Summertime manoeuvres

Isn’t the summer supposed to be the time when the living is easy, fish are jumping and the cotton is high? Two recent posts suggest that the recently proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is stirring a lot of thinking and calls for action across the sector:

In a post on the WonkHE site – – Gordon Mckenzie, the Chief executive of the GuildHE, one of the two recognised representative bodies for Higher education (according to its website), discusses the TEF and makes the following important points:

  • The TEF seems likely to use a series of metrics, some of which already exist and others that currently don’t.
  • Ones that already exist could include
    • recruitment data: students’ prior qualifications, the socio-economic background of students, teaching qualifications of staff
    • Graduation data: NSS and DLHE data
  • Ones that need developing are perhaps around “learning gain”
  • The government call for help and guidance in constructing the TEF has been welcomed and the opportunity seized.
  • Jo Johnson, the Minister in charge of this project, wants something that is “cyclical, external, independent’ and open to peer review.

Mckenzie argues for the need to find a system which is at once sector wide and at the same time responsive to the local circumstances of the individual institution. One suggestion is to have a series of common indicators across all institutions and then allow individual institutions to add others, perhaps from a list of options. He ends is post with the observation that “If collectively, we get it right then students will benefit. The findings from the HEPI/HEA 2015 Student Academic Experience Survey show there is still some way to go to convince students they are getting value from university teaching. An effective TEF can help accentuate the positives and eliminate the negatives for students.”

Alongside this the THE published an article from the new HEA Chair, professor Rama Thirunamachandran -see – in which the prospect of the HEA becoming the professional body for higher education academics involved in teaching was again discussed. The article linked the change in the HEA’s role with the introduction of a membership fee for individuals (as well as the institutional fee currently charged).

There will be much debate about this and the article suggests some opposing ideas. Perhaps the biggest issue though will be the tension between a TEF that seems to require academics to have teaching qualifications and the body that runs this scheme who see it as a voluntary professional body. This debate has already happened in the schools sector and the General Teaching Council now no longer exists.

There is still much to discuss before the government produces its Green paper but the lines of argument are becoming clear, its just that an agreement seems a long way off just yet.

HEA clarify their expectations regarding “Good standing”


You may not have noticed that the HEA have relaunched their website. This may not seem too significant in itself but within the new site there are a number of additional resources and clarifications that are important. This blog post look at one of these.

The webpage on Good standing – – clarifies what has up until now been very general, unspecific advice. The advice makes clear that there is an implicit assumption that all HEA Fellows, irrespective of the descriptor they have been recognised for, MUST be able to demonstrate that they continue to “work in line with their relevant fellow descriptor standard and the Fellowship of the HEA Code of Practice.”

More specifically the HEA clearly state that they “expect HEA Fellows to be working towards their next award and be performing, or out-performing, their current Fellow descriptor standard.”

Finally, the HEA now expects all Fellows to record their professional development activity as part of the evidence they provide to the HEA of Good Standing. The HEA can ask for this evidence “at any given time” and have stated that they will now select a sample of fellows each year and request that they provide this evidence to confirm their Fellowship status.

These are new developments and have significant implications. There will need to be a change in behaviour on the part of both individuals and institutions running CPD schemes such as LUPE. Individuals will need to keep their record of professional development up-to-date and not wait until good standing is required (after 5 years in the LUPE scheme) before compiling it. Institutions will need to reassess their expectations and actively encourage colleagues to apply for the next descriptor. Gaining HEA fellowship can no longer seen as a one-off activity, like dogs at Christmas, it’s for life!

The Centre for Academic Practice will incorporate this new approach into its LUPE workshops and Writing Retreats, so sign up for one of these if you want to find out more.

Inclusive learning styles with a personal touch – it’s a bit of a nightmare!

So, there I was, in the middle of the night, wide awake, sweating and shaking after a particularly vivid nightmare. In my dream I had been teaching a class and each of the students was wearing a bib like those ones netballers wear. There were four different colours, each with a different letter: V, A, R and K. None of the students were doing any work and when I asked them why not they each demanded that the work be presented in a very particular way to align with their learning style. One said “I’m a visual learner, can I draw you something in response to your question?” Another stated “I’m an aural learner, let’s sit down and discuss what I’m supposed to do”. A third said “don’t ask me to draw you something but I can write it down” As I approached the fourth student with the “K” (for kinaesthetic learner) on his bib I woke up, which was a bit of a relief. How was I meant to deal with these demands and at the same time deliver the content of the module? If I didn’t get it right some, perhaps most of my students would struggle or fail and then there’d be trouble. It was all just too much.

Luckily it was all just a dream, but the issue is still a live one[1]. The issue of learning styles has been around for some time but it is no longer an orthodoxy. Frank Collfield from the Institute of Education along with Kathryn Ecclestone and others wrote a critical review[2] in 2004 which, among other things sought to contest the idea of individuals having simple, stable styles of learning which, if only teachers knew about, would change the way that teaching, learning was delivered. In fact many commentators and writers are now of the view that we probably do our students a disservice by promoting a belief that everyone has a ‘learning style’. John Hattie and Gregory Yates[3] also questioned the learning styles myth, stating:

“We are all visual learners, and we all are auditory learners, not just some of us. Laboratory studies reveal that we all learn when the inputs we experience are multi-modal or conveyed through different media.”

It’s true, I think, that people learn in different ways and probably prefer to learn in different ways, but if they believe they can only learn in one way then they either neglect to develop skills in other areas or convince themselves that they can’t learn in other ways and thus can’t undertake certain tasks, all of which then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.

How does this affect us in universities with their range of disciplines? If we accept that we all learn things differently in different settings, depending on the tasks involved, then we need to bring this awareness into our teaching. We might acknowledge, for example, that an engineering student will need to use a range of learning styles, depending on whether she’s learning how to talk to clients, take part in a practical activity, assimilate data from a spreadsheet, take notes in a lecture, or work effectively in a multidisciplinary team. Students therefore need to have a clear idea of what’s expected on their taught programmes, rather than simply seeing themselves simply as a “visual”, “auditory” or “kinaesthetic” learner. Arguably, the most successful students are those who can be adaptable in a wide range of learning situations, and develop the confidence to work outside of their comfort zones.

This then is a clear call for inclusive teaching and learning approaches which are what Zhang (2013) calls “malleable[4]”. If we accept that our students have differing needs at different times and our teaching is not only responsive to but anticipates this, then we are more likely to include more of our students in the learning journey and help more of them to succeed. This is not an easy option, but it is the right one I think. Teaching may not always be a dream but it needn’t be a nightmare either!

Other reading:

Timothy J. Landrum & Kimberly A. McDuffie (2010): Learning Styles in the Age of Differentiated Instruction, Exceptionality, 18:1, 6-17 [available to download from ]

Cedar Riener & Daniel Willingham (2010): The Myth of Learning Styles, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 42:5, 32-35 [available to download from ]


[1] See Graham Gibbs’ 53 Powerful Ideas:


[3] “Visible Learning and the Science of How We Learn” (2014)

[4] “The Malleability of Intellectual Styles” (Zhang, 2013; Cambridge University Press).