Reflections on Academic Challenge and intellectually Stimulating Teaching: Our Model

Ros O’Leary & David Webster

This blog emerges from our roles, as part of the University of Gloucestershire’s Academic Development Unit, working with academic teams to help them reflect on what Intellectually Stimulating Teaching and Academic Challenge might look like for them. While we intend to formalise this material, in a formal academic paper, blogging about it allows to think through our ideas here, and maybe even obtain some feedback.

stim1The UK National Student Survey has long had a question that asks students if The course is intellectually stimulating, and in 2017 this was joined by (along with the removal of the enthusiasm question) asking whether or not students agree with My course has challenged me to achieve my best work. We may see this as heralding new focus on student learning in Higher Education beyond student satisfaction and engagement. But how do we as educators understand these questions, and what constitutes intellectually stimulating and/or challenging learning?  What are the implications for our practice?

Beyond student engagement

  • Stimulating: Encouraging or arousing interest or enthusiasm.
  • Challenge: A task or situation that tests someone’s abilities.
  • Challenging: Testing one’s abilities; demanding.

Here we consider intellectually stimulating teaching in terms of how we motivate and enthuse our students as part of ensuring our teaching practice challenges students and tutor alike, but not in terms of ‘making the course harder’, but more in terms of the notion of a collective struggle towards deeper learning.

As part of our exploration, we draw on theories and principles of effective student engagement, extending these ideas to focus on intellectually stimulating and challenging teaching – both in terms of principles we should apply to our teaching, and in practical terms what our teaching might look like.

Proposed model

Our proposed model, or how to design your teaching and curricula to introduce challenge into your teachibg practice, is a result of an iterative exploration of a range of principles of effective student engagement (Chickering and Gamson, 1987; Biggs and Tang, 2011; Zepke and Leach, 2010) alongside research that has more explicitly focused on intellectual challenge (Land et al, 2006; Wabash National Study of Liberal Arts Education, 2013; Neary et al, 2014).

The model focuses on five areas for action:

In the full paper, and in staff development sessions subsequent to the model’s development, we use a large table to articulate the scholarly underpinning and principles for each of our 5 areas. In subsequent posts, we reflect on each of the 5 areas, trying to work out ways in which it can be manifested in praxis. This will be followed by  a summative post, drawing together practical ideas about how they might manifest in a range of actual teaching contexts..

A Less Effective Model..

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