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The nature and status of teaching in the first year

The nature and status of teaching in the first year is examined in a number of places in the Themes and students provide an interesting perspective on their experiences of teaching and learning in the first year, including contrasting views on the level of commitment of academic colleagues teaching on first-year courses.

The status of first-year teaching was also discussed in The nature and status of teaching in the first year, one of the booklets produced as part of the First Year Enhancement Theme. It suggested that:

  1. There are concerns within Scottish HEIs and elsewhere about the status of first-year teaching. Strategies designed to raise it include national awards (England and Australia), changes to promotion criteria (Scotland and elsewhere), developmental fellowships (Scotland and elsewhere) and inventive ways of capturing the interest of senior research-active staff in first-year students' projects (for example, University of Abertay Dundee).
  2. Debates are taking place within institutions and elsewhere on ways to tackle the issue of status. One strategy, for example in Life Sciences at the University of Dundee, is to dedicate individuals with an interest and expertise in teaching first years to that task. In this example it coincides with individuals who have been primarily allocated teaching-focused roles. The perceived advantages are that they devote considerable time and energy to the task, to the benefit of students (as judged by exam results).
  3. The topic of the status of teaching in HE had recent airings and articulation when UK HEIs developed revised criteria for defining points and placing each academic within a new salary framework. Even where teaching-focused roles were identified as a subgroup of the academic 'family', it does not appear that roles in relation to the first year were distinguished as a specific subset. However, that does not necessarily preclude such articulations as the scheme becomes embedded and matures.
  4. Art schools reported that teaching was highly valued as a role, and therefore there were not significant issues over the status of the teaching of first-year students.
  5. One complicating feature of the status of first-year teaching is that it overlaps substantially with the broader topic of the status of teaching in HE in relation to that of research, both in Scotland and elsewhere in the UK.

The HEA has placed this broader topic on the agenda by signalling a forthcoming study on criteria for promotion, based on teaching excellence and innovativeness. It will be interesting to see if that study attaches specific attention to the issue of the first year, which a range of studies have identified as a crucial point of transition for students.

Source: The nature and purposes of the first year

Embedding transition support in learning and teaching was also explored and includes a number of examples from HEIs, including the University of Melbourne and other institutions in Scotland.