Dr. Brian Husband, Associate Dean Academic, College of Biological Sciences, University of Guelph
The College of Biological Sciences (CBS) at the University of Guelph is poised to launch a new Office of Educational Scholarship and Practice (OESP) in Winter 2016. The OESP was conceived as means of addressing increasing demand for accountability in post-secondary education; that is, to be explicit about intended learning outcomes and to demonstrate program effectiveness through use of scholarly practices in teaching, outcomes assessment and student support. As well, the OESP is a response to increasing demand for program sustainability and differentiation in a local and regional context, and aims to use educational scholarship to address the salient challenges faced by instructors and programs in biological science.
One of the primary goals of the new organization is to support faculty, staff and student research in SoTL. Over the last several years, CBS has seen the development of an emerging SoTL research group, with several faculty members across the departments of Integrative Biology, Human Health & Nutritional Sciences, and Molecular & Cellular Biology engaging in SoTL research either exclusively or in combination with their disciplinary research interests. While OEPS is designed to support the SoTL activities of this group, its aim is to more broadly support educational scholarship in biology, with particular emphasis on: evidence-based teaching practices; scholarly research on teaching and learning in the biological sciences; scholarly research on knowledge transfer and translation; and evidence-based student support practices. OESP will provide access to, and support for, the practice of evidence-based scholarship that college members perform on behalf of the university, the college, and programs, in addition to making direct research contributions to primary literature. In that sense, OESP activities would support individual or collective scholarship that demonstrates direct benefits to the college.
OESP will be a formally recognized entity nested within CBS, composed of CBS members and operating at arms length to the Office of the Associate Dean Academic. It will have a Director, who has a three year term and works closely with the Associate Dean Academic and a steering committee to guide the Office’s activities. The Steering Committee will comprise: The Director (Chair), and 3 faculty representatives, at least 1 teaching or teaching support staff representative, at least one 1 graduate student representative and at least 1 undergraduate student representative. The Associate Dean Academic, CBS will be an ex officio member. The steering committee will establish yearly priorities, oversee and coordinate various priority activities, provide an annual report to the ADA and establish a mechanism for communicating with CBS membership (website, email, newsletter).
OESP will coordinate a number of activities related to educational scholarship in biology, several of which relate specifically to SoTL. These activities include running workshops related to the development of SoTL teaching and learning projects; the disbursement of research enhancement funds to provide travel assistance for disseminating scholarly activities and enhancements of learning through course improvements and small-scale inquiry projects; and supporting explore curricular modifications to allow or promote undergraduate and graduate SOTL or evidence-based instructional design. As well, the OEPS will advocate for increased funding opportunities in the area of SoTL from organizations including the tri-council agencies and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA).
This new organization will be autonomous, but will be supported by the Open Learning and Educational Support, and will complement similar initiatives such as the Physical Science and Engineering Education Research Centre (PSEER). It is hoped that through the independent and coordinated activities of these groups that we will provide strong support for the scholarly exploration of teaching and learning, and enhance the educational experience for students at the University of Guelph and beyond.
SoTL Canada is very interested in hearing about similar activities to support SoTL in Biology at other institutions. Comments are welcome.