Academic promotion tips (4) - Evidence your impact in Teaching & Learning

Fourth of a six-part blogpost series on how to write an effective application for promotion in academia

Hopefully my first two posts - Understand the process and Treat your application as a journal submission - have made you think a little differently about promotion applications. In posts (3)-(5) I demonstrate how to create a well-argued case for the three core aspects of an academic job. We started with Research & Engagement. Here we will discuss Teaching & Learning, with Leadership & Service to follow in the next post. But first why is evidencing your impact so important?

Evidence helps to discount the "what ifs"

An effective promotion application is not simply a listing of your publications, the courses you have taught, and the leadership and service roles you have - voluntarily or involuntarily - fulfilled. That's the stuff of your CV. To apply for promotion, you'll need a comprehensive CV. Absolutely! But a CV can only tell your promotion panel so much...

Yes, you may have taught many courses. But what if you sent students running for cover to other electives? What if you recycled teaching materials year after year? What if your lectures induced "death by PowerPoint"? Maybe you cared mostly about teaching and "showing off" your own knowledge, and not enough about facilitating student learning?

A promotion panel can't discount these "what ifs" if they only have access to your CV and a dry summary of your duties. To argue your case, you need to show your positive impact providing concrete evidence. Everyone can claim that they do high-quality research, are inspirational teachers, and transformational as leaders. But how do you evidence this? Below I will give you some concrete examples for Teaching & Learning.

These examples illustrate what I think is "best practice" in promotion applications. Don't worry if they seem a bit intimidating. You don't have to use them all in your own promotion application. See them as a "menu of choices" to inspire you to reflect on your own contributions. Just use whatever works for your academic record and your institutional requirements.

Evidencing impact in Teaching & Learning: the basics

Scope of your teaching

I know I said that you shouldn't just list the courses you taught. That's true, but you should definitely list them. I suggest though that you create a concise table that doesn't just list the courses, but also the level/program, the number of students in each course, what your role was, and how much course development was involved. That way you can provide and an instant overview of the significance of your contribution to teaching without taking up too much space in your application. Here is what I used in my own application.

The table allowed me to evidence that I had taught across four levels (GradDip, Undergraduate, Postgraduate and PhD) and that I had experience in both smaller and larger classes. Most importantly though it allowed me to evidence that I had taken on a major coordinating role in all of these courses and that all of them involved at least some course development. It also evidenced that I had been prepared to teach courses outside of my area of research.

Your teaching evaluations

Many universities have quantitative student evaluations. There is significant controversy over the extent to which such measures accurately reflect teaching proficiency. However, if your evaluations are fine, by all means give them a prominent place.

Again, I suggest you create a concise table that packs in a lot of information. Here is mine. You can also add a few explanatory notes and throw in a few nice student comments. As you can see my teaching evaluations were good (above the Dept and Faculty average), but not exceptional. So beyond 'explaining away' the low score for one subject, which was co-taught with a colleague whose lectures were very poorly received, I didn't dwell on my teaching performance.

Turn a negative into a positive

If your quantitative teaching evaluations haven't been universally high, you can use your promotion application to contextualise these. Doing so may turn a negative into a positive. My own early teaching evaluations at the University of Melbourne were marred by student concerns about my high marking standards. This is how I turned this around in my promotion application.

Having "negatives" in your promotion application isn't as bad as you might think it is. In a way it increases the credibility of your application as none of us are without flaws. It also makes you appear more human, which is never a bad thing. Most importantly, it gives you an opportunity to show that you learn from your mistakes and that you are willing to invest in improving your performance. This allays fear that you "might rest on your laurels" when getting promoted.

Your university might also engage in peer evaluations. These can be a goldmine of evidence in your promotion applications as they generally offer a more rounded perspective of teaching quality than relying on students alone.

However, most of your efforts in the teaching and learning space happen outside formal classroom sessions. So, by necessity this means that formal teaching evaluations only capture a small part of what we do as university lecturers. So, what else can you use to build your case on teaching?

Teaching philosophy

First of all, you can make your teaching case more forceful by framing it within a clearly-articulated teaching philosophy. I wouldn't label my own - fairly weak - attempt below as such, but it did provide a general statement of the principles underlying my teaching. This will already tell your evaluation panel that you approach your teaching reflectively.

You might be amused seeing PowerPoint slides and videos described as up-to-date technological aids. Remember though this was nearly twenty years ago! The general principle still applies though, show your panel that you are familiar with the latest techniques in supporting good teaching practices.

Course development and research-based teaching

You might also be expected to show how you bring research into the classroom to ensure your students have access to recent research and help them develop their critical thinking skills. Providing concrete examples of how you have done this in practice is very helpful. Here is my Middlesex colleague Andrea Werner very effective attempt at this in her application for promotion to Associate Professor.

My research-led (re-)design of ethics modules is underpinned by our cross-departmental research cluster Business Ethics, CSR and Governance (which I am co-leading) ensuring a strong research-teaching nexus. Our cluster’s institutional partnership with the Institute of Business Ethics ensures that their resources support the development of high-quality courses that create career opportunities.

My Middlesex colleague Satkeen Azizzadeh's research interests in the same field were also effectively incorporated in her successful application for promotion to Senior Lecturer. Here she describes the redesign of the core/compulsory module Management Concepts, which is offered across the largest undergraduate programme in the University. She not only consulted widely with internal stakeholders, but also analysed what other universities were delivering and spoke to her network of contacts in the public and private sector to get their input on potential topics, skills, and competencies that their organisation would consider appropriate for hiring graduates in contemporary organisations. 

