Student evaluations and innovative teaching

STUDENT EVALUATIONS OF TEACHER PERFORMANCE MAY HINDER INNOVATIVE ‘GOOD TEACHING’ PRACTICE: SOME OBSERVATIONS FROM RECENT RESEARCH

Julian Laurens

Recent research on student evaluations of teacher performance suggest, I argue, that assessing teacher performance via narrowly constructed student evaluation surveys designed to produce a quantifiable indicator of ‘good teaching’ may in fact have the indirect consequence of hindering innovation in ‘good’ teaching approaches. The May 2017 study [1] findings are consistent with a growing body of research [2] that shows university students are simply unable to recognise ‘good teaching’ or ‘what is best for their own learning’. The research identifies that students do not reward ‘good’ or ‘innovative’ teaching in the sense of an improved student evaluation mark for that teacher. Indeed, the evidence suggests the biggest factor informing a positive evaluation from a student is the grade the student is given.

On the other hand, as the studies show, student ignorance of ‘good teaching’ exists alongside evidence demonstrating that quality teaching has a positive impact on a student’s grades and learning outcomes. Moreover, when exposed to quality teaching the improved learning outcomes are transferred to subsequent subjects. This effect is consistent with findings from educational psychology: the work of Albert Bandura and other social-cognitive theorists on the development of student self-efficacy is particularly relevant. Worryingly, the research suggests that students who rated their teachers based on marks they received actually did worse on subsequent courses.

The research thus far raises implications for legal education. A specific and immediate issue raised by the findings is that given student evaluations of teaching are used by University and Faculty management when considering an academic’s career progress, there is a real risk that teachers may choose to ‘play it safe’. What incentive is there for a teacher to actually try something new in their teaching given that they will potentially not receive improved evaluation scores, and in fact may be penalised by students for being ‘innovative’?

A limitation is that much of the research so far is from non-law disciplines. There is yet to be a systematic look at how this particular problem with student evaluations does (if at all) apply to an Australian law school. This should not preclude us from taking note though.  Issues surrounding student evaluations generally have long been recognised in law schools. As Roth said (back in 1984), “[e]veryone agrees that evaluations ought to be done, but few are satisfied that it is now being done properly, or meaningfully” [3]. This remains the wider challenge. Elsewhere on this blog, colleagues Justine Rogers and Carolyn Penfold have also begun examining issues surrounding student’s evaluations.

In conclusion, for present purposes, the research may support the argument that over reliance on current narrow neo-liberal/managerialist inspired approaches to student evaluations of teachers at law schools in Australia may actually hinder innovative ‘good’ teaching practice. Current iterations of such practices can indeed appear as mechanisms of academic control, rather than tools that promote mutually collaborative learning environments. The research calls into question more broadly claims by universities to be dedicated to ‘good teaching’ and ‘innovation in learning’. There is a need to explore this issue further in the context of Australian legal education, situating it alongside continuing conversations around what actual good teaching looks like in law for example. I would like to make three brief practical observations at this stage derived from analysis of the research that may assist us to address some of the negative challengeS posed by the findings:

  • Firstly, we should always strive to improve our teaching, and we should be uncompromising in that. We should communicate this commitment to our students;
  • Secondly, we need to do a better job of explaining to students our teaching approach and rationales and how something relates to the learning experience;
  • Thirdly, we need to give students more opportunities to practice and reflect on what they have achieved along the way. Students need to see how they are progressing. They need to be regularly reminded of the value of learning. Royce Sadler’s work on the importance of feedback is worth reflecting on here.

[1] Brian A Jacob et al, ‘Measuring Up: Assessing instructor effectiveness in higher education’ (2017) 17(3) Education Next 68.

[2] See e.g. Michela Bragga et al, ‘Evaluating students’ evaluations of professors’ (2014) 41 Economics of Education Review 71; Arthur Poropat, ‘Students don’t know what’s best for their own learning’ (The Conversation, November 19, 2014) (online: http://theconversation.com/students-dont-know-whats-best-for-their-own-learning-33835 )

[3] William Roth, ‘Student Evaluation of Law Teaching’ (1984) 17(4) Akron Law Review 609, 610.

