Strategy Seven (August 2012 update)

Develop our capacity to identify and promulgate excellence in teaching

Our academic staff should be engaged in developing and applying the best pedagogical practice at all levels, and our students’ educational experience must be of a consistently high quality.

We aim to build the capacity of individual teachers and foster the development of teaching teams and communities in degree programs, schools and faculties. All our staff will have access to opportunities for development and teaching and learning support. We will share the best of local practice across the University.


Since the launch of the strategic plan, we have developed standards and reporting mechanisms that will help our teachers to apply the best pedagogical practice in their work. However, good teachers (and researchers) need good facilities, hence the focus throughout the strategic plan on improving the classrooms, laboratories and IT systems that underpin quality teaching, learning and research.

7(a) Develop divisional teaching excellence strategies and negotiate compacts with SEG for endorsement, and, where necessary, support of these strategies.

We have developed for the first time an agreed set of University-wide minimum standards for the quality of students’ experiences of units of study, backed by a new web interface to report unit of study performance (see initiative 7(b)) and, with regard to initiative 7(a), a transparent accountability mechanism – the first version of the teaching and learning compacts for all faculties.

Reflecting the importance of students’ experience of units of study in their overall educational experience, this first cycle of compacts builds on, and makes visible, the Unit of Study Evaluation (USE) systems and processes many faculties have in place to recognise and address issues of quality in units of study. Faculties have already reported 2011 levels of quality, set improvement targets to enhance the quality of units of study, and committed to implementing strategies over the next 18 months to achieve these targets.

The 2012 compacts are the first iteration and it is envisaged these will be established as a regular 12–18-month cycle. The next cycle of compacts at the end of 2013 will report on achievement of the targets and include a broader range of standards than just the USE targets in the current cycle. These additional teaching and learning standards will be developed in consultation with SEG as part of the next stage of the Teaching Standards Project.

7(b) Develop new tools for identifying teaching and learning strengths to inform divisional strategies and support the promulgation of best practice.

The 2011 USE data reported in the compacts revealed a considerable variation in students’ experiences across the institution. Using the SEG-approved minimum standards1 referred to in 7(a) and drawing on institutional data provided by the new web interface for unit of study reporting, the Institute for Teaching and Learning (ITL) has worked with each faculty to review and further investigate the faculty’s USE performance and identify effective enhancement strategies and support required to address issues of quality.

All faculties have now meaningfully considered the underlying causes of poor quality, whether it is the result of individual teaching performance issues, unit of study curriculum and teaching design issues, course-level curriculum integration issues, faculty policy, or resource or teaching culture issues. The compacts provide the University with the first stage of a transparent accountability mechanism for the quality of student learning experiences in units of study across the whole university.2

7(c) Establish University-agreed minimum standards for teaching and learning support as appropriate to each faculty.

Future compacts will also lead to the development of University-agreed minimum standards for teaching and learning support as appropriate to each faculty, and incorporate TEQSA initiatives in the area of teaching and learning standards (expected to be announced by the government in 2013).

7(d) Apply divisional and University teaching excellence strategies in the ongoing assessment of our infrastructure needs and priorities.

The success of elements in the Learning Networks Project (see initiative 7(e)) has provided new ways for planning teaching and learning spaces, and is one of the sources that is informing learning space design for new buildings such as the Abercrombie Precinct (see initiative 7(g)). The associated planning is also improving our capacity to support the student experience before, between and after students' formal experiences in lectures, seminars, laboratories and studios.

Follow-up work includes addressing needs identified in a 2011 review of learning and teaching spaces across the University, which received survey responses from more than 4500 students and written submissions from the student representative bodies, the Library and all faculties. The Education Portfolio, CIS, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and the Library are now collaborating on a learning space standards project which is informed by written submissions and feedback from faculties and students, as well as lessons from the operation of new Learning Networks Project facilities. These standards will support decisions about the effective and efficient allocation of resources to improve infrastructure supporting a quality student experience at Sydney.

7(e) Complete the Learning Space Network Project.

With the help of federal government funding, we have made strong progress towards completing the Learning Networks Project, which aims to develop new visions for formal and informal learning and teaching spaces3. By the middle of 2012, the project was approximately 80 percent complete and new informal study facilities had been opened in the Peter Nicol Russell (PNR) and Carslaw buildings and Fisher Library. Providing over 700 seats for individual, pair and group work, these hubs are already being heavily used: in their first five weeks of operation, they received over 35,000 student visits.

We have also created in Peter Nicol Russell new formal teaching spaces for collaborative, student-centred pedagogy. Progress continues on other facilities in Fisher Library and the Wallace Theatre. Another key feature of the Learning Networks Project is the integration of physical and virtual learning space through a 'virtual desktop' that enables students and teaching staff to access 200 pieces of discipline-specific software tailored to their personal needs at computers across campus.

7(f) Establish a program for the systematic review and development of University education policies in collaboration between SEG and the Academic Board.

As with University research policies (see initiative 6(e)), work to institute a program for the systematic review of University education policies has been less formally developed. Collaboration between the Academic Board, the Education Portfolio and the Office of General Counsel already works well (as shown by major redevelopments during 2011 of policies relating to coursework, assessment and plagiarism), but is expected to strengthen with the improvements on policy development and implementation that will follow from the University of Sydney (Policies Development and Review) Rule 2011. The Education Portfolio and Academic Board are currently working closely on the reconfiguration of master’s courses to bring them into line with new Australian Qualifications Framework guidelines by 2015.

7(g) Complete the Abercrombie Precinct infrastructure project.

The Business School aims to be a global leader in providing the best opportunities for teachers, students and researchers. It is presently constrained by having to teach in more than 20 buildings of varying standards scattered across the Camperdown/Darlington Campus, and the Abercrombie Precinct project will provide much-needed improvements. The project, one of the University’s major infrastructure projects for the 2011–15 period, aims to deliver a world-class Business School and, separately, new student accommodation. A revised project brief was finalised in the first half of 2012, which considered local community feedback to the initial design and included an amended architectural design to meet the new brief and the current project budget. The University is currently liaising with planning authorities to secure development consent.


1. That no more than 20 percent of students should be dissatisfied with the overall quality of a unit
2. Also on initiative 7(b), the University took part in July 2011 in the development phase of the federal government’s proposed University Experience Survey, a replacement for the Course Experience Questionnaire (CEQ); a sector-wide pilot is now underway.
3. This project is helping us to deliver on initiative 4(e).