Saturday, 4 May 2013

Southampton students honour good teaching

The UK has become a bit of a nation of League Tables and Higher Education is no exception, with the National Student Survey (NSS) and national University rankings becoming increasingly important in student recruitment and general reputation.

"Quality Assurance" (QA), as it's known in the business, is clearly very important. There should be ways of ensuring that teaching quality remains high, especially in (predominantly) publicly-funded systems like the UK. I'm not convinced that surveys and league tables are the way to do this, though. The problem with any assessment as a method of encouraging good quality is that you have to make sure that what you are assessing actually matches quality. Otherwise, all you do is encourage successful game-playing to maximise performance metrics. (This is particularly true of the "Research Excellence Framework", sadly, which is directing a ton of time and resources away from doing excellent research.)

With all the hoop-jumping that goes along with league tables, it is easy to lose sight of what is really important in terms of teaching quality - the actual learning experience of the students - and the fact that, despite most individual performance metrics for academics being research-related, most lecturers care about that learning experience. It was really nice, therefore, to discover that the Southampton University Student's Union (SUSU) has started its own Excellence in Teaching Awards to recognise members of staff that have gone the extra mile.

It was great to see so many of my colleagues in Biological Sciences among the nominees and I felt pretty chuffed to be nominated for a "Contribution to Academic Support" award. (I didn't win!) I've seen some of the lengths my fellow academics go to in order to maintain quality teaching despite growing numbers and shrinking resources and it's lovely to know that the students appreciate the effort. Nice one, SUSU!

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