A Rich Legacy: The ALTF and Peak Pedagogy
If you’ll excuse my reframing of great Shakespearean dialogue, I come to this bittersweet task not to bury the ALTF, but to praise it. And also to forecast a bright learning and teaching (L&T) future for Australian higher education, which now stands on the pedagogical shoulders of a deeply embedded culture of sector-wide collaboration and innovation for educational excellence, in part ALTF-enabled.
When National Teaching Fellowships were first offered in Australia, briefly by the Council for the Advancement of University Teaching (CAUT) and the Committee for University Teaching and Staff Development (CUTSD) over 1994-1998, and then again with greater determination and longevity over 2006-2016 by the Carrick Institute for L&T in Higher Education (Carrick) and its successors, they were a bold and ambitious experiment. In their Carrick iteration, Fellowships were intended to “complement the teaching awards program” (Centre for the Study of Higher Education, 2005, vi), with an innovative conceptualisation of good L&T deeds being prosecuted by way of a synergistic coalescing of right person, with the right program of change, at the right time.
Specifically, the June 2006 Carrick Fellowship Scheme: Information, Guidelines & Nomination Instructions set out on page 1:
The aim of the Carrick Fellowship Scheme is to advance learning and teaching in higher education by supporting leading educators to undertake strategic, high profile Fellowship activities in areas that support the Mission of the [Carrick] Institute. Fellows are expected to develop a program that explores and addresses a significant educational issue; develop their personal skills and profile and to be ongoing advocates for excellence in learning and teaching. The Fellowships will involve collaborative activities and the building of national and international partnerships. Carrick Fellows will become part of a national group of experts and leaders in learning and teaching in higher education.
Looking at those 2006 Guidelines through 2019 eyes, the prescience of the Scheme’s proponents at that time, and the sectoral leap of capability-building faith they imagined, are matters for which Australian higher education, its teachers and students, will remain forever grateful.
As evidenced in our 2019 ALTF Legacy report, investment in the Fellows’ “significant educational issues”, and their ongoing advocacy as a national collective of pedagogical trustees, has borne a rich educational harvest. Concurrently with other funding schemes managed variously by CAUT, CUTSD, Australian Universities Teaching Committee (AUTC), Carrick and their successors—the Australian Learning & Teaching Council (ALTC) and the Office for Learning & Teaching (OLT)—two decades of modest, but ruthlessly strategic, investment in Australian L&T enhancement have delivered a golden age of pedagogical innovation and educational excellence, which now underpins Australia’s world class reputation for quality. And this is surely as befits a sector that contributes to Australia’s premier services export industry and is crucial to the national weathering of Industry 4.0’s waves of disruptive innovation.
The Google-age reality that knowledge is ubiquitous but quickly obsolete, together with the “new normal” of 21st century skills sets’ transience, have led to predictions that future workers will need to spend more time learning than any previous generation (AlphaBeta, 2019). Education generally, a reimagined tertiary education sector specifically, and higher education as a subset of them both, are vital to our national future, social cohesion, and citizens’ abilities to negotiate their future work and lives. As a result, our sector’s enduring value and continuing relevance demand nothing less than constant vigilance and a pedagogical restlessness to harness technological advancements for better individual and societal, economic and non-economic, benefits. These are benefits that must be assured of equitable distribution: “The Best Chance for All” as scholars at the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education have named such a nation-building imperative (Zacharias & Brett, 2019).
In higher education, we advance these common societal and individual goods by leveraging our contemporary, and increasingly sophisticated, understandings of integrative, inclusive curriculum design and enhanced personalisation of learner support. We strive constantly for better quality: for iteratively relevant and assured graduate outcomes; for better and more authentic (and authenticated) assessment; for enhanced flexibility and efficacy in online and blended learning design; for new and differentiated course architecture to accommodate shorter credentials, hyperspecialisation, multi-disciplinarity and other forms of learning; and for the L&T and assessment of the graduate and citizenship outcomes that Industry 4.0 has accentuated (for example: digital literacies; agentic career self-management; work-based learning; resilience; mental health and wellbeing; deep ethical engagement; the less-automatable human and relational skills; and the future-proofing capability of evaluative judgement (Tai, Ajjawi, Boud, Dawson, & Panadero, 2018)).
