The need to better professionalise academic teaching careers is now on the agenda of more and more universities in Europe. Iwona Maciejowska from Jagiellonian University explains why these universities face many challenges and offers a proposal on the first steps to take.
There are several reasons why teaching is not treated in the same way as research in the portfolios of teaching staff across European universities. While we perfect scientific research throughout our professional life, starting from our first projects through diploma theses, peer-reviewed scientific publications and conference presentations, the preparation for and improvement in teaching is not, or at least not everywhere, so obvious. All over the world, especially since the last decade of the 20th century, the issue of the professionalisation of academic teaching has been discussed. For some universities it is obvious and was implemented long ago, while for others it is theoretically accepted yet not implemented. There have been several recommendations concerning the need for the pedagogical preparation of lecturers; however, there is a long road between the recommendations and their implementation, and often that road is quite rocky.
What to start with?
Certainly, it is not worth starting with a regulation imposed by the rector ordering all academic teachers to participate in in-service pedagogical training. This, as we are told by management psychologists, arouses resistance just like any other change. First of all, we have to ask ourselves: Why do we want to introduce continuous professional development and what do we want to achieve? Only then it is worth sharing this vision with the entire academic community of the university. The answer to these questions should be supported by a reliable analysis of needs, including the current state of competences of the teaching staff. One of the elements of the analysis may be student feedback, another could be direct consultations with teachers.
What brings lasting results is a coherent, long-term, individualised programme for the development of teaching competences. Such a programme would involve an assessment of individual needs, the acquisition of new knowledge and skills and building a portfolio, as well constant support in this development process, for example in the form of peer-reviews. It would start with measures to enhance understanding and acceptance of student-centred learning, for example through courses on learning and teaching methods, and then include discussions on problems in the field of pedagogical content knowledge and subject education.
Who will conduct continuous professional development?
The tempting solution in this case is outsourcing. In Poland, due to the availability of funds from the EU-funded POWER programme, external training companies hired by universities popped up like mushrooms. For example, business coaches have been training teachers on how to teach students. It has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, coaches are professionally prepared to conduct trainings, they motivate and engage participants, and their presentations focus the attention of the audience. The goals, course and results of the training are co-decided by the participants, i.e. the university teachers. On the other hand, the presented solutions may be too far from the academic reality, arousing frustration among training participants. What is more, the lack of academic experience can make coaches seem unreliable in the eyes of their course participants.
There are at least two other solutions: i) establishing a centre for teaching excellence (or a centre for learning and teaching, or a centre for staff development etc.) that employs its own staff and supports the professional development of teachers; ii) selecting among the teaching staff of a university a group of persons who can both conduct training and provide other forms of support to their fellow colleagues. The latter solution was applied at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. The team consists of almost 30 people, and one of the greatest advantages, according to the course participants, is the possibility of basing recommendations and proposals not only on theoretical knowledge, but also on their own teaching experience, gained in a similar academic and institutional context.
For several years now, the Jagiellonian University has also been inviting teachers who teach at doctoral schools in other European countries to conduct three-day workshops for fellow teachers who have the task of supervising master’s and doctoral theses. Due to the diverse methodologies of research and student profiles, every second year we organise meetings for thesis supervisors in the field of humanities and social sciences, and in alternating years in the field of exact and natural sciences. The workshops are very well assessed by the participants.
Increased attention should be paid not only to the quality of learning and teaching in the classroom. The quality of initial and continuous professional development opportunities for teaching staff should also be looked after. For this reason, it is vital to introduce thorough mechanisms that enhance a quality culture, also among the trainers/academic developers offering pedagogical staff development opportunities for teachers in higher education. Such trainers/academic developers should be offered possibilities for mutual evaluation, regular feedback, opportunities to participate in discussion meetings, reflections and international conferences on continuous professional development topics, to name but a few possible measures.
Iwona Maciejowska was a member of EUA’s 2018 Thematic Peer Group “Continuous Development of Teaching Competences”.
“Expert Voices” is an online platform featuring original commentary and analysis on the higher education and research sector in Europe. It offers EUA experts, members and partners the opportunity to share their expertise and perspectives in an interactive and flexible exchange on key topics in the field.
All views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of EUA.
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