Online Forums for Educators Can Help Improve Teaching in Higher Education
While there is considerable research on best practices and innovative solutions to improve the quality of teaching in postsecondary education (PSE), the challenge is ensuring that the information is widely available to educators for discussion and implementation.
As virtual gathering places for information, ideas and innovation, online forums can be an effective tool for reaching large numbers of educators and serving as a catalyst to bring high level concepts into practice in the classroom, according to a series of reports published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).
Review of 2010-2011 pilot studies of the HEQCO Research Program in Knowledge Mobilization for Exemplary Teaching and Learning summarizes lessons learned to date in helping PSE educators access, share and engage with material designed to promote exemplary teaching practices. HEQCO has supported a number of projects in this area, two of which are included in Phase III Report and Continuation Plan- Collaboratory for Exemplary in College Mathematics- Mathematics Knowledge Exchange Network (MathKEN) and Final Report of the Aligning and Building Curriculum (ABC) Knowledge Exchange Network Project.
These projects supported existing online services to expand, promote and evaluate their results at several colleges across Ontario. They are the next phase of HEQCO’s 2008 research report on knowledge exchange.
PSE educators say they lack time to focus on learning more about new teaching practices and don’t know where to find this critical information. Collaborative, one-stop online resources can be extremely valuable, allowing PSE teachers to move beyond simply reading the material to discussing it with colleagues and using it to develop curriculum.
While creating awareness of these tools is a challenge, the majority of participants in the two examples included in the report found them useful and relevant. However, their use at colleges was more successful than at universities. Both MathKEN and ABC were college-focused and attempts to launch similar programs at the university level were unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, including lower institutional priority, less staff engagement and a lack of existing networks.
Greater use of online forums to improve PSE teaching will require a cultural shift, both among educators and administrators. For example, when comparing the experiences of the MathKEN program for college math teachers with American institutional counterparts, the authors found a significant difference in the level of visibility and priority. For these types of programs to be successful, they must be aligned with institutional values, mission and strategy. It is also critical to engage related stakeholders such as government organizations, philanthropic foundations and not for profits to help expand the base of knowledge and support the program’s growth.
Review of 2010-2011 pilot studies of the HEQCO Research Program in Knowledge Mobilization for Exemplary Teaching and Learning was written by Dr. Tom Carey, former visiting senior scholar at HEQCO.
Phase III Report and Continuation Plan- Collaboratory for Exemplary in College Mathematics- Mathematics Knowledge Exchange Network (MathKEN) was written by The Ontario College Mathematics Association Mathematics Knowledge Exchange Network (MathKEN) Planning Team.
Final Report of the Aligning and Building Curriculum Knowledge Exchange Network Project was written by the Aligning and Building Curriculum (ABC) Planning Team.