Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Undertaking initial training as a university teacher

In many nations, there is increasing recognition that learning to teach and assess in universities doesn’t just happen by osmosis, and that academics need some support and training in order to help students learn. Before about the 1970s, most universities tended to assume that highly qualified people would be able to teach fellow adults without much in the way of training, emulating the styles by which they themselves had been taught.

Over recent years, an emergent professional group of educational developers (Brown, 2013) has fostered a range of developmental activities for those new to teaching in higher education. These range from half-day inductions, where the basics of lecturing and seminars are discussed, to more thorough year-long courses of part-time study, leading to a Post-Graduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCHE) or similar, of the kind commonly offered in the UK, Australia and many other nations. Many PGCHEs originally focused on what might be termed educational instruction practices, but progressively they have grown to encompass the wider range of duties that teachers perform in support of student learning, including assessment. PGCHE courses normally offer both hints and practical tips on classroom management, curriculum design, good assessment practice, effective lecturing and so on, as well as an introduction to the scholarly literature in higher education pedagogy and to reflective practice.

In the first instance, these courses focused mainly on supporting full-time teaching staff, but over the years it has been recognised that many students have a significant proportion of their university classes taught by fractional staff, regularly working a proportion of a week often on a permanent contract, sessional staff teaching occasional or irregular sessions, often usefully bringing into the classroom current professional perspectives, and undertaking marking duties, and doctoral and other students, for whom teaching, leading seminars, and assessment form a small but important part of their relationship with their university. Learning support staff are increasingly engaging with professional development in this area too.

Advice on being trained as a university teacher

The UK Quality Assurance Agency in its ‘Code of practice for assessment and the recognition of prior learning’ insists that higher education providers should consider offering development and training on:
  • ‘promoting understanding of the theory and practice of assessment and its implementation, including the different purposes of formative and summative assessment;
  • effective ways to evaluate the extent to which learning outcomes have been achieved;
  • effective ways to engage with students to enable and promote dialogue about, and reflective use of, feedback;
  • raising awareness of staff about the importance of designing assessments that minimise opportunities for plagiarism and other forms of unacceptable academic practice;
  • enabling staff to learn about new approaches to assessment and devise new methods, as well as the best ways to operate existing methods;
  • raising staff awareness of the assessment implications of the diversity of students, including cultural diversity, differences in learning methods and the need for inclusivity.’ (QAA, 2013, p. 12)

This may seem a challenging set of requirements, but actually contains a great deal of common sense to assure standards of assessment practice.


Adapted from Chapter 11 of Brown, S. (2015) Learning, Teaching and Assessment in Higher Education: Global perspectives, London: Palgrave.

Brown, S. (2013) The twenty books that influenced educational developers: thinking in the last twenty years: opinion piece, Innovations in Education and Teaching International, Nov 2013, Volume 50, No 4,pp 321-30.

QAA (2013) UK Quality Code for Higher Education: Chapter B6: Assessment of students and recognition of prior learning,