Both teaching excellence and student success are complex phenomena and I have enjoyed the #TESS_HE debate so far which has been drilling down to explore definitions. I agree that we need to be clearer and have shared understandings among colleagues in order to decipher ‘what works’, however we cannot do this alone. Even if educators and graduate employers are reaching consensus, this means only some of the stakeholders’ voices are being heard.
Integrating students’ reflections, I believe, is the only way to truly have this debate and identify good practice. Understanding better what teaching benefits our students and what goals drive them will help us to reach excellence.
I asked my first years (health professional students) what they thought teaching excellence and student success looks like.
For them, teaching excellence appeared to consist of three themes:
Being inclusive ‘Making sure that all students that learn in different ways are able to get the most out of what is being taught’ ‘Using a wide range of resources to suit all learning styles’ ‘Understanding the students and being able to adapt their style to the different needs and questions asked by students’ ‘When a teacher can adapt how they are teaching to meet the needs of everyone’ ‘Help people who don’t understand it fully by adapting the way you say the information’ ‘Seeing students on a level playing field’ ‘Responsive to the audience, changing the way you teach to the way your students respond best’ ‘Teaching excellence is when your teacher explains in a way that ALL students understand and not teach how they believe we should understand’.
Being approachable and providing extra support ‘Going the extra mile to meet up with students if they are struggling’ ‘Friendly and approachable’ ‘Knowing the subject well but also being friendly and approachable’ ‘Being on the same level as a student’.
Being passionate ‘Showing students your passion and enthusiasm about the subject’ ‘Encouraging a person’s curiosity on a subject’ ‘Bring the teaching material to life’ ‘Showing your passion and inspiring us’ ‘Being passionate about the thing you’re teaching’.
Student success had less consistent themes which is perhaps unsurprising given the individual-ness of the appraisals involved in perceiving success:
Feeling confidence and having positive affective state was commonly referred to as success ‘Happy and confident students’ ‘One who perseveres regardless of hurdles… and applies themselves with enthusiasm and determination’ ‘Students being confident with the subject’ ‘Walking out of a lecture hall with confidence’ ‘Feeling confident about what I do know, not stressed about what I don’t know’ ‘Students who are satisfied and happy throughout the course. This in turn helps them fulfil their potential’.
Meeting goals was spoken about which appeared to be more diverse than achieving high grades ‘Correctly learnt what has been taught to them in order to achieve high grades and achieve higher academic goals and educational aspirations’ ‘A student meeting their goals’ ‘Students who meet their goals and dreams. Surpassing their own expectations’ ‘Getting through the year with good grades’ ‘When you achieve what you have set out for yourself’ ‘Getting at least a 2.1’.
There is clearly more to learn about our current students’ goals and dreams.
This is by no means a robust study and I’m not ignoring the fact that first year students, alone, may be unable set success outcomes or fully reflect on what makes teaching excellent (although themes mirror those reported this year by a consortium of Student’s Union). However, I think inviting the student voice is a powerful way to open a dialog and build common understanding. Allowing the development of teaching which works towards mutually developed outcomes.
Many #TESS_HE conversations have proposed ‘there is no one way to achieve’ teaching excellence or student success and I’m certainly glad to hear it; for I cannot believe that in an increasingly inclusive sector a one-size-fits-all model could possibly be the answer. Widening participation in HE has been central to my academic role for a number of years and I can see that the concepts of teaching excellence and student success may be viewed differently by different students, yet I’m not convinced this has been empirically captured. Tom Muskett of Leeds Beckett has written about the shift in student diversity not yet being matched by an equivalent in teaching. This lends additional weight for the need to gather the views of our current student population.
While TEF is putting less emphasis on student feedback in year 3, I still believe the student voice is crucial to us reaching the mutual goal of excellence and I encourage everyone to extend this debate to their students.