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Faculty Forum Papers



D.S. Fullerton
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs

January 19, 1989


Over the last several weeks, I have had the pleasure of spending time with some of this University's most respected teachers -- the winners of the Burlington Northern Foundation and Elizabeth P. Ritchie Awards. We've been talking about teaching, the quality and the status of teaching at Oregon State University. In brief, they believe the quality of teaching is good. However, the status of teaching generally is not as good as it should be, even though there are many department chairs who promote and nurture teaching (including curriculum development).

Some faculty members wonder, "Does teaching count?" It certainly does to me, the President, the Provost, the Vice Presidents, and the Deans. George Keller sums up his feeling: "I think there has been a lack of promotion regarding academic programs and outstanding teachers. Research has been aggressively promoted, which may cause some people to think that is what we are all about. Wrong!"

In some departments, there is a perception that any significant focus on teaching and any increase in the status of teaching will significantly diminish scholarly output. Good teaching need not come at the expense of good scholarship, nor vice versa. Balance is the key word and the operative concept.

The comments, suggestions, and support of the Burlington Northern Foundation and Ritchie Award winners are noted with appreciation. Their continued input will be invaluable as we begin to implement a number of the recommendations presented in this paper.

Burlington Northern Foundation Faculty Achievement Award Recipients:

Daniel Armstrong, English
David Bella, Civil Engineering
Marcus Borg, Religious Studies
Sheila Cordray, Sociology
Wayne Courtney, Education
Julius Dasch, Geology
Barbara Ellis, Journalism
George Martin, Business
Laura Rice-Sayre, English
Michael Schuyler, Chemistry
Robert Schwartz, English

Elizabeth P. Ritchie Distinguished Professor Award Recipients:
Robert Becker, Biochemistry and Biophysics
Marcus Borg, Religious Studies
Gary Ferngren, History
Rod Frakes, Research
John Fryer, Microbiology
Royal Jackson, Resource Recreation Management
Charles Langford, Sociology
John Lee, Mathematics
Ann Messersmith, Food Systems Management
Robert Mrazek, Chemical Engineering
Jean Peters, Foods and Nutrition
Clara Pratt, Human Development and Family Studies
J. Michael Shaughnessy, Mathematics

Overview--Reflections on the Status of Teaching at OSU

The recipients of two of Oregon State University's most prestigious awards for outstanding teaching feel that, overall, Oregon State University faculty members are good teachers. A few in every college are exceptional teachers. However, the Ritchie and Burlington Northern Foundation award winners noted:
innovative teaching need not and should not be viewed as competitive with scholarship. It is reasonable to expect that faculty can be good teachers and good scholars, and to excel in one area or the other. However, one should not be at the expense of the other.

the status of good teaching varies significantly from department to department. In some departments, teaching is part of the ongoing dialogue, and is seen at a level comparable to that of scholarship. In others, creativity in instruction is taken almost for granted, except during promotion and tenure decisions, or selection of recipients for college or university awards.

innovative teaching does not appear to count for merit salary raises nearly as much as innovative research. One of this University's most recognized and respected faculty members summed up the view with a quip, "Read our lips…look at our salaries." Some of the award winners noted that, even in the year they received their award, they received no significant raise even when legislatively provided merit funds were available. Release time can also be a much appreciated reward, but one rarely given.

staying current in one's discipline ("keeping on the cutting edge") is essential for maintaining instructional excellence. Being a good scholar, however, is not sufficient to be a good teacher. It takes time, effort and encouragement to maintain lecture notes, develop Writing Intensive Courses, redesign lifeless courses, write and grade essays rather than multiple choice examinations, and the like.

some faculty may be too timid to try an innovative teaching approach, and need special encouragement. "Fear is what keeps some from being innovative or creative…or trying something that does not involve clinging to the lectern. Moreover, some students cling even more tenaciously to the lecture method. Once a Prof. departs from the lectern, maybe to try small group mastery, that kind of student will be upset."

it is easier to get start-up or matching funds for new research ideas than for new teaching ideas or for adequate undergraduate equipment. The lack of legislative funding for equipment replacement is a particular problem. One faculty member remarked, "You can't expect us to be innovative for the 1990's with equipment for the 1960's."

the inaccurate perception continues that scholarly accomplishments have a disproportionate role in promotion and tenure decisions. It is recognized that OSU faculty are generally good teachers, so scholarship is often the deciding determinant. Letters of timely notice will continue to be given to individuals who are good scholars but, at best, mediocre teachers.

often, the best ideas and stimuli for improving one's own teaching come from faculty members in other disciplines. Interdisciplinary courses, seminars, workshops, and discussions are invaluable for providing opportunities for this cross-disciplinary intellectual and teaching enrichment.

once faculty member receive University or college awards for good teaching, they are seldom, if ever, used as departmental or college resources or mentors. The award winners, like other faculty, do not have time to be full time mentors/instructional developers, but they would like to be seen as departmental resources. They felt as if their potential contributions in nurturing good teaching were generally ignored in their departments. They are available and willing to help.

maintaining good teaching, developing innovative courses, and preventing instructional "burn out" and stagnation require a climate in which effective teaching is deemed to be highly valued. Whereas good scholarship is nurtured, discussed, and praised on a nearly day-to-day basis, teaching in some departments generally receives only sporadic attention.

for many courses, developing computer-based tutorials or "courseware" can free-up time for discussion, stimulating creative thinking in students, and encouraging writing. However, there is an initial investment in time some faculty feel they cannot afford; that any short term drop in scholarly effort may be penalized by the department chair, dean, or administrative promotion and tenure committee.

