Case for lessons in teaching

August 16, 1996

A rich vein of discontent with the quality of teaching in universities has been tapped by graduate Anna Tobin.

Anna Tobin provided an articulate case for arguing that "students' needs have low priority within the higher education system". I would like to agree with her in general terms when she argues that teaching in universities needs to be given higher priority. Here at the University of East London we are endeavouring to provide appropriate training for staff new to teaching in higher education and also to raise the status of teaching and curriculum development by providing promotion opportunities for those who are excellent teachers and committed to educational development.

At UEL all staff with less than two years' experience of teaching in higher education must engage with our Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning, which is accredited by the Staff and Educational Development Association. This requires staff to meet standards of competence that go well beyond being able to teach dogs to sit!

We monitor standards of teaching and professional conduct through our annual review process. Our student participation committee oversees a university-wide questionnaire, provides guidance on feedback within units, and supports the education unit in the student union which works with student representatives on course committees.

We encourage all subject areas to treat learning and teaching issues seriously through our Quality Improvement in Learning and Teaching process, which provides resources to support all subject areas in development projects. We also have an MA in learning and teaching, an award based on critical reflection on professional practice, and a research network to encourage research projects that examine the impact of teaching on student learning.

In order to reward those staff who devote themselves to managing student learning and developing new approaches to teaching with adequate status and remuneration, we have begun to appoint readers in educational development within subject departments.

All of this cannot guarantee that tutors will have sufficient expertise in supporting student learning or that they will always prioritise the students' needs. There are gaps with regard to part-time lecturers. Nor can it compensate for the shortage of resources. But it is an attempt to overcome the traditional resistance to applying to teaching the professional approach which we take for granted in research. Our students, like Ms Tobin, deserve no less.

David Gosling Head of educational development University of East London.

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