There is no shortage of exciting developments in the world of teaching and learning. But with strong competition for resources and, in many cases, limited political will, T&L managers can seldom hope to implement all of the ideas and initiatives that they would like. So, if T&L managers can only make one significant change in the year ahead, what should it be? We asked the expert speaker faculty of the Future of Learning in Higher Education summit (16-17 February, Sydney), what they considered to be the single most important priority for T&L leaders in the year ahead.
For many of our experts, the most important work that T&L managers can do is in the area of supporting and motivating teaching staff. Alec Cameron, DVC (Education) at the University of Western Australia, puts recognising good teaching at the top of the list. “Leaders should develop systems for measuring teaching performance that have acceptance within their institution and across the sector,” he says. “To motivate academic staff to engage with and invest in their teaching, we need to recognise and reward good teaching performance.”
Margaret Jollands, an OLT Project Leader and Professor of Engineering at RMIT University, recommends a sterner approach, arguing that “mandating scholarship of teaching publications for all teaching staff” would deliver significant benefit.
And we shouldn’t forget sessional teachers, who carry so much of the teaching workload but are often overlooked in strategic planning. Marina Harvey, an OLT National Fellow based at Macquarie University, urges T&L managers to “benchmark their institution using the BLASST national standards on sessional teaching. This will provide baseline data on how their institution measures up and can inform an action plan to work towards systematic and systematised good practice with learning and teaching and sessional staff.”
Relevance of content and graduate employability are also top concerns for our experts. Robbie Coyle, course convenor at Holmesglen Institute of TAFE, urges T&L leaders to “continue to ensure that subjects are grounded in academic theory, but to complement it with real world happenings and applications.”
For Shelley Kinash, Director of Learning & Teaching at Bond University, the first item on the agenda is to “raise the priority of graduate employability, and lead its embedding throughout the curriculum and student experience.” Meanwhile, 2013 Prime Minister’s University Teacher of the Year James Arvanitakis, of the University of Western Sydney, recommends T&L leaders focus foremost on finding ways to embed creativity and innovation in every dimension of the curriculum.
On a more institutional level, Alison Sheridan, PVC (Academic) at the University of New England recommends T&L leaders focus on developing more comprehensive tools for evaluating the student experience of each course/unit. “The current tools are still too focused on the individual ‘lecturer’ delivering the content,” she notes, “and don’t recognise the significant changes in teaching and learning models we have seen in recent years.” A better understanding of the student’s experience could then inform every aspect of course design and delivery.
A number of our experts also suggest rethinking the way we currently direct our energies and resources in the teaching and learning space. Dame Glynis Breakwell, Vice Chancellor of the University of Bath (UK), believes that collaboration can drive improvement to the efficiency and quality of teaching and learning, and therefore recommends T&L leaders prioritise the formation of “real and stable partnerships, with clear strategic purpose, across institutions.”
Geoff Crisp, DVC (Academic) at RMIT University, goes even further; “T&L managers should focus attention and effort on deciding what is worth doing within the university and what should be outsourced to third party providers,” he says. “We do not have enough resources to do everything equally well, and we need to realise that universities can partner with third parties for the delivery of more services.”
Whatever the priorities of your own department, faculty or institution, it may well be wise to heed the words of Patrick Crookes, Director of the Wollongong Academy for Tertiary Teaching and Learning Excellence. As coordinator of the OLT’s Transforming Practice Programme, Patrick is an expert in the challenges institutions face in effecting lasting change in teaching and learning. His advice? Keep it simple and high-impact. “Focus on the small number of changes which will yield the greatest amount of impact for student learning and experience.”
To join the discussion on leading change in teaching and learning, join us at the 2nd annual Future of Learning in Higher Education Summit, 16-17 February 2015 at the UNSW CBD Campus, Sydney. View the full programme and register here.