While learner-centeredness is important to quantify, education researchers disagree on how best to measure it. The overall aim of this research was to measure the learner-centeredness of introductory biology classrooms with a valid and reliable instrument that offers a different perspective than self-reported faculty surveys or expert observation protocols – Palmer et al.'s (2014) syllabus scoring rubric. We investigated whether syllabus rubric scores aligned with both faculty self-reports and expert observations of learner-centeredness from the same classrooms, and whether these other metrics predict an instructor's total syllabus score better than instructor gender or years of teaching experience. Course syllabi from eight instructors who taught the same nonmajors biology course were scored independently using this syllabus scoring rubric. Our results suggest that syllabus learning objectives link to learner-centeredness and, interestingly, that other external metrics of learner-centeredness may predict syllabus rubric scores derived from Palmer et al.'s instrument.

Introduction

Learner-centered instruction has many known benefits, including increased student performance (Hake, 1998; White & Frederiksen, 1998; Kahl & Venette, 2010), improved critical-thinking skills and content knowledge (Bransford et al., 1999; Shepard, 2000; Crouch & Mazur, 2001), and lower failure rates (Freeman et al., 2014). Given these benefits, instructors and researchers have sought reliable measures of learner-centeredness for reflection and reform.

Numerous such tools are available, including faculty and student surveys as well as observation protocols for trained experts. Some faculty surveys gauge the affective aspect of teaching (e.g., McCombs, 2003), while others focus on self-reported pedagogical practices and classroom dynamics (e.g., Trigwell & Prosser, 2004). Similarly, self-reported student surveys allow students to reflect upon their learning experiences, study techniques, and the overall classroom environment (e.g., Biggs et al., 2001; Entwistle et al., 2002). Learner-centeredness can also be measured by external, trained experts using observational protocols. Observational rubrics can measure the quality of student contribution and instructor involvement (Sawada et al., 2002), quantify time spent on student and instructor tasks and interactions (Smith et al., 2013), or tally learner-centered teaching practices as well as the progression of these practices (Wieman & Gilbert, 2014).

A less common means of gauging learner-centeredness is the course syllabus. The syllabus represents the first faculty–student interaction and outlines expectations for students for the entire course (Slattery & Carlson, 2005; Nilson, 2016; Richmond et al., 2016). A learner-centered syllabus structures the classroom around the learner (Hirsch, 2010; e.g., focusing on student needs and expectations for a course rather than listing instructor-derived rules and guidelines), provides a framework for students to develop methods for their success (Richmond et al., 2016; e.g,, via scaffolding expectations for the semester), and weaves learner-centered behaviors and values into all aspects of the course (e.g., suggesting many opportunities for student choice in the course and using inclusive language throughout the syllabus). Learner-centered syllabi tend to foster stronger student–faculty relationships and shift the responsibility for learning onto the student (Johnson, 2006; Hirsch, 2010).

Syllabi were rarely used as a measure of learner-centeredness, until Cullen and Harris (2009) and Palmer et al. (2014) published separate rubrics for this purpose. Prior to and between the development of these rubrics, Johnson (2006) created a checklist for development and evaluation of syllabi, and Hirsch (2010) outlined a set of recommendations and practices for syllabus design based on Bain's (2004) “Promising Syllabus.” Other studies have reported that tone and language are important factors to consider when developing a syllabus (Slattery & Carlson, 2005). Though the syllabus rubrics by Cullen and Harris (2009) and Palmer et al. (2014) are both intended to measure the learner-centeredness of a classroom, Palmer et al.'s (2014) rubric provides more detailed examples, separates elements that are combined in Cullen and Harris (2009), and further elaborates on promise, tone, and inclusivity within the classroom. These syllabus assessments have historically served as formative assessments for faculty improvement; the exception is Palmer et al.'s (2014) rubric, which has been used as a formal research instrument to quantify change following an intervention (Palmer et al., 2016). Further, reliability and validity analyses conducted on Palmer et al.'s (2014) instrument have increased its utility in research contexts.

