Asian Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

The Asian Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (AJSoTL) is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access, online journal. AJSoTL seeks to create and nurture a global network of academics and educators who will discuss ongoing changes and future trends in tertiary education.

From Teaching to Learning—Leading Change at a Research-intensive University: A Personal Reflection (Part 2)

From the Desk Of

Adrian LEE

Emeritus Professor 

Previously Professor of Medical Microbiology and Pro-Vice Chancellor,(Education & Quality Improvement), University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia


*Published with permission of Adrian LEE

Recommended citation:

Lee, A. (2017). From teaching to learningLeading change at a research-intensive university: A personal reflection (Part 2). Asian Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(1), 5-22.

EDITOR'S NOTE:

In this issue of AJSOTL (May 2017), Adrian Lee continues his discussion of the strategies undertaken at UNSW from 2001-2006 to improve learning and teaching.  He describes new (previously unplanned) strategies to engage faculty and staff, building communities, the need for support for associate deans (education), the development of the Guidelines on Learning that Inform Teaching, rewards and recognition and a teaching and learning performance fund. The article finishes with some evaluation of the success of the initiatives and some recommendations for universities wanting to improve the overall learning and teaching culture.


UNILT-UNSW NETWORK IN LEARNING AND TEACHING

It would be wrong to claim that all the advances in learning and teaching at UNSW came out of a grand well-thought out master plan. This is certainly not the message I am trying to give. Rather, things evolved and fell into place and give pointers as to what should be included in such a master plan for anyone taking on my task elsewhere. This is illustrated well by the evolution of UNILT. There was a common theme in ITET, FULT and the UNSW Learning and Teaching Grants. In all cases, practising academics shared their experiences with other staff via forums or workshops. ITET Fellows were encouraged to devise sessions on learning and teaching to deliver in their schools, they contributed to the FULT Program, and Grant awardees presented what they had done to staff at the annual forum, sometimes as a workshop.

While reflecting on the challenge of staff development programs for other than new staff, the concept of UNILT evolved. One of the criticisms, which are sometimes unfair, of learning and teaching support centres in universities, is that the staff are not real academics and thus do not have the credibility they might deserve. While watching, for example, a workshop session run by a group of ITET Fellows, it was clear that their credibility in the eyes of participants was very high.

“They were very well-run, and because they were led by other academics, they did not feel too theoretical, too abstract. People attending these sessions learned from each other as well as from the presenters, and the latter learned from other attendees. Crucial to the success was the fact that we shared experiences across faculties and schools, and learned from the differences (as well as sameness) that others experienced.”

Why can’t these practicing academics be more formally involved in staff development? I thought. Thus UNILT was created. UNILT was based on the idea that a full and rich program of staff development in learning and teaching should include opportunities for staff involved in any aspect of learning and teaching to contribute. It provided for people who were directly engaged in the everyday life of the students at UNSW; both facilitators and workshop participants to explore together current issues in learning and teaching, to share strategies, difficulties, expertise and experience, and ways forward.

A pool of nearly 170 people volunteered to be UNILT facilitators The network consisted of members of continuing or experienced academic staff with a demonstrated interest in learning and teaching, and who wished to have active ongoing involvement in staff development. UNILT comprised ITET Fellows, participants in the Learning and Teaching grants, and the Vice Chancellors’ Teaching Excellence awardees.

The staff of the Learning and Teaching Unit coordinated UNILT. The Program was developed based on results of student surveys, interviews with Heads of Schools and Associate Deans and from UNILT members themselves.

All those who wanted to facilitate UNILT workshops had to attend at least one preparatory workshop at the beginning or the year. The workshops were designed to allow facilitators to meet each other, to form interest groups and to ensure the workshops themselves were well-designed and facilitated according to good learning and teaching practices.

In preparation for a workshop, facilitators met two or three times with a coordinating member from the Learning and Teaching Unit. Workshops ran for three hours and participants received readings and other resources. Examples of workshop topics included: improving lectures, problem based learning, and writing course outlines.

