Teaching institute on cards

July 11, 1997

THE CREATION of a teaching and learning institute is likely to form a key recommendation of the Dearing inquiry to be published within the next fortnight, writes Alison Utley.

The institute will be charged with improving the effectiveness of university teaching, particularly by emphasising IT-based learning. The Department for Education and Employment is circulating a confidential document promoting IT-based learning, which may concern some vice chancellors who are uneasy about an over-emphasis on technology in teaching.

The institute is also likely to provide a research base for innovation and dissemination of best practice in university teaching, a move which will be widely welcomed.

The institute may also have responsibility for new qualifications for lecturers, a move which finds little support in the old university sector at least.

Currently the role of enhancing teaching and learning falls to the new higher education quality assurance agency. What its future relationship with the institute would be is unclear.

Roger King, chair of the vice chancellors' teaching and learning working party, said he supported the proposal. "A network of good practitioners in teaching to match existing research networks would be a valuable way forward," he said. "But the organisation must have financial clout if it is to innovate properly."

David Baume, co-director of the centre for higher education practice at the Open University, said teaching did not get the recognition it deserved in higher education because of the way the funding regime operated. "There is no incentive to do teaching well because you get the same amount of money whether it is done brilliantly or not," he said. "A teaching and learning institute could steer research and could transform university teaching in to a prestigious, scholarly activity."

* Universities and colleges will be urged to rethink the way they use information technology by the Dearing committee.

The number of oversized lecture and seminar groups could be slashed, freeing up more staff time to focus on tutorials and closer student contact, Diana Laurillard, a member of the committee and pro vice chancellor of the Open University, told The THES this week.

The emphasis for the future should be on better management of the way staff and students use the technology, rather than on spending more to improve systems, Professor Laurillard said.

"Information technology has the potential to fundamentally change the way we do things. Though universities have been investing heavily in new technology, the way they use it has hardly changed over the past 20 years," she said.

The Dearing committee will stress the importance of "getting the balance right" between traditional teaching methods and using the latest hi-tech equipment, she added.

The THES is supporting a one-day colloquium on "IT and Dearing: the implications for HE" on July 31.

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