Because so many instruments exist for quantifying learner-centeredness in the classroom, we wanted to assess whether syllabus rubric scores from Palmer et al.'s (2014) instrument aligned with other metrics. To complicate the story, some studies have also reported that the instructor's gender (Howard & Henney, 1998; Lea et al., 2003; Cornelius-White, 2007) and years of teaching experience (Roorda et al., 2011) may predict the learner-centeredness of a classroom. We therefore had two primary research questions: (1) Do syllabus rubric scores align with both faculty self-reports and expert observations of learner-centeredness from the same classrooms? (2) Do faculty self-reports and expert observations or an instructor's gender or years of teaching experience better predict an instructor's total syllabus score on Palmer et al.'s (2014) rubric? Many faculty rely on teacher-centered pedagogical practices (Holt et al., 2015) and can have perceptions of learner-centeredness that are disconnected from those of trained experts (Ebert-May et al., 2011), potentially regarding both classroom practices and development of the course syllabus. Therefore, we hypothesized that syllabus rubric scores would align with expert observers' perceptions of learner-centeredness in the classroom, while self-reported faculty scores would be more disconnected from the syllabus scores.

Methods

Ethics Statement

The Institutional Review Boards of the associated institutions (IRB nos. 01103 and 932641-1) approved the procedures of this study. Written informed consent was obtained by all participating faculty at the beginning of the study.

Participants

We collected syllabi from a nonmajors introductory biology course at a public four-year university in the western United States. We sampled nine instructors who collectively taught 15 sections of this introductory biology course during fall 2013 and spring 2014. However, one of the instructors did not complete our survey, so this instructor's data were removed from our dataset. Of the remaining eight instructors, two had taught for 1–10 years; two had taught for 11–20 years; and four had taught for >20 years. The sample included tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct instructors and was evenly composed of male and female instructors. Gender and teaching experience were self-reported by instructors while completing the survey outlined below.

Our sample size of eight instructors resulted in low statistical power (1 − β = 0.1). However, our study would have required a minimum sample size of 73 instructors to achieve a more “acceptable” statistical power of 0.90, which was logistically unfeasible due to the time-consuming metrics we used and our goal of ensuring consistency across curricula (i.e., using syllabi developed for the same nonmajors biology course at a single institution). We should note that course syllabi were developed independently by each instructor for their respective course sections; in other words, there was not a single shared syllabus that was used by all faculty teaching this course.

Instruments for Measuring Learner-Centeredness of Instructors & Classrooms

Syllabus rubric

We used the syllabus scoring rubric designed by Palmer et al. (2014) to objectively score instructors' individual syllabi for the same nonmajors introductory biology course. According to Palmer et al. (2014), their syllabus rubric “accounts for nuances in syllabi while also maintaining widespread relevance to courses in a diverse range of disciplines, levels, and institutions” (p. 2). Prior to scoring sample course syllabi, we scored reference syllabi provided by Palmer et al. (2014) to normalize our responses. Our eight participating instructors taught 13 sections of the same course; five instructors taught two sections each, and the syllabi in the duplicate sections for an individual instructor were identical (i.e., eight unique syllabi from eight instructors in 13 class sections). The three authors then independently scored eight sample course syllabi. If discrepancies existed between raters, we discussed our decisions and came to a consensus. Syllabi were scored on 12 components, or scales, within four main criteria: (1) Learning Goals and Objectives, (2) Assessment Activities, (3) Schedule, and (4) Overall Learning Environment: Promise, Tone, and Inclusivity. Responses to individual items were summed for each scale, and total syllabus rubric scores were the sum of all component scores and ranged from content-centered (score of 0–16), through transitional (17–30), to learner-centered (31–46). Although Palmer et al. (2014) used the term content-centered to refer to the lowest range of scores on the syllabus rubric, we will instead use teacher-centered to standardize our language here.