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Call for Papers: RESEARCH IN LEGAL EDUCATION: STATE OF THE ART?

Call for Papers
RESEARCH IN LEGAL EDUCATION: STATE OF THE ART?
What is it? Are we really doing it? What can it achieve? Where is it going?
3rd to 5th December 2017
Hosted by UNSW Law Legal Education Research Group

Legal education has developed enormously in recent years. An increase in law schools and law students, more education oriented regulation and an increased understanding of the professional nature of teaching have led to a growth in legal education publications.

This conference seeks to interrogate the purpose and the power of that body of scholarship. Is scholarship in legal education a subset of legal scholarship, or of educational scholarship, or is it sui generis? To whom is it speaking and what is it seeking to achieve – to convince legal academics to think differently about law, or about their practice as teachers of law, or simply to help them become more effective law teachers? Is it rigorous enough? Does it have practical value, and clear applicability in the legal classroom? Can anyone do it? Does being a law teacher give you instant access and insight into legal education scholarship? How do we know what goes on in law classrooms let alone the minds of law students as they make that slow transition to ‘thinking like a lawyer’?

We welcome a broad range of responses to the conference theme – from classroom experiences to theoretical and historical interrogations of what it means to be engaged in legal education scholarship. Papers can deal with a range of issues including:

– The history, present and future directions of legal education scholarship
– The theory and practice of legal education scholarship
– The politics of legal education scholarship
– Legal education scholarship and the nexus between teaching and research
– The relation between legal education scholarship and doctrinal, empirical and theoretical scholarship in law
– Methodological debates in legal education scholarship
– The status of the classroom – face-to-face, clinical and online – in legal education scholarship
– Legal education scholarship and the contemporary university (in Australia and internationally)
– The practicalities and ethics of student involvement in legal education scholarship – ‘students as partners’ or students as data-providers (or a mixture of both)?
– Scholarship on the use of technology in the law classroom
– Legal education, legal education scholarship and social justice in the 21st century
– The globalisation of legal knowledge, legal practice and legal education
– Legal education scholarship on international students

More broadly, we welcome any paper or poster proposal in the genre of legal education on any substantive area of law that makes an effort to think through the status of legal education scholarship. We particularly welcome doctoral, early career and junior scholars.
The call for papers for this Conference closes on 1 September 2017. There are two types of participation in the conference: conference papers and poster presentations. Please send conference paper abstracts of no more than 500 words to law-education@unsw.edu.au by 1 September 2017. If accepted, participants should plan to present papers of 20 minutes’ duration. Participants wishing to present a poster should send a 300 words description of their poster presentation by the same date. We plan to publish a selection of the conference papers in a special edition of a journal.

We are delighted to announce three keynote speakers of the conference:

Professor Carrie Menkel-Meadow, Chancellor’s Professor of Law at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, USA..

A founder of the dispute resolution field, Professor Menkel-Meadow came to UC Irvine School of Law from Georgetown University Law Center, where she is the A.B. Chettle, Jr. Professor of Dispute Resolution and Civil Procedure and Director of the Georgetown-Hewlett Program in Conflict Resolution and Legal Problem Solving. She has been the Faculty Director of Georgetown’s innovative partnership with 20 law schools from around the world, the Center for Transnational Legal Studies in London, in which faculty and students from participating programs study international and comparative law in a multi-national setting.

Professor Menkel-Meadow was a professor of law at UCLA for nearly 20 years, also serving as a professor in the Women’s Studies program, Acting Director of the Center for the Study of Women, and Co-Director of UCLA’s Center on Conflict Resolution. She has taught as a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Legal Theory at the University of Toronto, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, Stanford Law School, and as a clinical professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

Professor Fiona Cownie, Pro Vice Chancellor (Education and Student Experience), Keele University, England.