At the daily epicentre of all this disruption and innovative earnestness sit our students and their reliance on the conscientious discharge of our educational responsibilities to them. How are we tracking in these complicated and uncertain times? In 2019, I would answer modestly, really quite well. In a massified sector and for a globalised world, the quality of Australian graduates and their acquisition of contemporary knowledge, skills and dispositions are more assured than ever before. Exhibit A in this regard is the most recent Australian Employer Satisfaction Survey, which reports high levels of overall employer satisfaction with graduates’ capabilities as delivered by 2018 higher education courseware (Social Research Centre, 2019). Exhibit B: the most recent International Student Survey results that show 94% of international students choose Australia as their study destination of choice because of the reputation of our education system. In higher education specifically, over 90% of international students are satisfied with Australia‘s innovative learning strategies and over 93% are satisfied with our general support services (Australian Department of Education and Training, 2017).
These positive results are more than a happy coincidence. In very large part, they are due to the dedicated, evidence-based and research-informed enhancements of the past two decades. To be clear, our national quantum leap in higher education quality and teacher professionalism has been delivered as a direct result of the national enhancement funding delivered through the OLT and its predecessors, virtuously buttressed by inestimable institutional and sectoral in-kind support. This commitment has systemically emboldened Australian educators to innovate and pivot with enhanced agility on the world educational stage.
One only needs to look to the fields explored in the final years of OLT Fellowships and grants over 2012-2015 (Gardner, 2016) for evidence of this single-minded quest for improved performance, reading as it does like a modern pedagogical “To Do” list: graduate employability (22% of funding); pedagogy in higher education (20%); digital technologies and 21st-century learning (13%); assessment (12%); student experience (10%); global perspective (8%); diversity and equity (6%); higher education workforce (4%); quality and standards (3%); and discipline based L&T (2%).
While we are well positioned, I do not suggest that Australia’s learning leadership should rest easy. In truth, 2019 is both the best and the worst of times in this regard: an age of peak pedagogy thanks to enhancement investment, but susceptible to quick depreciation in the absence of dedicated, strategic development. Sustainability is doable, but without the nourishing sustenance of systemic national support for pedagogical R&D, the health of the symbiotic relationship between the future wellbeing of our nation and our higher education sector is vulnerable. Our answer must be to become self-sustaining, but given disruption’s dynamism, the passage of (any) time is not our friend.
The good news here is that the Fellows’ legacy, both collectively and individually, is a bastion of sustaining learning leadership. Fellows have been such a welcome presence in Australian higher education for so long now that it is hard to recall a time when they were not so visible. Many of the Fellows whose work is profiled in these pages have gone on to attain and expand their formal leadership roles—a testament to our founders’ vision—and each Fellow has developed their own enduring cross-national, but always distinctively bespoke- Australian, Community of Practice. Numerous of these Communities have in turn become further enmeshed with other networks, forming a vast, interconnected, pedagogical ecosystem that has served Australian higher education well. Many Fellows continue their educational stewardship long beyond their formal, funded tenures, insisting on paying it forward with a generous passion, again to our sectoral benefit. As with all OLT (et al.) work, every Fellowship resource to have been developed is open access, housed now on the national L&T Repository (LTR)1 and on the Fellows’ own site2, delivering another sustaining boon to perpetuate improvement and enhancement across curricula, student experience, teaching methods, policy and professional development offerings. Quite simply, Fellowships have expanded learning.
With student learning and success in our hearts and minds
Our Fellows’ gestalt: the broad, distributed meta Network of Practice, which has modelled collaborative enterprise for sustainable and relevant enhancement, has worked its tentacles deep into our sector’s pedagogical psyche. In concert with the rich body of grant work, also on the LTR, this is the bedrock on and with which our educational excellence must now self-generate. Of all its many contributions, the collaboration and partnership ethos of the Fellowships Program, instilled through sector-wide learning leadership and advocacy, is the most salient for our future educational capital. In this aspect in particular, the Fellows espouse the epitome of what higher education engagement could or should be, when conceived virtuously for a public, not self-interested, good (Marginson, 2011) – sector leaders as connectors, collaborators, partners, clearing houses, advocates, mentors, enablers, professional conduits, and so such more.
