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The Teaching Excellence Award: Was it worth the effort?

Bob Dunstan, Peta Edwards, Susan Fyfe, Dianne Budd, Ian Lee, Eleanor Shapiro and Marietjie Doornbusch
School of Biomedical Sciences
Curtin University of Technology

The decision to submit

The decision to make a submission for this award was based on the recognition that the School could produce a portfolio with a significant chance of success, combined with strong encouragement from the Executive Dean of Health Sciences. It was further enhanced by the willingness of the key players in teaching and learning research and development in the School to be involved. The School immediately set up a committee of these staff chaired by the Head of School and supported by a project officer, the latter funded by the School.

In a School as diverse as Biomedical Science it is hard to keep track of all that is happening in teaching and learning. In early May we realised that the preparation of this submission would be a lengthy task as much of the information we needed was not centrally located within the School but resided with individuals. However we could see that, aside from the prestige in winning the Inaugural Teaching Excellence Award (TEA), there would be many advantages to the School. In having a central portfolio representing our teaching and learning activities we would provide for ourselves, our prospective students and stakeholders in our degree programs, information about how we approach teaching and learning within the School.

Gathering our resources

We decided that our first task was to collect relevant information from every member of the teaching staff. A database of processes, procedures and resources in development and those already in place for the criteria was produced and staff associated with each database item identified. From previous projects within the School we knew that the best way to do this was to approach staff personally and individually. As a result, interviews were held with each staff member to gather information and also to prompt staff to recall incidents from their own experience in teaching and learning which might otherwise remain unreported. Concurrently, documented evidence such as policy statements and meeting minutes held by the School was collected for the portfolio.

Drafting the criteria statements

We decided on a format that we thought would best present the evidence and brainstormed the information which we felt best represented each criterion. Each member of the team was then allocated between one and three criteria to draft. We decided that we would provide a snapshot of the way we met each criterion and provide an exemplar, which showed the School's commitment and experience in meeting each criterion. As the writing progressed the team met regularly to revise the drafts. This process continued throughout June and July until we had draft statements for each criterion which we felt accurately and fairly represented the teaching and learning strengths of the School.

Creating the final document

Drawing the individual criteria into a whole document was an extremely time intensive exercise with the team often meeting three or more times during a week. We wanted to ensure that our document reflected our strengths but also recognised where we needed to improve. Much of our time was committed to refining our statements and making sure that we could substantiate our claims with evidence. We decided that the best way for the portfolio reviewers to easily check our claims was to provide a table of cross referenced evidence for each criterion. Thus as each statement was developed the evidence of our achievements was added as an integral part of the criterion statement.

Limiting the submission to 20 pages was a challenge. We had many examples of our approaches to teaching and learning and wanted to include them all! However we realised that we also wanted to make the reading of the document easy and enjoyable and thus we maintained a font size and format which we thought would achieve this aim.

The excerpt from the portfolio below shows the format in which the overview and strengths for each criterion were listed, with evidence to support our claim. The exemplar provided a "real life" example of the way in which we had met the criterion.

Criterion II

Provides effective induction programs and start up help for new and sessional staff.


The School provides a supportive environment for new and sessional staff to develop their teaching and learning skills. The School employs a number of sessional staff for major service teaching commitments in Human Biology, Microbiology and Medical Laboratory Science units. Support mechanisms for staff involved with these units include a School induction program, problem solving sessions involving the CEA, weekly meetings either as a group or individually with unit coordinators and the provision of Tutors' Manuals.

