What is Teaching Excellence in Higher Education?

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Teaching Excellence in Higher Education

Dear Colleagues, I thought you might be interested in this Blog that I wrote for the HEA’s discussion about ‘Teaching Excellence for Student Success’. I have pasted the Bolg below and, as you will see, I have commented on ‘research-intensive teaching/learning’, and I have shared the work we are doing here at Birmingham to support staff with MicroCPD.

You can join/follow the HEA discussion here…  https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/individuals/strategic-priorities/teaching-excellence-for-student-success?utm_source=CRM&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Corporate%20-%20Teaching%20Excellence&utm_content=VC%20Newsletter

…and on Twitter: #TESS_HE

Professor Kathleen Armour FAcSS, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), University of Birmingham


Questions about the nature of ‘teaching excellence’ tend to provoke rather generic responses that reflect our particular interests/passions. A scan of the #TESS_HE tweets to date tells us that teaching excellence is about: inspiring, shared understanding, collaboration, technology, motivation, valuing industry experience (in capital letters!), supporting all to succeed, experiential learning, employers, flexibility… etc. No surprises there, then.

Moreover, adding the descriptor ‘for student success’ to ‘teaching excellence’ is surely unnecessary because it is impossible to imagine teaching being excellent if it is not focussed on helping students to succeed (learn) in one way or another.

On the other hand, questions about ‘Teaching Excellence in Higher Education’ are more interesting because the specific higher education context matters, students in higher education are adults and, where courses are vocational, use of the terms ‘higher’ and ‘education’ suggest that what is going on is broader than ‘training’.  So, teaching excellence in higher education is teaching that meets the diverse needs and aspirations of diverse adult learners in and through the fields/subjects/vocations of their choice. The question remains: what does this mean in practice?

Well, TEF and OfS aside, here are my non-negotiables for teaching excellence in the specific context of a research-intensive university:

1.Teaching is research-intensive and it engages students in research-intensive learning (a more dynamic concept than ‘research-led teaching’).

2.Teaching meets the diverse learning needs of diverse student learners (which means we need to know our learners).

3.Teaching practices are professional in that tutors routinely use and contribute to the best available research evidence on how students learn (so career-long learning about teaching is not optional).

4.Teaching is connected to the wider society (which links to employability, sustainable development goals, interdisciplinarity, and much more).

5.Teaching recognises that students are adults who work alongside tutors to co-create new knowledge for better futures (the really challenging and exciting part of higher education).

There is more, of course, and I look forward to comments that will undoubtedly highlight what I have missed.

I do, however, want to highlight point 3 in my list. We will have to find new, realistic ways to support our academic colleagues through their careers if they are to meet the exacting demands of ‘teaching excellence in higher education’. Here at the University of Birmingham, we have launched a new institute – the Higher Education Futures institute (HEFi) – that is focussed on future-focussed, teaching excellence in higher education. https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/university/hefi/index.aspx. Through HEFi, we are experimenting with distributing ‘MicroCPD’ each week to all staff in the university. MicroCPD has a very specific format [90 second video – follow-up text – link to a key resource] that is designed to be accessible for busy academics. A different topic is covered each week so staff can follow up areas of interest.

We are very much feeling our way with this – and we will get better – but the response from academics so far has been positive. Colleagues are also beginning to come forward with offers to contribute topics to the MicroCPD bank – which is great news. If you are doing something similar in your institutions and you have wisdom to share – please do let us know as we would love to learn from your experiences.

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1 thought on “What is Teaching Excellence in Higher Education?”

  1. Dear Kathy,

    Thank you for sharing your blog. I found the way you interpreted ‘higher education’ is interesting and innovative. Indeed, what is the distinction between higher education and general education, and if it is ‘higher’, what the ‘higher’ represents? I imagine that higher education is the kind of education aspires higher purpose, that our students not only seek personal excellence but also promote the welfare of the common good.

    I agree with the above five aspects of teaching excellence, I have 0.5 aspect to add. I say 0.5 as it not exclusively for teaching. However, it is the most important ‘mediator’ between teaching and learning – that is assessment. Effective and consistent assessment enhance teaching and learning excellence; thus, it is worth noting.

    I look forward to hearing your and colleague’s thoughts.

    Best wishes,

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