The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada has followed up its spring workshop on transforming undergraduate education with a new online resource, entitled Great Beginnings: Enhancing quality and innovation in undergraduate education. This sub-site on the AUCC website contains a full report on the workshop, eight case studies of university programs in Canada that promote innovative teaching, a fairly extensive bibliography for further reading and other related links.
AUCC president Paul Davidson joined McMaster University President Patrick Deane at McMaster today to unveil the new resource and to affirm, in the words of an accompanying AUCC press release, that “Canada’s university presidents have made excellence in undergraduate education a priority and are taking action to strengthen the learning experience and outcomes.”
The workshop to revitalize undergraduate education was held in Halifax in March. Attended by presidents, vice presidents, other university administrators and student leaders, it generated frank discussions about the current state of undergraduate education and what must be done to ensure that universities meet the needs of students.
I attended and wrote about the workshop in this blog post and subsequent news story. I was impressed by the passion and sincerity on display, amply demonstrated by Mount Allison University President Robert Campbell’s frank opinion that, regarding undergraduate education, “the collective university membership has lost its way.”
At today’s gathering at McMaster, the university’s president Dr. Deane said, “We practice teaching all the time, but not enough of us talk about it … and we don’t celebrate it as often as we shoiuld.” Today’s launch, he said, reflects “a growing momentum that will support the development and refinement of teaching and learning in our institutions across the country.”
Dr. Deane was involved in the planning of the Halifax workshop and also penned an essay with University of Sudbury President Pierre Zundel, published in University Affairs, entitled “It’s time to transform undergraduate education.”
Today’s event also included the announcement of a new undergraduate awards program sponsored by the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and 3M Canada. The 3M National Student Fellowships will award $5,000 to 10 full-time Canadian college and undergraduate students “in recognition of their outstanding leadership qualities and achievements in advancing student learning.”
STLHE president Arshad Ahmad, an associate professor of finance at Concordia University, offered his own reflections following the Halifax conference in an opinion piece published by University Affairs, entitled “Six suggestions for presidents to improve undergraduate education.”
I think these efforts are exciting and, dare I say, are a worthwhile Canadian initiative. But let’s not kid ourselves, changing the university culture won’t be easy. The Halifax workshop report does note this, of course, listing many obstacles to change. Among them:
- Faculty hiring procedures and rewards structures which value research over teaching;
- Faculty workload, unionization and resistance to change;
- Institutional barriers to innovation in course delivery and curricular reform;
- Large class sizes and an increasing student-teacher ratio;
- Financial pressures which force students to work greater hours at part-time jobs and study less;
- The increasing use of contract teaching.