Teaching and Learning Centres at Risk of Being Unable to Meet Needs of Students and Educators
Teaching and learning centres are responsible for improving teaching effectiveness at institutions across Ontario, through workshops, instructional resources and ongoing professional development.
But a new @Issue paper by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities , shows that while more and more colleges and universities are recognizing their importance and increasingly relying on their expertise and knowledge, many teaching and learning centres are stretched thin. Without inclusion in an institutions’ strategic plan, ongoing funding support and the opportunity to contribute to or influence new policies, these centres could be unable to meet the needs of educators and students.
As colleges and universities across Ontario are faced with the ongoing challenges of limited resources, rising student/faculty ratios, larger class sizes and increasing emphasis on research, there is concern about the quality of the teaching and learning experience being offered to students.
EQCO hosted a one-day workshop last spring that brought together a large group of experts from Ontario postsecondary institutions to explore the continuing evolution of – and the challenges and opportunities facing – college and university teaching and learning centres. This paper comprises information exchanged during the workshop and a summary of existing research in the field including the recently released The Role of New Faculty Orientations in Improving the Effectiveness of University Teaching – Part 1: University Sector . It is co-written by HEQCO research director Richard Wiggers and educational development experts from Niagara College, Seneca College, University of Windsor and York University.
Emerging in the late 1960s and early 1970s as a response to student demand for improved teaching quality, teaching and learning centres operate at most Ontario postsecondary institutions However, more than 40 years later it is still widely felt that colleges and universities need to strengthen the value of teaching within their institutional culture and assign strategic value to the work of educational developers.
Recently, government and institutions have established new programs and awards to underscore the importance of good teaching. Three Ontario universities (McMaster, Queen’s and Ryerson) have established high profile Teaching Chair positions to demonstrate the status and value of teaching. In addition, several university centres, including Ryerson, Windsor and York are developing programs to support faculty who assume academic leadership roles in their institution. For this trend to continue, teaching must be taken seriously in tenure, promotion and renewal policies; supported by adequate resources; and promoted at the institution, faculty and department levels as an essential component of being a “scholarly professional and ethically responsible academic,” the authors say.
Without incentives, the majority of faculty remain unlikely to invest significant time in their own teaching development, creating concern that the centres are only serving educators with existing interest and commitment to enhancing their skills, not those who truly need it.
Another ongoing challenge for teaching and learning centres is assessing the impact of their programs and initiatives. Assessment is critical to not only further refine programming, but also to communicate the importance of teaching development throughout the institution and beyond. However, centres face a lack of assessment knowledge and skills as well as minimal resources. They also have to overcome longstanding, incorrect assumptions among faculty, administrators and others, such as the view that teaching development is not an “evidence based” field requiring a scholarly approach. By utilizing the existing experience and skills of research experts among their faculty colleagues, graduate students and teaching assistants, teaching and learning centres can overcome many of these challenges.
Teaching and Learning Centres: Their Evolving Role Within Ontario Colleges and Universities was written by Valerie Grabove from Niagara College, Erika Kustra from University of Windsor, Valerie Lopes from Seneca College, Michael K. Potter from University of Windsor, Richard Wiggers from HEQCO, and Ros Woodhouse from York University.