Journal Of Veterinary Medical Education

Volume 21, Number 2
Fall, 1994

John R. August, Chair


Katherine M. Edmondson, PhD

Boyer (1990) argues for "a more inclusive view of what it means to be a scholar," describing four categories of scholarly activity that are inseparably linked: discovery, integration, application, and teaching. He states: "We need scholars who not only skillfully explore the frontiers of knowledge, but also integrate ideas, connect thought to action, and inspire students." (p.77). The implications of this broadened conception of scholarship call for the documentation and inclusion of a wider range of activities, acknowledging the intellectual and creative contributions faculty make to the education of their students.

An expanded definition of scholarship requires increased opportunities for faculty to receive support and recognition for their efforts to become creative and skilled educators. Documentation of effective teaching is becoming increasingly important for faculty retention and promotion, raising questions about criteria of excellence, the sources and kinds of information that serve as appropriate evidence of success, support available to new faculty, and how to identify potential role models and opportunities for innovation in teaching.

Choosing teaching mentors for new faculty should be done carefully. Who is currently recognized as being a good teacher? On what basis? Ironically, many faculty look to the junior members of their departments to be innovators in teaching, when, in fact, new faculty have the least amount of teaching experience. Mentors should be pro-active, visiting the classes of the new faculty member, and inviting him or her to their own classes so they can model various methods and teaching approaches. New faculty need support in a wide range of areas that pertain to teaching: interpreting teaching outcomes, specific methods such as lecturing and guiding classroom discussion, counseling and academic advising, evaluation and test construction, ethics, developing critical thinking skills among students, etc. They should also document their teaching efforts from the beginning of their academic careers.

The question of what counts as evidence of good teaching suggests a need for colleges to expand the sources of information about an individual's performance beyond students' evaluation forms to include peer review and/or a reflective statement of personal teaching philosophy. In addition to evaluating classroom teaching, any computer programs, models, displays or other materials developed to support an individual's teaching should be evaluated. Participation in faculty development workshops and reflective statements about one's efforts to improve teaching help document the development of an individual's scholarship over time. The criteria by which teaching is evaluated and the value placed on a full range of scholarly activities will ultimately determine whether the recognition and rewards are sufficient to encourage and support teaching as the hallmark of professional excellence.

Veterinary medicine faces a number of challenges for creating opportunities for new faculty to develop innovative approaches to teaching. Traditional modes of teaching are deeply entrenched, and cannot be overcome by one individual. In a traditional veterinary medical curriculum, large courses are typically coordinated by one person, but the teaching is usually done by several individuals. Teaching within the framework of an already existing course may make it very difficult for new faculty persons to "leave their mark." The structure of the curriculum, while well-established, serves to severely limit the options any one person has for effecting change, whether it relates to sequencing, integration of topics, or the use of a particular teaching method. Innovative teaching approaches inserted piecemeal into traditionally taught courses may not achieve their desired results, and this may discourage faculty from trying them again at a later point when they may have more control over a course syllabus. Some veterinary curricula are so structured that there is no room in the schedule for new faculty to offer courses based on their special area of expertise, further limiting the opportunities junior faculty have to teach from their strengths.

The means by which a college evaluates courses also may make it difficult to assess nontraditional teaching methods. This is an issue for faculty at all stages of their careers, but it penalizes junior faculty in particular, by constraining the scope of what "counts" as teaching, and presenting a traditional model that does not encourage the experimentation, reflection, and synthesis that lie at the heart of scholarship. The system of rewards for recognition of excellence in teaching must be examined to acknowledge and encourage faculty to strive for continued innovation and improvement in their effectiveness as teachers.

Demographic changes within the veterinary profession should be reflected among veterinary faculties. The issue of diversity is particularly noteworthy as it relates to the numbers of women who will join faculties of veterinary medicine, and who will need support from their (mostly male) colleagues. Research (Johnsrud, 1994) has shown that women faculty tend to be promoted and tenured more slowly than their male peers, and that they report feelings of loneliness and isolation. Mentoring relationships that are increasingly being used for new faculty members require special considerations for supporting women, particularly in the early stages of their careers. For faculties who have relatively small numbers of female faculty members to serve as mentors, support for new women will be especially challenging.

The variety of teaching settings in veterinary medicine raises issues about the criteria for excellence in teaching. Are the criteria and mechanisms for documenting excellence in teaching in the basic science and clinical settings clear? Are they the same? Should they be? Are mechanisms in place to assist new faculty members in documenting their teaching activities from the start of their careers? Do tenured faculty value and encourage innovation? Are teaching awards based on shared criteria that faculty colleagues have determined are the basis for teaching excellence? Team teaching, mentoring with faculty who have won teaching awards, faculty development activities, teaching circles, and flexibility in the curriculum to accommodate new methods will all contribute to the support of junior faculty whose career paths as scholars should be allowed to develop in a way that capitalizes upon the diversity of their potential and talent.

References and Endnotes

1. Boyer EL: Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate. Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 1990.

2. Johnsrud LK: Enabling the success of junior faculty women through mentoring. New Directions for Teaching and Learning (57). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 1994.

by Mark B. Gerus