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Learning Enhancement and Development

Session 2B

Towards a definition of Teaching Excellence

Mr Mark Warnes -  Anglia Ruskin University, Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education

Dr Debbie Holley - University of Bournemouth, Centre of Excellence for Learning (CEL)

Dr Geraldine Davis - Anglia Ruskin University, Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education

To evaluate teaching, one must first define excellence in order to recognise it. A meta-analysis of studies of teaching excellence has resulted in a model of the characteristics of teaching excellence. How accurately does this model reflect the lived experience of excellent teachers? Can it be used to evaluate teaching?

In the current gaze of the TEF consultation, a discussion about the definition of teaching excellence and how to recognise it is of paramount importance.

Teaching excellence is an abstract concept and competing definitions abound in the literature (cf. Hillier, 2002; Gosling & Hannan, 2007; Little et al., 2007; Young & Menon, 2008). To operationalise the concept of Teaching Excellence for my PhD, I conducted a meta-analysis of previous studies (cf. Thompson et al., 1998; Skelton, 2002; Gibbs, 2003; Collins & Palmer, 2004; HEFCE, 2004; Chism, 2006) which resulted in a model of teaching excellence that encompasses three broad qualities of teaching practice: Professional, Practical, and Personal, each of which is comprised of three characteristics.

These three qualities map broadly onto the three stakeholders in teaching excellence:

  • The Teacher (the Professional who explores pedagogy, and engages in CPD)
  • The Student (focused on the Personal, as seen in the nominations for student-led awards)
  • The Institution (primarily concerned with the Practical element, using reward and recognition schemes to develop Corporate Excellence (via a Corporate Strategy, and a Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy), to improve NSS scores, and move up through the League Tables)

This model, however, is an idealised vision of teaching excellence, a standard against which to evaluate teaching. Teachers who have been rewarded and recognised for excellence may have a different view about excellence.

The list of characteristics pertaining to excellence is long, and the question is whether or not a teacher can be considered as excellent if they are deficient in one or more aspects. In addition, a challenge is developing measures to evaluate the extent to which a teacher fulfils the characteristics.

Given that excellence is one extreme of a spectrum of competence, why is it so important, and what is wrong with being ‘good enough’?

Attendees will gain an appreciation of the complex nature of teaching excellence and the challenges inherent in operationalising the concept and developing effective methods to measure it.


Chism, N. V. N., 2006. Teaching Awards: What Do They Award? The Journal of Higher Education, 77(4): 589-617.

Collins, R. and Palmer, A., 2004. Perceptions of Rewarding Excellence in Teaching: Carrots or Sticks? [Online] Available at: http://jisctechdis.ac.uk/assets/Documents/resources/database/id394_perceptions_of_rewarding_excellence.pdf [Accessed 1 September 2014].

Gibbs, G. and Habeshaw, T., 2003. Recognising and Rewarding Excellent Teaching (Second Ed.), Milton Keynes: TQEF, National Coordination Team, The Open University [Online] Available at: http://jisctechdis.ac.uk/assets/documents/resources/publications/recognising_and_rewarding_excellent_teaching.pdf [Accessed 1 September 2014].

Gosling, D. and Hannan, A., 2007. Responses to A Policy initiative: The Case of Centres of Excellence in Teaching and Learning, Studies in Higher Education, 32(5): 633-646.

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), 2004. 04/05 - Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning: Invitation to Bid for Funds, Bristol: HEFCE.

Hillier, Y., 2002. The Quest for Competence, Good Practice and Excellence, [Online] Available at: http://www.engsc.ac.uk/assets/documents/resources/database/id494_quest_for_competence.pdf [Accessed 1 September 2014].

Little, B., Locke, W., Parker, J. and Richardson, J., 2007. Excellence in teaching and learning: a review of the literature for the Higher Education Academy, Centre for Higher Education Research and Information, The Open University [Online] Available at: https://www.open.ac.uk/cheri/documents/excellence_in_tl_litrev.pdf [Accessed 5 September 2014].

Skelton, A., 2002. Towards Inclusive Learning Environments in Higher Education? Reflections on a Professional Development Course for University Lecturers, Teaching in Higher Education, 7(2): 193-214.

Thompson, J., Cook, M., Cottrell, D., Lewis, R., Miller, B., 1998. Developing an Institutional Framework for Rewarding Excellence in Teaching: A Case Study, Quality Assurance in Education, 6(2): 97-105.

Young, P. and Menon, S., 2008. Reward and Recognition Policies and Practices within Centres of Excellence in Learning and Teaching, Bristol: University of the West of England [Online] Available at: http://www.health.heacademy.ac.uk/doc/mp/2008pyoung.pdf [Accessed 5 September 2014]