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Taskforce calls for more scope for lecturer development: ‘Dare to raise the issue yourself’

The quality of academic education depends on good teaching. A taskforce of lecturers, education specialists and HRM experts is therefore calling for Leiden lecturers to be given more opportunities and scope to develop their talents. The group hopes that, with a new lecturer development model and concrete recommendations, teaching and learning can be brought closer together. The Executive Board welcomes the advice from the taskforce.

Leiden University is committed to ensuring better recognition and rewards for good teaching, and many new initiatives have been introduced in recent years in the area of lecturer development. These include teaching qualifications such as the General Teaching Qualification (BKO) and the Senior Teaching Qualification (SKO), the Leiden Teacher’s Academy, the teaching culture survey and the annual Education Day.

Nonetheless, the Lecturer Development Taskforce concludes in its advisory report that still more can be done. ‘Lecturers have been saying for a long time that they want to have more opportunities to work on their professional development,’ says Vice-Dean and Taskforce Chair Kristiaan van der Heijden. ‘Relatively new lecturers need more support, and for more senior lecturers very little is available. There’s a gap between the BKO and SKO, and we want to change that. Teaching is and will remain the University’s biggest task.’    

The new lecturer development model is mainly intended as a guide, to inspire and enthuse lecturers.

Source of inspiration

Key to the advisory report is the new lecturer development model: a spider diagram with five different development directions for each ‘level’ of lecturer, from starter to expert. The model is not a checklist, Van der Heijden emphasises, ‘Nor is it an assessment tool for managers during annual appraisals. It is mainly intended as a guide, to inspire and enthuse lecturers. We hope that people think: Great; this is how I can work on my future development.’

A logical concern is that development and innovation will take up time, and time is just what lecturers do not have. The taskforce therefore proposes reserving 5 per cent of lecturers’ teaching time to work on this. ‘Lecturers who really are passionate about education should be able to specialise further,’ says Van der Heijden. ‘We have a vision for good teaching developed by the University and the faculties. If we really want to move forward with that, the lecturer is the key. At the same time, work pressure within our organisation is at a high level and we have many ambitions, so we will have to see what is possible in the short and long term within the broader framework.’

Long-term plan, but faculties already getting started

The next step is for a multidisciplinary team to start working out the details of the recommendations. That will take some years, but all the faculties are already starting to experiment with different options. What can also help in the short term, according to Van der Heijden, is for lecturers to seek one another out more often.

‘Lecturers can already interact more as a team, and learn from one another,’ he says. ‘As academics, we’re sometimes too solitary. Seek one another out, and see how your counterparts handle things. It’s also important that supervisors and lecturers talk to one another about lecturer development. It would be really good if lecturers themselves dared to initiate the discussion. We’ve put a dot on the horizon, but the initiative has to come from two sides.’ 

By ‘lecturers’ the taskforce understands all members of University staff who have a teaching responsibility. These could be student assistants, PhD candidates, university lecturers and senior lecturers, and professors and lecturers who do not have a teaching remit.

The six proposals from the Lecturer Development Taskforce

1. Use the lecturer development model

The job description of academic lecturers is, to put it mildly, broad. They give tutorials and lectures, assess theses, provide students with feedback, review and evaluate their teaching, and design new, innovative teaching methods and course content. Some lecturers also have administrative tasks relating to education and are members of committees and boards.

All these different tasks entail an equally broad array of development opportunities. The taskforce hopes that its model will inspire lecturers in making choices about their professional development. What teaching skills does a lecturer already have, for example, and what other possibilities are there? In what direction does a lecturer want to develop further? The model can also be used in the annual planning of staff and teaching tasks: What new tasks are there for which we need to have staff available? Who will we deploy for these tasks? Who will we offer the opportunity to develop further in these areas?

2. Provide a rich and appropriate range of development opportunities

If lecturers are to continue to develop, an adequate package of opportunities must be available: from training programmes and courses to peer review sessions and learning on the job. Ideally, the taskforce would like there to be a University-wide range of facilities for all the different directions and levels within the lecturer development model; the idea is that this will fill the gap between the BKO and SKO. The taskforce advises that the current BKO and SKO system of certification should be brought up to date, including by aligning the final attainment targets more closely with the lecturer development model. Finally: information on the development opportunities must be easy for lecturers to find.

3. Promote collaboration via new types of lecturer teams and education communities  

Lecturers learn best from one another. The taskforce therefore advises creating more opportunities in the workplace for collaborating in teams and communities. This can take many different forms: from mentorships and buddies to communities and peer review systems. Experienced educational innovators can inspire their junior colleagues in the workplace and via faculty platforms that will be set up.

4. Encourage educational innovation, and make the results visible

Successful educational innovation does not happen of its own accord; it requires financial resources, management attention, training, support and space in the curriculum. Programme departments that have adequate room for this can serve as testing grounds. The taskforce also proposes sharing the results of successful innovation projects across the whole university, via a website. Lecturers should be encouraged to review their teaching and should be facilitated in this. This can be done, for example, in cooperation with the new Leiden Learning and Innovation Centre (LLInC).

5. Teaching performance should be better documented, and recognised and rewarded appropriately

The main emphasis in evaluating teaching is currently on student evaluations and hence indirectly on teaching and supervising. Change is required here, the taskforce writes in its report. More recognition and rewards are needed for achievements and skills relating to designing, researching, innovating and organising faculty and inter-faculty education. The same applies to the allocation of educational grants. Both the performance and ambitions of lecturers must be better documented: when a lecturer has obtained the BKO or completed a particular programme this must be properly recorded. The domains of the lecturer development model in which a lecturer wishes to develop further should also be registered.

6. Management should promote and facilitate lecturer development

It is simply not possible for lecturers to follow the recommendations of the taskforce singlehandedly. Action is required from management, and existing regulations and policy will need to be adjusted.  

To ensure that professional development does not become a ‘burden’, a proportion - at least 5 per cent, for instance - of lecturers’ teaching time should be reserved for teaching innovation, educational innovation and professional development. Managers should also discuss their lecturers’ future development more extensively during annual appraisals.

In view of the links between teaching and research, it is important that lecturers, or teams of lecturers, who are successful in the field of scientific research also continue to be committed to teaching. Managers could, for example, ask academics with research grants to teach students about their projects.

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