Transformation through teaching excellence

All too often, institutions of higher education invest in research at the expense of teaching excellence. Higher education institutions need to invest in promoting innovative teaching that will meet the needs of today’s diverse students and enable them to address the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

This article is part of a series on Transformative Leadership published by University World News in partnership with Mastercard Foundation. University World News is solely responsible for the editorial content.

Ideally, students should have a meaningful, relevant, engaging learning experience that challenges their preconceptions, encourages critical thinking and equips them to initiate change in their communities.

Today’s students learn more and are engaged more effectively by directly participating rather than passively receiving information. The teacher’s role is shifting from a lecturer to a facilitator of credible public internet resources and dynamic group discussion and activities. This is part of a larger shift in education from a teacher-centred to a more student-centred approach. This shift demands advanced teaching and learning methods as well as innovative technological tools.

TeachEx is an Erasmus+ Capacity Building project designed to address these challenges by promoting teaching excellence in Israeli higher education.

Six Israeli higher education institutions are partners in TeachEx – IDC Herzliya as coordinator, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Oranim Academic College of Education, Beit Berl College, Gordon College of Education and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev – as well as the National Union of Israeli Students, which provides a reflection on teaching methods from the student perspective.

In addition, five European higher education institutions – University College Cork, Ireland; Jagiellonian University, Poland; Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland; the University of Groningen, the Netherlands; and the University of Nicosia, Cyprus – the European Association of Institutions in Higher Education (EURASHE) and the European Students’ Union are also partners, providing their expertise and experience.

Self development and lifelong learning

The overarching goals of TeachEx are to enhance the quality of education and to develop the infrastructure of higher education institutions by:

  • • Establishing and improving Centres for Teaching Excellence (CTEs) that contribute to the training and professional development of teachers.

  • • Developing and delivering a sustainable programme of training, as well as associated learning materials for staff working within the CTEs.

  • • Creating or enhancing appropriate support structures in CTEs that ensure their viability and sustainability.

  • • Developing and producing guidance, training and benchmarking tools to support teaching excellence.

  • • Exploring, sharing and disseminating European experiences in teacher training and preparing manuals and training documents necessary to stimulate a sustained dialogue as to what constitutes teaching excellence between CTEs and other key educational stakeholders in Israel.

Partners in TeachEx believe that self-development and lifelong learning are key to being an effective educator. This means that every teacher should be engaged in a continuous professional development process involving reflection and subsequent action.

In order to facilitate this professional development process, over the course of the three-year project TeachEx developed and enhanced Centres of Teaching Excellence in each of the partner institutions.

Tools and ideas

TeachEx also facilitated an intensive ‘Train the Trainers’ workshop that gave faculty tools and ideas to take back to their home institutions to use in training other faculty members.

In addition, TeachEx developed the following training modules:

  • Project-Based Learning is a form of active and inquiry-based learning where students acquire a deeper knowledge and understanding through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems.

  • Diversity and Accessible Instruction is based on the recognition that the way individuals learn is unique and can be influenced by many factors such as: cultural background, age, learning disabilities, etc. The module aims at providing tools for faculty to address individual learning characteristics and increase accessibility to their teaching.

  • Mobile Learning provides the learner with the ability to learn anywhere and at any time, encouraging the learner to be active through exploration, conversation and interaction across multiple contexts.

  • The Lecturer as a Producer gives teachers the skills necessary to become independent producers of digital content. Participants learn how to self-produce explanatory videos in order to facilitate more adaptive and mobile learning.

  • Design Thinking for Meaningful Learning offers an infrastructure for teacher communities to collaboratively reflect on their teaching. The module helps them interpret and understand their learning and teaching environment, identify its unique challenges, frame local opportunities and use them to develop ideas and innovations.

The ultimate goal of TeachEx is to make sustainable long-term change in teaching that will benefit students and faculty. The CTEs will serve as permanent structures within each institution that will build on lessons learned during the project and use materials developed.

‘Train the Trainer’ sessions will be organised regularly. CTEs will also reach out to other institutions through marketing campaigns designed to share knowledge and tools developed through this project. Digital tools developed through TeachEx will serve as a teaching and learning resource.

Through these means, TeachEx aims to transform the way institutions of higher education approach teaching so that students receive the excellent teaching that is so crucial to their education.

Rachael Gelfman Schultz, Communications Coordinator at Oranim International School, has worked as a Jewish educator and writer in the United States and Israel. She has written student books and teachers’ guides, published by Behrman House, for congregational schools and Jewish day schools. She also writes donor communications for the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee). Rachael has a B.A. from Harvard University and an M.A. in Jewish Thought from Hebrew University.