The professional development of new university instructors has received considerable investments of resources at Canadian universities, but the impact of these efforts has only rarely been evaluated or studied. Universities in Ontario have witnessed and participated in the formation of teaching and learning units responsible for professional development of academics since the mid-1980s (Landolfi, 2007). These units have been responsible for the development of programs to address the pedagogical needs of university instructors, with the goal of making them more effective (Ibid.).
In situations of decreased availability of funding, individual university support for central teaching and learning units has oscillated. This has often required that they operate with inadequate financial support and a minimal number of full-time employees. Currently, the four smallest units in Ontario universities operate with only one to three staff members.
While the formal training of postsecondary educators and the issue of enforcing mandatory training of academic teaching staff has been broadly accepted in colleges for years (see volume 2 of this report which will follow in 2012), the same issue has recently been discussed more frequently among universities as well at the level of teaching professionals and policy makers, with intense controversy on either side of the debate.
New Faculty Orientations (NFOs) – an induction program for newly hired faculty members at the beginning of their teaching careers – vary widely in the content delivered across different Ontario universities. While some simply provide a general introduction to a particular university’s settings, and/or a list of local resources for the new faculty members to choose and use as they see fit, others focus on specific teaching skills and organize a series of sessions, which explore a variety of teaching and learning issues and strategies.
Surprisingly, of the 20 institutions surveyed there are only two Ontario universities that still do not organize NFOs for new teaching staff even though they have established teaching and learning centres. In these instances, new faculty members receive a general orientation provided by the President’s Office and Faculty Recruitment departments, as well as their faculties. Other findings from this study include the following:
• The majority of Ontario universities (72 per cent) include both contract instructors and full-time faculty members in their orientation sessions.
• Only in two Ontario universities is orientation mandatory for all newly hired faculty members. In other institutions where NFO attendance is voluntary, participation varies from 40 per cent to 85 per cent.
• In terms of the cost of new faculty orientation, data differ from institution to institution, with a few
institutions spending a modest amount of $1,000 and others (the minority) spending about $35,000 on NFOs per annum.
The top five separate sessions that are typically included for NFOs at Ontario universities are, in this order:
a) greetings/conversation with VP Academic Provost,
b) academic policies and procedures,
c) classroom teaching management methods,
d) teaching with technology, and
e) a panel/discussion with experienced faculty members.