Curriculum design: Quality Teaching Framework for Teaching Excellence

Quality Teaching Framework for Teaching Excellence at UniSA (PDF)


Learning and teaching has been a vital element of the University of South Australia's core business since the institution was founded in 1991. Indeed, it was a defining characteristic of the University's antecedent institutions, the South Australian College of Advanced Education and the South Australian Institute of Technology, which themselves had educational roots reaching back to 1861. Since then, the University has developed into one of the largest, multi-campus tertiary institutions in Australia with more than 33,000 part- and full-time students enrolled in a range of degree programs across urban, regional and offshore locations.

The University values and promotes inclusive, engaging and innovative teaching that provides students with high quality face-to-face, blended and online learning experiences and outcomes to prepare them for life and work in the 21st Century. Students will be taught by culturally aware academic staff, who are effective communicators and collaborators, and have a passion for providing high quality education and pursuing excellence in learning and teaching. Students will experience curricula which are flexible, informed by industry and scholarship, and delivered in physical and virtual spaces designed to meet the needs of diverse learners.

Given the objectives of Crossing the Horizon and the emerging digital learning strategy, it is appropriate to highlight some key teaching characteristics valued by UniSA. This focus will support and promote high quality teaching practice that enables all UniSA students to have outstanding educational experiences. To this end, UniSA has produced a 'whole of institution' view of teaching quality in a framework that has been developed using an iterative, literature and project informed, data driven, collaborative and consensus building approach. The framework will guide teaching practice and related professional development, inform recognition and reward processes, aid discussions on teaching performance, planning and review, influence recruitment and promotion processes, and drive day-to-day institutional discourse on learning and teaching.

Academic profiles and teaching at UniSA

UniSA has two academic staff profiles that deliver the majority of its taught courses; Teaching and Research Academics, and Teaching Academics. Both profiles will contribute to high quality student learning experiences despite some differences between them in workload structure and function. The work of Teaching and Research Academics is allocated between 40 per cent teaching, 40 per cent discipline research and 20 per cent administrative tasks. Effectively, this devotes almost half the working week to teaching-related activities, although "it is recognised that a staff member may at times focus more intensively on a particular category of academic activity" (University Of South Australia Enterprise Agreement 2014, p. 55).

Teaching Academics undertake no more than 80% teaching and administration with the remainder of the workload devoted to scholarship activities (University Of South Australia Enterprise Agreement 2014, p. 55). In the same way that Teaching and Research Academics may at times focus more intensively on a particular category of academic activity, the teaching and administration component of a Teaching Academic's work may vary above 20 per cent to accommodate a greater focus on scholarship. Any variation in the workloads of individual Teaching and Research Academics, and Teaching Academics will be determined through negotiation with line managers and in relation to, for example, performance, career planning and University goals.

Regardless of the fundamental characteristics of these two profiles, a basic expectation is that all teaching and teaching-related activities will be of high quality and undertaken in the pursuit of excellence. Further, for both profiles, it is anticipated that the development of teaching and learning-related knowledge and skills over time will not only be achieved through a systematic approach to career progression, but also that the different academic classification levels (levels A-E) will be distinguished by and require different teaching-related foci. For example, the significant professional learning and direct and regular student engagement that characterises the teaching work of Levels A-B/C may not feature as strongly at Levels C/D-E in light of emerging and established leadership, research and scholarship responsibilities. The UniSA teaching quality framework represents this progression through a succinct description of the types of contributions to teaching made at each academic classification level, namely 'Developing expertise' (Level A), 'Proficient' (Level B), 'Significant' (Level C), 'Outstanding' (Level D), and 'Distinguished' (Level E).


Teaching quality and excellence at UniSA

The University of South Australia has made a commitment to stakeholders to consistently deliver high quality teaching to optimise student engagement and learning.  UniSA "will develop a high performing, sustainable workforce, one that is dedicated to the provision of excellence in all its forms" (UniSA Strategic Action Plan 2013-2018 Crossing the Horizon. Action Set 3). Staff will be "passionate about education and committed to a culture of excellence" (ibid). In addition, the University's academic promotions processes "recognise(s) academic excellence and performance at or above world-class standard" (UniSA Academic Promotions: 2014 Guidelines, pp. 4-5) and teaching activities and leadership in teaching are explicit areas for applicants to address. 'Quality' and 'excellence' are often used interchangeably but are not synonymous. In a literature review of teaching excellence from 2007 to 2013, Gunn and Fisk (2013) note that "higher education providers are increasingly seeking to demonstrate their excellence in teaching, as well as research ... yet, in the UK and across the globe, there is little narrative around what is meant by 'teaching excellence'" (p. 5).

While the University has not explicitly differentiated between quality and excellence, the criteria for teaching citations and awards are clear statements about teaching quality and excellence at UniSA. On this basis the University has for several years recognised and rewarded academic staff for high quality and excellent teaching through a mixture of evidence-based internal teaching awards which are aligned to national awards, namely citations for outstanding contributions to student learning, and awards for teaching excellence, and programs that enhance learning. The University's teaching citations and awards therefore demonstrate that an outstanding teaching contribution is sustained quality practice for at least three years for a specific initiative or approach, whereas teaching excellence and programs that enhance learning is sustained quality practice across a range of areas with significantly more depth and breadth.

