Teaching offers path to promotion

February 20, 1998

Universities as diverse as Durham and Nottingham Trent are devising new methods of promoting academics on the basis of their teaching records.

Phil Knott, a law professor at Nottingham Trent University, was recently made a professor entirely on the basis of his contribution to learning and teaching.

NTU vice-chancellor Ray Cowell said he was a torch-bearer for a new approach to academic appointments. "For some time we have been looking for ways to collect evidence of good teaching practice that is just as rigorous and verifiable as it is in research," he said.

That evidence can come from a variety of sources, including peer respect, student feedback and teaching quality assessments. The production of high-quality teaching and learning materials and evidence of innovative teaching methods are also important.

"There has been an assumption - which I shared - that professors' appointments are research-based," Professor Knott said. "But this university is taking a fresh look at excellence, and my appointment is intended to send a clear message to others here."

Liverpool University has been experimenting with a peer-review system for teaching for some time. It already has in place a promotions scheme supported by teaching assessment in veterinary science.

The university's voluntary scheme is gaining support and it is about to be extended to the law faculty. Ian Taylor, director of the university's education and assessment unit, said the quality of evidence was paramount for the scheme to gain widespread credibility. Direct observation of teaching is a key part of the assessment. Appraisal is conducted by two colleagues, and Mr Taylor has found that academics welcome the feedback.

Warwick University, another strongly research-led institution, is also using teaching excellence as a basis for promotion to senior lectureships. Several cases have already been accepted, according to Jim Campbell, director of the university's institute of education. He said it had taken several years to establish what evidence was required to show teaching excellence and to decide how it should be judged.

Emphasis is not solely on the quality of presentation in teaching sessions but also on the broader contribution to the process of students' education. This includes course development, continuing education and supervision of postgraduate theses.

At Durham university, a working group is being set up to examine the issue of teaching portfolios in support of promotion. Also under consideration is a one-off award for selected members of staff who show outstanding achievement in teaching.

A university spokesman said: "Despite the difficulties involved in developing a system for making judgements about teaching excellence, universities cannot go on developing research and neglect teaching."

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