Although dedicated, UNILT members needed reward so we invented “UNILT credits”. At a reasonably generous hourly rate, UNILTers could apply for credits based on the number of hours of staff-development activity they had accumulated. A fund was set up from which these monies could be allocated. Credits could only be used for staff development activities such as conference travel (educational or research). Credits were given at a lower rate for participation in the preparatory workshops. The rewards must have been enough as significant numbers of staff offered their workshops many times with very good results. All UNILT workshops were evaluated and, in general, responses were positive.

“I think I gained the most valuable insights from listening to the experiences of the other participants {in several UNILT workshops} It was great that you provided a forum for us to come together to discuss learning and teaching issues. I believe it was extremely beneficial for us to come together to hear about teaching successes and failures from academics in departments other than my own.”

“I am one of those just starting out and gained a lot of insights from the UNILT workshops I attended this year on assessment, writing course outlines and group learning. I have had great feedback from others in my School who have been impressed by the transformation of my approach to designing my course (now much more student centred, focussed on learning outcomes and aware of the importance of clear communication via outlines, etc.”

“Please continue to use academics (who have experience from the field) for these workshops. It is important in running workshops for academics that people leading them are open and flexible and not threatened by the natural academic tendency to ask questions, test and challenge.”

THE BUILDING OF COMMUNITIES

When I started as PVC I have to admit to being unaware of the writings of Wenger on “Communities of Practice” (Wenger, 2009; Chickering & Gamson, 1987).  I was too busy reading about my stomach bugs! Now, reflecting on what I did that contributed most to the success of my endeavours, I appreciate that it was a deliberate strategy of building communities. These communities, ITET, FULT, and UNILT are all classical examples of communities of practice as defined by Wenger. In her terms, “Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (Lee & Boyle, 2008)

“We cannot over-emphasise the importance to us of the L&T communities that sprang up around the PVC’s office and the learning & teaching unit. The opportunity to mix with like-minded people from other schools and faculties gave us new ideas to test out, it gave us enthusiasm and new hope, it challenged us to take our ideas and innovations further, and it gave us a sense of support and acknowledgement that took away the niggling feeling of resentment that had been common among those at UNSW who most cared about teaching. It was wonderful to have people around who would actually help you teach better, who would find time for you, and do so with enthusiasm and a sense of common mission.”

This had indeed been the strategy I used when I was Head of School. For example, weekly morning teas where one staff group (e.g. research team), provided food for the whole School on a rotating basis. This worked wonders.

Communities have to be worked at. Deliberate nurturing strategies are needed to sustain them. One of my favourites involved food and wine! At any meeting where a community gathered, social time was allocated at the end, usually with cheese, wine, and soft drink.

“However, the consumption of good food and wine in company helps lead to the building of communities. The teaching and learning networks you established did more than anything else at UNSW to break down those silos between disciplines and between faculties.”

A key was to have very good wine. I used to raid my own cellar and produce some very good aged wines that could not justifiably be charged to the divisional budget. It seems trivial but the good wines became a draw card. When asked to rank the importance of the many strategies described in this paper, one staff member commented, “Well obviously good quality red wine is number 1!” Another said:

“This should not be underestimated. The innovations discussed here came as a change that was fun to be part of. There was great spirit involved, and good food and wine contribute to that spirit, to that community.”

ASSOCIATE DEANS AS A COMMUNITY

There was one community that had been neglected and needed special support: the Associate Deans (Education) {ADE} or their equivalent. ADEs were committed senior staff members, who believe so much in the importance of good teaching that they were prepared to battle with their research-driven colleagues to fight for improvements in the student experience. We as senior managers often forget how important it is to nurture groups such as these as a community. They should be consulted, worked with and given a responsibility to contribute to policy and important initiatives in learning and teaching. You are invited to reflect on whether this group or their equivalent in your institution ever meet as a group. Do you meet with them? Meeting with deans only is not enough, as often associate deans do not feel valued. They do much of the work in the faculty related to teaching yet often feel unsupported.

“Exceptional value to share experiences/aspirations/frustrations. We can now “hunt in a pack” to voice concerns with the DVC(A) and Director of the L&T@UNSW when warranted.”

