Damage controller or perfection seeker? It may all come down to training

Study suggests students taught by academics with teaching qualifications are more likely to pass, but less likely to get first-class scores

November 26, 2015
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Are you a damage controller or a perfection seeker in the classroom? The answer, according to one study, may depend on whether or not you have a teaching qualification.

Research at an Australian university found that undergraduates were less likely to fail modules taught by lecturers who held a doctorate and a higher education teaching qualification than they were classes led by academics with only a PhD, but were also less likely to achieve a distinction, the equivalent of a first-class score.

Some 72 per cent of modules taught by academics with teaching certificates had average student scores on the boundary between a pass and a credit, equivalent to a lower- and upper-second respectively, compared with 52 per cent of classes led by staff without a teaching qualification.

Dennis Bryant, who conducted the study as part of his doctoral research at the University of Canberra, and Alice Richardson, assistant professor in mathematics and statistics at the institution, suggest that completing a teaching qualification gives academics “an ability to help students bypass…failure and move towards academic integration”.

These academics, they say, can be described as “damage controllers”. However, they add, such individuals “may not be well placed to recognise and reward driven students”.

The researchers argue that academics who hold only doctorates can be described, in contrast, as “perfection seekers”.

They appear to have an “impatience with non-perfection”, as evidenced by the higher number of failures, but they also seem to “seek out and reward student excellence”.

The study, published in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, comes as levels of staff training are being considered as a possible metric for the teaching excellence framework (TEF).

Analysis of 198 classes, some with several hundred students, found that among modules taught by academics with a teaching qualification, 2 per cent produced student results that averaged a fail, with 41 per cent averaging a pass. Forty-eight per cent produced results averaging a credit, and 8 per cent averaged a distinction.

Among classes taught by lecturers without a teaching qualification, the average results were: 5 per cent fail; 39 per cent pass; 36 per cent credit; and 21 per cent distinction.

Paul Ashwin, professor of higher education at Lancaster University, said that while some academics might believe that professional development is responsible for “turning everyone into bog-standard teachers” and muzzling “inspirational mavericks”, the article underestimated the role that departmental and institutional culture could have on learning.

“Teaching is not primarily an individual endeavour,” he said. “It is about quality teams designing units in discussion with each other and modules fitting into overall programme design.”

A high number of distinctions could reflect poor assessment design as much as effective teaching, Professor Ashwin added.


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