Approaches to Teaching Inventory (ATI)

The ATI, developed by Trigwell and Prosser (2004), gauges instructors' self-reported approaches to teaching and learning. The ATI categorizes responses into one of two scales, information-transfer/teacher-focused (ITTF) and conceptual change/student-focused (CCSF) practices, and consists of 16 five-point Likert scale items. We summed the eight items per scale for final ITTF and CCSF scores. Overall scale reliability was moderate for the ITTF scale (α = 0.727) and low for the CCSF scale (α = 0.534; see Heim & Holt, 2018). We administered the ATI as part of our survey to each of our eight faculty members during the last two weeks of the semester via www.surveymonkey.com. We expected that more learner-centered components of a syllabus (e.g., learning objectives) would correlate with a higher CCSF score, as this would indicate that more student-focused instructors were engaging in more learner-centered practices both on paper (i.e., the course syllabus) and in the classroom (i.e., implementing class activities). By contrast, if instructors were more focused on transferring information to their students, one might expect a teacher-centered syllabus in which certain sections (e.g., the schedule) were devoid of all learner-centered aspects.

Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP)

The RTOP was developed by Sawada et al. (2002) and allows expert observers to objectively quantify the learner-centeredness of instruction. The RTOP is considered both valid (Piburn & Sawada, 2000; Sawada et al., 2002) and reliable (Marshall et al., 2011; Amrein-Beardsley & Popp, 2012). Within the RTOP, 25 items describe three scales: lesson design and implementation, content, and class culture.

Two trained raters independently scored four to eight recorded class sessions for each of the 13 course sections (Holt et al., 2015). Inter-rater reliability was high among RTOP raters (generalizability coefficient = 0.787; see Holt et al., 2015). Raters categorized the total RTOP score for each class session into one of five levels, dependent on their raw score out of 100 (Sawada et al., 2003; Ebert-May et al., 2011). If the two raters independently scored class sessions to the same RTOP level, the raters' raw scores were averaged. A blind “tie-breaking” rater was used if initial scoring by the two original raters yielded two different RTOP levels; in this case, the two raters' raw scores sharing an RTOP level were averaged. Within each section, rater-averaged RTOP scores from multiple days were averaged to better represent the range of learner-centeredness over the semester. A single continuous RTOP score, averaged among raters and among several representative class sessions, for each instructor was used in analyses to reflect learner-centeredness measured by external observers. We should note that with the exception of one instructor whose two course sections had greater than a 10-point difference in RTOP scores, the average RTOP scores of instructors who taught two course sections generally did not differ by more than two points. We expected that more learner-centered components of a syllabus (e.g., learning objectives) would correlate with a higher RTOP score, as this would indicate that more student-focused instructors were engaging in more learner-centered practices, based on expert observations.

Data & Analyses

Descriptive statistics described the faculty sample, examined distributions and frequencies of the data, and assessed the suitability of the items to be included in later regression models. We used t-tests and analysis of variance to examine differences in independent and dependent variables across demographic characteristics and conducted correlations to measure the relationship between ATI and RTOP variables and the total syllabus rubric score and scale scores therein (i.e., Learning Goals and Objectives, Assessment Activities, Schedule, and Overall Learning Environment).

Hierarchical linear regression was used to answer the second research question, with total syllabus rubric score as the dependent variable, and variables of interest (i.e., RTOP, CCSF, and ITTF scores) acting as independent variables in the model. We examined R2 values, and associated P-values and F-tests, for each linear regression model to evaluate model performance. Assumptions of linearity were met, as evidenced through normal probability plots and standardized residual plots. Hierarchical linear regression was used to determine the contribution of two demographic characteristics (i.e., gender and years of teaching experience) in explaining syllabus rubric scores; this regression model served as a control for the potentially extraneous effect of demographic variables on instructors' syllabus rubric scores. For these demographic items, response options were categorical and therefore had to be dummy-coded prior to inclusion in the regression models. Variables were entered into linear regression models in two steps, with demographic variables tested at step 1, and the three independent variables of interest (i.e., RTOP, CCSF, and ITTF scores) added at step 2. All analyses were conducted using SPSS Statistics 24.0 (IBM, Somers, NY).

