Skip navigation
College Quarterly
Winter 1994 - Volume 2 Number 2
Becoming a Thoughtful College Teacher: Developing an Adult Education Degree Program
by Michael Kompf
Beware of the man who works hard to learn something, learns it, and finds himself no wiser than before...He is full of murderous resentment of people who are ignorant without having come by their ignorance the hard way. - Kurt Vonnegut
The Circumstances

Those expressing wishes to be, or to become, a thoughtful college teacher in these postmodernist times face a difficult task. A “thoughtful college teacher”, may be described as an individual possessing a favourable conjunction of reflected personal and professional skills and ideals, and the further knowledge of how to convey accumulated knowledge in ways which stimulate learning. Thoughtful college teachers tend only to bring hopeful wishes to their practice: they are aware and not thought-less. This definition is a compilation of wishes and hopes expressed by college teachers with whom I have had contact during the past decade.

The decade surrounding 1990 graphically illustrated the continued movement into what is characterised as an era of postmodernism. Postmodernism is used as a descriptor for the current results of transition away from the reasoned progress of modernism into an increasingly unstable and unpredictable future. As with any paradigmatic shift, acknowledgement of the uncertainty which accompanies resonant shifts of knowledge paradigms in science, physics, psychology, education, environmental studies, sociology and the like brings about what some call epistemological crises, or a crumbling in the foundations of belief systems. While currently of main interest to theorists, these changes come to bear in greater and lesser ways as challenges to thoughtful college teaching and teachers. Other challenges brought about by shifts include such diverse pressures as employment trends, changing needs of business, industry etc., changing population demographics and special needs, and variations in entry preparation. In many ways all of the aforementioned examples (and others) come to bear as real, not imaginary, factors which can affect the efficiency and efficacy of professional and personal life. As fewer events and circumstances can be anticipated with ease and familiarity the level of anxiety for students, teachers, and society at large, increases in subtle and protracted ways.

As with the larger reformulations that accompany any paradigm shift, educational practice, and how it is thought about and carried out, is subject to near-continual redefinition by internal and external forces. To paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead “Education which is not postmodern shares the fate of all organic things which are kept too long”.

Since the mid 1980's, concerns have been raised and addressed by college teachers and governance bodies regarding not only what is taught in the CAATs, but also how teaching is carried out. Shifts in factors affecting the educational process in colleges were deemed to require skills beyond the professional knowledge required for entry into the higher education teaching force. It is generally agreed that to educate effectively, knowledge of several types are imperative: knowledge of subject, knowledge of teaching methods, knowledge of students, and knowledge of self. Development and maintenance of fluency and dexterity within and among these knowledge bases in a meaningful way facilitates skills acquisition, reflective practice, renewal options and personal, professional growth.

Colleges throughout Ontario have, for some years, sought to provide some level of preparation for new faculty, in addition to professional development activities for faculty and staff of greater experience. Cross-colleges comparisons of past experiences have shown much variation in what was offered and how it was received. Identified needs related to level of preparation for teaching in and of itself, for teaching of adults, relevance to specific disciplines, transportable accreditation, salary step advances, access to graduate studies, and an increased scholarly focus within the various domains of college teaching. While in-house programs were developed and underway in anticipation of or in response to the mandates of Vision 2000 and other initiatives (e.g., The OPSEU/Confederation College In-Service Teacher Training Program), formal accreditation was, and is, still wanting for a variety of studies.

In the sections which follow, the Brock University Bachelor of Education in Adult Education Program (ADED) is examined as a response to expressed needs. Initiated by the Centre for Teaching and Learning of Seneca College, the program was developed collaboratively by Brock University and the CAATs.

The Response

As a way of synthesizing expressed needs into a comprehensive framework, a program option at Brock University was developed with provisions for a part-time B.Ed. as a first degree program with a focus in adult education. An Ontario Teaching Certificate, which entitles the holder to teach in the elementary and secondary education forums, was deemed not necessary, nor available, through this program of study, as it is not required for teaching at the level covered by the degree program.

A five-course package was designed as the core of an undergraduate B.Ed. in Adult Education program. The courses include: Foundations of Teaching and Learning In Adult Education, Curriculum Theory and Design, Instructional Approaches for Adult Learners, The College Context and Administration, and Developmental Paradigms and College Teachers. As access to the program is open because of its first degree status, candidates with existing undergraduate degrees could be awarded the B.Ed. in Adult Education degree upon successful completion of the five required courses. Candidates not holding an undergraduate degree could be awarded non-specified credits for earned diplomas; others without transferable credits would require 10 additional courses (from any accredited university) required for the 15 course total needed for Brock to award an undergraduate B. Ed. degree.

A steering committee was formed, comprised of representatives of the Central Region Colleges and others including Centennial College, George Brown College, Georgian College, Humber College, the Michener Institute, Niagara College, the Ontario College of Art, Seneca College and Sheridan College. During the developmental phases of the program the steering committee was contacted by TVOntario to assess interest in offering the program though a distance model. A partnership was formed among Brock University, the Central Region Colleges, and TVOntario to collaborate on the design, production and delivery of the program through a site-facilitated distance model in a way that utilises adult learning principles.

