|[ Teaching and Learning Forum 2001 ] [ Proceedings Contents ]|
...that many academics do not believe their institutions genuinely value good teaching and recognise the contributions of good teachers. There is widespread suspicion of universities' claims that they already do so through their existing policies and procedures. Staff believe that corporate action and demonstrated support are more important than rhetoric about rewarding university teaching (Ramsden, Margetson, Martin & Clarke, 1995, p. vi).At Curtin University of Technology, the Office of Teaching and Learning has implemented various teaching development strategies over the past six years, guided by the University's Teaching and Learning Plan. The Teaching and Learning Plan, which was developed in 1994, has five main objectives, two of which encourage reflective teaching practice and the promotion of excellence in teaching through reward and recognition processes. A number of benchmarks in the Plan reflect the findings of studies such as Ramsden et al. (1995) and trends in higher education policy. The Plan emphasises the need for the University to demonstrably value teaching and learning and to put in place systems for the recognition and reward of teaching excellence.
Scrutiny of documentation associated with the Teaching and Learning Plan shows it is also responsive to a study commissioned by the University's Academic Board and Curtin's Teaching and Learning Committee. In a comprehensive mail survey of all full time academics at Curtin, Baker (1993) investigated how academic staff perceived teaching was valued across the University. He found that 72% of Curtin staff perceived that the University did not properly reward good teaching. Also, in over 30% of the comments, academic staff suggested that the quality of teaching would improve if there was less emphasis on research and more recognition of teaching excellence, particularly in the promotion process. He reported that:
...while staff felt both research and teaching were important they consistently rated teaching as more important; however, they perceived the current institutional values were heavily weighted toward research to the detriment of teaching at Curtin. The phrase 'lip service only' was most frequently used in the staff's written responses to how teaching was valued at the university level (Baker, 1993, p. 68).It was against this background that the Innovative Teaching Practice (ITP) program was implemented in 1999 in order to advance Objective 5 of Curtin's Teaching and Learning Plan:
To promote, recognise and reward quality teaching and learningThe 1999 ITP program aimed to provide recognition for outstanding performance in teaching by individuals and teaching teams and to promote and disseminate their contribution to exemplary teaching practice across Curtin. During 2000, with funding made available by the Vice-Chancellor, the ITP program was expanded into a teaching reward program. The Innovative Teaching Practice Award (ITPA) program provides up to 10 Awards of $2000 for individual(s)/teams and one biennial Teaching Excellence Award (TEA) of $30,000 for Schools. This paper provides an overview of the Teaching Excellence Award (TEA) program at Curtin and describes the procedures involved in preparing the applications as well as the criteria against which the submissions were judged. We also explore some of the outcomes of the ITPA in terms of the program's contribution to teaching development, team building and the planning process of participating Schools at Curtin.
The conditions of the TEA state that Executive Deans, Directors, or Heads of Schools, in consultation with relevant Committees and staff in their Division/Branch/School, may propose the nomination of any Schools. The scope and flexibility of the nomination process is in line with Ramsden et al's (1995) recommendations for 'corporate action and demonstrated support'. The involvement of Executive Deans and Directors was considered important in order to raise the profile of good teaching and learning within Divisions and Branches. In this regard, a number of Heads interviewed commented on the involvement of their Executive Deans in the nomination process:
[The Executive Dean] saw the advertising for the Award and he actually suggested to me...that the School should apply for it. It certainly was a reinforcement...(HS2)Nominated Schools then had to prepare a Portfolio Summary document based on the School's Teaching and Learning Portfolio to address the Award criteria. The criteria for the Award were developed in consultation with key stakeholders across the University and in light of recent literature on benchmarking the quality of university teaching and learning. For example, McKinnon, Walker & Davis (2000) notes that "Good teaching depends on the extent to which staff adopt and are rewarded for a scholarly approach to their teaching" (Benchmark 6.3, McKinnon, 2000). They also argue that at present in Australia there are no national instruments available which evaluate the quality of teaching (McKinnon, 2000). However, at Curtin and in many universities individual staff are now expected to maintain a portfolio of evidence about their own teaching which demonstrates the standards expected by the institution. The TEA program utilises the development of a School Portfolio in the same way, that is, to demonstrate a scholarly approach to teaching and an organisational environment within the School that will ensure the very best teaching standards.
[The Executive Dean] was very forceful and persuasive in his insistence that ...everyone should participate. There was strong support from [the Executive Dean] (HS1)
The TEA guidelines detailed the nomination and judging process and provided the criteria against which the applications would be judged. Schools were advised that their Portfolio Summary documents should address the criteria with reference to appropriate evidence and relevant exemplars to support claims of excellence. The Portfolio Summary document needed to demonstrate that the School:
The process of selecting the most deserving recipient of this inaugural Teaching Excellence Award was carefully conducted. ...Each of the nine schools received detailed written comments on its submission. The short-listing decision was in the hands of a panel with representatives from all Divisions and Branches, the Centre for Educational Advancement, the Student Guild, University Academic Board, and Planning and Management Committees. Then came the visits to the three short-listed Schools, which made presentations, provided documentation, and made staff and students available for interview. After all that, the panel met again to arrive at its difficult final decision (Reid, 2000).
