Report from Janet Hartley, Pro Director for Teaching and Learning, March 2012
When the Academic Board approved the establishment of a Teaching Task Force in October 2007, it proved a landmark. For many years the School had excelled at research, but there was growing concern that teaching was slipping in quality. This was not because individual academics did not value teaching students; it was largely because the relentless pressure to deliver in the Research Assessment Exercises inevitably took a toll on other areas. This was something we had to address. As Howard Davies said at the time: "We are famous for our world-class research and the quality of our teaching should be equally renowned."
Having consulted widely across the School, the Teaching Task Force reported in May 2008 and made some 40 recommendations. As Pro Director for Teaching and Learning, I have seen the Task Force and the implementation of its recommendations as the most important part of my job. Last week I presented a review of progress, including a major report undertaken by Professor Christine Whitehead, to the Academic Board. As I prepare to stand down, having served my five-year term as Pro Director, I should like to take this opportunity to put the LSE's achievements -- and ongoing commitments -- in perspective for students.
The Task Force recommendations covered many aspects of teaching and learning. It wanted to increase contact between senior academics and undergraduates, to encourage more innovative teaching and reward good teachers. It also wanted to make the undergraduate syllabus more distinctive and challenging, and did this through the introduction of a new course for all students on big issues in the social sciences (LSE100). It sought to reduce Masters' class sizes to 15 unless there were exceptional or pedagogical reasons not to do so; increase support for Moodle; increase the staff in the Teaching and Learning Centre to support students in academic and pastoral matters; provide more formal training and support (including English-language support) for permanent teachers and for GTAs and make the internal course survey of teachers and courses more reliable and more timely.
Two years later, the Teaching Innovation Committee (which had been set up as one of the recommendations) put forward a major initiative to improve feedback on essays, dissertations and selected first-year undergraduate exams, and the Academic Board also approved those recommendations. In all the School is spending an additional £4 million a year on implementing the recommendations on teaching, including taking on an 24 additional academics.
Professor Whitehead's main report (Word) is attached and I would urge you to read it (supplementary reports can be found on the Academic Board website). The report is based on extensive discussions with academic departments and aimed not to be a tick-box exercise but to find out how far departments had engaged with the principles behind the Teaching Task Force.
It shows that there have been improvements in many areas over the last three years. It is particularly true of improved feedback, extended use of Moodle, better training and support for GTAs and new academic staff, reduction in class sizes for Masters' students and more academic and social interaction between permanent staff and students. Many individual academics have put an enormous effort into improving courses, and I think this is particularly true of large, often compulsory, undergraduate courses in quantitative subjects. LSE100 is now running as a compulsory course for all undergraduates. A new paper-based internal course survey was introduced in 2009/10 and the response rate has risen sharply; we now have over 70% response rate for classes, although it is lower for lectures. We use this survey to identify teachers who need further support for teaching.
Where does this leave us? The report concluded that attitudes towards teaching have changed amongst permanent faculty. It notes that has been a "radical change in the level of commitment to improving teaching across the School, the willingness to learn from the experience of others and the preparedness to implement innovative ideas more generally" and concludes that these changes have become embedded in departments.
There are of course still concerns about some aspects of teaching, and about the IT and physical infrastructure of the School which supports it. We are determined to improve further in many areas. We are a research-led teaching institution but we have no reason to believe that this inevitably means that teaching has to be below the level we require and expect of research. As the report says: "good teaching and good research go together". The report concludes with the words: "There must be continuing pressure to maintain improvement and innovation if we are to ensure that excellence in teaching remains central to the School's mission"
I am sure you will all join me in supporting that commitment and I wish you well in the journey ahead.