Don Houston and Cassandra Hood, Flinders University
Flinders, like many other universities has provided an induction to teaching at university program for many years: ours is named the Flinders Foundations of University Teaching (FFOUT). The participant feedback had almost always been good, senior staff familiar with the program had been confident of its many benefits, and once upon a time it won an AAUT Citation. However, the program’s impact had not been formally evaluated.
To move past anecdotes of value to evidence, we undertook a formal evaluation in 2015. We surveyed and interviewed participants who had undertaken FFOUT between 2011 and 2014. The data confirmed our confidence in the value of the program. The participants generally agreed that the program has positive effects on their knowledge about university teaching, their practice and their conversations and thinking about their practice. The results reinforce other research indicating that such programmes do have beneficial effects on individual academics and that those benefits also extend to work groups and have value to the institution.
One very prominent pattern in the results was that staff who had participated in FFOUT more than two years prior to the evaluation had even more positive views about its value than more recent participants. We speculated that this group had had more time and opportunity to try things from the program to enhance their teaching –particularly in areas like topic and assessment design –than more recent participants caught up in doing teaching to survive!
We observed that the transfer of learning by academics to practice takes time and is mediated by many factors. Nevertheless, where it was seen that institutional and local departmental cultures value teaching, programs such as FFOUT, provide a useful strategy for quality enhancement in higher education.
Of particular note was that a critical mass of past FFOUT participants in a workgroup was needed to positively influence both attitude to teaching and practice. FFOUT participation allowed respondents to contribute to existing conversations around teaching as well as to initiate them, in settings where teaching is valued. Unsurprisingly, local cultural factors and practices, as well as academic leadership impacts how teaching is viewed and supported. Beyond influence on individuals’ practice, participation adds to that critical mass who appreciate and work toward improving teaching.
Given the impact of academic leadership on departmental culture, it will be interesting to see how the current restructure of our university’s academic groupings to colleges from faculties impacts on the culture of learning and teaching within various workgroups. With many educational leadership positions recently filled, we hope that those staff committed to teaching maintain and are supported in their focus on quality teaching that FFOUT encourages and supports.
The key take away messages from our work are: programs like this do have benefits to participants and to the wider institution; those benefits can be optimised where participants receive support from colleagues and managers in their day to day workplaces; and the full benefits need time to accrue.Two publications from the research so far are:
University teacher preparation programmes as a quality enhancement mechanism: evaluating impact beyond individual teachers’ practice │ Quality in Higher Education (2017)