Faculty at Dalhousie will soon have the opportunity to hone their teaching skills with a new certificate program designed and run by the Centre for Learning and Teaching (CLT).
The program will be free and open to all full and part-time faculty members and instructors, as well as staff who teach or have an interest in teaching.
It’s the first certificate of its kind for faculty at Dal. Currently, faculty members looking for guidance in the classroom rely on avenues such as peer support, one-on-one consultations or workshops through CLT or at the faculty and program level.
Convenient and cross-disciplinary
The Faculty Certificate in Teaching and Learning consists of four required program components, including a core course, studio courses, peer observations and a teaching dossier. The majority of the courses will be held in the Killam Memorial Library, with a video-conferencing alternative available to participants attending from Truro, Yarmouth, or New Brunswick campuses.
While it’s possible to complete the certificate in a year, participants are free to pursue it more gradually depending on their workload.
But as certificate coordinator Betsy Keating points out, rather than being “something extra to do on the side,” the certificate has been designed to fit into the work faculty already do on a daily basis.
“We’ve tried to make the whole certificate very practical,” says Keating, an educational developer who joined CLT last January. “It's designed to be directly applicable to what the professors are doing in the classroom."
The core course, for instance, centres on learning-focused course design and gives participants the chance to design or re-design one of their own courses from the ground up.
“It’s their opportunity to do that within a cross-disciplinary community so they can get feedback as they go, and they can take that particular time to design it well instead of trying to do it on the fly,” says Keating, who will teach this and some of the other courses in the program. Prior to coming to Dal, she worked as an educational developer and an English instructor at the University of Windsor, and her research specializes in cognition and learning in higher education
Keating says course could be useful to just about anyone, from early-career faculty who have inherited courses from others to veteran professors who are looking to redesign a class they’ve taught for a number of years.
Although there is a significant time commitment involved in completing the certificate, Keating says the benefits are often far greater than those achieved through a more piecemeal approach.
"Extensive research published recently shows that long-term, sustained learning initiatives like this have a much better effect on strengthening teaching culture," she says.
Like the core course, studio courses are also project-based. Each one will focus on a broad theme (such as diversity and inclusion in the classroom, online learning, and the scholarship of teaching and learning) and participants will pursue their own project related to that theme.
The certificate’s peer-observation component offers faculty the opportunity to engage colleagues in helping them critically assess and reflect on their teaching practice. Observers, who are chosen by participants, are given guidance and a template for observation, which is confidential, formative and developmental. Participants complete this segment by writing reflections on the observations.
These peer observations, like other projects in the program, can also be used as evidence in a participant’s teaching dossier. Keating says dossiers — a collection of documents showcasing teaching philosophy and evidence that your work supports it — are integral for faculty these days, whether they are seeking a promotion, tenure, reappointment or a new job altogether.
The certificate has been designed with learning outcomes and participants will need to pass assessments on each component.
“This isn’t just a ‘show up and get credit’ kind of certificate,” she says. “There are learning outcomes and you have to meet them.”
Supporting excellent teaching
The certificate fits into Dal’s larger strategic priority to foster excellence in teaching by offering more education and development opportunities for instructors.
“Dalhousie has superb faculty and instructors who are committed to teaching excellence, but this new certificate raises the bar with challenging learning outcomes and provides a more formal recognition of their commitment to student learning,” says Fiona Black, Dal’s associate vice-president, academic.
She says the program will help address the gap in teaching development that currently exists for many instructors at the university level.
“Higher education expects a great deal of doctoral graduates, while — very unfairly — avoiding any mandatory preparation for the complex and challenging role of effective teaching,” she says. “This certificate will help fill that gap at Dal and, in due course, will be available for a fee to colleagues from other institutions.”
The program is being launched this coming year as a pilot, with the knowledge that it could change depending on demand and feedback from participants.
The certificate is offered in partnership with Executive Education in the Faculty of Management, but the CLT is responsible for all admission, administration, and completion processes. Members of the CLT and affiliated faculty deliver all components of the certificate.
Faculty interested in registering for the core course, which begins February 13, and other components of the certificate can do so online now at the CLT website. You can also contact Betsy Keating (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.
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