The announcement of a proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (Tef) has caused a frisson in higher eduction, by suggesting that the quality of teaching in universities is worth careful consideration in its own right.
It’s not the first time that governments have sought to drive a greater focus on teaching quality in universities. Some earlier engagements have proved successful – the National Teaching Fellowship scheme is well-regarded; others, such as the Centres of Excellence for Teaching and Learning, have come and gone. But if a Tef is to be introduced, it does beg the question of how academics can ensure that their own teaching practices are excellent.
There is no magic bullet – every discipline has its own distinctive culture – but here are some suggestions for how to approach the Tef in a positive frame of mind.
1) Stay passionate about your subject area
Too often a commitment to learning and teaching is presented in opposition to engagement with research and scholarship, but the two should be inextricably linked. Universities are above all places where knowledge and practice are questioned, and our understandings extended. Without that continuing commitment to the discipline, any teaching can become rote, and the value to students is lost.
2) Continue to learn
Learn from others – from other disciplines, and countries. Mastering new delivery methods can be time-consuming: materials have to be re-written; teaching sessions re-thought. But it is through the process of watching others, learning from them, stealing the good bits, that we constantly refresh and advance our own delivery.
3) Focus on your own personal development
Universities are better now at ensuring that most entrants into university teaching have some form of formal induction, but there is a need to create space for academics to refresh, update and simply reflect. The obligation to support teaching excellence is as much on the institution as the individual, and there is a need for every institution to be held to account, and reminded of its obligations to equip its staff to be excellent.
4) Talk with the students
“Co-production” has become something of a buzzword, and there is increasing challenge, including from students, to the idea that it is in part their responsibility to shape the learning experience that they are now funding. But if nothing else, it reminds us that students are best placed to comment on how a programme or a module feels to them. And that gives us our first intelligence as to whether we are achieving what we intended.
5) Get assessment right
When we get assessment right, it becomes a seamless part of the learning process. There can be an unspoken anxiety that unless assessment is burdensome – for student and academic alike – it cannot have been rigorous. Perhaps this is why the assessment process often remains the most traditional element in any programme and module. If you can get the assessment right, the rest of the module will follow.
6) Be aware of metrics – but sceptical of them
The Tef is merely one articulation of teaching excellence. It will inevitably draw on performance data which may be limited in scope, or intended for a different purpose. Every institution will want to engage with the Tef as a way of providing some form of external verification of its claims to excellence. But true teaching excellence – from the perspective of the student – will be local and individual. The Tef may be important, but it is not definitive.
7) Celebrate success – and share it
How often do we make time to share our own successes? I have learned a huge amount from academic colleagues in other disciplines, but often that excellence doesn’t seem to be shared and celebrated. Many universities are still struggling to find career routes that give the same prominence to teaching excellence as they always have done to outstanding research. Only by being ready to exchange our ideas can we hope to give teaching the high profile it deserves.
How to approach the Teaching Excellence Framework with confidence © Guardian News & Media Ltd