Saturday, 28 November 2009

The concepts of practice and competence - post 1

Two papers to read for activity 6.1, on the subject of good practive and competence. There were no specific guidelines for the activity, so these are a few notes on the papers. First up:

"The question for competence, good practice and excellence" Yvonne Hillier.

This article is situated in the government-sponsored discourse around the development of professional bodies for higher education (HE), and hence has a focus on policy and on HE in particular. The paper identifies challenges in defining and assessing competence, good practice and excellence in teaching and learning.

HE is the subject of various initiative to increase participation. It is also subject to various bodies' assessments of the quality of provision. "There is an increasing recognition that good practice in teaching and learning plays an essential part of achieving government targets" (p.1). However, teaching is a social practice, reliant on an interchange between tutor and learner, and between learners themselves. Achieving excellence requires an understanding of what constitutes excellence in teaching and learning, but learners differ in their definition of excellence. Indeed, the conceptions of excellence expressed by learners are not matched by those of the QAA or ILT.

[This raises the question of what might constitute excellence in a course delivered online and with minimal tutor/learner exchange. Presumably there is a requirement for a high standard of materials, but a course which offered only excellent materials would be unlikely to be viewed as excellent - so what more is needed? Presumably the learning opportunities, activities and support must also be of a high standard... Unfortunately that is where this musing must end for now, as an exploration of what excellence means in an online course requires a lot more research than I can manage alongside this course!]

Back to Hillier... the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) evaluates applicants on four criteria:

  • the ability to influence students positively, to inspire students, and to enable them to achieve specific learning outcomes
  • the ability to influence and inspire colleagues in their teaching, learning and assessment practice
  • the ability to influence the wider national community of learners and (HE) teachers in relation to teaching, learning and assessment
  • the ability to demonstrate a reflective approach to teaching/supporting learning.
Hillier notes that the characteristics of excellence identified in policy models of teaching relate to:
  • planning
  • resources
  • explicit statements of outcomes.
These differ from staff and student definitions of excellence which include;
  • enthusiasm
  • creativity
  • interpersonal skills.
"Excellence is not something that is a defined outcome, but is part of a process where competence is the starting point for the pursuit of excellence."

Given the difficulties in defining excellence, the conflicting views as to what it means, and the consequential problems in measuring excellence, it is not surprising that Hillier concludes by noting that excellence is becoming less central to the research agenda, possibly for the pragmatic reason that it is so hard to quantify.

Hillier, Y. (2002) ‘The quest for competence, good practice and excellence’ (online), The Higher Education Academy. Available from: (accessed 22 November 2009).

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