Various sub-committees were formed and by Winter of 1993 a preliminary program document was prepared for wider dissemination and consultation. Information sessions were held at all of the central region facilities and program registration commenced. While early considerations and plans had prepared for an intake class of 25 candidates, the response was overwhelming, with more than 140 candidates expressing interest and a final list of approximately 90 registrants. It was determined that two sections of the intake course could be offered (Seneca College, Toronto and Sheridan College, Oakville) with a maximum of 60 candidates in each section. Sections were divided into three seminar groups (max. 20 candidates). Classes were offered on alternate weekends with classes on Friday evenings and all day Saturday). Combined enrolments for the first offering totalled 91, with 51 additional registrants opting for delayed entry in September, 1994.

It was interesting to note that approximately half of the registrants in Cohort 1 (and subsequently in Cohort 2) were support staff. Their status was quickly validated because of the “teacher preparation” focus of the program. A thorough mix of experience and cross-disciplinary interest was in evidence. Much feedback was sought, and through responses program shortcomings were acknowledged and addressed as part of growth and understanding and suggestions were incorporated for revisions and future design considerations. An integral part of the program design and concept had been to not only teach about adult learning principles, but to use them as guides and models wherever and whenever possible and appropriate. As such, classes included: seminars, learning partner activities, small group work, large group discussions, films, presentations by experts, seminar presentations by candidates, lectures, and such other approaches as needs and opportunities presented.

Emphasis on self-directed learning was implicit through the structure and process of the courses. Scheduling, evaluation and grading varied from course to course but was ultimately determined through agreement between instructors and candidates. For example, the first course included: a contracted passing grade for satisfactory completion of written assignments, seminar attendance, presentation and participation in lieu of numerically evaluated assignments. A voluntary final Take-Home synthesis provided an option for improvement of standing.

Sessions occurred about every other weekend and usually consisted of a seminar meeting on Friday evenings (for discussion and application of readings and course materials) and a 6 hour session on Saturday for presentation of new materials, films, large group discussions and the like. The seminars were convened by six assistant instructors selected from college personnel with demonstrated skills and experience. Assistant instructors also contributed to course design and delivery.

Aside from initial techno-administrative difficulties, development and adjustment of seminar expectations and the flexing of scholarly interest, the course was deemed successful by participants. Reviews of books, course materials, personnel and process were favourable and rendered in a manner which conveyed some sense of ownership on the part of candidates. The use of adult learning principles was initially met with some trepidation by some candidates while others welcomed it. Most participants had some level of familiarity with the basic principles of adult education. It was noted, vehemently at times, that the study of such principles is quite different than “using them and having them used on you!” The “impostor syndrome” (see Brookfield, 1990) found a high level of identification early on and was admirably overcome through recognition of shared wishes and fears en route to becoming a thoughtful college teacher. As was remarked by one guest speaker (Dr. David Hunt from OISE), “the collective wisdom and expertise in that gathering is enormous and has limitless potential”.

As a course instructor, I found that a common goal of further understanding mixed with theory and practice to produce mutual respect, trust and a sense of worth. I have witnessed few other educational circumstances that have brought about such a coalescence to a common goal. The guidance given early in the course was to become “appropriately self” and to “develop a sense of ownership” in all studies. I acknowledge these candidates as exceptional and feel they represent a new force of scholarly interest in the CAAT system and are worthy of much attention.

As I write (January, 1995), the fifth and final course (Developmental Paradigms and Adult Learning) is underway. This course will complete the program for Cohort 1. From this cohort approximately 86% (78 out of 91) of candidates have maintained enrolment and can expect either to be eligible to graduate or to continue further undergraduate studies.

Following completion of the intake course, early 1994 saw the development of an innovative distance model combining text, video and facilitated activities. The first course of this type was offered at 6 locations (Conestoga, Centennial, Fanshawe, Georgian (2), Seneca (2), Sheridan (2); nine sections with a total enrolment of 160) in the Fall of 1994. Evaluations of the process, content and learning experience of the first course “Foundations of Adult Learning”, by candidates and site leaders were overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. Advice and suggestions for revisions of course materials were solicited and will strongly influence the Fall 1995 version of the course guidelines and reading materials.

The program is based on a fee-for-service model as it is not funded. The B. Ed. in Adult Education will be offered at sites and locations with sufficient enrolment (20 candidates), facility support and availability of personnel. The Human Resource Development representative at each college will have information packages in early 1995 or direct contact may be made to Brock through Phyllis Stanley, ADED Program Coordinator, Faculty of Education (Tel: 905-688-5550; FAX 905-685-4131). A program Newsletter is issued quarterly for communication between and among all candidates.


The positive and immediate reaction to this program bodes well. A sincere and deeply felt interest in thoughtful teaching is beginning to permeate all colleges with whom we have had contact. Because of the ways in which this program can be studied and applied, it is open-ended and leads to further study and development. The program of study is attractive because it consolidates academic credits, provides a basis of expertise from which to undertake the changing requirements of teaching, and provides accredited professional development.

The novel method and process of program development, delivery and continuation is dependent on linkages between colleges and universities and furthers collegial and congenial collaboration to the benefits of lifelong learning. Reports from all candidates indicate that the task of being a thoughtful college teacher has become slightly less difficult.


Brookfield, S.(1990) The Skillful Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Michael Kompf teaches in the Faculty of Education at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.