Fiona Cownie’s research interests centre on legal education and the legal system. Her work covers all areas of legal education. It includes analysis of the ways in which law is taught, especially arguments about the importance of educational theory and philosophy to legal education. It also includes work on the purpose of the law school and on relationships between the academic study of law and vocational training as required by the legal professions.

Professor Cownie has also made a major contribution to debates about the academic staff who work in law schools; she has carried out extensive empirical research in this area, both in the U.K. and in Canada, and has written a monograph and a series of articles exploring different aspects of legal academic life, including work on women in the law school and values in law teaching, as well as on the everyday dress of law teachers. Recently, she has become interested in the history of law schools, and in particular of legal academics. She is the author of Legal Academics: culture and identities (Hart, 2004) and co-author of A Great and Noble Occupation: the history of the Society of Legal Scholars (Hart, 2009). Her latest research project is an extended study of the biographies of early women law professors in the U.K.

Professor Paul Marharg, Distinguished Professor of Practice, Osgoode Hall Law School,  York University, Canada.

Paul Maharg is a leading scholar in legal education whose work is focused on interdisciplinary educational innovation, the design of regulation in legal education, and the use of technology-enhanced learning. He joined Osgoode as Distinguished Professor of Practice in May 2017.  Since 2013, he has served as Professor of Law and Director of the Centre for Profession, Education and Regulation in Law (PEARL) at Australian National University College of Law as well as Professor of Law (part-time) at Nottingham Law School. He also currently holds Visiting Professorships at Hong Kong University Faculty of Law and Chinese University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law.

He has produced four books and two book series on legal education, and digital games & learning; and influential reports into the regulation of legal services education in England and Wales and other jurisdictions. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a UK Higher Education Academy (HEA) National Teaching Fellow and a Principal Fellow of the HEA, he has a PhD in Literature, Aesthetics and Philosophy (Edinburgh University); an LLB, Dip Ed and MA in English Literature and Language (Glasgow University); and a PGCE (Jordanhill College of Education).

The conference will be held at UNSW Law school. It is free but registration is required as numbers will be limited. Any inquiries can be directed to: law-education@unsw.edu.au

The importance of regulatory context: some questions for legal educators

By Justine Rogers

ANU College of Law hosted its annual legal ethics roundtable last week. The theme was ‘reimagining lawyer regulation’.

The regulatory ideas presented raised many worthwhile questions for legal education. I’ve selected two here.

From the talk given by keynote speaker, Professor Leslie Levin, expert in the legal profession, ethical decision-making and lawyer discipline, University of Connecticut:

1) How do we teach law students to be professional when the primary influence over their ethical attitudes, decision-making and compliance will be their particular, divergent work contexts?

Building on other research, Levin’s study of some 1300 lawyers revealed that of all the determinants of future ethical behaviour, most decisive is practice context (workplace, type of client, court etc) and the behaviour of those who inhabit it. Far less so or less significantly are the things that students need to disclose for admission (such as mental health).

Context shapes the importance given to the professional bodies outside the workplace when deciding what values and rules are worth following, such as, the associations, the regulators (or the disciplinary architecture), the court, and the insurers. For instance, big firms look within their own firms and otherwise interact with insurers, prosecutors are less concerned with criminal liability (when does that happen?), in-house counsel don’t worry about discipline, whereas sole practitioners do. In other words, different things matter to different practices.

Levin asked: How do we create professional training, sanctions, and incentives in order to motivate lawyers to behave the way we want them to and to teach them what positive norms there are in the profession? How do we regulate lawyers if context (what matters in each context) is the key variable?

This also means we need to think about how to develop professional integrity and core ethical skills among students for contexts that will introduce, emphasise and enforce professional values in very different ways.

From the talk given by Dr Stephen Tang, Lecturer, ANU College of Law:

2) What is the proper role of behavioural ethics (or any applied psychology) in legal ethics courses?

