Teaching excellence is high on the policy agenda in higher education (HE) in England. The introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) in the HE White Paper (BIS 2016) heralds an era of unprecedented scrutiny on the quality of teaching in universities, with the government seeking to link the quality of teaching to funding via the TEF. This practice-led project responds directly to this policy focus and the ongoing interest in improving learning and teaching (L & T) in HE.
Our project is underpinned by the belief that improving student learning requires teachers and learners to develop an awareness and understanding about learning collaboratively in the context of their programme. Shaped and informed by current research and cutting edge practice in the field of observation, we propose an innovative and collaborative model of observing L & T, involving students and teaching staff. Our model will be driven by shared values around developing and promoting excellence amongst staff and students. The primary aim of this project is to create a sustainable and collaborative model of observations, which will empower students to play an active role in shaping their learning experience, and result in the development of a framework for continuous improvement in L & T practices across HE programmes.
A key feature of this innovative and experimental project is the way in which it aims to reconceptualise and reconfigure the use of observation as a method to enhance L & T practices. The design of the project is informed by recent research, led by the Principal Investigator, on the use and impact of observation in post-compulsory education settings (e.g. O’Leary & Wood 2016; O’Leary 2016). These studies have revealed that assessment-based models of observation that seek to measure teaching performance can often be a deterrent to developing innovations in practice. In addition, most teaching observation models fail to provide meaningful opportunities to involve students.
Our project therefore aims to address this disjuncture by putting student voice and their active involvement in informing and shaping L & T practice at the heart of this innovation. Removing observation from the context of assessment creates a safe, low stakes environment for reflection and dialogue between staff and students. In doing so, this opens up new opportunities for the way in which observation can be used as a lens for informing staff and student understanding of effective L & T. The involvement of students as co-observers, co-reflectors and co-researchers, as well as equal partners in shaping an enhanced teaching experience and in turn an enhanced SLE, is an illustration of the project’s innovative and experimental methodology.