Mixed method research Essay
Power, Control, and Authority
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An area of adult learning that has received considerable attention the past two decades is power in the classroom (e.g., Kearney, Plax, Richmond, & McCroskey, 1994, 1995; McCroskey & Richmond, 1993; Waltman & Burleson, 1997). Power, in this context is defined as “the instructor’s ability to influence students to do something they would not have done had they not been influenced” (Kearney et al., 2004, p.725). According to McCroskey and Richmond (1993), ‘‘instructors’ use of power is an inherent part of the teaching process’’ (p. 178). If instructors do not exert influence in the classroom, they cannot enhance student learning (Richmond & McCroskey, 1984; Richmond & Roach, 1992).
McCroskey and Richmond (1993) summarized scholars’ definitions of power as ‘‘an individual’s potential to have an effect on another person’s or group of persons’ behavior’’ (p. 176). Instructors` use and misuse of power within the instructional settings stems from French and Raven’s (1995) five bases of power. Coercive power refers to students’ perceptions that the instructor will punish them if they do not comply with his/her requests. Reward power refers to students’ perceptions that they will receive a reward or prevent a negative consequence by complying with the instructor’s requests. Legitimate power refers to students’ perceptions that power is granted to an instructor by the title of ‘‘instructor.’’ Referent power refers to students’ perceptions that they identify with and respect the instructor. Expert power refers to students’ perceptions that the instructor is competent and knowledgeable in the subject. Student perceptions of instructor referent and expert power have been shown to be positively related to cognitive and affective learning, student evaluations of instructors, and student motivation (Richmond, 1990; Richmond & McCroskey, 1984; Roach, 1999; Roach & Byrne, 2001). In contrast, student perceptions of coercive and legitimate power have been shown to be negatively correlated with affective and cognitive learning and with student evaluations of instructors
(Richmond, 1990; Richmond & McCroskey, 1984; Roach, 1999; Roach & Byrne, 2001). Furthermore, perceptions of coercive power have also been associated with decreased student motivation (Richmond, 1990). Results concerning reward power are less straightforward. On the one hand, reward power has been shown to be positively related to affective and cognitive learning and evaluations of instructors (Roach, 1999; Roach & Byrne, 2001). On the other hand, it has also been shown to be negatively associated with cognitive learning (Richmond, 1990) and unrelated to cognitive and affective learning (Richmond & McCroskey, 1994).
Power can be conceived as the behavioral patterns and verbal and nonverbal message strategies used by a source in order to maximize the impact upon the targets of a persuasive attempt (McCroskey, 1998). Perceived power refers to ‘‘the degree to which the student perceives the instructor as having the ability to influence the student’s existence’’ (Hurt, Scott, & McCroskey, 1978, p. 125). Brophy and Good (1994) suggest that instructors, as socializing agents, influence students’ behaviors through the degree to which different behaviors are enforced or inhibited. Students’ perceptions of a particular instructor are generated by what the instructor says and does and how he or she says it (Kearney, Plax, Hays, & Ivey, 1991; McCroskey, Valencic, & Richmond, 2004; Teven & Gorham, 1999). Students’ perceptions of an instructor’s power and source credibility often impact students’ affect for that instructor and how effective that teacher is in the classroom.
Instructors Use and Misuse of Power
Power use and misuse in the classroom are intertwined concepts. As an extension of the original “power in the classroom” program of research (McCroskey & Richmond, 1993; Richmond & McCroskey, 1984), Kearney et al. (1995) developed a typology of teacher Behavior Alteration Techniques (BATs) and corresponding Behavior Alteration Messages (BAMs). The BATs and the BAMs are conceptualized as power-based influences techniques that teachers employ to gain compliance from their students (Kearney et al., 1995). Prosocial BATs include messages that are designed to benefit students by encouraging and rewarding them. Antisocial BATs are strategies used to punish students, foster competitiveness, and/ or undermine students` self-worth. In general, research indicates that teachers tend to use more prosocial BATs than antisocial BATs to influence their students (Kearney et al., 1994, 1995). Moreover, the use of prosocial BATs has been found to be directly related to students cognitive and effective learning (Richmore et al., 1987), students` motivation to learn (Richmond, 1990), teachers immediacy (Kearney, Plax, & Burroughs, 1991), and teacher satisfaction (Plax, Kearney, & Downs, 1996).
