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Anthony Smith: what do we mean by 'excellence in teaching' and how can it be measured?

30 May 2013

The Vice-Provost (Education) discusses the importance of developing solid criteria to use when considering teaching-based promotions.

Professor Anthony Smith, UCL's Vice-Provost (Education)

What do we mean by 'excellence in teaching'? The question is frequently asked and I suspect all of us draw on our experience as students and working with outstanding colleagues to produce the notion, usually accompanied with hand-waving in my case, that we recognise it when we see it, but it is hard to evidence.

This is all very well for conversations in the corridor but it does not help institutions develop clear and unambiguous criteria for promotion on the basis of excellence in teaching; nor does it help staff preparing their case for promotion.

The observation that we find teaching excellence hard to assess and measure likely explains in large part why we see relatively few cases for promotion going forward based on outstanding teaching. This was the topic of a recent Higher Education Academy (HEA) conference I attended where there was a presentation by the Promoting Teaching Project, which the HEA has funded. The conference marked the launch of Making Evidence Count, the result of a large-scale collaboration between the universities of Leicester and Newcastle in the UK and Wollongong and Tasmania in Australia.

Their work has identified five domains of teaching activity:

  1. Professional Learning
  2. Student Engagement
  3. Curriculum Development
  4. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
  5. Leadership and Collaboration

They have then gone on to identify sources of evidence (personal, students and peers) and provide examples of what sorts of evidence could be used and at what point in someone’s career development the different types of evidence would be most relevant. Particularly helpfully, evidence that brings a national or international dimension to a promotion case is flagged. I expect such evidence will be really useful to individuals and panels considering promotions to the most senior levels.

It struck me that these resources will help us all in understanding better how to evidence excellence in teaching. The report and resources can be viewed at As we begin to think about updating criteria for promotion, I would welcome your views on the applicability of these resources to UCL.

Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education)

May 2013

Page last modified on 30 may 13 15:36

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