“The ADE community is a wonderful one, many have ‘come through’ that community of practice building of the previous 6-7 years so they came through with a depth of working together with a variety of L&T groups. The ADEs eschew competitiveness in favour of collaborative, supportive development”—Associate Dean, 2009

A UNIVERSITY PHILOSOPHY ON TEACHING:
GUIDELINES ON LEARNING


Despite all of the above, I felt something more was needed if we were going to change the culture with respect to teaching in the University. What I hoped for was more emphasis on the student learning experience. The goal was to move away from a focus on teaching, that is, what the lecturer told the students to a focus on activities that would help students learn. our task as university teachers is to create the conditions where students are most likely to learn. This move from teaching to learning seems simple but it is hard in an environment where didactic teaching has dominated. Staff find the concept quite hard to grasp; they need help. This is when my “shower idea” happened and the concept of the “Guidelines on Learning” was borne. The driving premise for the Guidelines was simple.

  • Our task as university teachers is to help students learn.
  • There is a vast research literature on how students learn and a wealth of good practice available
  • As a research-intensive university, our teaching should be informed by that research on student learning.

Busy academics do not have the time to become familiar with this research literature. We need to help them. Thus, I drafted a set of guidelines that summarised the main points of what we know about student learning and modified them in discussion with Michel Scoufis who had been appointed director of the newly formed Learning and Teaching Unit. There was much to help me do this, and the priceless Chickering and Gamson article of more than twenty years ago was a great starting point (6). Next there was a need to get ownership of the idea by the University community. Another mistake we senior managers often make is to forget about the importance of ownership. We have great ideas and off we go implementing them. Wrong! There has to be a period of consultation, modification, acceptance and ownership. In this case, I was fortunate in having a very supportive Deputy President of our Academic Board. She formed a subgroup and brought my rough draft to them. They redefined the guidelines, changed the wording and in the process assumed ownership. Sixteen guidelines were drafted and they were taken to the full Academic Board for endorsement. They became the “Guidelines on Learning that Inform Teaching at UNSW.” I then worked with colleagues on a hard copy booklet and more importantly, a website that was intended to be a resource for staff. Each Guideline was written on a single page. A couple of pithy quotes from the literature were used to explain what the Guideline meant and most importantly there were links to websites that had examples of teaching activities that illustrated each Guideline in action. This is best illustrated by inspection of this website at: http://www.guidelinesonlearning.unsw.edu.au/.

This was a great step forward but it was not enough. Many universities have compiled similar sets of principles or guidelines but they are rarely read, little used, but always trotted out at audit time. The key is to have strategies to encourage staff to use such guidelines. Therefore, an essential part of the process at UNSW was the formation of a “Toolkit”. Basically this was a simple downloadable Ms Word template that for each Guideline had spaces for the following:

  • Example
  • Reflection
  • Constraints on applying this guideline
  • Resources
  • Staff development opportunities

The aim was to assist staff to reflect on the effectiveness of their practices. They were invited to use the Toolkit to review their classes, course, or program, and as a reflective tool. Basically they were asked to reflect on their own teaching and give an example of an activity they use that is an example of that Guideline in action. If they could not think of one, then the idea was for them to reflect on why not and to look at the resource links for ideas of how they might.

“The Guidelines were a breakthrough in highlighting the importance of focussed reflective L&T practice.”

By the time I left UNSW, I felt the Guidelines were not as well used as intended. This recent comment by an Associate Dean supports this view:

“Useful and thoughtful document-but in reality seldom consulted by new or longer time staff.”

One of the main reasons for this situation is that the systemic embedding process that was part of the overall strategy, and which is described below was only just happening by the time I left. Currently these strategies are no longer being championed by senior management. Another Associate Dean found the Guidelines useful in one way that they were intended to be.

“As Director of Academic Studies, it has been extremely helpful to have a university-wide statement on the objectives and aspirations of teaching, namely the Guidelines on Learning that inform Teaching at UNSW. I have required of all staff within the school that their course outlines address which aspects of these guidelines are addressed by their courses.”

I am so convinced of the value of this approach for helping institutions to move from a Teaching orientation to Learning, that in my retirement I am working with other universities, encouraging them to develop their own Guidelines on Learning. An example is at MIT, where a set of guidelines is being used by the MIT Teaching and Learning Laboratory: http://web.mit.edu/Tll/teaching-materials/guidelines.html.

