by Rosalie Pedersen -
Number of replies: 3
I am just figuring out how this program works so bear with me! I am the Teaching Enhancement Program Coordinator at University of Calgary. We offer a variety of workshops and certificate programs geared at improving teaching and learning on campus. Our main audiences are faculty members and teaching assistants.

I have worked in this area for the past five years and I believe we need to do more to help those who are experts in their fields to be better able to teach effectively.

Main issues here are that, although are programs are often full, we only reach a small percentage of the faculty and TAs. There is little incentive to be a "great teacher" in terms of tangible rewards and research is often the primary focus and rewarded activity. We also suffer from budget constraints.

I believe we would have trouble following the UK lead and making teaching skills courses mandatory, yet from an ethical point of view, it would seem appropriate to ensuring quality for our learners.

The idea of having more national standards around courses seems a good one to me. An example is the Instructional Skills Workshop program. Many universities and colleges use this program and adapt it to meet their needs. This approach saves time for educational developers as it reduces the need to "reinvent the wheel" and it has a proven track record. It also appeals to participants in that it is well known so the certificate has more recognition, and because the program is setup to demonstrate the value of learer-centered approaches.

A few thoughts - I am looking forward to the discussions,

In reply to Rosalie Pedersen

Re: Introduction

by Gary Hunt -
Rosalie, I share your ethical concerns. How many professions are there that require no training or experience? We certainly would not go to doctors, mechanics, financial managers, etc. who had no training. We would not consider having our kids attend elementary and secondary schools where teachers are not certified. Yet society accepts having post-secondary students in classrooms where a significant proportion of the teachers have no training or experience. From the standpoint of professional ethics, accountability, and transparency about how we practice, surely we need to recognize that we have a problem here.
In reply to Gary Hunt

Re: What defines competency in a profession?

by Colby Stuart -

Sorry for just jumping in like this. You have raised a very important issue. What defines competency in a profession? Certification does not mean that someone is competent. It only means that they pass certification.

Many teachers or lecturers at University level are evaluated either by academic creds or by professional experience. Both can create value. Do we have a way to evaluate their competency or performance?

There are many professionals that do not meet performance standards because they are incompetent. And, there are many who are not certified, yet extremely competent through their commitment to their practice and clients or patients.

Do we consider government officials professional - or does their performance demonstrate that they are incompetent bureaucrats? Isn't it government officials who determine what needs credentials?

Are we looking at performance from a credential perspective or from a learning perspective? One is focused on teachers - the other on students.

I think that hard question is : Are we talking about education or learning? They serve different masters.

Do we want educators - or do we want people who help other people learn? Two very different strategies.

I raise this issue because in the Netherlands, you do not really need an academic degree, nor much certification to teach K-12. I only lecture at post-graduate level, but I have a PhD and 30+ years of applied professional experience.

We've started a foundation and are currently addressing this issue of "training" and certification for our Kids 2020 Learning Programme, which is process based, not subject based. Most teachers are focused on subjects. HOW we teach has everything to do with whether someone can learn from us.

(Edited by Sylvia Currie - original submission Friday, 6 March 2009, 02:00 AM Changed subject heading from "introduction to "What defines competency in a profession?")

In reply to Colby Stuart

Re: What defines competency in a profession?

by Rosalie Pedersen -
Hi Colby,
I know what you mean. I have worked with people who are naturally good teachers and I have worked with people who have taken many teaching-related courses, and are not good teachers. I think of the programs as a benchmarks for improvement. Are people better teachers after taking a teaching improvement program - yes, I think so - but a different question than are they competent.

I was part of an initiative in Scouts Canada where we tried to ensure volunteer Scout leaders could meet detailed competencies. The idea was to have someone with the appropriate expertise to do a prior learning assessment to see where the leader was already competent and then work with the leader to determine opportunities to acquire the rest of the competencies. Some of the methods of gaining the competencies involved working with experts, taking training courses, coaching and self study. Dates were set for meeting the requirements, and the leader needed to meet with the expert to have the checklist of competencies reassessed.

While the approach worked in many ways, the difficulties encountered were the time it took for the one-on-one approach, the differences in perception of requirements for a specified competence, and indifference to getting it done. Another downside was that leaders did not meet other leaders (as they would in training course) and have the opportunity to form community with that group.

The advantages were the individualized approach where people were not taking courses when they already had many of the competences and more recognition of individual's abilities (which fostered good will). Another upside was that the expert often became a mentor for the leader and that relationship led to learning beyond the required competencies and retention of the leader.

From an organizational perspective, the availability of qualified people to run the competency-based program and the need for regional flexibility presented issues which were not adequately resolved. At the same time, the ethical need for trained leaders was critical to ensuring retention and organizational viability and the struggle to find the best ways to ensure this competency remains an issue.

I find this experience with a volunteer organization parallels the situation in academia quite well. We face the same issues.