Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

Fostering the Quality of Teaching and Learning by Developing the "Neglected Half " of University Teachers' Competencies

Academic journal article CEPS Journal : Center for Educational Policy Studies Journal

Fostering the Quality of Teaching and Learning by Developing the "Neglected Half " of University Teachers' Competencies

Article excerpt

Introduction: Increasing importance of quality in teaching in higher education

Universities have three main functions: to conduct research, to offer education, and to serve society. University teachers' career development is usually dependent heavily on the first function, i.e. the quality (and too often quantity) of research, while the quality of teaching remains undervalued and overshadowed by research achievements; teachers also enjoy a thorough training in research methodology and have numerous opportunities to perform and report research results, while competencies linked to quality teaching mostly remain "the neglected half ". The research results alone also count in official rankings of universities, such as the popular Shanghai ranking, because of the underlying, but unproven assumption that a good researcher is necessarily also a good teacher (Marentic Pozarnik, 2007). Only recently has the U-Multiranking initiative proposed to improve the situation by including broader criteria.3

The massification of studies, the increasing heterogeneity of students, rapid developments in different fields of science and technology, economic, ecological and social problems on one side and new research findings about human learning from psychology, cognitive and neuroscience on the other, as well as the globalization and internationalization of higher education: all these require that much more attention be paid to the quality of teaching and learning in universities. As stated in the recent Report to the European Commission on Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning in Europe's Higher Education Institutions (Report, 2014), the 19th century model of teaching relying mainly on lecturing is no longer compatible with new developments in universities and with societal challenges (Report, 2014, p. 12). There are signs that this situation is changing, but progress is slow. While "the quality of teaching and learning should be at the core of the higher education reform agenda in Europe" (Report, 2014, p. 13), the commitment to this mission at present remains "sporadic and frequently reliant on a few individuals who give practical support for upskilling teachers" (Report, 2014, p. 14) with little or no institutional support or incentives.

It is the responsibility of institutions to ensure that their academic staff are well trained as professional teachers and also the responsibility of staff to ensure that they are proficient in the very best pedagogical practices and striving for excellence in teaching. The best teaching should support the development of students' critical thinking, creativity, ethical responsibility and commitment to lifelong learning. (Report, 2014, p. 13)

The quality of teaching is also gradually finding its place among quality criteria, elaborated in connection with Bologna reforms. Thus, the Guidelines for National External Quality Assurance Systems of the European Association for Quality Assurance in Higher Education (ENQA) stated that "Institutions should have ways of satisfying themselves that staff involved with teaching of students are qualified and competent to do so", and further: "Institutions should ensure that their staff recruitment and appointment procedures includes a means of making certain that all new staff have at least the minimum necessary level of competence" (ENQA, 2007, cit. after van de Ven, Koltcheva, Raaheim, & Borg, 2008, p. 4).

What are key competencies of teachers in higher education in the area of teaching?

Although the concept of (professional) competencies is difficult to clarify and can be easily misused or oversimplified, it can represent a useful starting point for reflection and the planning of the professional development of teachers. Without entering into controversies about misused and overly narrow conceptions, we can still agree with Weinert's definition that emphasized the complexity of competencies in which three dimensions are tightly interconnected: cognition, skills and attitudes/values. …

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