Toward a scholarship of teaching

The Brock University Centre for Teaching, Learning and Educational Technologies (CTLET) (Barry W. K. Joe, director; Jill Grose, associate director; and Graham Passmore, web instructional design specialist) has established itself as a central player in the development of teaching and learning at Brock University.Although many in the Brock community may already be aware of the role that the CTLET plays in relation to the development of teaching assistants and seminar leaders, many more are as yet unaware of the roles that the Centre plays in relation to faculty development. According to Centre director Barry Joe, this is especially so in regard to integrating Web-based course-delivery/enhancement into the mainstream.

In addition to merely having an office with numerous resources (human and otherwise) the Centre is a collaborative effort among its staff and those within the wider university community that share in the aims and objectives of the Centre.

Funded by the office of the Vice-President Academic Terry Boak, the Centre aims to provide faculty with valuable (and often invaluable) information and interchange on various issues.

The Centre offers an orientation for new faculty in late-August, early-September each year to provide incoming faculty with information about both Brock University in general and the particular missions with which each of these faculty members is charged.

The establishment of an office such as the CTLET was not as easy as some might have assumed. According to Wilfred Cude’s analysis of the various studies of university teaching and practice in The Ph.D. Trap Revisited, the prevalent belief that a good deal of old-guard faculty (and that is not restricted to just plain ‘old’ faculty either, but all who think in various retrograde ways about the enterprise of teaching and learning in Canada’s universities) hold is that simply by virtue of possessing a Ph.D. you are, in some inherent way, qualified to teach (and in most cases to do so well).

It has been an often rocky path for offices like the CTLET and others at different universities across Canada and the United States to establish the propriety of having an ongoing dialogue about teaching and learning. Many of the old guard jealously guard their right to teach as they see fit under the pretense that it is somehow protected by the principles of academic freedom.

What these professors fail to recognize is that academic freedom only extends as far as the ideas themselves, and not to how they are presented or taught. This confusion lies at the heart of a good deal of the trouble that centres like the CTLET have in gaining widespread support from the broader academic community. This statement remains true despite the financial and moral support that the CTLET has been able to muster from the senior academic community and others from within Brock.

It’s not all bad news, as with the increased support from the university, the CTLET has been able to mount a series of faculty development workshops. These workshops cover a wide variety of subjects all intended to spark faculty into talking about teaching and learning in university.

A brief example of past workshop topics include:

•Presence, Passion, Theatre and You: Helping Message and Messenger Come to Life

•Implementing Feminist Pedagogy Principles into Course Organization

•The High Touch Classroom: Facilitating Small Group Learning in the Large Classroom Context

•Academic MUSEings: Multi-User Simulated Environments in Education

•Preparing Teaching Dossiers

In just a couple of weeks (June 27-28) the CTLET will be sponsoring its spring workshop: Reflections on Teaching and Learning: A Spring Institute, at the Oban Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Topics for discussion include:

•What’s the Point? A Focus on Learning Objectives (Don Ursino, professor emeritus)

•Peer Review Project: Teaching as Scholarship (Barry Joe and Jill Grose, CTLET)

•Formative Evaluation: Getting Feedback from Your Students

•Teaching as Theatre: Clarifying Meaning, Message, Interpretation and Improvisation (Glenys McQueen-Fuentes, fine arts)

In addition to the major undertakings that these retreats represent, the CTLET has also been instrumental in establishing the President’s Lecture Series on Teaching and Learning. The inaugural address was presented by Professor Emeritus Don Ursino, who retired from Brock in December, 2000. As the first issue of Brock Teaching states, “Ursino has long been regarded as an exemplary reflective practitioner in the Brock academic community.”

While a faculty member at Brock, he was recognized institutionally with Brock’s Alumni Award for Teaching Excellence (1983), provincially with the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations Teaching Award (1986), and nationally with the 3M Teaching Fellowship Award (1991).

Ursino’s comments in his address reflect the CTLET’s philosophy. Reflecting on what he viewed as the scholarship of teaching, Ursino “underscored the need for universities to acknowledge that there is a scholarship of teaching that is as creative, as demanding, and as important as the scholarship that advances knowledge.”

He also emphasized the need for teachers in the audience to “recognize that there is a difference between teaching that aims to achieve meaningful learning outcomes and teaching that aims at mere information transfer.”

Ursino’s comments on what teachers must do to facilitate learning echo the Centre’s philosophy. Ursino stressed that teachers must “establish learning objectives around fundamental questions about what they want their students to know, to be able to do, and to value.”

In so doing, Ursino believes that “more ‘purposeful’ teaching … will lead to more significant outcomes such as higher-order thinking skills, problem solving, critical thinking, reasoning and reflection, and self-directed learning.”

All of what Ursino spoke about remain fundamental articles of practice in the eyes of the CTLET. One ought to be aware, however, that in suggesting these objectives, the CTLET and those associated with it are not suggesting that there is one ‘right’ way of teaching. The centre’s philosophy recognizes that there are a significant number of ways to teach that necessarily reflect not only the content being taught but who is doing it and who is receiving it. All of these factors require openness to various methods of teaching. This openness, however, extends recognizing when a teacher is not achieving what he or she had set out to do — if there was a plan in the first place.

In an attempt to make real the objectives that Ursino and others like him share, the CTLET at Brock university endeavors to reach out to faculty in many and varied ways. That more faculty could stand to take advantage of the services that the CTLET offers represents the challenge that Barry Joe, Jill Grose and Graham Passmore face with the assistance of a good number of their colleagues.

— with files from Brock Teaching and The Ph.D. Trap Revisited, Wilfred Cude (Toronto: The Dundurn Group, 2001)

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