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Parallel session 12: Developing learning and teaching at the national level

04 October 2017

Sharing experience from Ireland, Norway and the Netherlands

“Countries, institutions and individuals are at a very different stage when it comes to reflecting on learning and teaching”.

Christian Tauch’s, Dean of Ed Department, German Rectors Conference set the scene for a session at the European Learning &Teaching Forum in Paris exploring ‘enviable’ models for developing learning and teaching at the national level.

Successful yet different, these three models appear to be working.

Ireland: Fostering an ecosystem with a national forum linking all universities, private colleges and institutes of technology.

There is a lot going on at the National L&T Forum. Set up in 2012/13 to serve Ireland’s seven universities, private colleges and institutes of technology it is the result of a perceived need – following a period of generous yet dispersed higher education funding - to capture and share good practice and learning more effectively.

Previously, money had been focused on individual universities or in “education pockets” and knowledge got lost as individuals moved on, explained Terry Maguire, the Forum’s Director.

The Forum acts as an advisory body with a board that comes from its institutions. It also leverages the expertise of people in the institutions to support its work, as the core staff is small – equivalent to just five full time positions.

“We hold a face-to-face meetings with each institution twice yearly and we use the expertise of institution representatives to guide our work. We’re also very student centric,” says Terry.

Work at the National L&T Forum is structured around themes (the current one is assessment), an award scheme for teaching has been set up, evidence-based decision-making is prioritised and a framework for professional development has been established.

“No one says it is perfect but every institution has engaged with it and it is working,” says Maguire. “We pulled together existing networks that were not accredited to put together programmes that are accredited and- there is a lot of interest.”

The Forum also funds collaborative projects across institutions and has a learning impact project called ‘Teaching Heroes’ where students write 150 words to nominate their hero. It is also working on awards for teaching and learning enhancements over a period of three years and has produced a rich body of research. You’ll find more on the website.

The Netherlands where competing universities work together to build a collaborative cell on learning and teaching

While the Dutch government’s position on learning and teaching excellence was warmly commended by presenter, Henk Dekker, Director, Centre of Education and Learning of Leiden University, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam, the collaboration model he shared was more of a grass-roots approach between three competing universities.

Leiden, Erasmus, and Delft came to the conclusion that today’s social and economic challenges are best met through an inter-university, multi-disciplinary approach. And that is why they created a shared centre for education and learning aimed at enhancing teacher training.

“Community building across the universities creates energy and it is fun to exchange ideas,” said Dekker. “We spend money on research to see what works best, develop new strategies and provide teaching staff development.

We’re currently working with augmented reality to see how students can benefit from it in their learning. Our innovation rooms are living labs for improving education and bringing teachers together.”

Joins us or build you own cell was Dekker’s closing message.

Norway where institutions buy in to a government-led approach

Moving to Norway, we see an approach that appears to be top down but is in fact a product of considerable grass roots collaboration said Nina Waaler, Vice-Rector for Education, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences.

After soliciting strong input from the university community, the Norwegian government produced white paper on teaching quality in higher education.

“Some thought it was too much a list of government expectations,” said Waaler but the reality was it was ‘well accepted’.

The paper outlines four measures to improve quality in higher education: 1/ pedagogical merit systems 2/ peer review and peer mentoring 3/ national competitive arena for quality in education 4/ a national quality portal.

As a result of the paper, the government has revised its regulation on employment of teachers requiring pedagogical competency in teaching. There has also been a ‘strong focus’ on digitalisation in education.

“In my university,” said Waaler, “we’ve created a learning lab to help teachers master technologies that support their teaching.”

Further, by 2020 – 20% of all graduates in Norway should have gone on exchange programmes, and strong student interaction with working life has been encouraged by government, Waaler explained. “The government expects that institutional management prioritise education quality and communicate their priorities to their entire organisation”.

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