Behavioural (Legal) Ethics is ‘trending’ in legal ethics education. Popularised by books like Thinking Fast and Slow, and Nudge, this scholarship argues that people are fundamentally irrational and use cognitive short cuts that can lead to suboptimal decision-making. At UNSW Law, we use behavioural legal ethics material in our core course to allow students to better identify, prepare for and discuss ethics issues. Our material includes this leading Robbennholt and Sternlight piece and this wonderful series of ‘Ethics Unwrapped’ videos from UT Austin, both of which were commended by Tang.

This material is useful, he argued, at least as a set of cautionary tales of how irrationality can contribute to immorality and discrimination in routine, subconscious ways. But his concern with behavioural ethics, or the behavioural economics or applied psychological approaches from which it derives, is how the information can be used  – and is used – to manipulate behaviour, even if in a benignly paternalistic or ‘nudging’ way. Equally concerning, its use is usually guided by simplistic, narrow, short-term and consequentialist (eco-based) ideas of people’s motivations and values.

When regulating lawyers, he argued, we need to contemplate and include professional narratives, and organisational climates, and cultures – or more complexity. We will have, then, a better chance of success in fostering certain positive behaviour because we will understand bigger psychological dimensions and developments over time, not just quick, aesthetic behavioural changes, of the same sort as the etched image of a fly in a urinal used to lead to cleaner bathrooms (yes, that’s a real example of applied psych). “If regulation is inescapable, then we must understand people in context. We need to have a sense of our own limits as regulators when deciding what other people decide.”

Similarly, I would say, when teaching students behavioural ethics to more effectively engage in ethical discussions, it must involve a commitment to use the information transparently and inclusively as a way of better understanding and discussing mistakes and fallibilities, of broadening the range of harms considered, and not ruling out or underestimating other motivations, explanations and solutions.

Big Data Analytics on student surveys

It’s the new “thing” – analytics applied to student responses to courses. And it is really quite scary.

To give an example, I will share my own results from a recently taught course of 22 students of which 10 filled out the survey. This is “small data”. It takes about 5-10 minutes (generously) to read and reflect upon the student feedback. Since I am sharing, they generally liked the course including guest lectures and excursions, but felt that one topic didn’t need as much time and that my Moodle page wasn’t well organised. All very helpful for the next time I run the course (note to self to start my Moodle page earlier and tweak the class schedule).

The problem is no longer the feedback, it is the “analytics” which now accompany it. The worst is the “word clouds”. I look at the word cloud for my course and see big words (these generally reflect the feedback, subject to an exception discussed below) and then smaller words and phrases. Now the smaller ones in a word cloud are obviously meant to be “less” important but these are really quite concerning, so much so that I initially panicked. They include “disrespectful/rude”, “unapproachable”, “not worthwhile”, “superficial” and “unpleasant”. Bear in mind the word cloud precedes the actual comments in my report. None of these terms (nor their synonyms) were used by ANY of the students (unless an organised Moodle page could count as “unapproachable”). And they are really horrible things to say about someone, especially when there is no basis for these kinds of assertions in the actual feedback received.

The problem here is applying a “big data” tool to (very) small data. It doesn’t work, and it can be actively misleading. One of the word clouds (there are different ones for different “topics”) had the word “organised”. That came up because students were telling me my Moodle page was NOT well organised, but it would be easy to think at a quick glance that this was praise.

So what is the point of this exercise? One imagines it might be useful if you have a course with hundreds of students (so that reading the comments would take an hour, say). But the fact that the comments can be actively misleading (as in “organised” above) demonstrates, you still need to read the comments to understand the context. Further, students often make subtle observations in comments (like the fact that too much time was spent on a particular topic) that are difficult to interpret in a word cloud where the phrases are aggregated and sprinkled around the place. So, it doesn’t really save time. The comments still need to be read and reflected on.

Big Data tools always sound very exciting. So much buzz! Imagine if we could predict flu epidemics from Google searches (that no longer works, by the way) or predict crime before it happens (lots of jurisdictions are trying this, particularly in the US). But the truth is more like the word cloud on student feedback – inappropriately applied, error prone, poorly understood by those deploying the tool, and thus often unhelpful. Data analytics CAN be good tool – but it is a bit like a hammer in the hands of those who don’t understand its function and limitations, everything looks like a nail.

