Faculty Focusing on Research, Study Finds

November 12, 2010 - News Release

University professors believe research provides a bigger payoff than teaching for enhancing their reputation, garnering respect from their peers and obtaining funding, according to a University of Guelph-led study.

A research project led by Prof. Frederick Evers, former director of U of G’s Teaching Support Services, revealed that more than 70 per cent of professors believe their institutions regard research more highly than teaching, and that faculty members are focusing on research as a result.

“There is an overall sense among professors that research is deemed more important to their career development than teaching,” said Evers, a sociology professor who worked on the study with researchers from six Ontario universities. “Despite this finding, a majority of faculty reported they believe teaching is important to their professional practice and emphasized the need to continue to support the development of teaching at the university level.”

These findings are part of “Faculty Engagement in Teaching Development Activities,” a research project funded by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario that brought together six universities to study how university professors learn to teach.

The study, which involved focus groups and an online survey, included responses from almost 1,000 professors at Lakehead University, Laurentian University, Queen’s University, Ryerson University, the University of Western Ontario and the University of Guelph.

Results showed that 96 per cent of professors learn about teaching by doing, and most first taught as graduate students.

A majority of faculty members said close relationships with experienced faculty and opportunities to discuss teaching with colleagues were very beneficial factors in learning to teach.

“There is a relatively abrupt transition from graduate student to faculty positions, with little or no support for learning how to teach,” said Evers. “In the study, faculty expressed a desire for collegial support and for validation from chairs and deans that teaching is valued beyond its intrinsic rewards.”

Faculty surveyed said that access to a mentor and guidance on grading and assessment practices as well as test and exam preparation would have helped at the beginning of their careers.

The research team also found that professors at varying career stages prefer to consult with colleagues to develop their teaching. Less than one-third of surveyed professors reported they often read literature about teaching or felt engaged in teaching and learning scholarship as an important part of their work.

To assess their own teaching abilities, a large majority of professors reported they look for student feedback and their own experiences as teachers and learners. They also indicated that, besides student feedback, formal university-mandated evaluations would help them learn how to become more effective teachers.

A growing number of universities offer programs focused on teaching at the university level, and professors and graduate students are taking advantage of them, said Evers.

“Moving forward, I think we need these programs and courses to be made available at all universities. This would not only help graduate students and new professors transition into the world of teaching, but also allow professors in the middle of their careers the opportunity to refine their teaching methods.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, at 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or lhunt@uoguelph.ca, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982 or dhealey@uoguelph.ca.

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