Date of Award

2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Education

School

School of Education

Faculty

Education and Arts

First Advisor

Professor Mark Hackling

Second Advisor

Associate Professor Jan Gray

Abstract

In the last decades of the 20th Century, and through the first decade of the 21st Century, both the natural world and human society have experienced dramatic change. Contemporary society world-wide has high expectations of the contribution that universities can make in helping people learn to live with change, to lead change, to manage change, and to support improvement in all spheres of life. The global community seeks ‘excellence’ across all higher education roles: community engagement and leadership, research and innovation, and teaching and learning. However, universities are not always regarded as effective in fulfilling the needs of students, business or communities well.

This portfolio takes excellence in teaching and learning as its central theme. It presents a framework of seven lenses, through which the concept of excellence is analyzed and evaluated; and provides a series of eight papers, reporting on six research projects that investigate different aspects of teaching excellence. The portfolio includes selected examples from a body of work that was undertaken across a ten-year period, within a single university. All the projects were conducted as authentic workplace activities, guided by two primary intentions. Firstly to develop better understandings of the local context, so as to support enhanced decision-making about improving teaching and learning; and secondly, to make positive and practical changes that actively improve the quality of experience and outcomes for all stakeholders.

A variety of research techniques have been used across different studies, however, the overall approach is qualitative, with a focus on rich data collection, analysis and interpretation that respects diverse voices and perspectives. The research approach aims to achieve mutual benefits for participants, researchers, the institution and the wider teaching and learning community. As is appropriate to workplace research, collaboration with administrators and executive leaders, teaching colleagues, research partners and students is a key feature of every study, with the doctoral candidate taking different roles and responsibilities within project teams.

In simplistic terms ‘teaching excellence’ typically implies agreement from a range of stakeholders that the university has relevant, strong programs; good resources and facilities; positive learning and employment environments; competent, highly effective teachers and learners; and perhaps most significantly that it achieves positive desirable outcomes. However, excellence is a problematic and contested concept. Stakeholders have quite different priorities, values and expectations. The needs and preferences of students, employers, the disciplines and professions, academics, and communities, can often act in direct opposition. This can create significant difficulties in defining purpose and goals, and agreeing appropriate investment and resource levels, teaching approaches, and student outcomes. Our knowledge and understanding of effective strategies for teaching, learning and assessment has expanded greatly in recent times; however, universities face many challenges in creating, sustaining and demonstrating teaching excellence. The projects in this portfolio do not offer neat and easy solutions, however they provide extremely valuable evidence: firstly as new knowledge to support local improvement; and secondly to contribute rich, deep insight to affirm, extend and challenge scholarship of teaching and learning in the wider academic community.

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