Lyria Bennett Moses

Critical thinking in legal education: What? Why? How? By Lucas Lixinski

by Lucas Lixinski

An article in today’s The Conversation asks whether universities really do a good job (or any job at all) of teaching critical thinking. While acknowledging that defining critical thinking is incredibly difficult, and that most definitions out there are vague at best, the article then moves to discussing whether universities actually teach critical thinking in the way they promise they do. In what seems like a job market that increasingly pays a premium for applicants who can demonstrate having learned critical thinking skills, there is a clear financial incentive (beyond the obvious intellectual one) to be more self-aware of what critical thinking is in our discipline, and how we actually go about teaching it.

 

What is critical thinking in law?

I will not by any means attempt to give an all-encompassing definition of critical thinking more broadly, nor critical thinking in the law. Instead, let me just say where I come from, and try and make sense of the landscape from there. The intention here is to start conversations and provoke reactions, rather than lay down the law (pardon the pun) on the matter.

 

In my opinion, critical thinking has to do with challenging assumed wisdom, and showing students how to do that themselves. In the law, as far as I can see, there are two ways in which I can do that. The first one is to focus on the contingencies of the law, whether they are economic, historical, or political. Things like the old adage that “the law is made largely by, and for the benefit of, white, male[, heterosexual, able-bodied] property owners” tends to be a great starting point to unravel those contingencies. As is the broader historical context of critical moments in the formation of the legal system (like the influence of Protestant ethics in the shaping of the Common Law and its approaches to labor and property, which is different from the way the mostly Catholic Civil Law jurisdictions behaved in Europe at around the same time).

 

Secondly, another way of critically thinking about the law, in my view, is to look into the background. More specifically, when we think about, say, a contract for the purchase of milk, the foreground body of rules operating is contract law. However, in the background there are a number of other bodies of law that influence what is possible for a contract (even though on paper contract law is still the quintessential guardian of private liberty), such as food security rules, (international) trade law if milk is considered to be a strategic product the production of which is incentivized, the corresponding tax arrangements, etc. Admittedly, it makes teaching a simple case daunting, but I always tell my students that I don’t need to have all the answers to those all the time, nor do they. But they need to be mindful of those knock-on effects of the simplest legal rule (sort of a “butterfly effect”, but in the law, and hopefully not creating any hurricanes anywhere).

 

How can we “teach” it?

If you haven’t caught on to it yet, let me out myself here. The way I think about critical thinking, and consequently teach it, is influenced by the way I think and write about the law more generally. Which is to say, I have a hard time dissociating critical thinking as an abstract and transferrable skill from critical legal studies, which is a specific way of theorizing and understanding the law. In other words, the way I conceptualize and “do” critical thinking is deeply influenced by my own bias as a critical scholar (well, much of the time anyway), which is framed by my politics, rather than my raw analytical ability. Assuming this neutrality is desirable (and the article on The Conversation referred to above suggests as much), how do I counter my own biases?

 

Maybe the assumption is that teaching a lefty orthodoxy induces critical thinking, in that it challenges status quo and conventional wisdom students come to the table with. So, maybe the way to teach critical thinking is to constantly challenge student’s assumptions. Except that those assumptions vary radically within a cohort, and change a lot throughout the degree. Which is to say, it may be safe to assume that a first-year undergraduate class at an elite university is made up of students whom you can assume espouse certain center- to right-leaning assumptions about the world, inherited from their parents and their upbringing. But, after spending a year being challenged on those assumptions, it may be that an upper level class needs to be re-presented with the Liberal version of the world. That is, of course, if critical thinking is to be conveyed through “thick descriptions” of reality as a means to understand and apply the law.

 

Which is to say, maybe the way to teach critical thinking is to make the teaching less about what I think, and more about playing devil’s advocate all the time to what students think. And that is a fair enough proposition in a student-centric model of education, but, if teaching is also meant to be (at least to some extent) research-driven (not to mention students’ insistence on “answers”), isn’t it my job to convey what I think after all? I constantly try to strike a balance between what I think and other opinions out there, and present them all, but I’m not sure I’m always successful.