As a result of this extensive process of consultation, I incorporated a range of core topics, including Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Strategy, which are vital for success in the workplace. To enhance students’ understanding of the theoretical concepts and their application within the workplace, I chose relevant case studies and exercises in the seminars. Furthermore, I have incorporated my own research on CSR and Knowledge Management in the curriculum.

Creating an inclusive classroom

Many universities, and especially those in Anglophone countries, now have a large number of international students. At Middlesex University we have nearly 150 different nationalities represented on our three campuses in London, Mauritius and Dubai. Hence the ability to create an inclusive classroom is an important teaching skill in most universities. Here is how one of my Middlesex colleagues, Satkeen Azizzadeh, evidenced this in her successful application to Senior Lecturer.

I am aware and respectful of the diverse range of our students’ cultural and educational backgrounds. [...] For example, when students have a question or make an observation, my reply is to affirm them through positive constructive formative feedback. [...] If a student is anxious or I feel they are concerned about how their question could be perceived by others, I emphasise what an excellent question this is and that their peers might be interested to make a note of my response in view of my answer possibly being of use in their assessments. I believe this practice to be particularly valuable in building confidence in students who are from cultures where individualism is not the norm. 

Of course, it is even more powerful if you can also evidence that this practice works and that it leads to positive student outcomes. Satkeen was able to do so very effectively.

During the past few years, some of my students who began the term by being hesitant to contribute in seminars have gained confidence and enhanced their performance. Many of these students achieved a First overall for the Module and participation became a norm for them by the end of the Module. I received outstanding feedback and thank you notes from these students stating that I was an exceptional teacher in terms of empowering them to believe in themselves and to be successful.

Designing assessment and feedback

Many universities will expect you to show how you design assessment and feedback to facilitate effective learning. Here is a great example by my Middlesex colleague Andrea Werner. Note how she neatly wraps in diversity in the classroom too.

In [...] assessment and feedback, I emphasise application of conceptual knowledge to real life cases to equip students with important analytical skills. For UG assignments I create case vignettes based on current business ethics news. At post-graduate level, students choose an ethics news story, an ethical issue affecting their organisation, or a personal ethical workplace dilemma for analysis. This enables co-curricular experience where students co-create knowledge and insight into ethical issues in the workplace and are able to draw on their diverse backgrounds in their learning and development.

Satkeen Azizzadeh's statement is also very effective in combining a general statement about the role of assessment in her modules with specific examples.

Assessments for all of my modules are designed to enhance a deeper comprehension of the key concepts covered during taught sessions. My assessments are also designed to imbue and develop students’ skills and competencies that enhance their employability.  A case in point being that students are required to produce a professionally structured business report which enables them to analyse and apply their theoretical knowledge to a real-life organisation such as Tesla or Amazon.

Teaching & learning: much more than classroom activities

In 2022 Middlesex University completely revamped its promotion guidelines. In doing so it included no less than eight aspects of teaching and learning. Regardless of the institution you work for, you might find them helpful to broaden the scope of your teaching case.

  1. Academic and pastoral support for learners – making learner wellbeing core to all we do by providing support which encourages engagement with learning, generating pride and a sense of belonging
  2. Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – actions that ensure teaching speaks to our learners’ experiences and reduces differences in outcomes related to backgrounds or prior attainment
  3. Support for learning – design of learning, assessment and feedback which allows students to develop as confident and independent learners, allowing learners to seek out new experiences, explore new perspectives and achieve their goals
  4. Teaching – demonstrating the commitment of the university to co-creation, active and practice-based learning, and reflected in and evidenced by a record of excellent teaching / module evaluations
  5. Curriculum Development – development of new or redesigned modules, courses or training materials that address societal concerns, explore new perspectives, and/or create career opportunities for students
  6. Approaches to learning – staying abreast of good practice and using evidence, innovation and research to continually enhance teaching and learning and bring student success
  7. Leadership of educational activity within the University – investing in supporting the development of ECAs, and / or development of pedagogic projects and policies that demonstrate positive impact on the student experience or outcomes.
  8. Peer esteem - invited roles in external initiatives, awards etc.

Leadership in teaching

A good overview of the different types of teaching performance expected at different levels can be found in The Career Framework for University Teaching by Ruth Graham. This is particularly useful for those who aim for academic career progression predominantly on the basis of their contribution to teaching and learning.

For more senior positions, it might also help to evidence that your research is used by other lecturers. Likewise, if you work at a teaching-intensive university, you might want to show that you have developed teaching materials that are used outside your own institution. A great way to do this is using Open Syllabus (Open Syllabus Explorer: evidencing research-based teaching?). This is particularly helpful if you have authored a textbook; obviously textbooks are more likely to appear in syllabi than academic articles.

For instance, using Open Syllabus I was able to show that my IHRM textbook appeared more than 500 time in syllabi. I discovered it was used not just in universities in the UK, North America and Australia, but also in a variety of European countries and in more than three dozen Indian universities. How cool is that?

Don't give up on your academic articles though. You might be pleasantly surprised! 36 of my academic articles appeared in syllabi. If you are junior, you are unlikely to have many of your articles featured in syllabi, but even if you find only one case that can still be argued to be indicative of future leadership in teaching.

In sum

Having discussed Research & Engagement and Teaching & Learning, we will focus on Leadership & Service in the next post. Note that in that post we focus on specific leadership roles. However, as you have seen above and in the Research & Engagement post, for more senior positions universities will often expect you to display leadership in every area of your academic job.

PART 5: Academic promotion tips (5) - Evidence your impact in Leadership & Service >>>

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