Although the research on power in the classroom has provided a solid theoretical foundation of the associations between use and misuse of power on various teacher and student outcomes, research has only began to explore the strategies students use to persuade their teachers. Studies on compliance-resisting have helped bridge the gap between students and instructor power by tapping into the strategies students use to resists their instructors persuasive attempts (e.g., Burroughs, 1990; Kearney and Plax, 1988; Lee et al., 1997). The compliance resistance literature has focused on the strategies students used to communicate their willingness to comply with their instructors request and how these strategies are dependent upon characteristics such as instructors immediacy (e.g., Burroughs, 1990 Burroughs et al., 1999), personal attributes of students (e.g Kearney , Plax. & Burroughs, 1991), and the cultural background of students ( Lee et al., 1997). However, in these studies, students are not viewed as catalyst of persuasion; they are merely reacting to their instructors’ compliance- gaining messages.
In the few studies that have explored students` power, instructors are often asked to identify the strategies they think students use with them. For instance, Kearney et al. (1995) initially argued that because students might resist instructor attempts to control their behavior and desired power in the classroom. The students may use similar persuasive techniques that are similar to those of their instructors. What these authors found, however, was that instructors did not perceive that their students relied on similar BATs nor were they perceived to be effective when students used them. As Kearney et al., (1995) explained, perhaps the BATs, created for instructors are not applicable to the strategies students used to manipulate instructor behavior. Although it is true that students may vie for power in the classroom, one cannot assume that students would use the same BATs as instructors.
One possible reason why instructors and students may use different BATs is because of their divergent power positions. Richmond, Davis, Saylor & McCroskey (1994), for instance, examined employees` use of BATs in an influential position with their supervisors. Consequently, the subordinated tended to use prosocial strategies such as self-esteem, personal responsibility, altruism, and expert power when they did attempt to persuade their superiors. Similar power differences exist between instructors and students, and as a result, may produce different BATs strategies. Students may be less inclined to use antisocial BATs given that grades and curriculum decisions are often determined by instructors. Because of their lack of legitimate power, students may also tend to rely on bats that are less face-threatening and more indirect, such as asking the instructor to change a grade through e-mail or in the privacy of his or her office. Like the subordinates in the Richmond et al. (1994) study, students may also not have the luxury of choosing from a wide selection of BATs as their instructors due to power differences (Richmond & Roach, 1992). In essence, students are going to choose options that are less likely to jeopardize their position in the classroom.
Another reason BATs may vary between students and instructors is that the motivation or purpose for persuasion is different for these two populations. The original BAT checklist consisted of a set of strategies that instructors used to control student misbehaviors and keep students on task to facilitate learning (e.g., Kearney, Plax, Sorensen, & Smith, 1998; Plax, Kearney, & Tucker, 1996). Even though instructors also misbehave in the classroom (e.g., Thweatt & McCroskey, 1998), students may not use BATs to control instructor misbehaviors and keep the instructor on task as much as they do to alter their grade, adjust course material, or make changes to the class environment.
The Relationship between Student Power and Instructor Power
Students` overall sense of power may partially be a manifestation of their perceptions of their instructors` power. Although students may use persuasive strategies with instructors, prior research indicates that they do not feel as if they possess a great deal of power with their instructors (Burroughs, 1990; Golish, 1999; Richmond et al., 1994). However, researchers need to take a one microscopic view of the relationship between teacher power and student power by examining what it is about that association that contributes to a student’s sense of power. For instance, do students who perceive their instructors as powerful tend to perceive themselves as powerful? On one hand, the less powerful students perceive their professor, the more likely they might be to believe their strategies will work because the professor lacks credibility. Conversely, it is feasible that the more powerful an instructor, the more power students feel because they respect the instructor and know that he/she will listen to their concerns.
