All staff who teach in a university are expected to be good educators. Some staff are outstanding educators in the way they engage students or design effective curricula or prepare interesting assessment tasks. Can we expect all academics to be good to outstanding in all aspects of academic work, namely education, research and the all-encompassing engagement and service areas? The sophistication required to be good to outstanding in all aspects of academic work has increased significantly in the last decade or so. The skills, attributes and outcomes expected from our academics makes it increasingly difficult for the individual to be good to outstanding in all aspects of academic work. The bar has risen and continues to rise, and this will have ongoing consequences for that mythical 40:40:20 academic workload model.
We should expect our academics to be outstanding in some aspect of their work. Academics should be acknowledged and rewarded for being outstanding and this could be in any aspect of their work as this is the enduring standard that universities are known for in the wider community. We do not aspire to mediocrity, whether it is in educational practice, research or engagement and service. The community looks to universities to uphold the high standards that have been the tradition in higher education.
Universities commenced a process of offering specialisations for academic workload many years ago. Even before the term Education Focused was in widespread use, we saw some academics having their workloads differentiated on the basis of research outputs and outcomes. A mistake that was made in these early days, and still perpetuates some of the myths on academic workload today, was to assume that more contact hours for teaching was associated with fewer research grants, journal articles and research student supervisions. This approach does not facilitate outstanding performance from our academics. Education Focused means the same as Research Focused – it implies a specialisation that allows an individual to work to their strengths and attain that outstanding level we expect. All academics will need to decide what their specialisation will be and how they will work to attain that outstanding level of performance and outcome.
The other myth that is prevalent today is that Research Focused means little or no expectation of being a good educator, or that Education Focused means little or no expectation of scholarly outcomes. Again, this approach does little to facilitate attaining the high standards we expect in our universities. To be an outstanding Education Focused academic the individual should have time to develop new ideas and approaches to learning and teaching, just as Research Focused academics have time allocated to write grants and papers. Both types of academics need thinking time and doing time.
For Education Focused academics this means thinking about what they will contribute in terms of new ways of designing and delivering outstanding education to our students. It means being a leader in some aspect of education and applying all the rigour and scholarship associated with academia to the wicked problems prevalent in the design and delivery of educational offerings for the students of today and tomorrow.
Debunking myths can be a slow process, but it is the right time to rethink our academic workforce and put mechanisms in place to facilitate outstanding performance from our academics, in whatever aspect of academic work they choose as their specialisation.
About the author:
Professor Geoffrey Crisp is the University of Canberra's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) and Vice-President.
From 2002-2011, Professor Crisp was the Director of the Centre for Learning and Professional Development at the University of Adelaide and was the Dean, Learning and Teaching at RMIT University in Melbourne from 2012-2015. In 2016 he moved to the University of New South Wales in Sydney as Pro Vice Chancellor (Education) where he had specific responsibility for academic policy, online provision, academic development and the learning environment.
Professor Crisp has received a number of prizes in his career, including the University of Adelaide’s Stephen Cole the Elder Prize (Excellence in Teaching) in 1999; the Royal Australian Chemical Institute Stranks Medal for Chemical Education in 2003 and Australian Learning and Teaching Council Fellowships in 2006 and 2009. Professor Crisp is a HERDSA Fellow and a Principal Fellow of the HEA.