RESULTS

Descriptive Analyses

The student enrollment of participating course sections ranged from 23 to 391 (mean = 115), and courses were scheduled at both traditional (i.e., weekday mornings and afternoons) and nontraditional (i.e., weekends and weekday evenings) times. We explored correlations between syllabus score and enrollment as well as syllabus score and class time but found no clear trends; thus, these findings are not reported here. Across instructors, the mean RTOP score was 41.1 (i.e., teacher-centered lecture with limited demonstrations and student participation), while the mean ATI score was 23.3 on the ITTF scale and 26.5 on the CCSF scale (i.e., transitional and approaching learner-centeredness, respectively).

The mean syllabus rubric score across our eight instructors was 13.1 (i.e., teacher-centered). Five of the instructors' total syllabus scores fell within the teacher-centered range, three instructors' syllabus scores fell within the transitional range, but no scored syllabi were categorized as learner-centered (i.e., score of 31–46). Across scales, Assessment Activities (α = 0.616) and Overall Learning Environment (α = 0.698) were moderately reliable, while Learning Goals and Objectives had low reliability (α = 0.436). As Schedule was only composed of one item, reliability could not be calculated for this scale. Low to moderate reliability across scales could most likely be accounted for by (1) a low sample size of eight instructors and (2) few items per scale, especially for Learning Goals and Objectives (n = 2).

Simple Comparisons

Total syllabus rubric scores did not strongly correlate with ITTF scores (r = −0.065); however, RTOP scores (r = 0.593; Figure 1) and CCSF scores (r = 0.664) correlated independently and positively with total syllabus rubric scores (Table 1). We further found strong positive correlations (r > 0.5) between RTOP score and the Learning Goals and Objectives scale score (r = 0.655); ITTF score and Schedule scale score (r = 0.713); CCSF and Learning Goals and Objectives scale score (r = 0.855); and CCSF and Overall Learning Environment scale score (r = 0.514; Table 1).

Figure 1.

Relationship between mean RTOP score for each instructor and total syllabus rubric score. Shading clarifies cutoff values for each scale, ranging from teacher-centered (white shading, RTOP level I), through transitional (light gray, RTOP level II), to learner-centered (dark gray, RTOP level III or above). RTOP level cutoffs are adapted from Ebert-May et al. (2011). Note that a truly learner-centered class, in both classroom practice and as depicted in the syllabus, would be indicated as pure black shading in the upper right corner but is lacking from our sample. The dashed line represents the approximate 1:1 line between scales (matching the low values, 0 and 0, to the high values, 100 and 46, for RTOP and the syllabus rubric, respectively).

Figure 1.

Relationship between mean RTOP score for each instructor and total syllabus rubric score. Shading clarifies cutoff values for each scale, ranging from teacher-centered (white shading, RTOP level I), through transitional (light gray, RTOP level II), to learner-centered (dark gray, RTOP level III or above). RTOP level cutoffs are adapted from Ebert-May et al. (2011). Note that a truly learner-centered class, in both classroom practice and as depicted in the syllabus, would be indicated as pure black shading in the upper right corner but is lacking from our sample. The dashed line represents the approximate 1:1 line between scales (matching the low values, 0 and 0, to the high values, 100 and 46, for RTOP and the syllabus rubric, respectively).

Table 1.
Correlations between total syllabus scores or syllabus scale scores and variables of interest. Numbers represent Pearson correlation coefficients. Asterisk denotes correlations with P < 0.05.
RTOPITTFCCSF
Total Syllabus Score 0.593 −0.065 0.664 
Learning Goals and Objectives 0.655 −0.211 *0.855 
Assessment Activities 0.473 −0.293 0.086 
Schedule 0.05 *0.713 0.135 
Overall Learning Environment 0.233 −0.167 0.514 
RTOPITTFCCSF
Total Syllabus Score 0.593 −0.065 0.664 
Learning Goals and Objectives 0.655 −0.211 *0.855 
Assessment Activities 0.473 −0.293 0.086 
Schedule 0.05 *0.713 0.135 
Overall Learning Environment 0.233 −0.167 0.514 