Students` power may also depend upon the specific types of power dimensions instructors employ. Researchers have found that students may feel less powerful with a teacher who uses coercive power because of a fear of being reprimanded and/or realizing that their opinion has little impact on the teachers` decisions (Richmond & Roach, 1992). However, others (e.g., Golish, 1999) have noted that even if students do not feel they have influence over a coercive instructor, students may use antisocial BATs out of retaliation. An instructor who uses legitimate power or who assumes that students should do as they are told because “the teacher said so” is more apt to be met with student resistance (Richmond & Roach, 1992). Under such an oppressive atmosphere, students may feel powerless or they might use retaliatory measures to make their voices heard.
In contrast, instructors` use of referent and expert power may empower students and encourage them to enact more prosocial compliance-gaining strategies. Instructors` referent and expert power have been found to be positively associated with student affect toward the teacher and course material (Richmond, 1990; Richmond & McCroskey, 1994). Referent power is based on the students` ability to identify with the instructor and is operative only after the student and instructor have developed a relationship (Barrachlough & Stewart, 1992). Thus, instructor’s referent power may not only gain compliance from students, but it also serves to build a trusting, open, positive instructor-student relationship (Richmond & Roach, 1992). Because students have a desire to please such instructors, students may also be more likely to use prosocial BATs and referent power in their persuasive attempts. Students might also tend to use more prosocial BATs with a teacher who has expert power to show respect and acknowledge the instructor’s expertise. In sum, research tends to suggest that there is an association between instructor power and student power.
How Instructor and Student Power Shapes Adult Learning Environment
Some ways in which instructor and student power shapes adult learning environment are enumerated below:
1. Encouraging Equality
Many adult students view the instructors as authority figures with power they do not share (Epp, Ford, Tripp-Knowles & Vangueois, 1996). One way to encourage equality in the adult learning environment is to have the students determine what and how they will study. The well-known Worth Report recommended exactly that: “to the greatest extent possible the individual should be the one to exercise choice in the planning and forwarding of his [sic] education” (Alberta Lifelong Education Task Force, 1991). When students view education as a valuable process and one in which they play an active role in determining, they will see it as an investment in themselves. Because adult students face unique challenges, special programs must be implemented to help them continue in their education.
2. Making Learning Relevant
Adult educator must be mindful of the material that they share in the classroom and that these must be meaningful to the learners. This can be done by focusing on students’ lived experiences along with theories of learning. Adults return to school for a number of reasons. One of the most common is the link between educational attainment and income (Demers, 1991). Many adult students have low levels of education. Because of this, they are not qualified to take jobs that pay a good salary and many find themselves employed in low-wage, sporadic, service sector jobs (DeBell, Vi & Hartmann, 1997; Spalter-Roth, 1994).
Instructors must make sure that each student coming through the door of their classroom must be motivated by the instructors own unique situational factors. Each one will also have a sense that both the program and the timing are right. Once there, participating with other learners and pursuing goals, students’ lives will change forever.
Feminist pedagogy rests on the assumption that empowerment begins when learners see their potential and the possibility of achieving their roles of power (Hayes, 1999). Many women in the adult education classroom indicate that they not only “found themselves” through the process of adult education, but also found new and interesting pathways in life. The process of working in a collaborative setting is as great a factor in this growth as is course content.
Education provides returning adults the opportunity to consider possibilities previously unseen (Meisol, 1999). Caffarella (1994) indicates that program planners should demonstrate flexibility in planning for these unanticipated achievements which may result. Adult educator must continue to be mindful that those “ah ha” moments will be unique to each student and cannot be predicted with any certainty. Instructors must be open to the possibility of their existence and join in celebrating them when they arrive.
3. Support for Learning
Support came from many different people in an adult students` life: contacts at the university, library staff, employer, friends, and family. Looking back, most students see that their support was often the reason they keep going. Many returning students struggle because they lack support in their personal lives. Lewis (1995) found that for female students, husbands and boyfriends made up the largest group of non-supporters who encouraged them not to pursue their studies but remain where they were. She also reported that negative support has a direct effect on attendance and success. “Despite the barriers that at every level operate to limit women’s movement and push them back into the home, it is clear that in this movement out of the private sphere of the home, women stand to gain far more than they have to lose” (McMinn, 1995, p.153).