A new generic website has been created at http://guidelinesonlearning.com/, which is intended to be used as a starter for institutions wishing to create their own guidelines.

REWARD: INCREASED RECOGNITION FOR TEACHING VIA PROMOTION

At almost all universities with whom I have worked, including in my role as an Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) auditor, there is the universal plea from staff that teaching is undervalued and research rules. Even staff who genuinely want to put time into teaching and improve their students learning experience are emotionally torn. They believe or are told by their supervisors that if they want career progression all their effort should be put into research. I realised that however creative I was, there would be no real progress until staff felt that teaching was genuinely valued and rewarded. While other rewards are valued, the one that counts most is promotion; whatever we say as senior managers. However, many times we assure staff that teaching is valued, they simply will not believe us until they can see that it is possible for teaching excellence to be a pathway to promotion, all the way through to professor.

Thus we have to work hard on our promotion processes. one does not demean a university if it is possible to be promoted on excellence in teaching as well as via excellence in research as long as the bar is set high. It is possible for a university to excel in both teaching and research. In fact, this should be our goal. So I started on a long and difficult route to devise a new process for pro- motion on the basis of teaching; helped by an imaginative and committed team. By the time I left, we were on the way and many staff were convinced that good teaching would be recognised and there was a much more robust process in place to recognise good teaching other than via student evaluation ratings.

“The work in improving the status of teaching achievements in the promotional process is still work-in-progress, but the improvements have been marked and greatly appreciated. The forms of evidence needed are now well understood around the university, and the indeed the forms used in applications for promotions and awards also became better known, better designed and more standardised.”

“A very fruitful initiative has been the restructuring of the promotion process to recognise high quality teaching within the university. I have observed the effects of this both as a faculty subcommittee member for promotion based on teaching and learning, and also as a recipient of a promotion to professor, where my teaching and learning initiatives were a significant and recognised factor.”

“The amazement that teaching might really be ‘counted’ in promotion is still seen amongst staff. But this last professorial round, academics were promoted on their ‘teaching’-These were staff who were engaged in the L&T communities and enthused by the possibilities of developing exciting new ways of working with students during the beginnings of the L&T ‘revolution’ at UNSW.”—Associate Dean, 2009

This is not the place to describe the process in detail but there were a few features that may be useful to those wishing to enhance their promotion practices to better recognize good teaching. Another pragmatic fact is that promotion procedures can also be a driver for achieving better teaching and should be an essential part of a systemic approach to teaching effectiveness as described below.

  • Applicants nominate a weighting, within a prescribed range, they want to ascribe to teaching, research and teaching. This allowed a staff member to nominate teaching as their main criterion for promotion.

  • All applicants have to include a teaching portfolio of at least six pages. This included headings such as the “rationale behind your approach to learning and teaching”. This section has the power to influence even those who are putting research achievement as their main contribution

  • All Faculties have to have a Faculty learning and teaching review panel. These panels are responsible for evaluating teaching portfolios, submitted in conjunction with an application for promotion, when applicants have assigned a weighting of 50% or more to their teaching. The panels are required to provide confidential written evaluations for each applicant for the consideration of members of Faculty Promotion Committees and University Promotion Committees. The evaluation must be attached to a cover sheet that includes the names of the members of the corresponding Faculty learning and teaching review panel, and is signed by the Presiding Member and all panel members. This was the breakthrough. Evidence of excellence in teaching became based on genuine peer review, as is research. No longer were student evaluations the sole criterion.

  • Support for Faculty learning and teaching review panels and for academic promotion panels in general is critical. To support staff in articulating their case for teaching without similarly supporting panel members in judging the evidence produced is neither ethical nor effective. Much work was put into the development of workshops for these panels and they were well received by participants.

Another important strategy in getting this process in place was to convince my colleague, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic) who was responsible for promotions, to drive the final stages of drafting procedures, which he happily did.

