Researching our Learning and Teaching – get involved, get informed


Participate in a Universitas 21 network survey on teaching and find out more about ongoing research on teaching practices and attitudes.

How do we really know what goes on inside university classrooms? What do academic staff truly believe about and value in their teaching? How do academics view the institutional importance given to teaching in an arena of competing priorities? Research-intensive universities are increasingly adopting evidence based approaches to student learning to seek answers to these very questions.

The University has released a survey directed at academic staff that aims to try and answer some of these questions, as part of a collaborative project across 15 member institutions of the Universitas 21 network, of which the University of Edinburgh is a member. The project is being led by the University of British Columbia (UBC), building on their experience running a campus-wide survey in autumn 2014 on teaching practices and attitudes among academics. The survey measures the impact of existing teaching and learning initiatives and identifies the conditions leading to change in practices and attitudes around teaching.

Over 1200 academic staff across eleven Faculties completed the UBC survey. In contrast to some expectations, the response was genuinely representative of the entire complement of academic staff. Nearly one-third of respondents were full professors; one-quarter of all respondents had more than 20 years’ experience teaching in higher education.

Word CloudThe survey responses yielded fascinating data in their own right. One of the questions asked was “What one word best describes the teaching and learning environment at UBC?” We created a word cloud of the responses and published a survey insights report.

The data collected has provided us with an evidence base to start conversations around campus around teaching and learning practices. It shows us what different department have (and don’t have) in common in terms of teaching. We also now have a baseline measure, a snapshot in time, against which we can measure progress in the future.

I believe all institutions should collect and reflect on such data. This survey of teaching practices offers an effective and efficient way to collect it, with the added ability to benchmark against peer institutions taking part in the same project. However, to be maximally useful, it needs a good response rate from academic staff across the institution.

I know everyone’s days are busy, but please consider completing the survey (it will take no more than 30 minutes), and when you have, perhaps send a personal email to a colleague asking them to complete it and pay it forward in a similar way? That way the data will be comprehensive, representative, and will offer insights at institution and also School and College level, enabling rich conversations to happen, backed by robust data that show ‘how it really is’.

The U21 survey will be available from Monday 25 April to Friday 20 May.  You can access the survey here: U21 Teaching Practices Survey – University of Edinburgh

If you have any questions about the survey you can contact the University of Edinburgh institutional contacts, Dr Neil Lent, Institute for Academic Development – or Dr Amy Burge, Institute for Academic Development –

Simon Bates

Simon Bates is Professor of Teaching in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and Senior Advisor, Teaching and Learning at the University of British Columbia, Canada. He joined UBC in the summer of 2012, and was previously Dean of Learning and Teaching and Professor of Physics Education at the University of Edinburgh, where he also established and led the Edinburgh Physics Education Research Group (EdPER).

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