Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Addressing the Needs of Doctoral Students as Academic Practitioners: A Collaborative Inquiry on Teaching in Higher Education

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Addressing the Needs of Doctoral Students as Academic Practitioners: A Collaborative Inquiry on Teaching in Higher Education

Article excerpt

Unprecedented changes have occurred within universities. Neoliberalization of the academy has decreased public funds and increased the need to compete globally (Archer, 2008; Lorenz, 2014; Ramsden, 2003). Competing in a global knowledge-economy has required investments in a competitive research output model while simultaneously reducing expenditures, seeking non-public funding sources, and implementing structures to demonstrate transparency and accountability across university faculties (Henkel, 1997; Light & Cox, 2001; Strathern, 2000). Class sizes have increased from the 1980s, and lecturers have been faced with a diverse student body who possess varying skills and learning needs (Cooper & Robinson, 2000; Kokkelenberg, Dillon, & Christy, 2008). The relationship between teaching and research within the university has been fraught with tension; to what extent teaching and research can be considered distinct or symbiotic activities remains to be seen (Barnett, 2005; Jenkins, 2003). Yet, teaching responsibilities have persisted in Canadian academia, particularly in faculties of education, where few positions have been research only. Given this reality, Ramsden (2003) has argued that investing in the quality of teaching has been one way for a university to distinguish itself competitively.

In the midst of universities' structural and financial overhaul, questions about teaching and its future role in academic institutions in coming decades have emerged. In some institutions, tenure-track positions have been disappearing in favour of contract lecture positions. On the one hand, job security has been eroding within the academy. On the other hand, these short-term contracts have created an opportunity for some doctoral students to gain valuable teaching experience (Cross & Goldenberg, 2011; Thompson, 2003). In these uncertain times, how have doctoral students been learning to teach at undergraduate levels? This question is more than timely-it is imperative. Given the strong emphasis upon research as the requirement for doctoral degree fulfillment, what kinds of initiatives have addressed concerns around the quality of undergraduate teaching? Moreover, what measures have faculties of education taken to ensure that doctoral students succeed as contract lecturers?

This paper presents preliminary findings from a pilot study that took place in one faculty of education in central Canada. The purpose of the study was to explore an initiative that intended to address the growing need for doctoral students to succeed in teaching assignments. Specifically, this initiative included a tenure-track faculty member and a doctoral student's collaborative inquiry into their understanding of their teaching practice through engagement in a formal faculty-student relationship. This relationship was informed in part by literature on mentorship. Mentorship has been a common descriptor for relationships between doctoral students and tenure-track faculty members. Galbraith (2003) described mentoring as about "dialogue, caring, authenticity, emotion, passion and identity" (p. 2). When applied to the formal faculty-student relationship we formed, each of Galbraith's descriptors was accurate and applicable; yet, during the study, we avoided labelling our relationship as mentorship for two important reasons. First, in our experience, mentorship relationships have been ones wherein the more knowledgeable mentor imparted wisdom or knowledge to the less experienced mentee. This interaction has been premised on the intentional linear delivery of information from expert to novice. That expert-novice power dynamic has detrimentally permeated education. We intentionally chose to label our interactions and connections more generically as relationships. By doing so, we have communicated that our collaborations were more than power-imbalanced mentorships or political partnerships. Furthering the importance of collaboration, we emphasized that the benefits for the doctoral student and the tenuretrack faculty member, while different, were not of disproportionate importance. …

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