In today’s fast-paced world, universities not only need to keep up with the development of knowledge but they also need to be the ones leading the process. This is the message that EUA (European University Association) wants to send out with their released document: Ten Principles for Enhancing Learning & Teaching at the European Level.
The EUA designed this set of principles with the aim to enhance and support existing initiatives in learning and teaching, and to ensure higher education remains attractive in Europe. Furthermore, this set of principles arose as a need to bridge differences and communication issues between the academic institutes of different countries, as well as the need to give guidance on different issues that were concerning academia from the European area. Its mission to support institutions with learning and teaching is a shared task which does not only concern students and teachers, but also other stakeholders within the institution.
The ten principles can be listed as follows:
- The higher education learning experience nurtures and enables the development of learners as active and responsible citizens, critical thinkers, problem solvers, equipped for life-long learning.
- Learning and teaching is learner-centred.
- Commitment to learning and teaching is integral to the purpose, mission and strategy of the university.
- Institutional leadership actively promotes and enables the advancement of learning and teaching.
- Learning and teaching is a collaborative and collegial process involving collaboration across the university and with the wider community.
- Learning, teaching and research are interconnected and mutually enriching.
- Teaching is core to academic practice and is respected as scholarly and professional.
- The university community actively explores and cherishes a variety of approaches to learning and teaching that respect a diversity of learners, stakeholders, and disciplines.
- Sustainable resources and structures are required to support and enable learning and teaching enhancement.
- Institutional QA for learning and teaching aims at enhancement, and is a shared responsibility of staff and students.
In a recent webinar on the topic, Dr. Oliver Vettori, Dean Accreditation & Quality Management Director from the WU Vienna, presented a case study on how his university tried to create an effective Teaching and Learning strategy based on these ten principles. Their TLS (Teaching and Learning Strategy) dates about four years back and was developed in the context of international accreditations. When developing it, they tried to make sure that it is externally resonant.
The TLS that they built was expected to be grounded upon the following values:
- Foster enthusiasm
- Value diversity
- Advocate an open mind
- Assume responsibility
- Work together
- Act reflectively
The main idea of this TLS was that the teachers would foster enthusiasm that they could pass on to the learners. Furthermore, they also wanted to value diversity on all levels with regard to different learners, different expectations, different needs, but also to different approaches. In addition, teachers and learners needed to work together, and act reflectively while working together, in order to be successful. Dr. Oliver Vettori concludes that: “These six values were kind of the cornerstone but they didn’t tell us where we want to invest our efforts.”
As a result, Dr. Oliver Vettori decided to construct four key orientations to define the areas in which their strategy would develop. The strategy was built so that it would be responsive to the external expectations and suit everyone within their institution. This strategy would ultimately work as a framework. However, the strategy started to show weaknesses when they tried to implement it and induce the internal changes that were required. In order to detect this weakness, WU Vienna conducted a comparative research project in which they examined various Teaching and Learning Strategies from all across the world, mostly from Europe.
The conclusion of their research surprised Dr. Vettori and his team. As opposed to present features such as frequent mentioning of graduate attributes and mindsets, focus on conditions for teaching and learning and attention to frequent issues, such as equity, sustainability and employability, the majority of Teaching and Learning Strategies showed a significant absence of teaching as an active actor. In these TLSs, there was no mention of teaching methodologies, pedagogic and didactic concepts, no explicit definition of teaching and learning, and perhaps most importantly, no reference to teachers as actors. What’s more, neither teachers or students appear in active roles in these strategies, but as passive recipients of the action. Dr. Vettori concludes that, even though these strategies were portraying a legitimate framework in correspondence with other strategies, they rarely give any indication of concrete action or measures to drive teaching forward.
To sum things up: universities should focus their strategies on the implementation process from the very beginning, as well as paying attention to revising these strategies internally. Dr. Vettori adds: “We need to ask ourselves what exactly our understanding is of student-centered learning. We can have a political ideology and understanding, but we can also try to pin down what it actually means in the classroom and beyond”. Furthermore, strategies should include measurable targets in order to be successful, rather than just following its intentions.
What everybody should learn from this experience is that thinking about the implementation from the very start when developing a strategy can make a substantial difference. Documents, such as “The 10 European Principles for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching “ are therefore designed to help universities create these strategies.