REWARD: BUDGET ALLOCATION FOR PERFORMANCE IN LEARNING AND TEACHING

While carrying out an AUQA audit of the University of Queensland, I was impressed by a scheme they had in place linking a proportion of faculties’ budgets to performance in learning and teaching. Here was a strategy that could be used to enhance recognition of learning and teaching. There is nothing like money to increase motivation but also if a university is seen to be linking performance in learning and teaching to budgetary allocation then it is seen as a statement that the institution takes teaching seriously. Academics are used to seeing money flow from achievements in research but not in teaching. Thus a process was introduced whereby a significant proportion of a faculty’s budget was to be linked to performance against a set of indicators. Around this time, the Australian Government introduced the Learning and Teaching Performance Fund (LTPF). Allocation of these very substantial monies ($70-100 million per year) was linked to performance against a set of output indicators such as student satisfaction data, completion rates etc. Certainly the introduction of the LTPF helped me convince my colleagues that the introduction of UNSW indicators would be a good thing. This has been very successful and has evolved over the years into a sophisticated process and I have since worked with other universities to introduce similar schemes. The process will be described in detail elsewhere, however it is worth commenting on a number of guiding principles that have contributed to the success of the UNSW Faculty Learning and Teaching Performance Indicators.

  • Each year the indicators need to be agreed to by the PVC and the Associate Deans Education (ADE). This gave the ADEs a sense of involvement and credibility within the Faculty; also an incentive to work with Faculty to improve. They were well placed to identify where change was needed. The discussions about what the indicators would be also contributed to the building of the ADE community.


“I spent time with each Head of School briefing them on what each indicator involved and why it was important, as well as the implications of adequate, if not superior performance for each. The implications included financial benefit. Accompanying financial benefit was recognition and reputation. In the first instance, money provided an incentive for the Head of School and also the financial benefit argument provided me with the entree/legitimacy I needed to interest the Head of School in engagement with Teaching and Learning.”—An Associate Dean

  • The associate deans were responsible, in conjunction with their Dean, to allocate within the Faculty any money awarded for performance against the indicators.

Again this enhanced the authority of the ADEs.

  • Deans were required to supply me as PVC with a document detailing their Faculty’s achievement against the indicators. A small panel, including an external member with significant experience in learning and teaching assessed the submission against an agreed on algorithm and recommended the allocation of funds.

This was important for the transparency of the process and the panel was required to provide feedback to each dean.

  • The indicators should be both input and output measures.

This was initially a major issue between my senior management colleagues and me. As the LTPF was allocated based solely on output indicators, they felt this should be the sole basis for the UNSW indicators. I strongly argued that this provided no opportunity for me or the ADEs to encourage change. Eventually, we came to a compromise of 60% output indicators and 40% input. In a scheme now instituted at Deakin University, this balance is 50%-50%, a much better ratio. It is worth describing two input indicators that illustrate how change can be induced via strategic drafting of input indicators.

Example of input indicators 1

In our analysis of student evaluation data, it was clear that a major cause of dissatisfaction was that students had no clear direction as to what was expected from them. This was despite a directive from the Academic Board that each unit should have a comprehensive out- line with objectives, method of assessment etc. Thus the following output indicator was included:

UNSW Learning and Teaching Performance Indicator 1:
Quality of course outlines and extent of adherence to the UNSW Course Outline Template.

I randomly selected 30 units/courses taught by each faculty and requested the course/ unit outlines provided to the students in that unit/course be included in the Indicators report. The assessment panel reviewed these outlines. Some were appalling and certainly explained why the students felt so ill-informed. Faculties were marked down where this was the case. over the next two years the quality of the course/ unit outlines improved dramatically.

Example of input indicators 2

Despite the quality of the FULT program, Heads of School were not actively encouraging their new staff to attend FULT. Introduction of the indictor below had great impact! The enrolments for FULT went up dramatically.

UNSW Learning and Teaching Performance Indicator 2:
New staff participation in the Foundations of University Learning and Teaching (FULT) program

THE NEED FOR A SYSTEMIC APPROACH

As argued elsewhere, there is a need to take a more holistic and systemic view of quality assurance in learning and teaching in universities (Lee & Boyle, 2008). This is very true for the strategies described above; they need to all link together and be seen to be systemically embedded throughout the institution. All too often our approach to change in universities is piecemeal and isolated. We can come up with some great ideas but unless integrated throughout the institution their chance of having maximum impact is reduced.

