When Teacher Educators ‘Walk the Talk’ – Evidence-informed teaching and learning in Higher Education


The UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) (Advance HE, 2020) offers a structure and helps to guide those responsible for teaching and learning in higher education (HE). A ‘benchmark of standards’ provides minimum expectations and allows for the critical analysis and quality assurance of teaching and learning experiences. This helps to ensure that all students have access to high-quality education. This essay will critically review my engagement with and incorporation of two of the five ‘Areas of Activity’ from the UKPSF (ibid): ‘Teach and/or support learning [A2], and ‘Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance’ [A4]. Additionally, I will provide evidence of how I have implemented the UKPSF aspects of ‘Core Knowledge’ and ‘Professional Values’ to strengthen my practice (Advance HE, 2020). Furthermore, I will explore how application of the UKPSF professional values can improve my teaching practice, particularly the ‘use of evidence-informed practice… and continuing professional development’ [A5, V3].

This essay identifies how evidence-informed practice from within school settings might transfer into HE, both in terms of teaching and supporting learning [A2] and how to develop effective learning environments [A4]. In teacher education, there is an expectation to model a variety of pedagogical approaches regularly and consistently to trainee teachers, providing concrete examples of what research might look like in practice. However, when not explicitly modelling, how often as teacher educators do we practice what we preach? How feasible is evidence-informed pedagogy from school classrooms applied to the lecture theatre, with larger group numbers and longer durations? Through reflection and analysis of these questions, it is expected that there will be an illumination of the approaches that work and those that do not. Moreover, I expect that approaches to teaching and learning that are specific to HE and not applicable in school settings may be identified and further explored [V3].

As a successful teacher and leader of physical education (PE) with ten years of experience in the UK, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and China, I felt ready to accept the challenge of transitioning from teacher to teacher educator in September 2021. There are several tensions I have encountered upon starting this new role, most notably the disparity between what a lesson could and should look like in secondary schools, compared to that of a lecture or seminar in HE. The planning, structure, and organisation require different considerations, and this instilled a feeling of regression, anxiety, and the need for constant reassurance [V4]. As a teacher educator on both undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, I have experienced a range of lecture durations and structures. In some, I felt comfortable due to the nature and duration; for example, a 90-minute practical lecture with 25 trainee PE teachers. However, there have been lectures that have pushed me outside of my comfort zone. For example, a three-hour lecture slot with 80+ postgraduate trainees from all subjects on creativity in education. The first example allowed me to draw from my previous experiences, to use familiar pedagogical methods, and to trust my subject knowledge [K1, K2]. The latter provided a real challenge; how will I engage such a large group for such a long period of time? How will I ensure that I am appropriately challenging all? What type of learning experience can I provide the students? This was coupled with the fear of the lecture going wrong and the worry that someone in the room might know more than me.

My lack of experience and the discomfort felt when planning and teaching these lectures has led me to this reflective question and enquiry. First, what (if any) best practice from schools can be implemented effectively in HE lectures? Secondly, how often as teacher educators do we practice the methods we teach? If the aim is to equip teachers with pedagogical tools to use in schools, should we not be role modelling these tools when we are teaching them, no matter the size or duration of the lecture? This essay sets out to explore the apparent disparity between best practice and pedagogies at both levels of education and whether one can learn from another to effectively improve teaching and learning. In turn, raising the engagement and outcomes of the students, thus linking area [A2, A4] and values [V1, V2] of the UKPSF framework together (Advance HE, 2020).

In HE, there still appears to be traditional structures in place when concerning lecture styles. Placing the lecturer as the expert, lectures are didactic in nature and content heavy. Students are passive listeners, mostly taking notes and it is debated whether they are actively engaged in learning [V3] (Covill, 2011; Mazer & Hess, 2017; Miller et al., 2013). This is not the case in every institution and there is significant research to suggest many are moving away from a traditional lecture to an active learning approach, utilising digital technologies and flipping the classroom [V3] (Costouros, 2020; Dalsgaard & Godsk, 2007; Johnson & Johnson, 2018; Zappe et al., 2009).

Within the modules I have taught this year, a traditional lecture format is still being used by other colleagues and the three-hour sessions have been allocated to my timetable. Therefore, it is important that I utilise the time provided to offer the best learning experience possible for all students. This made me consider methods that I might be able to borrow from my previous teaching experiences. Furthermore, unpacking current educational research and applying different approaches within lectures. My initial thoughts were focussed on exploring methods of questioning and discussion; introducing more active tasks and cooperative learning through group work; providing opportunities to include student voice and autonomy; and scaffolding tasks to meet the needs of all learners; [A1, A2, A4, K2, K3]. It is my intention to explore these thoughts in greater depth within the next sections.

[A2] Teach and/or support learning

Questioning and discussions

A primary consideration for attempting to create a more active learning environment was to find a balance between the amount of time spent talking and the time allocated for student interaction. There is adequate research to suggest that students become bored and disengaged when lectures consist of long episodes of talking, tedious presentations and, quite simply, nothing to do (Clark, 2008; Mann & Robinson, 2009; Schmidt et al., 2015). Research has investigated the attention span of students whilst in lectures and the data shows a range between 8-15 minutes (Benjamin, 2002; McKeachie & Svinicki, 2006; Wankat, 2002). Alternatively, other authors have suggested that these studies lack validity and argue that the delivery style of the lecturer is pivotal in maintaining student engagement (Bradbury, 2016; Rosengrant et al., 2021; Wilson & Horn, 2007). There is arguably a time and place for a keynote or TED Talk style lecture as some students respond well to an interactive, well-presented format. Research from Cerbin (2018) implies that a focus on public speaking skills can help to provide more coherent, stimulating, and lively learning experiences. That said, my social-constructivist philosophy favours opportunities for students to build knowledge together through active involvement and social interactions [A2, V3] (Adams, 2006; Kalina & Powell, 2009; Pritchard & Woollard, 2013). Therefore, I felt it beneficial to spend more time posing questions and having purposeful discussions within lectures of a longer duration, so I have experimented with a variety of strategies of questioning and discussion [K2, K3].

