x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Academics urged to update skills

Programme will attempt to help with staff retention and halt an annual brain drain

SHARJAH // Academics are being encouraged to update their skills as a university modernises its teaching methods and tries to cut the high turnover of lecturers.

From October, 16 academics from the American University of Sharjah (AUS) will take part in a development programme. The participants have between two and 16 years of teaching experience.

Dr Cindy Gunn, who will run the year-long course, said academics who had expressed interest asked that it address topics such as assessment methods, multicultural discipline and the use of technology in the classroom.

Over the year the academics will meet eight times, hold smaller group sessions, watch online lectures and take part in internet debates.

Dr Thomas Hochstettler, the provost of AUS, said the course would benefit the whole university, not just those who took part in it.

"I would love to have more of our continuing academics see this as an opportunity for them," Dr Hochstettler said.

He said it was all too common for lecturers to feel that after several years of teaching, they had it mastered.

But rapid technological change meant teaching methods needed to change as well, Dr Hochstettler said.

"It's hard to get faculty interested to see how these new advances can help them," he said. "Finding a way to incentivise the faculty is a challenge over the coming years."

The university is now looking at working with other institutions, including Abu Dhabi University and the Higher Colleges of Technology.

"It's critical to work with other universities," said Dr Hochstettler. "Often, other universities can be seen as competitors but the fact we can help each other only boosts the educational opportunities in this country."

Dr Gunn, who has been at AUS for 10 years, said: "We're all teaching in the same country with the same government regulations, so even though each institution will have their unique features we all have the same goals."

Abu Dhabi University (ADU) opened its own centre for academic development last year. Since then, it has put 70 per cent of its teachers through the first stage of training, focusing on the use of technology in the classroom.

Dr Rick van Sant, the director of the Centre for Faculty Development at ADU, hopes such investment in staff will reduce the 20 per cent annual turnover in academics.

Dr van Sant wants to set up a forum for the UAE's universities to share ideas and expertise.

"We wouldn't only be exchanging resources and experience but exchanging ourselves," he said. "We don't cost anything and it's more interesting to have someone new coming in from the outside - people who bring their own knowledge, skills and insight."