Education Research

Research on teaching in Higher Education

I recently have been doing a lot of thinking on the Teaching Excellence Framework. For this reason any blog article that talks about quality of teaching in HE is interesting to me. For example the Times Higher Education article on a study which suggests that “students taught by academics with teaching qualifications are more likely to pass, but less likely to get first-class scores.” The underlying study is this one. I was very surprised to read this article. The article compares teachers with only a PhD and teachers with a PhD AND a teaching certificate (all other types were disregarded).  In my opinion there are several big problems with the study, some demonstrated by one of the central table:


What immediately is apparent:

  • There are no significant differences between PhD and PhD-TeacherCert, as the last column demonstrates (yes I know the limitations of p-values, but the article actually refers to them).
  • Look at the numbers: with such low numbers you can really not make the inferences any way.
  • There is a particularly hard to understand paragraph to argue that we can’t just say that ‘2% versus 5% non-pass might not seem much’ (top line). Well, it isn’t much, so I can’t see how one can argue the opposite.
  • I like it even less that then these highly contentious results are used to suggest two types of teachers, not unlike how glossy magazines do, ‘damage controllers’ and ‘perfection seekers’.
  • The study calculates a ‘group GPA’ for every module which is seen “metric to evaluate the quality of learning from Units”. What? Grades as a metric for quality without regarding other elements like assessments?
  • The group GPA was calculated by converting scores to a Likert scale, in what to me seems a rather arbitrary manner. Luckily this was deemed a little bit ‘contentious’ by the authors.

But there is more:

  • There is almost no development of a framework. After half a page of abstract, there is half a page of introduction and then it’s straight on into the research question and methodology.
  • The limitations section was 2 (two!) lines long, only reporting on how qualitative data was not collected.
  • As a consequence the article is a mere 7 pages. I love concise articles but this is a bit too extreme. On the upside, I assume this journal likes such short articles.