Delivering excellence in teaching

Teaching is firmly on the agenda at the moment.  The publication of the Green Paper, paving the way for a Teaching Excellence Framework, has ignited conversations about what we mean by excellence in teaching, and how we might demonstrate this in practice.  Here at the University of Edinburgh – where Senior Vice-Principal Professor Charlie Jeffery describes teaching as an ‘unambiguous priority’- we’ve been thinking about how to support and develop excellence in our teaching.  The University has much excellent and even world-leading practice in teaching and learning already but there’s always room for development.  Two of the key questions raised in recent papers at our Senatus Learning and Teaching committee were:

What would we need to do to genuinely deliver excellence in education?


What are the priorities for learning and teaching?

Sketching out some answers to these questions reveals the richness and complexity of the context in which our teaching takes place.  Drawing on discussions with the Learning and Teaching Team here at the Institute for Academic Development, I see the following as particularly important:

  • recognition that excellent teaching and assessment requires dialogue and active learning.
  • assessment and feedback are particularly strong drivers of student learning.  Therefore close attention across whole programmes of study to providing rich joined-up authentic assessment experiences, with well integrated guidance and feedback, is crucial.  Assessment and feedback are part of the curriculum and learning process not something added on at the end.
  • teaching and assessment practices need to be well aligned to preparing students for futures where they will need to apply what they have learned in relation to complex, unpredictable interdisciplinary problems which draw out competing value positions.  Our positive connections with the city and its communities could be key to such learning experiences and our rich body of international students and staff are a great advantage for education appropriate to a globalised world.
  • giving students experiences of engagement in realistic research processes from early in their studies is core to the Edinburgh experience.  Students should be supported to see themselves as legitimate participants in the research world, which would still be valuable even if they progressed to quite different roles.
  • design curricula from the outset with a strong focus on anticipating the needs of all students.
  • treat students as valued partners in developing curricula and generating new knowledge and understanding.
  • give close attention to excellent physical and digital teaching spaces.
  • Edinburgh provides some world leading online learning opportunities which start from the premise that distance is a positive principle and can be the privileged mode. See:

The context for such excellent practice must encompass strong recognition and reward for teaching and this is an area that the University has been developing recently.  Close attention to the integral role of tutors and demonstrators in the student learning experience is also key.  In all of this we must hold onto a clear understanding that developing excellent educational practice and becoming more skilled in teaching are ongoing processes which require time.  The provision of rich opportunities, time, support and funding for innovation – such as our Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme – will continue to be an important part of the picture.  It will be crucial to acknowledge that while numeric metrics can address important basic aspects of good practice, truly excellent education involves students being challenged and developing as human beings.  Such processes cannot be reduced to numbers and might result in lower satisfaction for a time as they are often uncomfortable.  This is a profoundly exciting time to be involved in the development of learning and teaching at Edinburgh and I hope you’ll join the conversation in the comments.

About the author

velda_mc_100_130Velda McCune is the Deputy Director of the Institute for Academic Development, and Head of the Learning and Teaching Team. The team provide support to both staff and students relating to learning and teaching within the University.  Her work focuses on understanding how students develop as learners and how to enhance university teaching-learning environments to support high-quality learning.


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