The Higher Education sector is grappling with cultural changes. Increasing emphasis is being placed on meeting the demands and expectations of students by continuously improving their experience whilst not diluting academic quality (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2018). At the same time, the focus on teaching and learning (which we argue are core components in achieving high academic quality) has been challenged by the demands of HE metrics and the focus on achieving high rankings (Duhs, 2018, Scott, 2013). Debates about ‘excellence’ are established around policy initiatives such as the Excellence Frameworks (both Research: REF and Teaching: TEF), and these can shift the focus from the process of creating and sustaining excellence in teaching and learning.
Given the current HE climate institutions need to recognise at a strategic level the importance of excellent teaching, learning and assessment in genuinely engaging students in transformative learning. Indeed, many institutions have fora which bring together academic staff to talk about teaching and learning issues, but engagement with these within the current context of competing priorities can be challenging. How then to surmount these challenges?
Recognising similarities across disciplines and faculties
One innovative mechanism involves harnessing synergies across different disciplines (at a meso-level). This approach recognises that there are foundational similarities in the aims and objectives about teaching and learning, irrespective of the discipline. These include:
- the pedagogical approaches and scholarship which underpin the design and delivery of curricula, teaching, learning and assessment;
- the underpinning aim to engage students in transformative learning through excellent teaching, learning and assessment;
- the desire to maximise positive outcomes for students during their studies;
- developing employable, enterprising, digitally literature and socially aware individuals who understand how to work collaboratively in a multicultural and globally interconnected world.
Responding to particular teaching and learning issues
At the same time as harnessing meso-level synergies the horizon of focus of the innovative teaching and learning initiative needs to be responsive to any potentially unique teaching and learning challenges experienced particular groups or departments (at a micro-level). We propose that by combining micro and meso-level issues it is possible to create engagement with key scholarly knowledge and recognize and respond to disciplinary differences and teaching realities in order to develop engagement, excellence and performance.
Teach-Learn-Share: developing a meso-level culture
The Teach-Learn-Share initiative adopts the position that only through interorganizational partnerships and networking can educators exchange knowledge in ways that encourage pedagogic practices which deliver a stimulating and inspirational education. It recognizes that teaching faculties tend to construct micro-cultures which, through norms, tacit assumptions and taken-for-granted practice influence teaching behavior (Mårtensson and Roxå, 2016, Roxå and Mårtensson, 2015, Trowler, 2008). Teach-Learn-Share challenges this approach by seeking to develop a meso-level culture, drawing on Hannah and Lester (2009)’s framework.
Meso-level cultures are large networks, with resources, led by knowledge catalysts, which seek to create semi-autonomous learning networks. The activities of the meso-level network (and the knowledge catalysts within it) will, over time, develop social behaviour in a multi-dimensional way (Bieri, 1975). First, it facilitates the horizontal sharing of good practice and knowledge about teaching and learning, leading to new ways of engaging with teaching and learning by individuals and micro-cultures within the network. Second, it diffuses knowledge across the whole Institution (beyond the network) and outwith. Third, it has a developmental focus which builds capacity by identifying, creating and developing new knowledge catalysts who are able to further build this (and other) networks and further diffuse knowledge.
Teach-Learn-Share has been constructed using four interwoven threads, which encompass scholarship, practice, knowledge and dissemination, and work flexibly at both meso and micro levels (see figure 1).
Thread 1; symposia. This network-focused thread draws on scholarship within the field of teaching and learning in order to develop knowledge within the whole network.
Thread 2; TeachMeet. This brings together the network to critically consider the application into practice of the knowledge from the symposia, by sharing practice. It adopts a TeachMeet structure using micro-presentations (7 minutes), nano-presentations (2 minutes), round-table break-outs (15 minutes) and backchannel discussions, using a # for online conversations to enable further sharing, dissemination and future direction, and to capture outcomes.
Thread 3; Peer-led TeachMeet. These enable and develop semi-autonomous learning networks within the wider network by supporting (with resource) network members to focus on emergent micro-level issues that have relevance to their group or department. This thread aims to empower individuals to responsively lead on developing knowledge.
Thread 4; Communication and dissemination. This thread explicitly acknowledges the importance of capturing and sharing information across the network and diffusing this into the wider Institution and beyond.
Outcome and impact
Early indicators from Teach-Learn-Share suggest that through the horizontal sharing of teaching practices and the fostering of a transparent culture interdisciplinary collaboration is achievable. Further, the sharing of teaching, learning and assessment practices within a meso-culture enables knowledge development and can encourage excellence. There is also evidence of an appetite for semi-autonomous networks which can focus on micro-level issues within the wider network, and the potential for new knowledge catalysts.
Want to know more or join us? See the events page for information on the next symposia, TeachMeet or peer organised TeachMeet.
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