Quality teaching and how to assess and award it, continue to be an area of scholarship and debate in higher education. While
the literature demonstrates that assessment should be multifaceted, operationalizing this is no easy task. To gain insight into
how teaching excellence is defined in Canadian higher education, this empirical study collected and analysed the criteria,
evidence, and standards for institutional teaching awards from 89 institutions and 204 award programs across Canada. The
majority of awards included criteria such as specific characteristics of teaching performance and student-centredness; while
activities that had impact outside an individual’s teaching practice were also prevalent, including campus leadership, scholarship
of teaching and learning, and contributions to curriculum. Lists of potential sources of evidence were heavily weighted towards
student perceptions and artefacts from instructors’ teaching. Recommendations for individuals and institutions wanting
to foster excellence in teaching are offered along with suggestions for future research.
Keywords: teaching, awards, excellence, assessment, criteria, evidence, standards
Two trends in the evolution of quality assurance in Canadian postsecondary education have been the emergence of outcomes-
based quality standards and the demand for balancing accountability and improvement. Using a realist, process-based
approach to impact analysis, this study examined four quality assurance events at two universities and two colleges in Ontario
to identify how system-wide quality assurance policies have impacted the curriculum development process of academic programs
within postsecondary institutions. The study revealed different approaches that postsecondary institutions chose to use in response to quality assurance policies and the mechanisms that may account for different experiences. These mechanisms
include endeavours to balance accountability and continuous improvement, leadership support, and the emerging quality assurance function of teaching and learning centres. These findings will help address the challenges in quality assurance policy
implementation within Canadian postsecondary education and enrich international discussions on the accountability-improvement dichotomy in the context of quality assurance.
Keywords: internal quality assurance, external quality assurance, accountability, continuous improvement, learning outcomes
This article is concerned with the differences in REB policy and application processes across Canada as they impact multi-jurisdictional, higher education research projects that collect data at universities themselves. Despite the guiding principles
of the Tri-Council Policy Statement 2 (TCPS2) there is significant variation among the practices of Research Ethics Boards
(REBs) at Canada’s universities, particularly when they respond to requests from researchers outside their own institution.
The data for this paper were gathered through a review of research ethics applications at 69 universities across Canada. The
findings suggest REBs use a range of different application systems and require different revisions and types of oversight for
researchers who are not employed at their institution. This paper recommends further harmonization between REBs across
the country and national-level dialogue on TCPS2 interpretations.
Keywords: research ethics, university ethics, higher education, social science research, harmonization
In this study, we explored experiences of Ontario students who engaged in a university-to-college (UTC) transfer. Data was
collected through qualitative interviews with 20 participants who began their post-secondary journey in a university program
but left before completing it and subsequently pursued a college program. We focused on motivations for transfer, the decision-
making process, and participants’ reflections on their decision to transfer. Framing the transfer decision within a model of
educational decision-making that draws on Rational Action Theory (RAT) and Bourdieu’s habitus, we argue that motivations
for leaving university were distinct from, though related to, motivations for pursuing college. Reasons for leaving university
were clustered around three themes: academic struggles, mental/physical health/special education need struggles, and future
prospects. These were highly interconnected and characterized by difficulties, from mild to severe, coping with university.
Motivations for pursuing college were more practical, relating to subject interest, college learning environment, location, and
future prospects. Both decision processes showed evidence of rational cost-benefit analysis characteristic of RAT, but within
a framework of habitus-influenced ideas about success and identity. While most participants reflected positively on their
decision to transfer, there were some negative reflections related to a sense of personal failure and/or the negative reactions
of others, particularly parents. Personal and external negative reflections were tied to cultural and societal expectations about
high achievement and perceptions of university education as superior to college education, again showing the influence of
habitus. We conclude with policy recommendations.
Keywords: post-secondary education, post-secondary transfer, Ontario, education policy
Professors always believe their own fields are central and vital to education — and to life. So I can be forgiven for pointing out that a great deal of evidence supports the idea that superior communicators succeed disproportionately in every profession. For example, when Google identified the "eight habits" of its best managers, the first seven were communications skills. Only the eighth was technical knowledge.
In the world of college composition, we spend a lot of time talking about how to teach writing — with as many opinions on that as there are instructors — but very little time talking about why we teach it.
Many professors take a philosophical approach, asserting that the purpose of teaching writing is to enrich students’ lives, promote self-exploration, or encourage political activism. Certainly all of those can be byproducts of a college writing course, but I would argue that none qualifies as its main purpose. The reason institutions offer — and often require — first-year composition is quite simple: so students learn how to communicate their expertise.
Faculty life can be lonely. The traditional academic model requires you to demonstrate autonomy in scholarship and teaching. Both the tenure process and the metrics for tracking faculty progress (e.g., Google Scholar, Scopus) emphasize individual success. Loneliness is especially problematic if you work at a small institution, in an uncongenial department, and/or in a discipline full of introverts. If you have ever shown up at the office and seen every door in your hallway shut, you will know what we’re talking about.
But don’t be fooled. Especially in today’s scholarship culture, which increasingly values interdisciplinary work and socially embedded research, few people make it in academe purely on their own.
"Historians value integrity, David; you should too if you truly are one of us." So wrote a senior professor, a named chair at a regional public university on the West Coast, chiding me in an email. My sin: calling myself a "senior academic adviser to the history department at the University of Minnesota" in an opinion essay I wrote recently for CNN.
This professor decided I was falsely claiming to be some kind of senior adviser to the faculty, rather than merely an academic adviser, senior in rank, assigned to work with undergraduates in the history department. By suggesting that history departments need senior advisers, he wrote, "you make us look like incompetent fools." He added: "Good for you that you have this public profile. But please don’t advance it by trivializing what tenured and tenure-track history faculty, including those at your own university, do." As for my job title, he insisted that "no such positions formally exist at universities, those that still have
standards, at least."