the faculty member's knowledge of the subject and overall course content (not volume) are the most important determinants of teaching quality. However, delivery, creativity, organization, and enthusiasm of the instructor are also major factors. A joie de vivre in the classroom is contagious.

students don't all learn the same way. Some can learn better with visual aids such as overhead transparencies, others with interactive computer "courseware," and still others with small group discussions. Many experts do agree that an active involvement promotes mastery.

most faculty will benefit from consulting services and workshops on development of writing intensive courses. A WIC coordinator/advisor will be needed in the near future (workshops are scheduled for early 1989).

well designed and attractive instructional aids and media can enrich courses and lectures, but are not a substitute for knowing the field or putting in time in preparation for a course and its lectures. Similarly, difficult to read overheads, crowded slides, or amateurish videos can detract from courses.

innovative teaching has a generally low profile at OSU. Scholarship, new grants and contracts, and election to national organizations are reported and praised, but new teaching approaches or courses are rarely highlighted.

some new faculty members receive little help in developing their teaching. New faculty are sometimes "thrown in" to their classes and lectures with no assigned mentors, and little in-class support by chairs and heads. However, it would be expected that after a year or so of mentoring, most new faculty could develop approaches that best match their own creativity and courses.


The sense of the Burlington Northern Foundation and Ritchie Award recipients is that there is no need for a single "quick fix" to strengthen teaching at OSU. Teaching quality is already very good overall, because of the commitment and dedication of faculty members to their students. However, the status of teaching should be significantly enhanced. The consensus is that a few workshops or lectures are not enough. Rather, they recommend an integrated approach across the entire University:

1. Elevate the visibility of instructional innovation and teaching quality in the day-to-day life of the University.

The President and Provost are fully supportive

Encourage department chairs and heads to increase dialogue, recognition, and visibility of teaching.

Establishing teaching "Pacesetter" awards, periodic departmental seminars on instructional topics, workshops presented by the department's best teachers, and designation of departmental teaching mentors are examples of pro-active steps that could be taken.

Expect department chairs and heads to visit each instructor in a class at least once a year and, if time permits, more frequently for instructors who have been receiving low student evaluations.

Include leadership in strengthening of teaching as a significant element of academic administrators' own periodic reviews.

Require periodic peer teaching evaluations for all instructors (more frequently for those with mediocre or low student evaluations), not just those who are still candidates for promotion or tenure.

Display photos of teachers who have received awards for instructional excellence and innovation, as is now being done in several Colleges.

Encourage the Department of Information, "The Oregon Stater," and other University publications to highlight instructional excellence and innovation.

Schedule "brown bag" discussion groups to address different areas of instruction, from nurturing creative thinking in large classes to discussion of WIC courses.

2. Encourage instructional innovation

Support and encourage faculty who "take a chance" with a new course format, a new way of teaching, or development of a totally new course. Just as all research applications are not funded, innovative courses are not always the product of first attempt.

As resources permit, central administration and deans' offices should invest in new teaching approaches. Increased legislative funding for modern undergraduate laboratory equipment is vital.

As is the practice in a number of departments already, as merit resources permit, reward instructional innovation and instructional excellence with merit raises.

Although merit funds are never sufficient to reward all meritorious faculty for their contributions in teaching and scholarship, scholars should not fear becoming ineligible for these raises by investing time periodically in instructional development.

Provide occasional "release time" for development of new courses or computer based "courseware."

3. Develop a teaching mentor system

Encourage faculty members who have been recognized for outstanding instructional skills to serve as mentors for other faculty, particularly those who are newly hired. This contribution to the University, college, or department should take the place of other assignments taking equivalent time.

Mentors would be assigned for a limited period, perhaps a year or so. Thereafter, faculty members would generally be expected to have developed their own approaches and initiatives that best match their own courses and teaching styles. In time they, too, will become mentors.

4. Schedule a few carefully selected university-wide workshops and lectures focused on instructional development

Begin a "Distinguished Teacher Lecture" series focused on strengthening teaching. A number of the Burlington Northern Foundation and Ritchie award winners have indicated a willingness to launch the series starting Spring quarter, 1989.

Begin an annual conference at Oregon State University to focus on teaching innovation -- a scholarly meeting on instruction where faculty can share successes as well as failures.

Continue CMC workshops on development and use of media.

From time to time, bring in outside leaders in the field to lead workshops or retreats topics requested by faculty, e.g., on effective instruction with large classes, or on development of creative thinking with students.

Continue and expand industry-sponsored and local programs on development of computer courseware. A courseware advisor could help many faculty who want to develop interactive programs or tutorials for students. Have CMC obtain copies of computer courseware examples for faculty to check out and review.

Schedule workshops on development of WIC's and synthesis courses. Designation of a WIC coordinator/advisor will be an important step.

Continue training programs for teaching assistants.

5. Encourage interdisciplinary seminars, courses, and discussions

Special attention and encouragement should be given to development synthesis courses across departmental boundaries. Release time, or part-time Summer Term appointments can help with the development of particularly innovative courses.

As is already done in many departments, invite faculty from other departments to give seminars and lectures. Schedule pre- or post- seminar coffees to enable faculty from both departments to meet and interact.

D.S. Fullerton Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs January 19, 1989
Opinions expressed by authors of Faculty Forum articles are not necessarily those of the OSU Faculty or Faculty Senate.