Teaching intelligence: building a global community for pedagogy

Three academics in the International Federation of National Teaching Fellows discuss learning from colleagues around the world about how to improve teaching

January 2, 2020

The International Federation of National Teaching Fellows was the idea of two academics who were national teaching fellows in their respective countries: Elizabeth Wells, chair of 3M Teaching Fellows in Canada, and Kirsten Hardie, who was chair of the committee of the Association of National Teaching Fellows in the UK from 2012 to 2015.  

They wanted to enable colleagues to link up and work collaboratively on an international scale. Over several years, and many conversations, they developed the IFNTF’s core mission: to bring together award-winning teachers from across the world for the advancement of learning and teaching in higher education. The organisation draws together national teaching fellow members from across Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand but also has strong links with colleagues across several further countries.

Members work together to develop evidence-based pedagogy, innovative scholarship and research. The federation has held two world summits that bring together teaching fellows to talk about pedagogy and their teaching practice. These events allow members to share and learn from each other and, crucially, to adopt and adapt their practice and strategies in their own institutions, according to Dr Hardie, an associate professor at Arts University Bournemouth.

This kind of sharing “enables colleagues to understand important higher education developments and relevant cultural and social perspectives from a range of different countries”, Dr Hardie said. “We can learn about different contexts of learning in different countries and draw from the experience of others to inform our own practice.”

Networking internationally “to discuss experiences, to test ideas, to gain criticism and advice regarding pedagogic work” was incredibly beneficial, she added. “Opportunities for discussion and to read the work of others, and to learn with and from our students is a vital part of our learning.”

Professor Wells, the Pickard-Bell chair in music at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, said that there were many challenges in this kind of in-depth exchange of ideas on an international scale, including finding funding for travel, getting the right people together for the right projects, time zones, and the different yearly schedules of universities. However, she explained that comparing terminology, evaluation systems and the way that universities are set up provides an insight into how to make institutions better serve teachers and teaching.

Sue Palmer-Conn, vice-president of IFNTF, agreed that it was not easy in the current financial climate to organise face-to-face exchanges, but that the use of technology can helpfully facilitate “co-teaching, co-research and co-development of curricula”.

Dr Palmer-Conn, associate professor in psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, added that the benefits of student-centred teaching have become clear across the organisation’s work. “Students learn best through experiential learning approaches. Involving students in co-creating the curriculum prepares them for a multitude of opportunities,” she said.

Through this work, the organisation has found many areas of potential collaboration. “When problem-based learning and teaching is developed by professionals in the field from across the globe, imagine the possibilities of students sharing knowledge and experience via a global classroom,” said Dr Palmer-Conn.

Through its members, the federation has accumulated “a rich array of innovative pedagogic strategies”, she said. She highlighted the work of Andrew Walsh, who teaches information skills at the University of Huddersfield and whose work in game-based learning was “intriguing” and can hopefully be shared across the world.

The benefit of pedagogical exchange is not just between countries but across different disciplines, the academics involved in the federation say. Members come from “myriad specialist disciplines”, Dr Hardie said. “We can learn new tricks of the trade and be inspired by the new, unusual and different pedagogic practice of others,” she added.

If institutions want to improve their teaching “certainly we would encourage institutions to support their teachers financially and emotionally on this journey”, Professor Wells said. “We are always looking for partners who would like to join us in launching projects around teaching globally and to help to connect to our members,” she continued.

Dr Palmer-Conn added that while the group was mostly active in the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, they are looking to help other countries develop their own National Teaching Fellowship schemes and to become members of the federation. “Teaching excellence is not confined to a few countries, it is global and our aspiration is to become a global community of practice…Our members are keen to work with any person or organisation who wants to improve their teaching,” she said.  

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Print headline: Learning with and from our students

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