 

This discussion brings to mind an old and still current debate about the purpose of legal education. Is legal education about teaching substantive knowledge of the law, or just skills (“thinking like a lawyer”)? I tend to think the latter, but, in considering the legal profession is subject to an increasingly strict regulatory environment, content is also incredibly important. It is also easier to measure and assess. Problem questions have a way of assessing critical thinking, but often enough (as people marking exams everywhere may attest to), answers to problem questions can too easily devolve into knowledge-spewing for significant segments of the student population.

 

So, what to do?

I honestly don’t know, and invite other people’s views on the matter. As far as I can see, I will keep on trying to challenge students at every turn (and have they challenge me), but being mindful that my opinion counts, while certainly not the only one that does.

 

In one of my classes (an Introduction to the Legal System-type class, called “Introducing Law and Justice”), I have the privilege of talking to students in one of their early contacts with the legal discipline. And in doing that I present students with a list of questions that they should be asking of materials they read (cases, statutes, scholarly texts) as a means to stimulate critical thinking:

–        Why is the law this way?

–        Who stands to gain?

–        Who loses?

–        What does the law as is miss? What are its blind spots?

–        What do other people do faced with similar legal problems, and why? Can we learn lessons there?

–        When was this case decided? What was the broader context around this case?

–        What was the court / law-maker trying to say between the lines?

–        Who is the court / law-maker (white, male, property owner)?

–        What is this legal statement / assertion / rule a reaction to?

–        How does the private affect the public (and vice-versa)?

 

That strikes me as a fairly useful checklist to spark critical thinking, on the models above. But are there other ways of doing that in law teaching? Let me hear your thoughts!

 

 

New Wellbeing and Mental Health Guide for lawyers

Colin James

A new Guide on wellbeing and mental health for lawyers has just been released by lawyers and researchers associated with the Wellness Network for Law. It was produced as a collaboration between the NSW Law Society, NSW Young Lawyers and four staff at ANU Legal Workshop.  The chapters were primarily written by Stephen Tang, Margie Rowe, Tony Foley, Vivien Holmes and Colin James.  There are also contributions from Ian Hickie and profiles from other familiar Wellness Network names, including Michelle Sharpe and Mary Digiglio.

 

The Guide is free and can be viewed online, downloaded as a PDF, and be ordered as hard copies:

 

http://lawsociety.com.au/ForSolictors/professionalsupport/supportingyou/BeingWellintheLaw/index.htm

 

The authors provide a more optimistic and comprehensive approach to wellbeing and mental health beyond identifying high levels of distress.  It has a chapter specifically for new lawyers on ‘starting right’ but the rest of the Guide is useful for all lawyers, and also for law students. It addresses wellbeing, mental health, thriving, values/ethics and their relationship with wellbeing and the differing types of stress (there is good stress!) and how to deal with it.

Figuring out what works in Legal Education – the gaps in research and why it’s not all gloom and doom

By Julian Laurens and Lucas Lixinski

An article published in today’s The Conversation suggests there is a sizeable problem in the higher education literature, in that it is not sufficiently comprehensive, too anecdotally-based, and because of that lacks replication / transplantation value, making it difficult for other educators to apply findings in their own contexts. That is a fair point, even if focusing only on legal education helps address some of the article’s concerns.

One of the things some of us are trying to do at UNSW Law attempts to rise to some of these challenges. By seeking to clearly situate our teaching practice within the literature of what we do know, we are developing a body of work that addresses some of those gaps, with the caveat that it is in the legal education context, and may not be easily applicable outside the Common Law (or even Australian!) context. Which leads us to question whether there is such a thing as generalizable formulae in education. To be sure, in assuming the jurisdiction-specific nature of education, we may be tying ourselves to the notion that legal education primarily teaches content, rather than transferrable skills. But even if we are talking about skills, they are still historically, politically and socially contingent, so transplantability of findings about “what works” can never really be complete. So, not only may be the objective of a generalized wisdom on higher education be a utopia, there is also reason to believe that we do have generally a pretty good idea of some things that do actually work, at least in law (though admittedly there are glaring gaps in the Legal Education literature).

