An increasing number of universities are beginning to recognise the need to develop a set of recognised qualifications in higher education teaching.This article outlines the attitude of academics towards attending such courses and in particular highlights the author’s experience of attending the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education and Teaching (PGCHET) offered by Queen’s University Belfast (QUB).
The idea of reflective practice was completely unknown to me prior to this year. As a relatively inexperienced lecturer, I was more concerned with how I would be perceived, rather than how I could best relay my knowledge of a subject to my students. However, my goal to be seen as a sage on stage changed dramatically in my first year of teaching at QUB. The impetus for this change came from attending the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education and Teaching (PGCHET) offered by the university. Throughout the PGCHET, I was exposed to educational theory, the central dogma of which was the process of teaching rather than the simple evaluation of teaching.
Good teaching relates to how the subject is best learned by a student and to promote this, to understanding how it can be best taught by the teacher. Ramsden defined the idea of reflective practice in teaching as *finding out about students’ misunderstandings, intervening to change them and creating a context of learning which encourages students to actively engage with the subject matter.* This was further expanded on by Day who placed more emphasis on the need of teachers to internalise and personalise their own theories of teaching.
The ethos behind teacher training in higher education is of continued reflection and evaluation of personal teaching practice. Until recently, academic staff were often employed because of their research background, with teaching sometimes regarded as a peripheral activity. However, when the Dearing report highlighted the need to develop a set of professional standards and recognised qualifications in higher education teaching, QUB became more dedicated to improving teaching practice. Thus in 2004 completion of the PGCHET was made a key feature of the probationary requirements for new teaching fellows, regardless of their teaching experience.
One would imagine that any teacher interested in learning and education would relish the opportunity to improve his or her teaching skills, but this is not always the case. The required attendance at such courses and the establishment of previous recognised qualifications can be met with illfeeling by experienced staff who may be affronted by having to attend. The attitude among some participants was that while the course was good, it should only be compulsory for inexperienced academics, new to dealing with students and untrained in lecture preparation and presentation. The QUB PGCHET provoked some interesting debate and at times quite intense discourse on the requirement for established academics to complete it.
Some participants already had over ten years of teaching experience from a variety of universities, and consistently received complimentary reviews and respectable exam results from students, clear evidence of a successful educationalist. The time spent at the PGCHET and completing the assignments should instead be spent on pursuits with higher value and recognition such as pure research.
Universities have two main responsibilities; to create new knowledge and to teach students. While third level institutions have a well-established reputation for advanced research activity, it is only within the last decade that academic governing councils have begun to focus more intently on their student body and the student experience of teaching and learning. To improve the standard of teaching, the UK Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) developed a specified curriculum to emphasise the values of promoting innovation and good practice.
Accordingly, an increasing number of universities are now demanding that all lecturers, irrespective of their level of experience, develop their knowledge and skills in teaching and learning and engage in reflective practice. The consequences of this can already be felt at QUB. As a result of the PGCHET there is a burgeoning of enthusiasm among staff, and an eagerness to implement new teaching strategies is percolating through the university. A new philosophy is emerging; one that encourages development of teaching approaches which stimulate students to become active learners in their own right. This is a key element for medical education in Northern Ireland, where medical and dental entrants may be products of a didactic secondary education system.
As teachers in higher education we are beginning to break the mould and move away from traditional didactic teaching to a more horizontal focus of student-centered, self-directed learning. In order for our universities to grow, we need to evolve the way we think about our students and challenge the views of some colleagues and managers. Students are not (and should not be) seen as an inconvenience or distraction to research, but as the researchers and investigators of our future.
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|Caption:||What worked, what didn't A group of staff and students reflect on their learning.|
|License:||Used with permission|
|Caption:||Staff and students reflect on teaching styles.|
|License:||Used with permission|