We will need to be that which we wish for our students: resilient, critical and creative lifelong learners with entrepreneurial mindsets. And we will need to keep growing our patient capital, as those of us who have worked so long and hard in L&T have done for eons. The challenges are grand, but our foundations sturdy. Our next iteration depends on the agency of us all, but we are not alone in this endeavour. Our staunchest allies and supporters are our agentic co-creating students (ironically a program of activity that attracted one of the last Fellowships), while Industry 4.0 has brought industry, business and whole communities into closer orbit for engagement as partners and expert collaborators. Our educational future demands our full and collective resources, and the leveraging of national strengths across all sectors for the continuum of lifelong learning. We have it within our grasp, given our rich legacy; it is for us to eschew or embrace.
If a lofty call to arms does not resonate, pragmatic imperatives may suffice. To return to where I began: it is salutary to recall that Carrick was launched in 2004 following legislation to create a National Institute for L&T in Higher Education and the L&T Performance Fund, which Carrick Institute Planning Director, Professor Lesley Parker AM, called the “L&T twins” (Parker, 2004). As Australia faces the prospect of performance-based funding from 2020, as we prepare graduates for labour market precarity, and as we seek to learn from The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF) awards exercise in the UK,3 the quality of Australia’s L&T in the global marketplace has never been more important. This is rudely reputational and past performance will count for little.
I thank each and every Fellow for their dedication, inspiration and pedagogical goodwill, and for their visionary and learning leadership, so capably and generously deployed. I acknowledge the immense trust the funders placed in each Fellow, by way of both government venture capital provided and expert, pro bono assessment and support so generously bestowed. On behalf of all Fellows, I am particularly grateful to our higher education advocates, colleagues and students for the sector’s warm embrace, which embellished exponentially the long-term return on investment for all: returns for government, society and taxpayers; for employers, industries and communities; but most particularly, for the quality of Australian higher education and its students’ success.
Professor Sally Kift
Australian Learning & Teaching Fellows
26 February 2019
1. Learning and teaching repository, hosted by Universities Australia: https://ltr.edu.au/
2. Australian Learning and Teaching Fellows’ website: www.altf.org
3. The Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework (TEF): https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk
AlphaBeta. (2019). Future Skills. Retrieved from https://www.alphabeta.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/google-skills-report.pdf.
Australian Department of Education and Training. (2017). 2016 International Student Survey. Retrieved from https://internationaleducation.gov.au/research/pages/data-and-research.aspx.
Centre for the Study of Higher Education. (2005, May). Recommendations for an expanded program of Australian awards for university teaching. Melbourne: The Carrick Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education.
Gardner, M. (2016, May 16). Innovation in learning and teaching is too important to cut. The Conversation. Retrieved from https://theconversation.com/innovation-in-learning-and-teaching-is-too-important-to-cut-58629.
Marginson, S. (2011). Higher education and public good. Higher Education Quarterly, 65(4), 411-433.
Parker, L. (2004, December). Learning and teaching in Australian Universities: Building on strong foundations. HERDSA News, 26(3), 1-7. Retrieved from http://www.herdsa.org.au/publications/herdsa-news/herdsa-news-vol-26-no-3.
Social Research Centre. (2019). 2018 Employer Satisfaction Survey National Report. Canberra: Quality Indicators of Learning and Teaching Survey Program. Retrieved from https://www.qilt.edu.au/about-this-site/employer-satisfaction.
Tai, J., Ajjawi, R., Boud, D., Dawson, P. & Panadero, E. (2018) Developing evaluative judgement: Enabling students to make decisions about the quality of work. Higher Education, 76(3), 467-481. doi.org/10.1007/s10734-017-0220-3.
Zacharias, N., & Brett, M. (2019). The best chance for all. Perth: National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. Retrieved from https://www.ncsehe.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Equity2030_FINAL.pdf.