Let me illustrate this with an example of embedding the concept of the “Guidelines on Learning” throughout UNSW. I believed that the use of the Guidelines as a reflective tool was potentially one of the best chances of achieving the goal of changing the culture at UNSW and moving from a focus on teaching to a focus on student learning. But how could one encourage the use of the Guidelines throughout the institution? A number of strategies were used.

Firstly, in course/unit outlines as described in the previous sections, an online template was made available to staff to help them prepare effective outlines. A section of the outline was titled “The rationale behind your approach to learning and teaching” with instructions to include a brief statement about the approach to learning and teaching used in the course/unit. The following suggestion was used in the template. “When writing the rationale you might find it useful to draw on the Guidelines on Learning that Inform Teaching at UNSW”.

Next, was inclusion in promotion documentation. In the revised process for promotion, all applicants were expected to include a section on teaching. The Academic Promotion Toolkit included the statement “Evidence of the application of appropriate UNSW Guidelines on Learning that Inform Teaching to the development of courses at both lower and upper level”. The instruction booklet for writing a UNSW Teaching Portfolio included the words, “The UNSW Guidelines on Learning that Inform Teaching are drawn on current educational research and identify ways to best create an environment that interests, challenges and enthuses students while also ensuring, where possible, that what is learnt is engaging and relevant. These guidelines can assist you to identify your particular strengths as a teacher as well as your underlying conception of how students learn most effectively in your discipline”.

Finally, the Guidelines were included in staff development activities. In the early sessions of the FULT Program, staff were asked to reflect on examples of good and poor teaching they had experienced. They were then asked to define a set of principles that could be gained from these combined experiences. This was a perfect lead in to revelation of the existence of the Guidelines. All were given a copy and the Guidelines were continually referred to throughout the FULT Program. All staff were given a booklet called Preparing for Teaching, this included a section on “What is UNSW’s Learning and Teaching philosophy” and the Guidelines were introduced with ideas on how to use the Guidelines in the staff members teaching practice.

By including reference to the Guidelines in all the major policies or activities on learning and teaching, I felt there would be a greater chance of them having maximum impact.

EVIDENCE OF SUCCESS

What I have attempted to do in this article is to describe a major strategy for change in a leading research-intensive university. That is, a change in culture such that teaching is more valued, has improved and that the student experience is enhanced. As a scientist, I appreciate the need for evidence to demonstrate that change has indeed occurred.

Evidence with respect to a change in culture is, I admit, mostly anecdotal. The quotes from UNSW staff scattered throughout this article, are evidence of a mostly very positive response by staff to the initiatives listed.

With respect to the quality of the student experience, the evidence is more solid and quantitative. one of the reasons for the decision to create the position of PVC (Education) was the poor results in the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ) which is administered each year to all Australian university students following graduation. UNSW students were giving low satisfaction responses on items relating to the quality of teaching. on taking up the position, I found that there was an internal student questionnaire being administered every two years and consistently results from this were as poor as with the CEQ. No action was taken in response to these reports as staff generally dismissed them on the basis of low response rates. In my first year as PVC, the internal survey was expanded, adding more items with open-ended questions and targeting a stratified sample until a 40% response rate was achieved. The results showed the same low student satisfaction ratings with respect to teaching as the previous surveys. over the next six years, the results of these surveys did improve. However, the best evidence was provided by the results of the LTPF process. The first allocation of funds was in 2005 based in part on the 2004 CEQ data. These data related to students who would have started their degrees in 1999/2000. UNSW did badly and did not get any funding from the LTPF allocation (being the 33rd ranked University out of 38). In the CEQ-adjusted “satisfaction with good teaching scale” UNSW was rated last out of all universities in Australia. In the 2008 LTPF exercise, which was now ranking student satisfaction and other criteria in discipline categories, UNSW was the top ranked university in the country scoring better and gaining $1.4 million more than any other.

