Stand-alone teach­ing in­ten­sity mea­sure ‘could mis­lead ap­pli­cants’

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - [email protected]­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

The ax­e­ing of plans to mea­sure “teach­ing in­ten­sity” at English uni­ver­si­ties as part of the teach­ing ex­cel­lence frame­work may prove to be a short- lived re­prieve, with ex­perts warn­ing that a stand-alone dataset on con­tact hours and class sizes could be even more mis­lead­ing.

The English reg­u­la­tor, the Of­fice for Stu­dents, said last Oc­to­ber that it was drop­ping pro­pos­als to mea­sure teach­ing in­ten­sity as part of the next it­er­a­tion of the TEF amid wide­spread op­po­si­tion from the ­sec­tor.

The OfS has now told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion that it was con­sid­er­ing how to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion about con­tact hours and class sizes as part of its de­vel­op­ment of a stu­dent in­for­ma­tion, ad­vice and guid­ance strat­egy. This aims to cre­ate “a new re­source to sup­port stu­dents with their de­ci­sion-mak­ing”, re­plac­ing the Unistats web­site.

How­ever, aca­demics have warned that a stand-alone teach­ing in­ten­sity score would lack vi­tal con­text. Mis­sion groups warn that teach­ing hours and class sizes can­not be used as mea­sures of qual­ity and high­light that other as­pects of learn­ing, such as in­de­pen­dent study, are im­por­tant but dif­fi­cult to ­quan­tify.

An­drew Gunn, a re­searcher in higher ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy at the Univer­sity of Leeds, said that prospec­tive stu­dents might dis­re­gard a course with a low teach­ing in­ten­sity score, even if it would ac­tu­ally be highly suitable for them.

“At least within the TEF it would be con­sid­ered by a panel who’d re­ceived guid­ance on what it means. This is a prob­lem when ap­ply­ing the ‘food la­belling’ ap­proach to de­gree pro­grammes,” Dr Gunn said.

“Teach­ing in­ten­sity isn’t a mea­sure of qual­ity, as it doesn’t cap­ture what hap­pens within con­tact time, and the gov­ern­ment shouldn’t try to turn it in to one.”

Paul Ash­win, pro­fes­sor of higher ed­u­ca­tion at Lan­caster Univer­sity, agreed. “My un­der­stand­ing [is that] the shift of teach­ing in­ten­sity out of the TEF is a recog­ni­tion that teach­ing in­ten­sity is not a valid mea­sure of teach­ing qual­ity,” he said.

Pro­fes­sor Ash­win said that it was right that prospec­tive stu­dents had clear in­for­ma­tion on the num­ber, type and size of teach­ing ses­sions they could ex­pect. How­ever, a stand-alone teach­ing in­ten­sity mea­sure could de­ter uni­ver­si­ties from im­prov­ing their pro­grammes in “in­no­va­tive and ex­cit­ing ways, be­cause they are wor­ried about be­ing ac­cused of hav­ing mis­led stu­dents”, he said.

Michael Mer­ri­field, pro­fes­sor of as­tron­omy at the Univer­sity of Not­ting­ham, said that pi­lot­ing of the gov­ern­ment’s pro­pos­als for mea­sur­ing teach­ing in­ten­sity had “re­dou­bled” his ner­vous­ness about the un­in­tended con­se­quences of a new met­ric. One op­tion un­der con­sid­er­a­tion would have seen uni­ver­si­ties as­sessed ac­cord­ing to their “gross teach­ing quo­tient”, a mea­sure of con­tact hours, weighted by class size, re­ward­ing small-group teach­ing. An­other that would have weighted con­tact time by staff se­nior­ity was la­belled “ab­surd”.

Ef­fec­tive and in­no­va­tive teach­ing “is re­ally not con­ducive to this very al­go­rith­mic ap­proach”, Pro­fes­sor Mer­ri­field said.

An OfS spokes­woman ad­mit­ted that the “is­sue is com­plex”.

“By talk­ing with stu­dents we will un­der­stand what they want and their ex­pec­ta­tions,” she said. “We are look­ing at ways to en­sure that [in­sti­tu­tions] pro­vide much clearer and more trans­par­ent in­for­ma­tion for stu­dents about what teach­ing time, con­tact time and in­de­pen­dent study time they should ex­pect to ex­pe­ri­ence on a par­tic­u­lar course and why.”

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