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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 9 | Sep. 4, 2003

Promoting Teaching, Promoting Teachers

By Cristina Calboreanu

A common theme in most Canadian universities is that teaching and research rank equally and reinforce each other. But, as Assoc. VP, Research Don Brooks explains, “it’s a lot easier to assess somebody, when they’re being promoted or given tenure, on their research side than their teaching side. Most universities haven’t really evolved a way to encourage the faculty to expend more effort on their teaching.”

“As you’re moving through the system as a professor,” says Brooks, “there’s a whole bunch of pressures, and we need to find some way to not make teaching seem like the least important one to respond to, as it seems to be in some cases.”

According to Brooks, who is a professor of pathology and chemistry, “we [in the Faculty of Medicine] have promoted or given tenure to people predominantly on the basis of their teaching performance. They were innovative, and brought together some new elements or started new courses. They’ve been promoted and are moving through the ranks quite happily without doing very much research at all.”

Assoc. VP, Academic Programs Neil Guppy agrees that the Faculty of Medicine has led the way in this area, but adds that “at UBC you can receive tenure or promotion based on teaching in any faculty. ” He points to the new Guide to Promotion and Tenure Procedures at UBC (http://www.facultyrelations.ubc.ca/forms/guideword.rtf), which states that “creative or professional work of distinction” (which includes the scholarship of teaching) ranks equally with scholarly research. Among the criteria for evaluating the scholarship of teaching are originality or innovation, demonstrable impact in a particular field or discipline, and substantial and sustained use by others.

Gary Poole, the director of the UBC Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth (TAG), agrees that “the challenge never ends in a place this size where research is important -- and so it should be.” But, he adds, “it would be really wrong to give the impression that there was complacency on the part of the university.”

A wide range of resources are available to teachers through TAG -- including support for new faculty, peer coaching for faculty and teaching assistants, seminars and institutes, and an annual two-day learning conference on the scholarship of teaching. With a budget of $600,000 a year and the equivalent of eight full-time positions, TAG is “one of the largest and most active instructional development centres in the country,” says Poole, who is also the President of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (Canada’s national organization dedicated to the enhancement of post-secondary teaching). According to Poole, the Faculty Certificate Program on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education is the most comprehensive program of its kind in Canada.

TAG is also actively promoting problem-based learning (PBL), through the PBL Network, and inquiry-driven learning, which allow the students to take responsibility for their own learning and help bridge the gap between teaching and research. “We must rise to the challenge to make it clear to our students that attending a research-intensive university like UBC is a great advantage,” says Poole.

As part of these efforts, TAG is organizing the second Undergraduate Multidisciplinary Research Conference in March 2004. At the inaugural conference in September 2002, nearly 70 undergraduate students from all disciplines presented their research work.

“In a research university, where the students are surrounded by faculty who learned by curiosity-based inquiry,” says Poole, “wouldn’t it be nice if that became contagious and if what they learned from faculty members wasn’t just the knowledge of the subject area, but knowledge about research processes -- how you go about learning about something, without having to rely on sitting in a classroom and waiting for someone to tell you?”

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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