However, women are not alone in this lack of personal support. Men, too, often face opposition to their studies from those they are closest to. The threat of having a loved one change (and perhaps leave?) is very frightening to many adults whose partners pursue further education.
Having even one person believe in the learner, encourage them, and give them a pat on the back can make all the difference. For some adult learners, not a single person in their lives plays this role. If they are going to receive that crucial support, it will be because administrative and instructional staff members make the time for it. Adult educator should also play a supportive role with their students. They should also play the role of motivator.
Hitt (1990) states that the “primary function of the transformational leader is to lift followers to their better selves” (p. 137). Caffarella (1994) says that assisting people in making change is what transfer of learning is all about. In the classroom, this means presenting material so that learners will integrate new knowledge as they reflect on past experiences (Morrow, 1993). Adult educator should also learn to motivate students by bringing out the best in them and encouraging them to stand in their own voice (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger & Tarule, 1996).
4. Learning from Learners
Personal experience is a critical source of motivation, learning, and meaning-making for adult learners. It serves to help us gain awareness of ourselves, see shifts in life, develop new adaptive strategies, and continue in dialogue with others about ideas, topics, and experiences (Fiddler & Marienau, 1995). When this happens, they are learning and teaching simultaneously.
Authoritative “top-down” teaching styles are now under close scrutiny by educational institutions, educators, and learners alike. Where these styles persist in the adult classroom, more funding must be set aside for staff development. Improved teaching methods may result from training opportunities where value is shown in the sharing of students’ ideas both inside and outside of the classroom.
One criticism of adult education programs is their deficit model approach which is “oriented to detecting individual problems and prescribing solutions” (Parker, 1994, p. 173). This approach is quite apparent in rural areas. A better approach may be to listen to the students (Cheng, 1990; Quigley, 1998). They know what they want and what they need. Instructors need to be able to let go and listen. However, this will mean a change in the way students and instructors view power structures.
When students view education as a valuable process and one in which they play an active role in determining, they will see it as an investment in themselves. Because adult education students face unique challenges, special programs must be implemented to help them continue in their education. With a “hand up,” these students will take ownership of their education and come to view learning as a valuable experience.
Brundage and MacKeracher (1990) suggested that the learning process is influenced by how students feel about and describe themselves. Self-image and self-esteem are very real issues in adult classrooms. Many of adult students have not had successful experiences in classrooms previously. They may have been told they were not as good as someone else or that they were incapable of learning. The most horrifying aspect of these insults is that in many cases they came from instructors. Adult educators need to value the self concept and self esteem of each learner in order to facilitate learning. They can do this by first being open to the students’ experiences. Understanding where they have come from is a good first step to understanding where they want to go.
Having a positive experience is especially important to adult students. For this reason, the screening process is crucial. Being “set up for failure” would just add to their previous negative experience and confirm their self-doubt. James (1997) found that those students she studied who had an external locus of control were more likely to shut down, give up, and drop out. However, students can learn to have an internal locus of control and accept responsibility for their actions and consequences. One factor in encouraging this internal control among students is found in the instructors’ giving up their own control in the classroom.
5. Letting Go
Adult educators have to balance presenting new material with three other things: debate and discussion, students sharing their experiences, and the tic toe of a clock. If they are able to let go of their previously held ideas on lesson plans and methods of instruction in order to use all the knowledge present in the classroom, interesting things can happen (Zemke & Zemke, 1994).
A variety of teaching techniques must be incorporated into the adult education classroom to address the varied learning styles of all students (Brookfield, 1990; Brundage & MacKeracher, 1990; Knowles, 1990). However, Caffarella (1994) indicates that even simple measures such as rearranging chairs and tables to encourage group interaction and team building can be a great start. Being open to others’ ideas is also beneficial. By recognizing that there is always room for a new strategy, a new perspective, instructors should keep the classroom open to better experiences for all students. They should let go of the far too long philosophy that they were the “enlightened ones.”
