Review of the Research Literature on Defining and Demonstrating Quality Teaching and Impact in Higher Education

Published in: Higher Education Academy, 2016

Posted on RAND.org on November 18, 2016

by Lucy Strang, Julie Belanger, Catriona Manville, Catherine Meads

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Research Question

  1. How is teaching quality and impact defined and demonstrated in higher education?

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) commissioned RAND Europe to conduct a review of literature published since 2012, with the aim of identifying and summarising the key trends and issues in the literature on how 'quality teaching' and its impact are currently being defined and demonstrated at higher education institutions. While the assessment of 'quality teaching' and its impact in higher education has historically been neglected by researchers, the context around higher education teaching is rapidly changing. The HEA recently noted that the importance of 'high quality teaching' in higher education is becoming increasingly emphasised both in the United Kingdom and abroad, as the 'knowledge society' and global competition have strengthened. Excellence in teaching has become more entrenched in higher education policy and in the educational strategies of academic institutions, and increasingly linked to the performance and assessment of these institutions. Despite this, debates remain and indeed have intensified in recent decades over what 'quality', 'excellence' and 'impact' in relation to teaching really mean. This Report is accompanied by a dataset on literature found in this review. This Dataset is divided into two tabs: one tab for the literature which was cited in this review, and a second tab for the literature which informed this review. The tab for the literature cited in this review contains the bibliographic information of all the literature contained therein as well as information on what relevant themes are covered in each paper, and the national context(s) to which the paper refers.

Key Findings

The evidence base for how teaching quality and impact may be defined and demonstrated is weak.

There is a lack of robust empirical evidence, with the literature dominated by opinion pieces based on secondary, documentary analysis rather than rigorous comparison group studies.

Quality teaching is defined in the literature at the student experience, teacher performance and institutional level.

The Report looks at how it is demonstrated or operationalised through the student experience, with indicators such as social integration, freedom of choice and level of student participation. Secondly, the Report looks at teacher performance through prerequisites including teacher competence and qualifications, and through implementation, such as teaching methods, materials and curriculum design. Thirdly, the Report looks at 'quality teaching' at the institutional level, through prerequisites such as funding and resources, the learning environment and student guidance available, and through implementation such as the availability of a wide variety of subjects, community involvement and quality management processes, amongst other approaches.

Quality teaching and impact are currently measured using a number of indicators.

Indicators used in these analyses include student test scores, student satisfaction and experience surveys, employer feedback on new graduates in their employ, and student outputs such as retention and pass rates, as well as knowledge, skills and capability of graduating students. However, we find that while there is considerable overlap in the literature on how quality teaching and its impact may be measured, there is a striking lack of evidence behind the indicators used by researchers and higher education institutions.

Recommendations

  • There is a need for more implementation research, testing theories about how to operationalise and measure 'quality teaching' through implementing practical initiatives and monitoring the results.
  • However, before this research can be conducted, more consensus, or at least constructive discussion, is needed on the notion of 'quality teaching' in higher education, and the goals and priorities of higher education institutions themselves, and how these elements must be harmonised. Secondly, there needs to be more consensus in the discourse on how 'quality teaching' may be measured or evaluated.

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