We detected no significant difference between male and female instructors in total syllabus rubric scores (t6 = 0.055, P = 0.96), nor in any syllabus scale scores (Learning Goals and Objectives: t6 = −1.083, P = 0.32; Assessment Activities: t6 = 0.928, P = 0.39; Schedule: t6 = 0, P = 1.00; Overall Learning Environment: t6 = 0.378, P = 0.72). Further, total syllabus rubric scores were statistically similar across categories of teaching experience, including 1–10 years, 11–20 years, and 21+ years (F2, 5 = 0.621, P = 0.57). Likewise, syllabus scale scores were also statistically similar across our three categories of teaching experience (Learning Goals and Objectives: F2, 5 = 2.41, P = 0.18; Assessment Activities: F2, 5 = 1.05, P = 0.42; Schedule: F2, 5 = 2.50, P = 0.18; Overall Learning Environment: F2, 5 = 0.292, P = 0.76).

Hierarchical Linear Regression

The three variables of interest (i.e., RTOP, CCSF, and ITTF scores) simultaneously added at step 2 (F3, 2 = 5.376, P = 0.164, R2 = 0.931) improved the fit of the model beyond what was explained by the demographic variables (i.e., gender and years of teaching experience) in step 1 (F2, 5 = 0.364, P = 0.712, R2 = 0.127), though this fit was not significant (Table 2). None of the variables of interest contributed uniquely to explaining syllabus rubric scores (Table 2), though our low sample size of eight instructors limited our statistical power in detecting an effect of these factors on syllabus scores.

Table 2.
Summary of hierarchical regression analysis for variables predicting total syllabus rubric score.
Models/StepsBSE BΒP
1. Demographic variables 21.000 (constant) 11.465 (constant)  0.712 
Gender −1.500 4.869 −0.135 0.770 
Years of teaching experience −2.500 2.936 −0.373 0.433 
2. Independent variables of interest −32.699 (constant) 13.705 (constant)  0.164 
Gender −10.031 3.061 −0.903 0.082 
Years of teaching experience −0.465 1.523 −0.069 0.789 
RTOP 0.004 0.205 0.005 0.988 
ITTF 0.332 0.223 0.315 0.275 
CCSF 2.039 0.539 1.361 0.063 
Models/StepsBSE BΒP
1. Demographic variables 21.000 (constant) 11.465 (constant)  0.712 
Gender −1.500 4.869 −0.135 0.770 
Years of teaching experience −2.500 2.936 −0.373 0.433 
2. Independent variables of interest −32.699 (constant) 13.705 (constant)  0.164 
Gender −10.031 3.061 −0.903 0.082 
Years of teaching experience −0.465 1.523 −0.069 0.789 
RTOP 0.004 0.205 0.005 0.988 
ITTF 0.332 0.223 0.315 0.275 
CCSF 2.039 0.539 1.361 0.063 

DISCUSSION

Learning Objectives Link to Learner-Centeredness

We were not surprised that RTOP scores were highly related to total syllabus scores, specifically the Learning Goals and Objectives syllabus scale, because one RTOP scale describes lesson design and implementation (Sawada et al., 2002). For a lesson to be implemented effectively, classroom activities should be based on learning goals and objectives for the course (i.e., backward design; Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). High syllabus rubric scores, via the Learning Goals and Objectives scale, are achieved through using a range of Fink's taxonomic verbs (Fink, 2013a, 2013b). Three of the top four syllabus score earners in our sample included learning objectives incorporating both affective and cognitive domains, and these same three instructors also received the highest RTOP scores from experts. Inclusion of objectives from the affective domain, while uncommon in our sample, is important for student learning in the sciences (Shephard, 2008) and should be integrated into introductory science course syllabi. Further, Wright (2011) proposed that a blending of these learning domains contributes to overall classroom effectiveness.

Learner-centered instructors develop learning objectives framed around what the student should be able to do after instruction, both cognitively and affectively, rather than what content the teacher expects to cover (Gibbs, 1995; Donnelly & Fitzmaurice, 2005). Our findings further support that careful construction and dissemination of diverse learning objectives to students on the first day, through a syllabus, contributes to more learner-centered classes. Additionally, although there may be other effective ways to disseminate learning objectives in a classroom, in the present study we investigated only dissemination via syllabi.

