Defining University Teaching Excellence in a Globalized Profession

Defining University Teaching Excellence in a Globalized Profession

Kenneth Bartlett (University of Toronto, Canada)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3661-3.ch021

Abstract

In universities around the world, metrics have been developed to assess research extremely well in the career development of faculty; however, teaching effectiveness has been left to the subjective and usually unreliable evidence of student evaluations, unique or irregular classroom visits, and committee reviews of course syllabi and assignments. There are seldom standards of achievement provided, and each file is usually assessed without reference to others. There is need, then, for a broad set of expectations in the academy for what we call excellence and competence in teaching. This chapter discusses how the authors’ experiences in faculty development in three institutions—in Canada, China, and Oman—reflects both the need for such metrics and the difficulties in establishing procedures in very different contexts. From this, he hopes a debate about how to establish international guidelines for teaching excellence that parallel the rigour given to the assessment of research can be initiated to guide decisions concerning appointment, promotion, and tenure in the modern, internationalized university.
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Issues And Examples

To exemplify some of the observations above, let me consider my experience at the University of Toronto in more detail, as there I was charged with the mission of addressing these kinds of policy issues for over seven years, and then compare my work there with my experience as a consulting colleague at the Capital University of Economics and Business (CUEB) in Beijing, China, and the University of Dhofar in Salalah in the Sultanate of Oman. All of these assignments were dramatically different, although all revealed the problems and pressures that arose as a consequence of the considerations above, and reflected variations in academic culture and society.

The situation of the University of Toronto was in many ways instructive. Although a very old, very large research intensive university, with a tradition of supporting many excellent programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level, there was no central teaching support office until my appointment in 2002. With the creation of OTA, a number of interrelated initiatives developed, some of which were reflected in changes in policy to institutionalize the enhanced commitment to our students through instruction. The first element to be put in place was the creation of a central policy on the assessment of teaching for promotion and tenure; and every division then had to have a clear formulation of a divisional policy guided by the central statement that incorporated the specific circumstances particular to that division. For example, those areas where clinical teaching was central had to include material on how clinicians were to be assessed; departments with an emphasis on creative or imaginative work had to determine how that would obtain; professional faculties that had to be reviewed by licensing agencies had to indicate how that function would be judged; and programs with internships, service teaching or community involvement were requested to define how such teaching would be assessed. And, there were a great many more.

The definition of policy and the requirement that local divisions revisit or create guidelines for the assessment of teaching were in themselves dynamic changes, as the assessment of teaching became a topic of debate and discussion in which the very important question of who would be promoted and tenured figured largely: and nothing captures faculty attention more than self-interest, as every member of that department or division would either be judged according to those rules or be asked to serve on the promotion committees at some time. Nevertheless, although discussion was generated, major changes were less visible. After submitting the policy guidelines, I was instructed to remove any required consideration of teaching ability for candidates for first appointments: individual departments or divisions might employ such vehicles, but they could not be required to do so. Furthermore, these policies tended to be ignored or very broadly interpreted in the promotion of colleagues to senior ranks. Here the culture of research excellence, the requirement for an international reputation and the divisional traditions governing who should rise to full professor all diluted the message. Although the Memorandum of Agreement with the University Faculty Association which allowed for promotion to full professor based on excellence in teaching was known and binding, it was seldom used, because chairs and deans felt they could not judge what constituted excellence in teaching at a level parallel to that of research. Therefore, even with the best of intentions, despite clear guidance from the central administration and an institutional structure to permit promotion based on teaching excellence, in practice its application foundered on the lack of clear definitions.

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