Scaffolding pedagogic excellence in higher education

  • Maja Elmgren

    Arnold Pears

    Stefan Palsson

    S Andersson

    A Berglund

    I Frost

    T Dahlstrom

    F Harlin

    L Forsell

    B Gembert

    What is the best way to support learners and learning? Development of education practices which draw consistently on current best practice and disciplinary educational research is a serious challenge for universities. In this paper we initiate a dialogue on approaches to addressing this challenge.

    The educational development strategy for Uppsala University articulates the University vision, “Uppsala University shall offer first-rate education programmes, in which teaching keeps pace with current research developments in educational studies and subject-specific teaching methods.” (Teaching and Learning at Uppsala University, 2008) How is vision to be articulated? While high level strategic decisions are an important component of reform in higher education, engagement at many organisational levels; between lecturers in the disciplines, academic boards of studies and teaching and learning units, are needed to carry this vision into practice (Gosling 2009, Holt et al. 2011).

    The Faculty of Science and Technology at Uppsala University has developed a highly successful model with which to tackle this challenge. TUR, the faculty council for educational development, plays an important role in coordinating initiatives in practical scholarship of teaching and learning (Boyer1990). TUR gathers higher education researchers in the disciplines, students, educational leadership and lecturing staff facilitating scaffolding of competence in combination with leading disciplinary based education research and provides a unique opportunity to connect disciplinary educational research outcomes to the delivery of higher education. Simultaneously the proximity to the disciplinary context provides rich context and enhanced credibility to the professional development activities that TUR coordinates and delivers. Broad stakeholder engagement provides an effective and far reaching contact network within the faculty, promoting informal communication and strengthening shared academic values in teaching and learning practice. The importance of students as true partners, who take active part in all activities cannot be overestimated (Bovill et al., 2011)

    Evaluation of TUR's activities emphasises the importance of stakeholder involvement and tailored academic development in subject didactics and engineering education philosophy and theory. Staff who have taken part demonstrate an enhanced repertoire of teaching and learning techniques, and appreciation of their role in facilitating student learning and personal development.

    TUR encourages academic collegiality in teaching and learning practice through activities such as seminars, workshops, and conferences. Teaching and learning innovation is stimulated by making a fund available from which staff can apply for funding for specific educational development projects. A network for teachers with these grants is organised, with feedback on the application and discussions concerning design, implementation and evaluation of projects and ideas for dissemination of results. Support is also given to educational leaders at all levels, through networks and meetings in smaller groups, to discuss development and cooperation. Recognition of committment to excellent education by teachers is also a key aspect of the Uppsala strategy. TUR has developed criteria to recognise and promote excellent teachers, which has been adopted by the Faculty.

    We conclude that the model has been highly successful. It has been internationally evaluated (CrED report 2011) as highly promising, is well accepted within the faculty and university, serving as a model for other development initiatives.