At this point, I would like to evaluate the efficacy of instructional methodologies designed to share instructional “power” in order to shape a healthy, adult learning community.
The most usual area of self-reflection is What actually happened? What do I actually do? What else might I have done? Simple as it sounds, reflecting on our behaviors may be one of the most difficult things to do—instructors can’t actually see what we are doing. In Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher; Stephen Brookfield (1995) gives humorous but painful accounts of how certain of his behaviors—visiting small groups while in discussion, assigning learning contracts, doing minimal lecturing—were interpreted by his students in ways quite unlike what he intended. To achieve greater congruence between what they do (and intend to do) and what students experience, instructors need to imagine ourselves as the learner: How would they, as competent adults, feel about the kind of learning environment their behaviors create? However, since it can be difficult to put ourselves in learners’ shoes, having peers observe and give feedback or asking for student feedback (as with a “One-Minute Paper” (Angelo & Cross, 1994) can be quite useful.
Do instructors have the necessary skills and knowledge to engage learners and create environments in the way they would like? The strategies undoubtedly grew out of the instructors’ capabilities; people tend to engage in those behaviors for which they are best prepared. But reflection can lead to a heightened awareness of one’s existing capabilities and a plan to strengthen or develop new ones that would expand the repertoire.
What major ideas inform instructors teaching or training? In the previous pages, I focused on the practice of educating others with developmental intentions: what adult educators do, how they do it, and some implications of both. To illustrate how reflection on beliefs can help explain practice, let’s turn to Merriam and Caffarella (1999), who have organized a wide array of learning theories into five major orientations to learning: behaviorist, cognitivist, humanist, social learning, and constructivist.
These orientations to learning are primarily concerned with change in the individual, which may or may not be directed toward social change. In the context of this paper, these orientations vary considerably in their support of educating others with developmental intentions. For example, the behaviorist creates an environment designed to elicit certain responses. The concept of meaning-making is essentially meaningless in this context. Humanists, at the opposite end of the spectrum, are primarily concerned with self-actualization and therefore encourage learners to set their own learning contexts as much as possible. The middle ground is occupied by cognitive-constructivists and social learning practitioners, both of whom focus on the learner’s process and experiences as mediated by the social context or as filtered through various ways of processing information.
What am I trying to accomplish? A moment’s reflection on this question by the instructor can be invigorating—I know where I’m headed with what I am doing—or it can lead to an unsettling confusion. What follows may be a refreshing affirmation of one’s purpose or the impetus to revisit the question: What was or is my purpose? It is unusual for a teacher or trainer to sustain engagement, his own or a learner’s, without touching base with the purpose of the effort.
What are the settings or circumstances in which I help others learn? If someone has a developmental perspective, how consistent will he or she be with the norms and expectations of his or her organization, department, field, discipline, industry standard, or one’s own standards?
Contemplating those norms—how they are represented in espoused values and how their reality
is experienced with colleagues, reward systems, and the like—can be a rich arena for reflection.
It is not unusual for educators to find some degree of disjunction between their practices and the
environment in which they are functioning. For example, in corporate settings, where a corporate
philosophy often prescribes a way of doing things, that is, “one right way to supervise,” trainers
may need to compromise their learning goals or risk some type of corporate sanction. Or reflection might affirm congruence between the norms of the environment and an educator’s personal purposes(s) yet reveal difficulty in getting things done well for want of necessary capabilities. Educators could choose any one of these discrete elements of teaching or training as an object of reflection, or they might deal with these elements more holistically. The choice is less important than engaging in an ongoing process of imagining possibilities. Either starting point can lead to “useful” reflection that, in turn, helps cultivate a reflective habit that can provide a foundation for the educator’s continued personal and professional growth, change, and development.
Two Kinds of Reflection
This notion of improvising is akin to what Schön (1983) calls “reflection-in-action.” It is “thinking on one’s feet”—the improvisational sensibility that reshapes the moment according to the needs of the participants. Most educators probably engage in this kind of improvisation all the time, without necessarily recognizing it as reflection on their behaviors, capabilities, ideas, or purposes. However, our colleagues tell us that bringing these skills to consciousness tends to enhance their effectiveness.
