Keynote 1

  • Identifying and rewarding excellent teaching improves student learning – discuss

    John Peters, University of Worcester, UK


    Monday 14.15

    Room 8W 1.1

    This opening keynote of the conference is intended to encourage delegates to discuss, and reflect on, their own conceptions of the relationships between learning and teaching. It will also prompt consideration of what excellent teaching might be and whether current schemes to promote excellent teaching are either well founded or effective in improving student learning.

    The first question has to be, why has it taken the ISL conference 14 years to address ‘improving student learning through teaching’ as its conference question? Is it an indication we are uncomfortable talking about teaching, uncomfortable putting a primary focus on teaching, or uncomfortable about the relationship of teaching to learning? Why is this and is it healthy?

    Certainly ISL explicitly gives primacy in the learning and teaching duality to learning and has sought to promote and disseminate research and scholarship – particularly about approaches to learning – aimed primarily at understanding and improving learning. The result is that ISL’s relationship with teaching and the pedagogy of higher education has proved problematic in a number of ways. It stands accused of:

    • Belittling academic teaching
    • Promoting elitist models of learning (Haggis, 102, 2003)
    • Failing to establish how teaching can be shaped to improve learning
    • Being too powerful in shaping policy
    • Failing to address other, broader, research issues and paradigms (Coffield, 66, 2004)

    To what extent are these fair criticisms?

    To move forward there is a need to foster further debate and to be explicit about our assumptions, beliefs and evidence for the relationships between teaching and learning. This conference should address this need.

    What do we think is the purpose of teaching in higher education? If it is about the facilitation of student learning, what does that mean in practice?

    There have been many attempts to define teaching and particularly effective or even excellent teaching. How instructive are they and what, then, is excellent teaching? (Exchange, 5, 2003) Finally, do current and past reward systems for excellent teachers actually reward and encourage excellent teaching and how might they do more? (Gibbs & Habeshaw 2003)


    • Coffield F, Moseley D, Hall E and Ecclestone K, (2004) Should we be using learning styles? What research has to say to practice LSRC Exchange, (2003) Issue 5 Autumn, [accessed April 2006]
    • Gibbs G and Habeshaw T, (2003) Recognising and Rewarding Excellent Teaching, Second Edition, Open University
    • Haggis T, (2003) ‘Constructing images of ourselves? A critical investigation into ‘approaches to learning research in Higher Education’ British Educational Research Journal, 29, 1