Developing domains of teaching excellence: the evolution of the Global Teaching Excellence Award (GTEA)

Higher education is driven by a culture of excellence. We are fortunate to work in a sector where striving to be exceptional is the norm. But whereas excellence in research is readily measured and reported, excellence in teaching is far less easily described. The HEA has a long tradition of celebrating and rewarding teaching excellence and we were able to use our experience of developing and applying effective and motivational criteria in the development of the assessment principles and process for the GTEA. The UK National Teaching Fellowship Scheme, now in its 15th year, has recognised more than 800 exceptional teachers. Last year, it was widened to include the Collaborative Award for Teaching Excellence to recognise excellent teaching in teams. Building on this, we responded to the vocal requests from institutions for some form of benchmarking of global teaching practice to inform their strategy development.

In the lead up to the development of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) in England, we formed a working group of Pro-Vice-Chancellors, Teaching and Learning, from across the UK mission groups. This group met several times over the course of a year, diving into the complexities of how can we truly understand and measure teaching excellence in higher education? We were able to listen to and learn from the expertise, insights and experiences of those whose professional lives are dedicated to pursuing teaching excellence at an institutional level. We heard loud and clear their aspirations for a developmental, evidenced reflection of the impact and effectiveness of institutional-wide strategies for teaching excellence – the ‘preconditions for excellence’ – as opposed to a metrics driven exercise that fundamentally relies on student outputs.

In creating the GTEA, we were keen to find a way of viewing the richness of student learning experiences across the globe through the lens of teaching excellence in order to raise the esteem of teaching to be on par with research. Of particular concern to the PVC working group on the TEF were the nuances of teaching and learning and the implications of the vast diversity to be found even within just the UK sector: disciplinary differences; type of provider; modes of delivery (online, distance); the demographics of the student population; institutional mission. It’s for these reasons that the criteria are focused on the extent to which institutions can evidence how they perform against three domains of excellence that we know are essential:

Excellence in the leadership of teaching and learning

  • A leadership, strategy and culture which actively promotes and values excellence in teaching and learning.
  • A global outlook, in which interconnections are made within and across local, regional, national and international boundaries.

Excellence in teaching

  • Teaching stimulates, challenges and stretches students and develops students as independent learners and critical thinkers.
  • Teaching promotes active student engagement.

Excellence in student support

  • Students are supported to achieve their educational and professional goals, in particular progression to employment and/or further study.
  • Students have wider (extra-curricular) opportunities to help them make the most of everything that higher education has to offer.

These domains mirrored what we already knew from our body of evidence of ‘what works’ in regards to improving the student learning experience and our research into teaching excellence, all of which we then used to carefully inform the underpinning principles in creating the assessment criteria for the GTEA. For the HEA, it was important that we take a developmental approach that is culturally sensitive and recognises the breadth of diversity of higher education. We want this to be an award for higher education whenever, wherever and however it is delivered. To that end, the award does not see teaching excellence as a destination but rather as a journey, and it seeks to recognise the astonishing step changes in practice that take place all the time in our sector.

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