Mostly, reflection-in-action focuses on a better way to facilitate the next several minutes. Sometimes we may have the presence of mind to jot down a quick note to remind us to revisit and rethink an issue later; sometimes the moment comes and goes with the residue of having a little more practice and a little more awareness.
The second kind of reflection, which Schön (1983) calls “reflection-on-action,” occurs some time after a teaching engagement is over. It may be following the completion of a course, as part of a formal review, in preparation for a presentation or workshop, or in a moment’s thought. This is an opportunity to look at a whole session and perhaps frame it within the context of what came before and what should come next, to draw more systematically on the “objects” of reflection.
Reflection-on-action is a broader, more thorough assessment than is possible when one responds to immediate stimuli. Although many adult educators demand much of themselves and may gravitate to questions about “what went wrong,” the heart of reflection-on-action is the room it gives for wondering, for the curiosity that builds on the impulse to learn more and to look at one’s practice with sustained attention, that is, to contemplate. Though reexamining difficult or awkward moments may draw attention to figuring out what to do better next time, with time and experience, apparent disasters, successes, and the everyday routines can all be the triggers for reflection.
From the vantage point of longer-term reflection-on-action, some of the bigger patterns can emerge that might not have been evident in the day-to-day or week-to-week “noise” of the earlier reflections. With commitments to problem finding and solving, seeking understanding, and deliberate action (Merriam & Caffarella, 1999, p. 233), ongoing reflection provides the same bridge between experiences and meaningful learning that teaching with developmental intention offers. As Mentkowski and Associates (2000) note, reflection “is the place…where we can find the connections between our operational assumptions and our behaviors, decisions, and plans; where we can construct our identities and integrate different frameworks of practice” (p. 265).
I have left to last one other object of reflection—values—because it is pivotal in a way different from the others. What beliefs do I hold above all others? Although we certainly advocate educators’ reflective practice being guided by whatever values they hold dear. Adult educators enter into adults’ lives and thus can have an impact on adults’ development. In reflecting on this premise, we three recognize that we converge around an ethic of care—a value
that guides each of us in our practices. The emergence of a relational “ethic of care” in place of an individualistic “ethic of justice” may be traced to Jean Baker Miller’s call for a “new psychology” based on women’s experience, and to Carol Gilligan’s description of hearing in women’s ethical decision-making a qualitatively different approach than that which had until then been based on men’s experiences.
Gilligan’s (1982) observations led to a picture of moral development arising from conflicting responsibilities rather than from competing rights. What this means for learning is that understanding may also emerge through contextual and narrative ways of thinking and not only formal and abstract lines of reasoning. Activity arising from a predominant value of care requires an understanding of responsibility and relationships; to contrast, practices that center on fairness demand an understanding of rights and rules.
As I consider what has shaped another premise of this paper—development of the individual is a worthy aim of adult education—it becomes clearer that this grows out of a belief in the importance of relationship to the emergence of the self and the value of basing important decisions in the arms of care. When we focus on what our relationships with learners ask of us, our professional identity is shaped by values different from those operative when we focus only on our obligations to a body of knowledge or organizational goals. But rather than experience these as “either-or” propositions, the relationship between these values becomes yet another object of reflection.
It is hoped that this paper remind us that “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher” (Palmer, 1998, p. 10, original emphases). Integrity, as Kolb (1988) sees it, is how one integrates the challenges of work (teaching) with the values to which one ascribes. Because the choices are many and personal, there is no singular formula for creating or becoming a “good teacher or trainer.” I believe, however, that adult learners are more likely to adopt deep approaches to learning when they engage with educators who are authentic in aligning the various “objects of reflection” from behaviors through integrity.
Such alignment may result in development of one’s authentic voice as an educator. “The discovery, honoring, and expression of an authentic voice,” says Brookfield (1995), “are genuinely transformative processes” (p. 47). We strive to engender those processes in ourselves as well as our students.
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