help instructors articulate their teaching philosophy and examine their personal beliefs and values as educators. This inventory is available online and used by many educators across Canada. Other similar self-reported inventories for university instructors include the Teaching Goals Inventory by Angelo and Cross (1993), the Approaches to Teaching Inventory by Trigwell and Prosser (1999) and the Philosophic Inventory by Leahy (1995).
In addition to teaching inventories, there is a wide range of learning inventories that instructors can use with students to help them identify their learning strengths and preferences and become more effective learners. Some of the most popular ones are the VARK Questionnaire and the Soloman-Felder Index of Learning Styles, which was co-developed by Richard Felder, a chemical engineering professor in the US. Other popular instruments include the Kolb Learning Styles Inventory (1999) and the Approaches to Study Inventory by Entwistle and Ramsden (1983). Finally, instructors working with first-year students might find the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI) useful for helping students to identify their learning strengths and weaknesses and to develop more effective study strategies.
Clearly, there is no shortage of various self-assessment and self-awareness tools in higher education. Some of them (e.g., learning style inventories) were challenged by educators on conceptual and methodological grounds. That being said, I can see why some instructors, TAs and students might find them appealing. For one, inventories could help novice learners or beginning teachers to become more self-aware. Also, inventories are powerful tools for conveying the message about individual differences and diversities that permeate all aspects of teaching and learning. I think that if we are to view inventories with a skeptical eye and use them as a way of stimulating a discussion rather than finding definite answers, then they could be helpful tools for teachers and students. When considering various inventories, we should keep in mind that they are designed to identify preferences rather inborn characteristics and are meant to be descriptive not explanatory.
Are you using any teaching or learning inventories in your courses?
The Centre for Teaching Excellence welcomes contributions to its blog. If you are a faculty member, staff member, or student at the University of Waterloo (or beyond!) and would like contribute a posting about some aspect of teaching or learning, please contact Mark Morton or Trevor Holmes.