Challenging the Teaching Excellence Framework

Cover of Challenging the Teaching Excellence Framework

Diversity Deficits in Higher Education Evaluations

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(12 chapters)

Prelims

Pages i-viii
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Abstract

This chapter provides an introduction to the problematic notion of teaching excellence in higher education, which is a focus of this collection. It draws on an extensive review of relevant literature to explore how teaching excellence is defined and conceptualised and what factors underpin different conceptions. It notes that definitions are disparate, often context-specific and are influenced by a range of different ‘players’. It then examines how different conceptualisations play out at the macro, meso and micro levels and highlights the tensions between performative and transformative notions of teaching excellence. It notes the move from ‘surface’ to ‘deep’ excellence and efforts to articulate a more holistic conception of teaching excellence that emphasises the relational, emotional and moral dimensions of teaching. It suggests that, rather than seeking singular definitions and conceptions, it may be more useful to talk of ‘teaching excellences’, to reflect a stratified and plural sector, a diverse student body and different disciplinary families. Equally, it argues for further investigation of the intersections of teaching excellence with other key drivers of institutional change, such as student engagement and well-being, inclusion and diversity, widening participation and retention and success.

Abstract

This chapter critically engages with ways that teaching excellence has been operationalised in practice. Specific focus is on developing individual teaching excellence, rewarding of success and recognition of teaching excellence and the building of evidence around what works in teaching for the benefits of students. We consider the daily interactions with students that form the basis of frameworks of teaching excellence before arguing that operationalisations of teaching excellence are highly context specific and operate at the level of institutions and the whole higher education sector. We discuss the criteria that underpin teaching excellence awards. This includes governance as well as development frameworks. After considering the complex links between research and teaching and the importance of the disciplinary dimension of teaching excellence, the chapter finally looks at the skills and attributes commonly associated with individual teacher excellence and argues that these are exceptionally difficult to pin down let alone measure. It concludes with some reflections on some of the challenges faced by institutions as they seek to develop the quality of teaching whilst meeting the requirements of the TEF.

Abstract

The Teaching Excellence Framework was explicitly introduced as a mechanism to ‘enhance teaching’ in universities. This chapter suggests, however, that the highly complex ‘black box’ methodology used to calculate TEF outcomes effectively blunts its purpose as a policy lever. As a result, TEF appears to function primarily as performative policy act, merely gesturing towards a concern with social mobility. Informed by the data and metrics driven Deliverology approach to public management, I suggest the opacity of the TEF's assessment approach enables policymakers to distance themselves from and sidestep the wicked problems raised by the complicated contexts of contemporary higher education learning and teaching. At the same time, however, I argue that the very indeterminacy through which the framework achieves this sleight of hand creates a space in which engaged teaching practitioners can push through a more progressive approach to inclusive success.

Abstract

This chapter attempts to capture what teaching excellence looks and feels like for students. Our research reports on research conducted by two student authors at separate institutions. It suggests that the most crucial aspect of the student experience of ‘teaching excellence’ is a teacher's ability to build rapport and create meaningful interpersonal relationships with their students. Leanne Hunt's research was conducted with her fellow students at the University of Bradford. She outlines how, for her participants, the student–teacher rapport informed a positive learning experience which translated into a mutual understanding of excellent teaching. Widening participation, college-based HE student Hollie Shaw, now at Sheffield Hallam University, defines teaching excellence as flexible enough to respond to student learning needs, but strong enough to inspire interest in the discipline. In this chapter, we consider their separate testimonies carefully: we argue that exploring unconscious bias furthers understanding of how differences between student and teacher may compromise interpersonal relations and so student recognition of a tutor's positive and crucial role in the student experience and the implications of how one might measure this given the emphasis on proxies for teaching excellence in the TEF. We suggest breaking down unconscious bias calls for embracing differences, reflection and recognising the complexities of contemporary staff and student university lives. This chapter's exploration of staff–student partnership opens up potential for the creation of more equitable and honest learning dynamics in higher education – where a nuanced understanding of ‘teaching excellence’ can be defined, understood and evidenced within a HEI, with external bodies such as the Office for Students, and included in the Teaching Excellence Framework.