Part of the issue is how one can measure things like ‘success’ – whether it is a narrow, easily quantifiable neo-liberal inspired marker (test scores come to mind), or something broader, encompassing notions of justice (such as student well-being). An example is the difference between the education system in Norway and how they approach student learning and the education system in say the United States with its completely discredited emphasis on continual standardised testing and so forth.

So, yes, we DO know that some things work better than others and we DO have an idea of how they are situated very clearly in the relevant psychological and educational literature. And there is no reason to assume that many things cannot be transferred into University teaching that were found in, say, a secondary school setting. We need to bear in mind the contingencies that define the legal field (and, for that matter, any field of knowledge), but we think there is more reason to hope than to despair. The problem may be that we have people with MBAs designing educational policy, instead of people with MEd’s.

Student engagement in university decision-making and governance- towards a more inclusive student voice

An OLT Strategic Priority Commissioned Project led by Sally Varnham UTS

by Sally Varnham and Bronwyn Olliffe

The “student voice” project was born out of experience with student engagement in university governance bodies and a recognition that in a changing tertiary education environment students expect a greater say in how they experience tertiary education.

As this study unfolded it became apparent that there is a wealth of experience with student engagement and partnership in other countries that we can draw on. At the same time, we have seen that some Australian tertiary education institutions are already implementing similar practices with their own student cohorts.

A challenge in embedding good student engagement practice here in Australia arises from the different types of institution providing tertiary education. A one size fits all approach will not suffice.  However, whatever the specific needs and constraints of particular institutions, we believe that there are lessons to be learnt from international experience and our collective Australian experiences in engaging students in decision-making.

To encourage engagement, a sincere culture of partnership must be developed through demonstration by universities and the sector of a commitment to and respect for student voice.   Communication is central: first, of the representative opportunities across the institution and secondly, how the views of student representatives are integral to decisions made. Essential components are:

  1. Effective, valued and supported student leadership in partnership with universities.
  2. A developmental approach to student representation from course/ subject level through to high level institutional bodies.
  3. Resources for training and support of student representatives.
  4. Formal and informal processes for the engagement of students at all levels for continual enhancement of courses, their university experience and their personal development.
  5. Capturing every student’s voice – engaging underrepresented student groups to ensure engagement of the whole student cohort.
  6. Appropriate financial and nonfinancial support and incentives for student representation.

The Project recommends a sector-wide collaboration for the sharing of knowledge and experience of the benefits and challenges of effective student engagement for the diverse Australian sector, ultimately working towards framing a set of principles. An Australian Learning and Teaching National Senior Teaching Fellowship has been awarded to the Project leader, Professor Sally Varnham (2016/2017) during which she will engage senior university leaders and government policy-makers, student representatives, professional and academic staff, university management, and government agencies in a sector wide discussion aiming at a shared understanding.

You can join us in continuing the Student Voice Conversation via our Facebook page: Student Voice in university decision-making and follow our activities via our web page: studentvoice.uts.edu.au.

 

Can teaching be measured? #2

Carolyn Penfold

Following on from Justine Rogers’ 30th May post: ‘Can Teaching Be Measured’ I’m adding links to some articles on the topic. I think these questions are becoming increasingly important as universities seek ‘metrics’ by which to measure their work forces. The articles linked to below suggest that bias is a concern in teaching evaluations, which for me raises the question of whether those using the metrics will need to ‘correct’ for likely (or even just potential) bias. Check these out and let me know what you think:

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/01/11/new-analysis-offers-more-evidence-against-student-evaluations-teaching

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2016/02/04/student-evaluations-of-teaching-gender-bias/

https://tcf.org/content/commentary/student-evaluations-skewed-women-minority-professors/

http://www.utstat.toronto.edu/reid/sta2201s/gender-teaching.pdf

 

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