I believe that we will see no real innovation, no fundamental change, in post-secondary education, at least from within, unless all instructors have basic training in teaching at a post-secondary level.
I was involved in developing a post-graduate certificate in technology-based distributed learning which later morphed into a full Master in Educational Technology at UBC. Both of these though were optional programs – you don’t need these qualifications to teach in post-secondary education. And as a result, most of the students in these programs are not tenured faculty in post-secondary education.
However, let’s suppose we had a benevolent dictatorship (some would argue we have that already in Canada) and he/she mandated that all post-secondary instructors must be qualified before they can teach in universities or colleges. What would such a program look like? Here are my thoughts on this.
Any training program is a balance between the minimum that a learner needs to know to operate effectively and the time available for training. A full one year master’s program will obviously cover much more ground than an eight week part-time program. Initial training does not have to be perfect and satisfy all requirements, because I see professional development as a continuous process throughout one’s career. I will concentrate here on what I consider the minimum that an instructor needs to know to teach effectively in post-secondary education (assuming that they already have a good knowledge base in the subject area):
- epistemology: understanding different kinds of knowledge, for instance the difference between objectivism (often reflected in the teaching of science and engineering) and the social construction of knowledge; a discussion of the nature of networked knowledge. Recognizing that there are differences in beliefs in how knowledge is validated and an understanding that there are different perspectives on this will provide a foundation for choosing appropriate teaching strategies in different domains of knowledge (science or arts, for instance);
- the biological basis of learning: a basic introduction to how the brain works, particularly regarding memory, cognition, and emotions (especially motivation); this will become important in interpreting the emerging field of brain research and learning
- learning theories (linked to epistemology), such as behaviourism, cognitivism, the social construction of knowledge, and possibly connectivism
- the design of teaching: applying theory to practice: this would include needs assessments related to learner differences, an introduction to instructional design, defining learning outcomes and objectives, learner activities (especially around the social construction of knowledge) and the link between learning outcomes, knowledge representation (see below), and assessment; using open content; course evaluation methods; different types of courses (face-to-face, blended, distance); and an introduction to course and program planning
- learning technologies: this would start with an assessment of the instructor’s current IT skills and up-skilling where necessary; the relationship between technology and knowledge representation; functions and structures of learning management systems and web 2.0 tools; relationship between different technologies and theories of learning; strategies for media and technology selection
- project work: designing, delivering and evaluating a course
Each of these areas would be worth the equivalent of three credits except the project, which would be worth six credits, and together would lead to a post-graduate certificate or diploma in post-secondary teaching (21 credits in all). Thus the program would be completed in under a year of full-time study, preferably as part of a graduate program.
To obtain a master degree in post-secondary teaching, the learner would need to add three elective courses (making 30 credits) as follows:
- electives: these might include a course on research in teaching and learning; on emerging technologies; on cultural and international issues in teaching and learning; on planning and managing courses; on the application of a particular technology tool; on teaching strategies for a particular subject discipline; or other topics of choice by the learner as independent study.
All programs would be available online, or face-to-face, or in a blended mode. There would be at least one institution in every state or province licensed to offer the program, and the program would be nationally recognised and a condition of employment as an instructor in post-secondary education.
So over to you. What would you include? Do you disagree with what I have included? Could you think of a more imaginative way to provide training?
And yes, I realise that this will never happen: who needs training in teaching anyway? Can’t anyone do this?