IV Teaching, Learning and Student Engagement

Teaching and Learning: An Overview of the Thematic Section [Overview Paper]

Manja Klemenčič and Paul Ashwin

Higher education institutions today operate in a rapidly changing environment and this is undoubtedly reflected in their core functions of teaching and learning. Teaching and learning in higher education are influenced by a well-rehearsed set of global trends such as the changing demography of student populations and higher participation of non-traditional students; growing global interconnectedness and the proliferation of digital media; and an increasing market orientation in higher education.

Other, perhaps more controversial, debates in contemporary higher education revolve around the question of standardization of assessment of institutional performance, including standardized evidence to demonstrate how much students are actually learning. STEM subjects are hailed for their service to innovative knowledge economies, leaving open the question of how to balance resources between the different disciplines and the relative prestige of different fields of study. There is concern among some educators that students are becoming too instrumental in their orientation to their degrees, preferring vocational and professional training over a more knowledge-focused higher education. The cost of higher education is rising everywhere and most of the countries and institutions are questioning the sustainability of higher education financing; many indeed are exploring on-line learning as possible way to cut costs (of teaching) or create revenue or both.

It is within this environment that we examine teaching and learning in higher education, in order to explore what we know and how to move forward. European cooperation to advance teaching and learning has been fragmented and lacked an overarching strategy. At the level of national policy, there appears to be unevenness in teaching and learning initiatives among European governments. For example, there are only a few countries that have a national body devoted to advancement of basic and applied research related to teaching and learning (the Higher Education Academy in the UK and the new Higher Education Authority in Sweden are among the few such examples). Many countries have no national strategy on teaching and learning in higher education, and advancements in this area are left to individual institutions to formulate and fund. Some institutions have centres for advancement of teaching and learning, which support inter-institutional collaboration in development and assessment of innovative pedagogies, educational technologies, and curricula, and in research in the learning processes. In many institutions, teachers in higher education tend to be evaluated by their students, but are then left to their own devices to self-improve (or not). Given the rapidly changing environment for teaching and learning outlined above, we argue that a more coordinated and systematic approach is needed to support the development of teaching and learning in higher education in Europe.

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