Defining and Demonstrating Teacher Quality and Impact

Students in class asking questions to the professor


Literature on defining and demonstrating teacher quality and impact is dominated by opinion pieces based on secondary, documentary analysis rather than rigorous comparison group studies. This points to a lack of a body of evidence for notions of ‘quality teaching’ across higher education more broadly and is a significant weakness in this field of research.


The mission of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) is to improve learning outcomes in the UK by raising the status and quality of teaching at colleges and universities. To help achieve this, HEA aims to keep its evidence base up to date to better understand the practices and policies that have a demonstrable impact on student outcomes.

The HEA, along with other sector bodies, has funded numerous research studies focusing on, or with implications for, raising the quality and status of teaching. To improve learning outcomes for students, it is critical to maintain an up-to-date evidence base examining how institutions define and demonstrate quality and impact. This will support the sector in its future implementation of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).


RAND Europe was commissioned to conduct a literature review that examined the area of defining and demonstrating teaching quality and impact in higher education. The overarching goal was to help practitioners, policy makers and researchers focus more effectively on relevant questions, issues or sources of evidence to inform their own research or practice.


The type of review for this project was a rapid evidence assessment (REA). The methodology for this review entailed a targeted search of education databases to identify relevant empirical evidence and research developments. The database search was restricted to relevant publications produced after 2012 and published in English. Search terms focused on teaching quality and impact in higher education.

The literature review was conducted in two stages:

  • Stage 1: Resources and services of the RAND Information Service were used to define and conduct searches and to find relevant sources in peer reviewed and grey literature in the UK and internationally. The scope of the review was detailed and defined in the protocol and they reflected the specific objectives of the study.
  • Stage 2: The protocol was then used to pursue further literature in a targeted manner. This provided a tailored literature review with links to documents where appropriate. Using a framework, the core team reviewed the sources through reading the abstracts and records whether they were relevant to the objectives of the review. The findings were then be assessed and analysed in a systematic and structured manner, allowing patterns to be captured where applicable.

The findings from the individual protocols and reviewed sources were then aggregated to produce a qualitative narrative, placing the findings in the policy context in the UK.


The project team found that:

  • There was relatively little robust empirical evidence, with the literature dominated by opinion pieces based on secondary, documentary analysis rather than rigorous comparison group studies.
  • This points to a lack of a body of evidence for notions of ‘quality teaching’ across higher education more broadly; this is a significant weakness in this field of research.

The report also examined the major themes emerging from the literature at three levels.

  • Firstly, after an overview of definitions of ‘quality teaching’ found in the literature, the team looked 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 team looked at teacher performance through prerequisites including teacher competence and qualifications, and through implementation, such as teaching methods, materials and curriculum design.
  • Thirdly, the team investigated ‘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.

Finally, the team examined how ‘quality teaching’ and impact are currently measured in the sector. Indicators used in these analyses include, amongst others, student test scores, student satisfaction and experience surveys, and employer feedback on new graduates in their employ. However, 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, meaning that it is currently difficult to assess whether these indicators can accurately measure ‘quality teaching.’


More implementation research is needed to test 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, the goals and priorities of higher education institutions themselves, and how these elements must be harmonised.

There also needs to be more consensus in the discourse on how ‘quality teaching’ may be measured or evaluated.