Round numbers and new decades invite us to take stock of things. The last decade was a big one for career diversity and doctoral reform in academe. The organizers of the Modern Language Association and other professional organizations are clearly "woke" to the need for changes in graduate education.
But what about the membership? At this year’s MLA convention in Seattle, I decided to look more closely at the audiences that show up to listen, and have their say, at sessions about doctoral reform.
"I feel like I am going crazy and need to run some things by you," said an administrative colleague. When we met, he began to describe a series of unsettling incidents. He wondered: Were they intentionally designed to signal that he was no longer wanted? Aimed at making him and the people in his program feel nervous and disoriented?
Whenever I am approached by academics who want to make the transition from scholarly to public writing, they always ask me the same question: "What should I write about?" But, really, that is a two-part question.
One part is about genre. Newcomers to public writing typically don’t know the genres — that is, the differences between an op-ed, an essay, a profile, a reported article, or a well researched think piece. You have to learn your journalism genres before you can decide which kind of piece to write (more about those genres in a future essay). The other part of the question has to do with figuring out what you have to contribute to public discourse. That’s what this month’s column is about.
Last year I was given a career choice that was not, in fact, a choice. The particulars of my situation aren’t important, but here’s the upshot: Last March, I was sitting in a meeting with my university’s new president, discussing my reappointment as dean, and it wasn’t going well.
Ultimately the president offered me a graceful exit: He suggested I stay in the job for an additional year while I searched for a new deanship elsewhere. That way, I could write my own career narrative as one of continual ascent. I hadn’t been ousted — I had decided to "seek a new challenge," "apply my skills to a different kind of institution," or (in the words of
LeBron James, when he left Cleveland the first time) "take my talents to South Beach."
Academe has plenty of its own clichés, but one that we’ve eagerly adopted from the business world is "thinking outside the box." You’ll see that phrase again and again in administrative-job postings and in applicants’ cover letters. But what does it really mean in higher education?
More important, however good you are at thinking outside the box, is it possible to act on your outside-the-box ideas once you’re on the job as a chair, dean, provost, or president?
This month the Admin 101 series on-campus leadership explores some of the reasons why leaders encounter resistance in carrying out unconventional proposals, and what you need to know before you jump outside the box.
The first thing I thought, once I got the good news that I’d received tenure, was how ill-prepared I’d been for the process. Now that I am approaching my one-year "tenure-versary," I realize how equally unprepared I was for being a tenured professor.
For many months, I was so focused on the details of achieving tenure that I didn’t think enough about what the promotion would mean — specifically, how it would change my daily workload, my job expectations, my work-life balancing act.
Maybe you have colleagues who are the first to leap onto technology trends. No doubt you’ve heard them reminiscing about all the stuff they started using before anyone else — class Facebook pages, Twitter hashtags, in-class polling. Or maybe you’re a member of Club Early Adopter yourself?
I am, or at least I’ve aspired to be. (Have I told you about the web pages I put up for my class back in ’95?) Back in the day, those of us in the club had to kludge together solutions using tech that wasn’t made for teaching. Today, however, you have your pick of hundreds of products, custom-built for education or even for specific disciplines. Furthermore, many of the earliest technologies — think: web pages and blogs — are now something truly anyone can use, no matter your level of technical expertise.
Most students cheat, or so they eventually admit in surveys of college alumni. Weighing the collective evidence, it appears that only about a quarter of undergraduates have not cheated. Much of the misconduct goes on below the radar of faculty members, and we can’t do much about something we don’t see. The real question is: Why aren’t we reporting more of the cases that we do detect?
If you’ve taught in higher education, you no doubt have discovered plagiarism on a written assignment or cheating on an exam. It’s also likely that your college or university requires you to report every one of those incidents — or maybe on your campus, that’s a request rather than a mandate.
She sat in the front row of my classroom, quiet but engaged. She didn’t raise her hand, but when I invited her into the conversation or asked students to speak to one another, she showed she had done the reading and had thought about it. I learned from an informal writing exercise that she was a first-generation college student, paving the way to higher education for her family.
Some professors go into administration as a career choice, scaling institutional ladders. Some are coerced into serving temporarily as department chair because of rotating leadership rules. And some professors, like me, do it because we grew weary of being acted upon by supervisors.
You’ll find two types of administrators in that third group:
Those who wreak havoc, doing unto others as they had done to them — e.g., playing
favorites, concealing budgets, excluding critics from participation.
Those who treat everyone as they always wished to be treated.
So your strategic plan reached the end of its life span. The question is: Did anyone notice — aside from the folks who filed final reports about it for accreditors and trustees?
Too often, the answer is no. An institution or a department begins a strategic plan with great fanfare but the end is usually anticlimactic. Most of the people supposedly affected by the plan are unaware of its actual outcomes — and may not even remember the original goals.
That kind of lackluster finale represents a lost opportunity. The fact that most of us fail to conclude our strategic plans with as much energy as we start them undermines future planning. It also masks the reality that strategic planning is continuous and reciprocal: We are supposed to learn from the process, not just check some boxes and forget about it.
As midcareer professors, we often hear newcomers to the tenure track worry about having to choose between academe and family life. Likewise among graduate students, the general perception is that, to succeed, they will have to be 100-per cent consumed with work.
Combining parenting with any job is not for the faint of heart. But from our perspective — as tenured professors and parents of, between the two of us, five kids, aged 8 to 11 — you do not have to sacrifice family life to succeed in an academic career.
But you may well have to sacrifice everything else. Both of us are in a phase of life that leaves little time for anything outside of our work and our kids.