Measures of Classroom Environment Differ

Instructors who focused on conceptual change within their students (i.e., high CCSF) also tended to construct more learner-centered syllabi and, specifically, to score higher on the Overall Learning Environment syllabus scale. These findings support Bain's (2004) conclusions that a learner-centered syllabus fosters a classroom climate where students take control of their own learning and, further, that a learner-centered syllabus acts as a form of communication between the instructor and the student. Richmond et al. (2016) reported that students developed more positive perceptions of their instructors when the course syllabus offered students more choice and encouraged student learning and engagement.

Richmond et al. (2016) and Slattery and Carlson (2005) noted that the course syllabus is the first line of communication between students and the instructor. A learner-centered syllabus can establish instructor-student rapport and outline positive expectations of students before a course even begins (Wilson & Wilson, 2007; Richmond et al., 2016). Because 10 of 25 items in the RTOP were intended to gauge communicative interactions and student–teacher interactions, we assumed that RTOP scores would strongly correlate with the Learning Environment scale. However, in our study, the proposed learning environment outlined in the syllabus was weakly related to RTOP scores, perhaps because the other 15 RTOP items that did not gauge classroom interactions added variance, weakening the relationship of this syllabus scale to RTOP.

It may be advisable for instructors to periodically reflect upon how well their teaching practices align with their intended class climate, as written in their syllabi. Incorporating more opportunities for student choice within the classroom and additional resources outside class may help foster a more learner-centered learning environment, including positive student–teacher relations. Further, writing one's syllabus in a friendly, inviting tone may increase an instructor's approachability and overall rapport with their students (Harnish & Bridges, 2011). As a tool for learner-centered teaching, the syllabus can also be used as a means to communicate high expectations to students (McKeachie, 1999; Eberly et al., 2001) and express that the instructor cares about students as individual learners (Denton & Veloso, 2017), if written in language appropriate to convey such classroom values. However, Thompson (2007) notes that what instructors convey in the syllabus can sometimes be inconsistent with their pedagogical practices and beliefs. Hence, instructors should be diligent to convey and align their expectations of classroom environment both in their syllabus and in their classroom.

Syllabus Schedule Unrelated to Learner-Centeredness

The Schedule syllabus scale included only one item; therefore, in conjunction with our low sample size of eight instructors and low statistical power, we caution against over-interpretation of trends we observed. Specifically, teacher-focused instructors tended to have higher scores on the schedule portion of the rubric. We suspect that most instructors interpret the course schedule as a means of structuring a class, rather than as an avenue for conveying learner-centeredness. Schedule information within a syllabus is rated as highly important by students (Becker & Calhoon, 1999) and is often referenced by them continually throughout a course (Slattery & Carlson, 2005); therefore, schedules that provide insufficient information to students can be detrimental to students' planning and learning in a course (Slattery & Carlson, 2005).

In the present study, the Schedule scale did not strongly correlate (r > 0.5) with any of the other syllabus rubric scales. Instructors may not feel that the course schedule can convey learner-centeredness in the same manner as other components of the syllabus, and may therefore treat the course schedule strictly as a means for transferring information. Alternatively, the schedule scale of Palmer et al.'s (2014) rubric may be unable to unambiguously separate course schedules focused on students from those focused on the instructor, and may represent a possible avenue of future research.

Other Metrics May Predict Syllabus Rubric Scores

Our hierarchical linear regression analyses suggested that the ATI and RTOP collectively were better predictors of total syllabus rubric score than instructor demographic characteristics, though the fit of neither model was significant. Despite a lack of significance, likely due to our low sample size of eight instructors that resulted in low statistical power, the model including ATI and RTOP scores had a large R2 value (Table 2).

Our finding that instructor gender was a poor predictor of classroom learner-centeredness has been partially supported in previous studies. Auster and MacRone (1994) noted that instructor gender did not influence student participation in a class. Further, Howard and Henney (1998) suggested that student age and attendance play a more prominent role in student engagement in the college classroom than instructor gender. However, Cornelius-White (2007) reported that “teacher care” was more strongly associated with student learning when demonstrated by a female instructor. Similarly, Lea et al. (2003) found that male instructors in higher education were more likely to agree with cynical statements regarding the purpose of learner-centeredness. Howard and Henney (1998) also explained that while surveys often find no instructor gender differences in relation to student learning, observational research is more likely to measure these differences.

