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Graham Gibbs

Being strategic about improving teaching and learning

University of Oxford

Most educational development effort has been focussed on encouraging individuals to change, rather than on making change possible, let alone easy or supported or rewarded. Even successful innovations frequently stall when confronted with infrastructure blocks, are washed away as staff leave or are allocated different duties, or prove only to be possible to implement at the margins rather than in the mainstream. In recent years institutions have started to be more deliberate about planning change in teaching, learning and assessment as an organisational, rather than only an individual matter, and have started to develop and implement ‘learning and teaching strategies’. Some of the first such efforts took place in Australia and the first publications about this shift of attention, and of effort, are from Australia. In the UK today all 134 English HE institutions have a learning and teaching strategy, as does every institution in Wales and most in Scotland.

This keynote will outline what this shift of attention and emphasis has consisted of and how the locus of control of educational change has shifted away from the activities of educational development centres to more networked and devolved communities of practice supported by a range of centrally driven policies, initiatives and organisational changes. This shift places more responsibility on departments to manage their own change in a professional way and on building the capacity to change. This shift has been mirrored in North America in large scale, though somewhat uncoordinated, initiatives concerned with institutional approaches to learning outcomes, ‘roles and rewards’, and ‘institutional transformation’. Progress has been much faster and more extensive in teaching-oriented institutions that are somewhat managerial in nature. Observations will be made about what being strategic about the improvement of teaching might mean in research-intensive universities.

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