Higher Education Academy

I’ve decided to submit an application to the Higher Education Academy in the UK for a Fellowship. There seems to be quite a lot involved. Although a teaching and learning philosophy statement isn’t exactly required (although the suggestion is that it might be helpful), I have had a go at one below. The difficulty is that I need to discuss my teaching and learning philosophy as a teacher, but also with regard to my considerations for leadership of teaching and learning at the program, faculty, institutional and cross-institutional levels. Anyway, here it is …

Learning and Teaching Statement

Professor Nan Bahr

I enjoy higher education leadership roles that focus on the constant improvement of teaching for learning. This has always involved unwavering attention to the needs of learners. The perspective granularity differs from times where I have a direct teaching role with students compared with roles where I have programmatic or institutional leadership and oversight. However, the attention is always on the student experience and support for achievement in their learning. As an effective higher education teacher, I am reflective, have an evidence-based approach to designs for learning with an emphasis on authenticity and action.

I work to creatively and innovatively engage and excite learners to explore ideas and to build their understanding. And I design and implement learning approaches that employ authentic and interactive experiences to awaken understanding and to expose and challenge misconceptions. I believe in the importance of establishing a productive working relationship with each of my students. So in my teaching, I strive to know the learners, by cohort and as far as practicable individually, their learning needs, likely motivations and prior knowledge, and I use this to design sequentially dependent approaches for pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. To establish a strong social context for learning, I work to establish a community of learners and between learners through efforts to be relatable, accessible, and respectful. To create momentum in learning, I am committed to providing detailed and quick turnaround feedback to set learners up for the next stage in their journey.

I find the learning can be greatly enhanced when supported by the affordances of technology, so long as the digital approaches are not so complex and distracting that they become an end in themselves, rather than a potent means to it. I try to champion the effective uses of technology by sharing my efforts with my colleagues. I commit to future-proofing their learning by focusing on developing disciplinary ways of knowing using high impact digital technologies, where appropriate, to prepare them with skills for self-regulation and self-directed knowledge-seeking beyond their university studies. But most of my work has been as a leader, facilitator and designer for teaching and learning at the program, Faculty, and institutional/cross-institutional levels. As an academic in the field of education, this has extended to my work with the teaching profession to influence policy and practice in the schooling sector.

Institutional leadership for teaching and learning brings a quite different lens to the issues. I still need to consider the learners first, yet there are two tiers of learners. The first is the enrolled students, and the next is the academics that I need to work to and through for impact on the students’ learning. In fact, there are three tiers, with the third tier being the school students who my teacher education students will teach. I manage the collaborative design and implementation of a range of context-setting policies, strategic plans, and actions. But I lead the agenda and provide the overall vision for learning and teaching, and I ensure the implementation of logical strategies for continuous improvement grounded in my philosophy of learners and learning.

Learners: Learners are individual and unique, and their prior knowledge, experience and macro and micro-cultural orientations provide them with their lens for learning. I accept the view of Neo-Piagetian and schema theorists that describe the accumulation, organisation, and restructure of concepts (schemata) by the individual learner in response to vicarious or immersive experience (e.g., Neumann & Kopcha, 2018). However, I do not believe that this individuality occurs in social isolation. Sociocultural theory, as proposed first by Vygotsky, and associated social cognitive theory (reviewed by Daniels, 2016), as well as the ecological systems theory of Bronfenbrenner (1979), provide a compelling argument that an individual learns as mediated by the social context and interpersonal systems.

Learning: This then leads to my view that learning is contextual, both socially and pragmatically. Seminal researchers such as Bransford have emphasised the features of the contexts associated with the learning (Bransford & Johnson, 1972). These contextual and often social features provide the flags for recall of information and triggering of other concepts similarly flagged. However, a learner does not attempt to recall every detail of experience or episodes. Their recall relies on the way they direct their attention (Bransford, 1979), and this, in turn, is dependent on their motivation and their prior knowledge. Learning, therefore, is an active and personal, socially embedded process, extending from the productive engagement of the learner with the learning event. Contemporary researchers have drawn connections between productive engagement (hence better learning), and active immersion in authentic learning events (for example, Serrano, O’Brien, Roberts, & Whyte, 2018). Further, I understand that the most effective learning events knit together assessment and pedagogy, such that assessment (formative and summative) provides the learning platform; that is, assessment as/for learning, not of learning (Hargreaves, Gipps, & Pickering, 2014). These conceptions of learners and learning drive my approach to institutional leadership.

Leading Learning and Teaching: Figure 1 shows the intersecting and component elements that guide my orientation and practice as a leader for teaching and learning. From the inner circle, the references begin with the individual student, their choices (program, modes), motivation, aspiration, learning background, and capabilities, skills, and attitudes. At the next layer, there is the student cohort profile; with considerations such as status as first in family, socio-economic status, cultural perspectives, and academic career stage (e.g., undergraduate, postgraduate). Then followed by the institutional community including the consideration of such things as stated graduate attribute goals. The outer rings refer to the influences of the local community and industry partners that guide and frame the institutional goals, and finally the broader community views and expectations including the purposes of higher education.

Figure 1 Intersecting and embedded components for the institutional view of teaching & learning

These components inform teaching pedagogy, content and assessment.  They frame the design of policy and practice to highlight the importance of creativity and innovation, of understanding through the construction of disciplinary ways of knowing, and for a focus on authentic experience. As a leader, it is important to know and respond to these elements; to analyse and understand evidence to inform academic professional development, to monitor learning analytics, and to guide policy and practice. For me, the principles that enable this are a commitment to listening to the student and community voice; application of evidence-informed policy and practice; and, engagement in continuous improvement cycles.


Bransford, J. D., & Johnson, M. K. (1972). Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behaviour, 11(6), 717-726.

Bransford, J. (1979). Human cognition: Learning, understanding, and remembering. Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design: Harvard Univ Pr.

Daniels, H. (2016). Vygotsky and pedagogy. Routledge.

Hargreaves, E., Gipps, C., & Pickering, A. (2014). Assessment for learning.University of Manchester, UK, 313.

Neumann, K. L., & Kopcha, T. J. (2018). The Use of Schema Theory in Learning, Design, and Technology. TechTrends, 62(5), 429-43.

Serrano, M. M., O’Brien, M., Roberts, K., & Whyte, D. (2018). Critical Pedagogy and assessment in higher education: The ideal of ‘authenticity’ In learning. Active Learning in Higher Education, 19(1), 9-21.

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