J. Anchan

University of Winnipeg (CANADA)
Learning centres or equivalent units at most universities in many countries, offer a variety of faculty and student professional development support. Historically, for various reasons, professional development (PD) has taken a backseat. PD may include workshops in pedagogy and integration of newer technologies, student assignment assistance, research skills and student employment assistance – to name but a few. Primarily, many undergraduate institutions focus on classroom pedagogy and distance/online delivery of content. These centres have various names and may also cater to the training of staff members even as they provide support in navigating complex areas of intellectual property and patents. Activities at these centres have been wide and varied. Through presentations, lectures, workshops, and discussions, these centres provide a forum on issues pertaining to teaching and learning (pedagogy, online learning, assessment, learning outcomes, multimedia development, emerging technologies, etc.). In some instances, these units provide expertise, access to equipment and technical production assistance in support of teaching and learning. Some centres support and administer technologies used for course enhancement and delivery. These may include programming, development and delivery of distance or online education. Despite the wide variety of offerings, PD centres have not been funded well and until recently, attracted low priority among administrators. And when implemented, in some cases, PD initiatives have not been very effective.

PD and teaching excellence go hand-in-hand. Well-designed centres are more engaged in the person than just the tools to design, develop, and deliver. The pedagogically sound integration of teaching techniques and relevant technologies along with critical analysis of utilizing various approaches allows an understanding of the adult learning environment. With different learning styles and learners, the current generation does not need introduction to emerging technologies. Nevertheless, consumer technologies are only part of the learning environment. Other vital components include critical thinking, content analysis, utilization of specialty software platforms (learning or course management systems), and multimedia applications. The educator has to evolve as he or she responds to learning theories and styles; finds alternative methods of teaching and learning styles; understands mentoring and collaborative learning; engages in diversified meaningful evaluation techniques; and develops effective communication styles. One of the major concerns has been the lack of active participation among the faculty due to multifarious legitimate reasons.
Burdened with limited resources, the university learning centres are delegated to successfully introducing evolving pedagogies and emerging technologies. How can we do this successfully? What strategies can we employ to increase faculty participation in professional development? What incentives do we offer to engage content experts in the dialectic of pedagogy? How can we strengthen this usually overlooked but extremely vital area of higher education? Why have many initiatives stumbled and how can we measure the impact of learning centres? This discussion will address some of these questions and provide a few sample initiatives that may provide some insights into potential strategies and possible research.