How, If at All, Does Industry Experience Influence how Faculty Teach Cognitive, Inter-, and Intrapersonal Skills in the College Classroom?

WCER Working Paper No. 2020-2

Matthew T. Hora and Changhee Lee

March 2020, 37 pp.

ABSTRACT: Competencies known variously as “soft” or “21st century skills” are increasingly linked to college students’ academic and career success, and faculty with industry experience are hypothesized to be uniquely qualified to teach these skills. Yet little research exists on this topic. In this paper, we report findings from a mixed-methods study of the degree to which industry experience influences how faculty in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine teach teamwork, oral and written communication, problem-solving, and self-directed learning skills in 2- and 4-year postsecondary institutions. Using inductive thematic and hierarchical linear modeling techniques to analyze survey (n=1,140) and interview (n=89) data, we find that faculty place relatively low emphasis on these skills, but that industry experience is significantly associated with teaching oral communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills. Other factors, including race and perceptions of departmental teaching norms, also influenced skills-focused instruction. Industry experience also informed problem-based learning activities, knowledge of desired workplace skills, and a focus on divergent thinking. Given that industry experience is an important, but not the only influence on skills-focused instruction, policies aimed solely at hiring faculty with industry experience will be of limited utility without a corresponding focus on training in teaching and instructional design.

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keywords: industry experience, faculty teaching, soft skills, student success, STEMM, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine, communication skills