It was also evident that to some extent the approach adopted by the School reflected how Heads envisaged the documents were to be used as well as the budget allocated for the preparation of the application. For example, some Heads noted:
I'm going to present this [the submission] at a United Nations conference in Bangkok. (HS9)All but one Head mentioned that the submission would be used for purposes other than the TEA. After the Judging Panel had selected a short-list, the Chair of the Judging Panel wrote to each of the Heads to provide feedback to all Schools submitting a Portfolio Summary document. This feedback was considered an important aspect of the Award process in terms of encouraging reflective teaching practice at the School level.
It [the submission] is going straight into the annual report with some additions like staff profiles ...and it will also be presented to the advisory board. (HS4)
We've immediately given our [off shore] partners a copy ...it shows that we're coming from a position of strength ...and subject to our own audits and internal quality checks and assurances. (HS3)
We'll be using it as a marketing tool. (HS2)
The TEA guidelines also specified that the Judging Panel could, at its discretion, visit short-listed Schools to seek further information and clarification on aspects of the Portfolio Summary. A four member panel of the TEA Judging was convened to visit the short-listed Schools, as noted above. Heads were requested to make relevant documentation available for inspection as well as staff and students of the School for interview. Finally, the guidelines of the TEA specified that the Portfolio Summary documents of finalists in the Teaching Excellence Award would be made available on the ITP website as examples of best practice in teaching at the School level.
The difficulties in arriving at a decision to determine the recipient of the 2000 TEA was noted by Reid (2000):
The panel's decision making task was difficult for obvious reasons. Good teaching happens in many parts of the University; there is no single school that outclasses all the rest. And no two Schools are identical in size, structure, history, resources and disciplinary/professional context, so there is the usual problem of comparing apples with oranges.
Reflective practice is always a very healthy thing for a school and any management entity...it gave us an excellent launching pad for our annual report and it was motivation because it had a deadline...it made us work. (HS4)It was also apparent that some of the outcomes of the Teaching Excellence Award included spin offs with respect to team building and leadership within participating schools. For example,
I think what it [preparing the submission] does do is it helps us understand where our teaching is at...and perhaps where it needs to improve (HS8)
The other useful purpose [of the application] is that people have managed to look at themselves, into each of their units and they can see...positive things. (HS9)
It's part of my duty to support staff right the way through in teaching...It is part of my role to be a champion. (HS7)However, there were also areas where those interviewed could identify ways in which the TEA could be improved. For instance, apart from the 'apples and oranges' criticism mentioned by a number of Heads and the time and effort involved in preparing the application, there were also concerns about the guidelines and criteria for the Award.
... my first response was to send an email to all our staff saying I think that we should try for this [the TEA] and I'd like to put a working party together please indicate your interest. Within a couple of days [after the Award was announced] four or five academics expressed an interest, so I convened a working party and I chaired that working party through the whole process... (HS2)
I put it to the management committee that it would be...a good thing to actually stand up and be counted to actually stand up and be counted, and see how we fared against everybody else. (HS3)
As far as team building is concerned, the Award has contributed to that...the whole School acted as a team. (HS7)
I certainly think the criteria do need to be clear...I didn't think we were talking about comparative documents...I thought we were [meant to be] talking about meeting Curtin's requirements...(HS7)Nevertheless, overall the transcripts of the interviews and other informal feedback from participants show that all Heads of Schools and staff participating in the 2000 TEA program felt that it was a worthwhile exercise.
...The guidelines were too restrictive. They didn't take into account things like our curriculum [which] is very broad based. It's a model for what the university needs. Our [students] do German, Japanese, Psychology...none of these things are mentioned...and yet this is meeting Curtin's goals and we've actually got an award for this. (HS4)
A very useful document ...It's good public relations for a start but more important it builds the morale of the School. ...I think it makes people feel that the teaching they're doing is respected and that we're interested in encouraging them to improve their teaching, style and delivery. (HS4)Moreover, as noted by Reid (2000),
Despite the considerable effort involved and the fact that only one of the nine can be the designated winner this year, Heads and staff from each School have indicated that they do feel it has been worthwhile to participate.Clearly, whilst teaching awards may have some limitations, our experience at Curtin suggests that they can also be a valuable strategy for institutional teaching development purposes, particularly if they are tied in with other documentation processes such as School teaching portfolios, annual reviews or for marketing purposes.
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|Authors: Barbara Groombridge, Office of the Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor|
Martijntje M Kulski, Centre for Educational Advancement
Curtin University of Technology
Please cite as: Groombridge, B. and Kulski, M. M. (2001). Recognising teaching excellence at the School level: Processes, products and outcomes. 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/groombridge.html