Open Eye: Raising Standards in Higher Education

The quality of university teaching is now a national issue. Students at the recent NUS conference complained about too many academics with poor teaching skills, and called for tough new standards for lecturers to be made compulsory.

The new national Institute for Learning and Teaching is soon to open for business, headed by former OU Dean Paul Clark. The Centre for Higher Education Practice at the Open University is currently training and accrediting those who teach in higher education and is driving forward this important national agenda. The Centre's course Teaching in Higher Education, started last November with 200 teachers from UK universities and colleges. This autumn, the number will pass 1,000.

But how can you use correspondence courses to train someone to teach?

"As our graduates know, OU courses are much more than correspondence courses," explains Centre co-director David Baume. "Lecturers taking the Centre's courses exchange questions, answers and ideas with their tutor and other lecturers using the FirstClass on-line conferencing system. The courses include being observed by a colleague as they teach, and getting feedback on what they did well and what needs improving."

The printed course materials outline the theory and evidence about good teaching and learning. How-to practical guides also help lecturers develop their own ways of teaching their subject and they are helped to build a portfolio of evidence to show their teaching ability. The OU itself is now offering these courses to train its Associate Lecturers. "This was a huge vote of confidence," says David.

The courses are intended to give lecturers national accreditation, first by the Staff and Educational Development Association and later by the new Institute for Learning and Teaching.

The Centre for Higher Education Practice web site can be found at

Simon Newton