Thomas Olsson

  • Judging excellent university teaching – the importance of assessment standards

    Thomas Olsson and Torgny Roxå, Lund University

    Research seminar

    Themes: teaching methods, assessment methods, skills development and lifelong learning, faculty development methods and/or strategies

    Tuesday 8 September 2009, 10.10 - 11.10 in room 120

    Excellent teachers should be able to use their disciplinary expertise within a teaching practice based on relevant pedagogical understanding. What constitutes excellence in university teaching and how can we assess it? It is not enough for an excellent teacher to be an excellent lecturer in the classroom (Magin, 1998). An excellent teacher should be proficient within a variety of competencies focusing on the student learning process and a scholarly approach to teaching and learning (Trigwell, 2001). A systematic and scholarly assessment of teaching excellence requires relevant criteria on which the assessment is based, evidence showing that the criteria are met, and standards to judge the evidence against the criteria. Appropriate standards are of vital importance in the assessment process. However, surprisingly little is written about this in the higher education research literature (Ramsden & Martin, 1996; Chism, 2006; Elton, 1998).

    During the session we will present and discuss a comprehensive model of teaching excellence. The model is based on Kolb’s (1984) principles of experiential learning. The starting point is the actual teaching practice as it supports student learning. It is assumed that improvements in teaching are dependant on the teacher’s capability to observe teaching and learning, to understand observations made, and to plan for further development. These three latter aspects – observe, understand, and plan – support and initiate development in the first aspect – teaching practice. The model includes a teaching level, an analysis and planning level, a reflective level, and a meta-reflective level (Uljens, 1997).

    A previous interpretation of the model has been discussed as a two-dimensional matrix (Antman & Olsson, 2007; Kreber, 2002). Through this model we were able to evaluate the complexity of teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and understanding in relation to their proved capacity to reflect scholarly on their teaching practice. A shortcoming of the older model was that it did not explicitly include clear indications of observed student learning. We therefore propose an extended model where evidence of student learning is incorporated as a third dimension. Through this dimension we discuss the possibilities to distinguish between unreflected (or no) observations of student learning, reflected observations of student learning, and systematic investigations and analyses of student learning. The lowest level represents at best a tacit knowledge, but without alignment with teaching strategies, whereas at the higher levels teachers demonstrate increased awareness and strategic approaches that continuously influence the teaching practice.

    The research discussed in this seminar is based on document studies and interviews using empirical data from more than 100 pedagogical portfolios from Lund University and other Swedish universities. During the seminar actual teaching portfolios will be used as case studies in discussions of our model for defining standards in the process of assessing excellent university teaching.


    • Antman, L. & Olsson, T. (2007). A Two-Dimensional Matrix Model for Analysing Scholarly Approaches to Teaching and Learning. In Rust, C. (Ed.), Improving Student Learning through Teaching (pp. 54-72). Oxford: The Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development
    • Chism, N.V.N. (2006). Teaching Awards: What Do They Award? The Journal of Higher Education, 77(4): 589- 617
    • Elton, L. (1998). Dimensions of excellence in university teaching. The International Journal for Academic Development, 3(1): 3-11
    • Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall
    • Kreber, C. (2002). Teaching Excellence, Teaching Expertise, and the Scholarship of Teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 27(1): 5-23
    • Magin, D.J. (1998). Rewarding good teaching: A matter of demonstrated proficiency or documented achievement? The International Journal for Academic Development, 3(2): 124-135
    • Ramsden, P. & Martin, E. (1996). Recognition of Good University Teaching: policies from an Australian study. Studies in Higher Education, 21(3): 299-315
    • Trigwell, K. (2001). Judging university teaching. The International Journal for Academic Development, 6(1): 65-73
    • Uljens, M. (Ed.) (1997). Didaktik – teori, reflektion och praktik (in Swedish), Studentlitteratur