Learning to teach more reflectively
Letters from our August issue.
27 July 2015
We are delighted to read Professor Knapper’s letter ‘Who teaches the teachers?’ (July 2015), which highlights the current state of teaching practice in the higher education sector. While the letter implies a paucity of teaching professionalism, which we do not agree with, we would like to add that a national focus is needed to ensure that research into teaching practice forms a solid foundation for effective delivery in the lecture hall.
There are many established drives to increase teaching quality throughout the UK HEIs. These schemes go beyond the ‘induction courses’ highlighted in the correspondence and allow teachers to reflect on how best they can develop their own practice to ensure innovation in delivery and assessment is both integral and continuous.
Initiatives such as the Higher Education Academy (HEA) Fellowship accreditation schemes have seen a significant rise in HEA Fellows throughout the sector. Here, excellence in teaching practice is regularly celebrated with Fellows, Senior Fellows and Principal Fellows finding themselves in positions where they can direct, drive and even determine teaching excellence in their own institutions.
The celebration of such teaching excellence is not an example of the facile ‘adoration of excellence’ – an inexorable movement that has been identified in the modern-day university borne out of the drive to marketise the HE sector (Halffman & Radder, 2015). Rather, such schemes see the rise of an altogether more reflective and informed teaching practitioner encouraged to embed their own learning and teaching research into a more complete reflective account of their individual teaching practice. Indeed, we have previously stated that the field of psychology is pre-eminently positioned to benefit from such a reflective approach (Senior et al., 2015). Yet, more could still be done.
Ultimately, the modern-day university is a large organisation and like all other large organisations it is sensitive to various market forces. Such forces drive managerial strategy to divert resources towards high-impact research activities that are likely to be successful in subsequent funding exercises. Policy that recognises the importance of learning and teaching research and the role that it plays in the delivery of evidence-informed teaching practice in the classroom is needed before teaching excellence in the HE sector achieves the recognition that is deserves.
Rowena Senior FHEA
Carl Senior PFHEA, FBPsS
Halffman, W. & Radder, H. (2015). The academic manifesto: From an occupied to a public university. Minerva, 53, 165–187.
Senior, C, Reddy, P.A. & Senior, R. (2014). The relationship between student employability and student engagement: Working toward a more unified theory. Frontiers in Educational Psychology, 5, 238–240.
Christopher Knapper in July issue is unfortunately right to bemoan the amateurism of much university teaching. However, he does us no service by picking out the lecture as a principal offender. There are good and bad lectures, just as there are good and bad seminars, workshops and supervisions. The lecture’s great advantage is that it is highly economical of expensive staff time. Sadly, despite the efforts of all our staff development units there is a persistent culture that perpetuates the myth that no training is needed to give an adequate lecture. And it is often the brightest academics who see the least need to improve.
A good lecture is properly organised and signposted, relevant to the course studied, interactive and inclusive. It also requires very little extra effort on a trained lecturer’s part. The other side of the coin is that students receive no help in engaging with and interpreting lectures. Many of them take extensive notes, which some of them even write up into fair copies afterwards. In fact, such note-writing actually distracts from following the live lecture. Any lecturer who doubts this should glance through the notes of one or two of their students; they would be horrified to see the unintelligible gibberish!
Of course, breaking the culture is difficult. Perhaps the best suggestion is for those of us who do deliver effective lectures to take every opportunity to demonstrate their skills to colleagues. But as Knapper says, the evidence-based practice they regularly preach is slow to reach our academics’ own practice.
Sheffield Hallam University