Sir Anthony Seldon ,the Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham ,in a new pamphlet for the Social Market Foundation think tank, lays out his vision on how to enhance, professionalise and make more consistent the quality of teaching at British universities for undergraduates and postgraduates, without burdening universities with a heavy, costly bureaucracy ,which runs the risk of delivering drab, formulaic teaching.
Much can be learnt ,he says, from the Secondary sector. Sir Anthony draws on his experience as a successful teacher and Head , who transformed two schools in the private sector.(Brighton College and Wellington College)
There is a perception that Universities spend too much time focused on building up their reputation for research ,and too little in ensuring that their students benefit from, and are inspired by, good teaching.
Sir Anthony says:
” “Universities should be every bit as much about the interests of the student as the academics. Yet it is abundantly clear in too many universities today that the leadership and the academics care far more about their research than about the quality of the learning experience of their students”
Sir Anthony identifies the ‘Big Ten’ characteristics that all good teaching exhibits:
Engagement of all students. In the digital age, it is more vital than ever that teachers learn how to actively engage the attention of their students.
Deep teacher subject knowledge, informed by the latest research / scholarship. Digitalisation means that students more than ever before can have access to information in real-time. Teachers need, as never before, to be on top of their fields, and to have a depth of understanding, in order to set the ubiquitous information into context.
Clarity of teacher exposition / organisation, and understanding of course requirements. Far too often, teachers can be unclear in their communication, or can fail to spread the material to be studied out over the time available in a balanced way. Students need to feel complete confidence that their teacher understands what they need to learn, and the pace at which learning is to take place.
Forging of positive relations, and a genuine and felt desire to see students make progress. Students learn better when they have a good relationship with their teacher. Students have a right to feel that their teachers have a positive interest in their academic development.
Willingness and skill at engaging in discussion and debate, and asking challenging questions. The best teachers know how to pose the questions that make the students think. Great teachers let the students work out the answers, rather than tell them the answers themselves.
Highest expectations, which stretch all students. The best teachers know exactly how high each student can aspire, and helps them to achieve at that level.
Setting and assessment of purposeful and relevant assignments. Assignments are vital as a way of testing understanding, and consolidated learning. Assessment by the teacher needs to show the student what they need to do to improve.
Ability to communicate in a differentiated way appropriate to the capabilities and potential of students. Classes are made up of students of vastly different capabilities and needs. The great teacher understands each individual student and addresses them appropriately. Learning is the end, and the best teachers help the student to become autonomous learners.
Promotion and achievement of independent learning, recognising that most learning will take place away from the academic.
Technical mastery, e.g. a voice that projects well and is audible, and mastery of technology. There is no point in having teachers, however brilliant and empathetic, if they cannot be heard clearly, or if they can’t use technology appropriately.
Solving the Conundrum-Social Market Foundation -May 2016
Note- The most recent University Guide places the University of Buckingham top for ‘student satisfaction’, ahead of Oxford and Cambridge and other elite universities in the Russell Group.