This was a remarkable turnaround from nearly last to first and was clear evidence that UNSW students believed the quality of their learning was good (and much better than the quality perceived by earlier cohorts of students). Given the long lag for the CEQ results and the time taken to implement the many strategies described above, I like to believe that this is evidence of the impact of all those wonderful communities of UNSW academics who felt they had the freedom and support to work on providing a better learning experience for their students. In the words of one Associate Dean (Education):

“There was a fluorescence of creativity regarding Learning and Teaching from the early 2000s in which staff were encouraged and resourced and rewarded to try many new ideas; some worked others didn’t but that is the necessary culture in which to release innovative and wonderful staff-student partnerships in Learning and Teaching. UNSW is now reaping the rich harvest of the passionate and enthusiastic commitment to making Learning  and  Teaching  a  key  aspect  of  a  fine  student experience.”

EPILOGUE: WAS IT WORTH IT?

My six years working to change the culture at a large research-intensive university has reaffirmed my view that it is possible to excel in both research and teaching. We achieved much and it is refreshing and encouraging to see how the communities continue to exist and have impact on the student experience. Many members of the communities have moved on to senior influential positions. Hopefully students will continue to be increasingly satisfied with their experience. This paper has been written to share my experience, describe some initiatives that may be useful to others and to reflect on behaviours of senior management that increase our chances of success. I have never regretted my decision to cross to the “dark side”. It was a privilege to work with those many staff members who passionately believe that good teaching is a fundamental responsibility for all and that students deserve no less.

To those charged with leading a university I reaffirm the key essentials for enhancing teaching quality:

  • There needs to be a senior member (DVC or PVC) on the executive team with a responsibility for teaching quality on a par with the PVC/DVC Research

  • The Vice-Chancellor/President should take special steps to convince staff that the University values and aspires to excellence in teaching

  • Promotion procedures should be such that teaching excellence is comprehensively peer reviewed for those wishing to be promoted for teaching performance by a panel with significant experience in assessing teaching quality. Promotion to full professor should be possible for truly outstanding achievement in teaching

  • A significant proportion of budget should be tied to performance in learning and teaching via achievement of a set of both input and output indicators agreed on by each faculty/department and the DVC/ PVC (Education)

  • Allocation of grant monies for development in learning and teaching should be contingent on awardees attending capacity and community building workshops

  • Special strategies should be developed to form across-discipline communities of staff committed to enhancing the student experience

  • Staff development activities should include major contributions by the universities best teachers who are rewarded for their contribution.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

There are too many committed staff at UNSW that were responsible for the improvements described above to acknowledge by name. However, there are some who deserve special mention. Firstly, my three Vice-Chancellors, who made it all possible by supporting me in my quest to convince the campus that teaching was indeed valued by senior management; John Niland, Rory Hume and Mark Wainwright. Also, Tony Dooley and Carmen Moran who lead the UNSW Academic Board through these exciting times, provided invaluable support. Michele Scoufis, Director of the newly created UNSW Learning and Teaching Unit was an inspiration and played a major role in so many of the initiatives described above. Kathy Takayama put into practice so much of what I had hoped would happen. Patrick Boyle helped me understand what quality assurance in learning and teaching really is. Indelle Scott, my dedicated personal assistant worked so hard to maintain the com- munities. Finally, Sybil Perlmutter and Larry Hulbert provided wisdom in handling people that helped me survive. Also, Nerissa my wife, who encouraged my adventure into senior management, has always supported me in all I have done.


REFERENCES

Chickering, A. & Gamson, Z. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education, AAHE Bulletin, 39(7). Retrieved from http://www.lonestar.edu/multimedia/sevenprinciples.pdf.

Lee, A. & Boyle, P. (2008). Quality assurance for learning and teaching: a systemic perspective. Proceedings of the 2006 International Conference on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. In Ideas on Teaching 6, Retrieved from http://www.cdtl.nus.edu.sg/Ideas/iot536.htm.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Etienne Wenger, Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, E. (2009). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved from http://wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/.

Wenger, E. & Snyder, W. (Jan-Feb 2000). Communities of practice: The organizational frontier. Harvard Business Review, 139-145. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2000/01/communities-of-practice-the-organizational-frontier.

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