Our finding that an instructor's teaching experience did not predict learner-centeredness of course syllabi has also been partially supported by others. Cornelius-White (2007) measured no significant effects of teaching experience on student cognitive outcomes, while Roorda et al. (2011) found that teaching experience had a significant effect on the relationship between positive student–teacher interactions and academic achievement. Several studies recorded years of teaching experience but either did not comparatively analyze these data or did not report the findings if they did (Pedersen & Liu, 2003; Johnson et al., 2007).

Forgetting the Syllabus in Course Reform

In our sample of eight instructors' nonmajors introductory biology syllabi, none of them qualified as learner-centered (sensuPalmer et al., 2014). Interestingly, almost half of our instructors' classes rated as reformed, learner-centered courses (Ebert-May et al., 2011) at an RTOP level III (Figure 1). So while several of our instructors made the effort to reform their classroom practice, their syllabus construction was clearly not part of this transformation. All but one of our instructors scored lower on the syllabus rubric than on the observation protocol (dots below the dashed line in Figure 1). A piecemeal approach to reform has been reported by Ebert-May et al. (2015), where instructors assessed at low cognitive levels despite classroom practices that promoted high cognitive skills.

Excluding the syllabus from an instructor's repertoire of learner-centered practices may have notable consequences. Students read and use course syllabi (Becker & Calhoon, 1999; Garavalia et al., 1999), and these syllabi can influence their perceptions of instructor effectiveness (Jenkins et al., 2014). Despite notable pressure to make science classrooms more active (Wieman, 2014), the literature rarely emphasizes the need for a more holistic approach to reform, which includes the syllabus as an important document. Our findings suggest that syllabi may have been forgotten and may need more attention in the reform process.

Limitations & Future Directions

Logistics necessitated that we use a small sample that limited our power to detect significance in our trends. We restricted our sample of instructors to a single institution to focus on one nonmajors introductory biology course to have more comparable samples, but this limits the applicability of our findings to other populations and courses. Future work that includes a larger sample of instructors from a range of institutions may help solidify the trends we observed. It would also be worthwhile to analyze the syllabi of other courses taught by these same instructors in future studies, to identify any potential imbalance in investment of time and effort for course design between majors and nonmajors courses.

Further, our quantitative data could not address why some instructors demonstrated reformed teaching practices yet their syllabi were only teacher-centered or transitional. Instructors may be simply unaware of the syllabus as a vehicle for learner-centered expression, or may not feel as if they have sufficient time to adequately reform parts of their course syllabus from semester to semester. Or perhaps this disconnect is a manifestation of resistance. Faculty may not feel it is their responsibility to motivate students to learn, within and beyond the syllabus; yet faculty often have a strong influence on students' motivation to learn in a course (Christensen & Menzel, 1998). Further, certain instructors may feel that overuse of positive language within their syllabi could convey an inaccurate representation of their personality or pedagogical practices (Thompson, 2007). Future qualitative research using instructor interviews may better explain learner-centeredness misalignment among teaching philosophies, teaching practices, and syllabi. Additionally, future studies should also focus on how reformation of the course syllabus influences student success in the classroom.

Recommendations for Instructors

Our findings support that course syllabi have the potential to express learner-centered practices and values, or the lack thereof, detected by other instruments (e.g., RTOP, ATI). Therefore, we encourage instructors to place more emphasis on syllabi during course reform and to use syllabus scoring metrics such as Palmer et al.'s (2014) rubric to (1) self-evaluate how learner-centered their course syllabi are and (2) modify sections of the syllabi on the basis of rubric scores and criteria. Given that syllabi often serve as the first line of contact between the instructor and students in a course, we suggest that instructors begin to prioritize the syllabus as a learner-centered means of communication and continue to reform course syllabi each semester.

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