Higher education is in a murky situation. Competition is on the rise, and many institutions, including universities and vocational schools, must produce tangible and measurable results to attract students – what I call the “obligation to perform.” Job-readiness, curricular quality, fundamental and applied research, the number of publications and the reputation of faculty members, among other elements, are key criteria that higher-education institutions can use to differentiate themselves and allow others to compare and contrast the quality of their respective curricula.
Training faculty members is the most important initiative in this competitive context – and I see three main opportunities:
1) An opportunity to foster the professional development of faculty members
In higher education, faculty members are more likely to reproduce the teaching patterns they experienced during their student years, and to train the younger generation the same way they were trained several years ago! However, in a typical university auditorium, only 3% of students will ever embrace a teaching career; therefore, that number is not a representative sample of the student population. In other words, teaching patterns that applied successfully to a student who became a teacher may not apply well to the majority of students. Implementing a curriculum means being open to the idea that the curriculum may not be adapted to current situations, and accepting the idea that a more interactive and less pedagogic approach may be better. The professional development of faculty members has an impact on students’ learning experience and, consequently, the quality of training.
2) An opportunity to foster teaching innovation
When faculty-training curricula are based on new educational concepts or strategies aimed at improving existing teaching approaches, faculty members are more likely to embrace the programs because they are not faced with cases of professional incompetence or teaching shortcomings. Pedagogic innovation promotes new and empowering teaching paradigms, rather than focusing on possible weaknesses in existing paradigms. Typically, there is widespread enthusiasm when new teaching models are introduced, only to be followed by strong disinterest – some type of birth, growth and decline of educational innovation X or Y. This up-and-down movement does not really matter because, ultimately, the strongest aspect of any innovation lies in its ability to draw interest from faculty members and make them understand that change is, indeed, in their interest.
3) An opportunity to take care of faculty members
Teachers represent the second-most exposed group to the syndrome of “professional fatigue” (the medical community being the first). I think this is a serious situation, and whenever we can support faculty members, we should. An unhappy teacher will most likely perform worse than a happy one, and students’ overall learning experience will undoubtedly be affected. Public authorities and higher-education officials must therefore foster an occupational environment that is safe and supportive and provide effective training curricula to faculty members.
Universities and vocational schools that effectively seize these opportunities can reap three benefits: high-quality programs, higher student enrollment, and happier faculty members. I believe one of the best ways to improve teaching quality is to train faculty members in higher education, so that academic institutions can perform better. (Berthiaume & Rege Colet)
Berthiaume, D., & Rege Colet, N. (2015) La pédagogie de l’enseignement supérieur : repères théoriques et applications pratiques