The Inside Story: Chairing the Edinburgh Teaching Award Panel

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In this post, Robbie Nicol takes us backstage and walks us through the process of chairing the Edinburgh Teaching Award Panel. Robbie is Professor of Place-Based Education at the Moray House School of Education and Sport. This is the second post of the Learning and Teaching Enhancement theme:  “Gaining recognition for teaching: The Edinburgh Teaching Award”.


The Edinburgh Teaching Award (EdTA) panel meets four times a year to consider submissions.  The panel is made up of the Chair, the Convenor, who is the academic lead, an External panel member (similar to an external examiner) and the Reviewers – the members of staff who have assessed the submissions.  All categories of fellowship are assessed in each panel by colleagues who hold an appropriate category of fellowship; all reviewers must hold at least the category of the person they are assessing.  In this blog, the current EdTA panel chair reflects on the experience and sheds light on the process.

A View From The Chair

The duties of the chair begin with the arrival by email of a comprehensive set of instructions. These include a list of candidates, a list of the assessors and instructions about which candidates they are assessing, the name of the external examiner, and a link to access the individual WordPress sites where all the submissions are posted. The assessors are given around six weeks to examine each submission and complete a marksheet. This is a blind assessment and the marksheets are returned without any consultation with the other assessor. For each candidate the assessor must indicate a recommendation of Award, Discuss or Refer. In advance of the panel meeting the chair receives a further colour coded spreadsheet that lists the candidates and each of the recommendations from their assessors.

Every time I open this spreadsheet I am reminded of how fortunate we are having the amazing support of Emily Salvesen in administering the EdTA. I begin by looking through the spreadsheet which are made so much easier because of the colour coding. At a glance you can see the degree of agreement, or disagreement, between the assessors. On the day of the panel we begin with introductions. I like to begin this agenda item by thanking everyone present. These include the assessors who give freely of their time to promote the award, and in so doing contribute to the University’s ambition to raise the profile of teaching and learning. I also thank the external examiner whose presence is an essential part of the quality assurance and enhancement. There are also observers to thank. These are people who want to become assessors themselves and have to work with an experienced assessor until they are ready to assess on their own. Recently, with assessment panels moving online Andrew Street provides technical support. Finally, I like to thank our convenor Rayya Ghul who is Academic Lead and an oracle on Advance HE matters and the UKPSF.

On the day I remind everyone that our business is minuted but that our discussions are confidential. This is important because all the claimants are colleagues from across the University. The main business of the day is to consider each candidate, which we do one at a time. Where both assessors have indicated ‘Award’ the result itself is straightforward and I will ask the assessors if they think that the submission might be used as an exemplar for sharing with others. I then make sure that Emily has enough information from the marksheets and the assessors’ discussion to feedback to the candidate.  Where there is an Award/Discuss combination, I will normally ask the person who has indicated ‘Discuss’ to explain what it is they would like to discuss. Assessors normally indicate discuss when they do not want to refer the applicant but there are certain aspects of the portfolio they would like to discuss with the other examiner. My role here is to guide the examiners towards a conclusion although it is normal that they will do this by themselves. Where there is an Award/Refer combination again I will normally ask the assessor who has suggested ‘refer’ to start the conversation. Refer is used by an examiner where they believe that that candidate does not meet some or all of the criteria of the category. Again, my role is to move the discussion towards a conclusion but sometimes the discussion is based around differing interpretations of the UKPSF, or at least the different weightings attached to them. This is where Rayya’s intimate knowledge of the framework is invaluable. As convener, one of her roles is the equivalent of a regulations expert and very often disagreements are resolved by Rayya framing the discussion within the correct aspect of the framework. When both assessors indicate refer the candidate will be provided with detailed and formative feedback that will help them to prepare another submission for a future submission.

Why Am I Writing This Blog?

Rayya and I thought that colleagues might like to see behind the scenes of how the Panel goes about its business and hopefully the information provided above helps with this. But there was another reason for writing and this came about following a conversation between the two of us.  Rayya was really struck by the way that I talked about the care that people took over assessing and the discussions in the panels.  There are several reasons why I mentioned this to her. For example, every time I opened the spreadsheet I have been amazed by how much agreement there has been between the examiners.  What is remarkable about this agreement is that assessors are looking at submission from across all three colleges involving academic and professional services staff.  One minute assessors will be looking at something to do with laboratory experiments in a chemistry laboratory, and the next the improvement of library services, and then veterinary interventions for animal health.  It is not surprising that assessors need to discuss the different ways they see things but I am continuously impressed by how these discussions are so earnest and respectful of each candidate.  There is real humility amongst the assessors because in order to be effective they have to adopt the role of learner and assessor simultaneously.  They are learners in two senses.  The first is that they are likely to be assessing unfamiliar subject areas and because of this they need to constantly refer back to the UKPSF to make sure the submission fits.  They also have to make sure that the candidates are not just talking about their subject but also the theory and pedagogical approaches that inform their teaching.  I think this respectful engagement creates its own community of learning and development where everyone is learning from each other.  Chairing EdTA Panels is one of my favourite activities because it means working with excellent colleagues and learning so much from them.  I would urge colleagues to participate in the award and hope these explanations are an encouragement to do so.


Photo of the authorRobbie Nicol

Robbie Nicol is Professor of Place-Based Education.

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