The value of values

On a recent #LTHE Tweetchat with the Teaching Excellence Alliance (TEA) leaders Sam Grogan and Graham Holden, people were reluctant to define excellence and not only because they only had 140 characters available.

A recurring theme was that it is subjective and that excellence varies for different students according to their context.

In developing our TEA programme, we did not start by defining excellence directly.  We started by thinking about our context and our distinctive response to it. Everything else the TEA will do flows from that, including our markers of excellence.

University Alliance institutions share a context. With roots going back to the industrial revolution and engagement with the needs of economic and civic development, they remain focused on equipping students for employment in industry, the professions and the wider world of work.

One of the interesting things at our September Sandpit event for the TEA was that a large and varied group of people from across our member universities understood that distinctiveness as clearly as their directors of teaching and learning and PVCs. Any big organisation would be delighted to see such deeply rooted commitment to shared values.  Their responses all clustered round things already identified as important for the TEA – collaborating with students and employers in designing our courses; real world, engaging learning with authentic assessment; interdisciplinary approaches; and supporting every student to succeed throughout their studies and beyond.

We made these shared values explicit in our first activity looking at distinctiveness. It was time well spent. The accelerated course design activity at the Sandpit was so successful partly because everyone was clear about the values at the heart of what they were trying to achieve.

They were therefore also clear about what characteristics their programme would need to have in order to express those values in an ‘excellent’ way.  Course design often starts with what we want our graduates to be like, what we want them to be able to do. Alliance universities start designing programmes already knowing that we want our graduates to be problem-solvers in the world, to be engaged and ready to work.  We also already know many approaches that will support success.

So in the TEA, we have not just put a value on excellence, we’ve put values into excellence too.

This is immensely important in recruiting and developing staff and in creating the course portfolio which will prepare graduates for the changing world of work.  With a solid base of values, we are very happy to push forward on activity which will built excellence into everything we do.

Further reading