Recognising and rewarding excellent teaching

TUTOR AND STUDENTS, UNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH.Over the past few years, we have all worked hard to improve the student experience. In parallel, work has been going on in the background on the staff experience – particularly to improve recognition and reward for excellent teaching and the hard, dedicated work that it entails. This work will be nugatory unless colleagues know about the opportunities created, take up these opportunities and are seen to be doing so.

Here is the story so far …

Exemplars of Excellence in Student Education

Our reward processes have always recognised contributions in research, teaching and leadership. Exemplars of excellent performance in research and leadership are well established and understood within their discipline-specific contexts and cultures. Concrete and unequivocally-evidenced exemplars of excellence in teaching have proved to be more elusive. In 2013, we introduced a set of “Exemplars of Excellence in Student Education” to put flesh on the bones of the Grade Profiles with respect to student education. Promotions committees, referees and assessors have used these enthusiastically, but candidates for reward are, perversely, slow to catch up. The “Exemplars …” have been used to support some impressive promotion cases and also to offer detailed guidance to colleagues who have not been successful first time around. They have been used as exemplars by other Universities … but we are not about to make any charges of plagiarism!

Criteria for the Award of the Title of Personal Chair

For some time, Personal Chairs in Student learning have been awarded to our most influential and effective teachers. Special criteria for these appointments were developed around 2001. Since then, and as a result of organic growth, the criteria for all Chairs have become muddled, verbose and less than 100% clear. These criteria have been disassembled and reorganised. In this revision, it has become clear that Chairs in Student learning no longer require a separate set of criteria – they are simply professorial promotions with a strong focus on teaching.

Criteria for the Award of the Title of Reader

Historically, the University of Edinburgh has awarded the tile of Reader solely on the basis of personal distinction in research. This has always puzzled and frustrated colleagues with a strong focus on teaching. From 2016, the University has revised the criteria to allow promotion to the role of Reader on the basis of excellence across all dimensions of the academic role, including teaching.

Referees/Assessors for Academic Promotions – Guidance Notes and Forms

These vital documents, which inform the choice of referees and assessors, have been revised and polished, to make clear the role that teaching plays in reward and recognition and to emphasise the importance of the Exemplars of Excellence and the revised Chair/Readership criteria.

Academic Recruitment Toolkit (Assessing teaching commitment and ability)

Image of the exemplars
New documents, new opportunities

In August, 2016, Central Management Group decided that a practical teaching exercise must be included in all recruitment processes for academic posts that include, or are likely to include, a significant element of teaching, and that students should be involved directly in this process.

These are all major changes to past practice. We have also done some parallel work on academic Work Allocation Models and other, less glamorous processes. Let’s hope that all of this creates a real culture change. We must raise the importance and esteem given to teaching excellence without making any changes to the ways in which we encourage and reward research excellence.

Go for it!

Alan Murray

Alan Murray is Professor of Neural Electronics, Assistant Principal, Academic Support and Head of the Institute for BioEngineering at the University of Edinburgh. He introduced the Pulse Stream method for analogue neural VLSI in 1985. Alan’s interests are now in (a) direct interaction between silicon and real neuronal cells and (b) silicon chips for biomedical applications. He currently leads the £5.2M IMPACT (Implantable Microsystems for Personalised And-Cancer Treatment) project, funded by an EPSRC Programme Grant and has a passion for teaching. Alan has taught at all levels over his years as a lecturer, Reader and Professor and currently enjoys teaching first year engineering, first year electronics and third year Electromagnetics courses. Alan is a Fellow of IET, IEEE and the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Principal Fellow of the HEA and has published over 340 academic papers.

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