As accountability for the quality of teaching and learning in higher education garners increased attention from government, students, employers, professional organizations and society in general, many have argued for providing additional opportunities to train university faculty for one of their most important roles in higher education – teaching. Faculty development programs such as teaching scholars programs (e.g. Steinert, Nasmith, McLeod, & Conochie, 2003; Gruppen, Frohna, Anderson, & Lowe, 2003) and faculty certificate programs (e.g. Hubball & Burt, 2006; Hubball & Poole, 2003) have become increasingly popular across North America. Similar to many established programs in the UK, these initiatives are designed to bring together small cohorts of faculty to explore pedagogical theories, principles and practices, and to foster engagement in research on teaching and learning. Although specific program goals and outcomes vary by institution, most depend on providing an opportunity for faculty to meet intentionally and regularly to actively dialogue, and to provide a sense of reciprocal support and mentorship (Blanton & Stylianou, 2009; Hubball & Albon, 2007; Richlin & Cox , 2004).
Do these programs actually result in improved teaching and student learning? In one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind, Gibbs and Coffey (2004) would argue, “Most definitely!” They studied the effectiveness of teacher training programs at 22 universities in 8 countries, and found that those who had participated in university teachers’ training programs were more likely to adopt a learner-centred teaching practice, that their teaching skills and global teaching effectiveness scores improved, and that student learning was impacted positively by their engagement in these initiatives. Perhaps the most interesting finding was that faculty who did not engage in the teacher training programs actually reduced the extent to which they adopted a learner-centred teaching focus, and actually became more reliant on instructor-centred teaching practices. As learner-centred practices are suggested to promote a deeper and improved understanding of disciplinary knowledge and expertise, this result is especially substantial in its support for providing faculty teaching development programs.
I am a firm believer that most faculty are deeply committed to their teaching practice and to enhancing student learning. Faculty development initiatives provide important opportunities for instructors to develop confidence in their approach to teaching in higher education. They provide institutions with an important opportunity to promote excellence in teaching. And perhaps most importantly, they promote a positive teaching community which supports a common goal of placing the students at the centre of their university learning experiences.
Gibbs, G. and Coffey, M. (2004) The impact of training of university teachers on their teaching skills, their approach to teaching, and the approach to learning of their students. Active Learning in Higher Education, 5(1), 87-100.
Gruppen, L.D., Frohna, A. Z., Anderson, R.M., & Lowe, K.D. (2003). Faculty development for educational leadership and scholarship. Academic Medicine, 78(2), 137-141.
Blanton, M.L. & Stylianou, D.A. (2009). Interpreting a community of practice perspective in discipline-specific professional development in higher education. Innovative Higher Education, 34, 79-92.
Hubball, H. & Albon, S. (2007). Faculty learning communities: Enhancing the scholarship of teaching, learning and curriculum practice. Journal of Excellence in College Teaching, 18(2), 119-141.
Hubball, H.T. & Burt, H. (2006). The scholarship of teaching and learning: Theory-Practice integration in a faculty certificate program. Innovative Higher Education, 30(5), 327-344.
Hubball, H. & Poole, G. (2003). A learning-centred faculty certificate programme on university teaching. International Journal for Academic Development, 8(1/2), 11-24.
Richlin, L. & Cox, M.D. (2004). Developing scholarly teaching and the scholarship of teaching and learning through faculty learning communities. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 97,127-135.
Steinert, Y., Nasmith, L., McLeod, P.J., & Conochie, L. (2003). A teaching scholars program to develop leaders in medical education. Academic Medicine, 78(2), 142-149.