Agony Aunt

March 12, 1999

Q) Shouldn't universities be promoting lecturers on the basis of their teaching ability rather than just their publication record?

A frustrated pedagogue

A) Yes they should and, more critically, they should be appointing on the basis that individuals are likely to be excellent teachers. Sadly the evidence is that they do not.

This is despite very strong research results showing that promotion policies are one of the key ways to improve teaching and learning.

There is much concern about this issue internationally. Many universities in the United States, for example, require job candidates to hold a colloquium for staff about their teaching. This is often combined with a presentation to students as well.

This is an integral part of the selection process. Quite a few are also rethinking their promotion policies to ensure they support quality teaching.

We really ought to be holding universities to account on this. After all, it is parents', and students', money they are spending, or not spending, on promoting of excellent teaching.

We should not be concentrating all our efforts on senior and principal lecturer grades.

I wonder how many professorships around the country are awarded fundamentally on the quality of teaching and learning?

Alan Jenkins

Professor of geography and higher education, Oxford Brookes University

A) We are one of the few universities that have gone down this route and now have in place a promotion system for teaching fellows. These are the equivalent of readers in the research route. We have three teaching fellows, but there is no limit and we hope to have many more in the future.

Candidates put forward a portfolio of evidence based on four values: dialogue, collaboration, flexibility and self awareness. We also observe lectures and take account of student evaluation of teaching effectiveness and external examiners' reports. Candidates may, for example, show evidence of self-awareness by adapting their performance to take account of how students perceive them. They might also show how they have identified and overcome problems. The scheme has come as a huge relief to academics really interested in teaching because it offers them a legitimate avenue of recognition.

Hazel Fullerton

Head of learning development Plymouth University

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