Similarly, the UniSA framework provides indicators for quality practice in important areas. Both quality teaching and excellence will be demonstrated by individuals and teams through their practice and also in relation to the framework's criteria and its indicators. It is important to note that excellent teaching is not a function of time spent teaching or that it is only attainable by reaching the 'Distinguished' (Level E) career stage. Nor is it the same as 'scholarly teaching', 'scholarship' or the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL).


The framework's criteria

The UniSA framework utilises the foundational criteria of a significant OLT national learning and teaching project titled, 'Australian University Teaching Criteria and Standards' (AUTCAS) framework. The seven AUTCAS criteria are presented below, along with succinct explanations developed to suit the UniSA context. Note also that in the UniSA framework, Criteria 6 and 7 are incorporated throughout the first five by means of a column titled 'Portfolio of evidence of professional and personal effectiveness'.

Criterion 1: Design and plan learning activities for courses and programs - To create an exciting, engaging and academically robust curriculum that maximises student learning and student outcomes, UniSA academic staff have:
  • Deep knowledge of their discipline
  • Understanding of how students learn
  • The ability to integrate insight from a wide range of stakeholders including students, employers, industry and the community
  • Logical, creative and innovative thinking in designing curriculum
  • The capacity to integrate teaching and learning research into their designing and planning
Criterion 2: Teach and support student learning - To foster high quality practice across a range of teaching contexts UniSA academic staff:
  • Engage students, stimulate interest and encourage active participation
  • Collaborate with colleagues as part of the teaching team
  • Employ innovative, student-centred and inclusive approaches to face-to-face and online teaching activities
  • Communicate with clarity, conviction and enthusiasm and explain concepts in ways that students understand
  • Assist students to work constructively through challenging academic tasks and problems
Criterion 3: Assess and provide feedback to students - To recognise the crucial role of assessment for student learning as well as attainment of academic standards, UniSA academic staff:
  • Apply the assessment principles and requirements evident in Section 1 of the Assessment Procedures and Policy Manual (APPM) that underpin assessment
  • Ensure that assessment for learning is integral to courses and programs
  • Review how assessment engages students in productive learning and prepares them for professional practice
  • Make judgements about student work that meets appropriate standards
  • Provide timely feedback that is clear and helpful to actively improve student learning
Criterion 4: Develop supportive learning environments - To create engaging and respectful learning environments which enhance student performance, UniSA academic staff:
  • Utilise inclusive teaching approaches to respond to student diversity
  • Develop learning communities which are safe, supportive and sensitive to diversity and gender equity
Criterion 5: Integrate scholarship, discipline research and professional learning activities - UniSA academic staff continuously develop knowledge and skills that support Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) perspectives and activities through:
  • Scholarly engagement with the discipline and discipline education
  • Structured reflection on the theory and practice of learning and teaching
  • Investigations and research into learning and teaching for personal and local understanding
  • Public dissemination to make transparent how student learning has been made possible
Criterion 6: Evaluate practice and engage in professional learning - To understand their own strengths and limits and engage in continuous learning and development, UniSA academic staff:
  • Systematically engage in professional learning activities commensurate with their academic classification and role. This includes:
  • Completion of induction programs offered on a University-wide basis
  • Participate in discipline education and learning and teaching conferences and other fora
  • Use self-evaluation and student and peer feedback to enhance teaching practice
  • Demonstrate emerging leadership in the development of colleagues
  • Contribute to professional learning within and beyond the University
Criterion 7: Exhibit professional and personal effectiveness - UniSA academic staff:
  • Approach teaching with enthusiasm, passion and confidence
  • Build great working relationships and motivate and work with colleagues in the shared pursuit of high quality student learning outcomes
  • Show respect for others, act with honesty, consistency and integrity, and interact in a way that generates confidence in self and in the workplace
  • Are approachable and demonstrate commitment and interest in students and their learning
  • Lead by example and support colleagues to develop professional qualities Champion a 'one team culture' built on respect, trust and collaboration


Using the framework

The bullet points in the UniSA framework that follows are not meant to be exhaustive. Instead, they provide key indicators that are fundamental to quality teaching at UniSA. Their number is purposefully limited to four for each criterion and at each academic classification. The framework also keeps each academic classification to one page only (see framework PDF documents below). Throughout 2015, links will be provided to 'interpretative tools', exemplars, type of evidence, case studies and other resources. UniSA academic staff will demonstrate achievement of criteria and indicators according to their role and opportunities. Demonstrated achievement of every criterion or indicator is not a requirement; the framework should be used holistically. While Criteria 6 and 7 are mobilised in the framework's right-hand column titled 'Portfolio of evidence of professional & personal effectiveness', the application of Criterion 7 should also be particularly evident in the day-to-day practice of academic staff across Criteria 1 to 5.





Reference: Gunn, V. & Fisk, A. (2013). Considering teaching excellence in higher education: 2007-2013: A literature review since the CHERI report 2007. Higher Education Academy.