Abstract

This chapter offers a discussion of the increasingly widespread use of student evaluations in higher education. It critiques the extent to which these student evaluations are now regarded by governments and higher education management as an authoritative source of information on all aspects of HE provision, with a particular focus on their use to rank and evaluate teaching excellence through the Teaching Excellence Framework. It provides an overview of research looking into how student perceptions of teachers' teaching excellence, or otherwise, play out very differently depending on the gender, age and social class of the lecturers doing the teaching. This chapter argues that these differences make it difficult to ensure that students' assessment of higher education teaching are fair and/or consistent with regard to the teaching they are experiencing across different courses, disciplines and institutions. It concludes that acknowledging how inequalities will inevitably play a part in any evaluative processes is a more productive way of thinking about how more informed indices of teaching quality might be more usefully understood and operationalised in higher education. This approach, however, requires HEI's to recognise the ways in which existing racialised, sexualised and gendered patterns reoccur and sustain inequalities currently in the UK higher education sector. (199)

Queering the TEF

Pages 179-199
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Taken at face value, it may initially seem difficult to argue with the sentiments enshrined in the rhetoric that surrounds the TEF – raising the status of teaching in Higher Education (HE), rebalancing its relationship with research, incentivising institutions to focus on the quality of teaching and making them more accountable for ‘how well they ensure excellent outcomes for their students in terms of graduate-level employment or further study’ (OfS, 2018, p. 1). Clearly, these are laudable aspirations that will chime with anyone who believes in the importance of students experiencing an education that enriches and transforms them and their potential. Drawing on Fraser and Lamble's (2014/2015) use of queer theory in relation to pedagogy, however, this chapter aims to expose the TEF not just ‘as a landmark initiative that is designed to further embed a neoliberal audit and monitoring culture into Higher Education’ (Rudd, 2017, p. 59) but as a constraining exercise that restrains diversity and limits potential. Although queer theory is more usually linked with gender and sexuality studies, Fraser and Lamble show us that it can be used ‘in its broader political project of questioning norms, opening desires and creating possibilities’ (p. 64). In this way, the queer theoretical lens used here helps us to question, disrupt and contest the essentialising hegemonic logics behind the nature and purposes of the TEF and its effects in HE classrooms. Using the slantwise position of the homosexual (Foucault, 1996), this queer analysis of the TEF can thus be helpful as a politically generative exercise in opening up space for new possibilities.

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This chapter draws on Michel de Certeau's work on strategies and tactics to critique the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and, importantly, suggests a form of creative resistance to it. The TEF operates as a strategy of English higher education to reduce teaching and learning to quantifiable proxy measures which are then used to hold academics' performance to account. The selection and use of these proxy measures introduces a specific relationship between academics and students rooted in the underlying neoliberal principles of exchange and private gain, reducing HE teaching and learning to a provider–consumer relationship. In defiance of this academics need to utilise increasingly creative tactics to enable them to conform to the requirements of the TEF while simultaneously resisting and subverting this provider–consumer relationship. De Certeau's work on la perruque, or wiggery, as alternative tactics disguised as work for an employer offers us a way to counter the pervasive presence of TEF. La perruque encourages us to make use of the structures and places provided to us by higher education institutions to make something alien to them, for example, reorganising classroom spaces in such a way that does not prioritise the presence of the lecturer or designing sessions and modules starting from existing student knowledge rather than assuming a deficit to be addressed. Each of these tactics of resistance is fleeting and temporary, but each provides academics with a creative possibility to navigate the tensions of neoliberal provider–consumer relationships on the one hand and collaborative knowledge production on the other.

Postscript

Pages 227-231
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Index

Pages 237-242
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Cover of Challenging the Teaching Excellence Framework
DOI
10.1108/9781787695337
Publication date
2020-08-06
Book series
Great Debates in Higher Education
Editors
Series copyright holder
Editors
ISBN
978-1-78769-536-8
eISBN
978-1-78769-533-7