Are your experienced faculty members as effective in the classroom as you would like them to be? If not, perhaps a faculty development program like the University of Minnesota’s Mid-Career Teaching Program could be the answer.
Many faculty members currently in mid-career have probably had fewer teaching enrichment opportunities than their more recently hired colleagues, and just because they are experts in their disciplines does not necessarily make them good teachers. In addition, teaching is becoming more complex: student populations are more diverse than they used to be, and they often expect more from professors than students did in the past.
“Faculty at this level don’t generally come together to talk about teaching. At a university like this and a lot of other universities and colleges, faculty may come together to talk about the administration, procedures and policies in the department, curriculum, research, or research grants, but it’s relatively rare that faculty come together to talk about teaching in the classroom,” says John L. Romano, professor of educational psychology and one of the early developers of the MCTP.
The program has four goals:
- introduce faculty to pedagogical strategies to improve student learning
- support faculty as they apply new knowledge and techniques in their classrooms
- provide faculty with an opportunity to converse with peers about improving student learning through effective teaching
- offer a forum for faculty to discuss mid-life events that have an impact on their personal and professional lives.
The program is intended to attract faculty from different disciplines and with different teaching abilities. “We set this up so that it isn’t a program for people who are bad teachers,” Romano says. To recruit interested faculty members, the Center for Teaching and Learning Services makes announcements at deans’ meetings and on faculty and administration listservs. The program also offers a small stipend.
Some faculty members come to the program because they are good teachers who want to improve. Some are concerned about less-than-stellar evaluations from students. Some are looking to increase their emphasis on teaching now that they have tenure. Some are encouraged to sign up by their department chair or dean.
For purposes of this program, the faculty members determine for themselves whether they are “mid-career” faculty members. They don’t need to be tenured, and are admitted even if they have been teaching for just a few years. Most participants are between 40 and 60 years old, and faculty members who are close to retirement age can participate as well.
A multi-disciplinary approach
The program brings together faculty from a variety of disciplines for 12 two-hour sessions (six sessions per semester) for a full academic year. They meet in groups of six to 15 led by facilitators from the Center for Teaching and Learning Services. The facilitators suggest topics, but encourage participants to refine those topics.
The following is a sample of topics this program addresses:
- Student Population: Characteristics and Learning Needs
- Educational Paradigms: From Teaching to Learning
- Inclusive Course Syllabus: Design and Detail
- Styles of Learning: Influences on Instruction
- Active and Cooperative Learning: Students as Participants
- Faculty at Mid-Career: Professional and Personal Themes.
The sessions are a mix of presentation and discussion. Between sessions, participants often continue conversations through e-mail and electronic discussion boards. Participants also consult with each other about issues within their classrooms.
Diversity within the groups is a strength of the program, Romano says. “We feel there is some benefit from a nursing faculty member talking to a business faculty member and a liberal arts person talking to someone from education because especially in Research 1 institutions people get fairly isolated within their own departments and sometimes within their own program within a department. We feel this cross-fertilization is important.”
In addition to exposing faculty members from the perspective of colleagues in different departments, working with faculty members outside one’s department also can create a safe environment to explore personal or embarrassing issues that might be difficult to bring up with critical colleagues or those who don’t have as strong an interest in teaching and learning. Being able to open up in the group tends to get easier over time as well. This was one of the reasons for asking faculty to commit to the program for an entire year, Romano says.
Although department chairs and deans are not directly involved in the program, their support has helped it succeed. At the end of the year, the CTLS sends them letters reminding them who participated along with a copy of the MCTP syllabus. Participants also receive a letter of recognition from the provost. A copy of this letter is also sent to the department chair and dean.
The MCTP culminates in an event called “The Celebration of Teaching,” which acknowledges each participant’s commitment to teaching and learning. The event includes speeches from various stakeholders, including central administrators, the CTLS director, MCTP facilitators, and select MCTP participants.
For more information about the MCTP, visit www1.umn.edu/ohr/teachlearn/faculty/midcar.html.
Romano, John L., Hoesing, O’Donovan, Kathleen, and Weinsheimer, Joyce. 2004. Faculty at Mid-Career: A Program to Enhance Teaching and Learning. Innovative Higher Education. 29, no 1: 21-48