#UofTBTS16: Orientation is for faculty too

September 9, 2016 by Terry Lavender - U of T News

Orientation at the University of Toronto isn’t just for students, hundreds of new faculty members also have to prepare for the start of the school year at an unfamiliar institution.

So Carol Rolheiser and her staff at the Centre for Teaching Support & Innovation (CTSI) are here to help, guiding new instructors on everything from teaching tools to grading.

New faculty from 46 different departments and all three campuses initially attended full-day orientation in late August, introducing them to the research, teaching and service components of their roles. This was followed by a week of teaching-focused workshops, which included topics such as teaching tools for a diverse classroom, myths about grading, strategies to support active learning and the top challenges faced by students.

Providing support and resources for new faculty

“It’s a chance for new faculty to have a more personalized conversation with a range of people, and to get some support and resource material, Rolheiser told U of T News. But, she stressed, new faculty orientation is more than a one-off event.

“It’s part of a cycle of ongoing support and engagement, and networking and professional learning opportunities that go beyond the first week,” she said.

Tim Sayle, an assistant professor in history, was one of the hundreds of new faculty members who attended the sessions. He didn’t teach any courses in his previous position at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, but now at U of T he’ll be leading two large classes of 475 and 200 students respectively.

“As a former student at U of T, I knew it was a big institution,” Sayle said. “What I didn’t realize was what was behind the curtain. There is an enormous range of resources that help backstop teaching, and this part of the university has done a very good job explaining to new faculty who they are and how they can help. Teaching is not a solo project – and that’s a relief. I’ve been able to draw on colleagues in different parts of the university for advice and support.”

Irene Boeckmann spent two years at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center as a post-doctoral fellow before joining the U of T sociology department as an assistant professor. She is looking forward to a new role that combines teaching and research.

“Hearing about student experiences at U of T and their perspectives on what helps them learn was very useful,” she said. “I was surprised to learn of the wealth of resources and faculty support available.”

Surprised by the size of U of T

Rebecca Woods, who recently joined the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, said she was surprised at the size of U of T.

“I didn’t realize it was quite this big, and I was very impressed with its degree of economic, ethnic, and geographical diversity,” said Woods, who will be teaching courses in the history of technology. “The staff members were excellent models for engaged and meaningful pedagogy, and I came away convinced of the value of active learning strategies.”

Rolheiser’s staff try to ensure a mix of new and returning faculty, and a range of examples of best practices from all three campuses.

“It’s important that new faculty and experienced faculty see the range of things that are happening beyond their discipline, beyond their department, beyond their campus because that’s a way to spark innovation,” Rolheiser said.

Just as student orientation is designed to leave the students excited and energized about their new home, so are the sessions for new faculty.

“I’m excited about getting back into teaching, interacting with students, getting to know my new colleagues and becoming part of the academic life of the sociology department,” Boeckmann said.