Indicators and outcomesPortfolio X-Ref
  • Time release for new staff to prepare new teaching materials
  • School induction programs for sessional staff
  • Weekly meetings with other sessional staff and/or unit coordinators
  • Comprehensive Tutors' Manuals provided
  • Mentoring of new staff by staff within the School
  • Problem solving sessions with CEA
Criterion III (5)
Criterion II (2)
Criterion II (2)
Criterion II (1)
Criterion II (2)


Exemplar: Human Biology

All new sessional and continuing staff involved in teaching Human Biology 133 (HB133) attend an induction program at the beginning of the semester. The program is a one day intensive workshop that models the teaching and learning approach used in the unit. The program is continued with weekly tutors' meetings which allow staff to share their experiences and provide the opportunity for more experienced staff to support and encourage new staff. This has been an important aspect of the movement away from a didactic teaching role for the tutor to one of facilitation. This approach has provided staff with an opportunity for reflection and support and has decreased the anxiety previously experienced by new staff. Special evening sessions addressing specific issues which may be worrying tutors or inhibiting their role are conducted in conjunction with the CEA. Tutors' Manuals are provided for all staff teaching in HB133.

What did we gain from undertaking the submission?

At times we wondered whether we had bitten off more that we could chew. As the document came together however we realised that we had, for the first time, really investigated our approaches to teaching and learning. We realised that there are many different ways staff within the School interact with students and their learning. We could see that many staff have an interest in innovative teaching and learning and have done some wonderful things in difficult times. We saw the results of the efforts of staff members in the First Year Experience Program and in developing open and flexible learning for both on and off campus students. Our work in developing laboratory exercises for students studying completely without on campus experience has culminated in a Life Sciences degree offered completely in the distance mode. We also saw the effort that the School and individual staff members make to cater for students with special needs.

An important aspect of the submission was that it also highlighted our weaknesses, probably more clearly than any regular review process. As we were required to provide evidence of our achievements it became pretty clear when such evidence was missing. Whilst the focus of our submission was on our achievements, the process allowed us to identify our weaknesses and plan changes to improve our performance.

As a result of this process the team involved gained a deeper knowledge of teaching and learning in our School, our strengths and weaknesses and where improvements are needed. Each staff member has received a copy of the submission. This provides a body of shared knowledge which can now be used to inform our processes to improve teaching and learning in the School.

We also recognised the advantages which preparing the submission would have outside the School. Biomedical Sciences has been active in developing off shore markets for programs in medical science and is constantly looking for opportunities to offer our courses or units overseas. Many countries in Asia and the Pacific region have medical science courses to Diploma level only and there is an opportunity for us to help their staff upgrade their knowledge and skills within their own working context. The Teaching Excellence Award Portfolio will be a valuable tool in developing these markets. Whilst highlighting our strengths in teaching and learning practice it also shows our strengths in research and development in teaching and learning, which may help us develop research links or consultancies in teaching and learning development in other institutions. The TEA portfolio will be also available on our website and will provide prospective students with information about quality, breadth and depth of teaching and learning opportunities within the School.

Although the Teaching Excellence Award will be a biannual event within the University we will update our portfolio on an annual basis. We have an advantage in that our LEAP program has developed a means on rewarding staff for their work in teaching and learning. The Teaching Quantum provides documented evidence of teaching and learning awards and grants, research papers and presentations, major teaching developments and activities such as service on University committees related to teaching and learning and use of new and existing technology. As Teaching Quantum claims are completed and processed by March of each year, updating the School's Teaching and Learning Portfolio can be an ongoing and relatively painless task. The evidence from staff claims will provide the school with a current and valuable asset in showcasing Teaching and Learning in Biomedical Sciences.

Our success in winning the Inaugural Teaching Excellence Award for Schools is an added bonus in our efforts to market our school's strengths. It validates our claims in a very public way and we hope that it will provide us with a market edge in these very competitive times.

So yes, it was worth the effort, and not only because we won!

Please cite as: Dunstan, R., Edwards, P., Fyfe, S., Budd, D., Lee, I., Shapiro, E. and Doornbusch, M. (2001). The Teaching Excellence Award: Was it worth the effort? In A. Herrmann and M. M. Kulski (Eds), Expanding Horizons in Teaching and Learning. Proceedings of the 10th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 7-9 February 2001. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2001/dunstan.html

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