Currently in secondary schools, ‘cold calling’ has become a popular approach to questioning (Appendix A) [K1, K2]. This method of questioning has been promoted strongly by Lemov (2021) and Sherrington and Caviglioli (2020), who illustrate key reasons as to why cold calling can work well. Firstly, it requires everyone to think and everyone to have an answer. Willingham (2009, p. 79) explains that ‘we remember what we think about, memory is the residue thought’. Therefore, if students do not think, they will not learn. Furthermore, it promotes a culture of inclusion and that everyone’s contributions matter [V2] (Dallimore et al., 2019; Sherrington, 2021). In lectures of a shorter duration with smaller cohorts, I have had success with this method. However, I found in a busy lecture theatre, under the spotlight, sometimes students have not responded well to this approach. This could stem from social anxiety, a fear of embarrassment, or lack of confidence (Cohen et al., 2019; Downing et al., 2020). There are certainly aspects of cold calling that can improve teaching and learning in lectures, but first the learning environment must be positive and supportive, and expectations should be clear [V3]. It is also important to consider that cold calling does not work alone. It should be used in tandem with other forms of questioning, particularly when looking to delve deeper or to prompt further discussion (Lemov, 2021; Sherrington, 2021).

I have found using other methods of questioning such as: think-pair-share, snowballing, and phone-a-friend are strategies that have worked well (Appendix B) [A2, K2, K3, V3]. I believe this is because of the choice to use support if required, this approach means students do not feel so isolated but have the option to contribute if they would like to. However, there are still tensions present for those students with social anxiety as students are often required to share their knowledge with colleagues outside of their friendship group (Cohen et al., 2019). In some lectures, the contributions from students have created incredibly rich conversations that would not have occurred without the dedicated time for these interactions [V1, V2].

Furthermore, I have experimented with the use of digital technologies to support student interaction with questions [K4]. I have used Mentimeter (Appendix C) as a platform to allow for anonymous, digital replies to a set question, all of the responses are shown on the display for the group to read [K2, K3, K4]. This was positively received and also an effective way to start lectures, giving students something to reflect on as soon as they arrive [A2]. I also explored the use of FlipGrid (Appendix D), which is an application that allows individuals to film a response to a question [K2, K3, K4]. Students enjoyed this experience, as they appreciated the innovative and engaging technique [A2, V3].

The inclusion of effective questioning, opportunities for discussion, and active learning help to address the issues with a traditional lecture format by encouraging students to engage, think, interact, and share. Whilst there are criticisms of this approach and there is no panacea for the implementation, I believe that an active learning (Hyun et al., 2017; Saichaie, 2016) and student-centred approach (McCabe & O’Connor, 2014) is in congruence with my philosophy. Therefore, I will continue to plan, teach, and reflect on my use of questioning and discussion in lectures of larger numbers and longer durations [A2, K2, V2, V3].

Group work and cooperative learning

Group work in school settings has become quite the contentious issue. Some authors (Darling-Hammond et al., 2014; Pedersen & Digby, 2014; Slavin, 2014; Webb, 2008), believe that group work and cooperative learning has the potential to meet the wider holistic aims of the National Curriculum (Department for Education, 2014) and it can promote the development of 21st Century Life Skills (Stauffer, 2020), whilst having purpose and impact on learning outcomes. However, more recent work suggests that group work is often overused at the expense of direct instruction of knowledge, whilst causing behaviour issues and creating environments in which the learners look busy but are not learning (Didau, 2015; Hallahan, 2018). A similarity amongst the conflicting research is that teachers and students are not taught well enough to manage group work, and that often students are just placed in groups and expected to collaborate without guidance (Mercer et al., 2018). Thus, careful planning and considerations of structure, roles and expectations are critical when choosing to implement group work within lectures (Mercer et al., 2018, Slavin, 2014) [K1, K2].

In previous experiences as a PE teacher, group work and cooperative learning have always been an integral part of my pedagogy. This is perhaps due to the fact certain subjects lend themselves well to group work because of the nature of the content and the required outcomes (Sherrington, 2014). With the outcomes of PE in particular marrying well with the principles of cooperative learning and group work (Casey & Goodyear, 2015; Dyson, 2001; Kirk, 2013). Johnson and Johnson (2014) define cooperative learning as ‘…the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other’s learning’. Through cooperative learning in small groups students have the opportunity to experience; group processing, human and technical skills, individual responsibility, interaction, and positive interdependence (Álvarez Ariza, 2016). In the previous section, I described the use of think, pair, share questioning; this technique is an example of cooperative learning. My intention is to continue to research cooperative learning practices and to utilise them effectively [A2, K3].

Cooperative learning has long been prevalent in primary and secondary schools and, within recent years, higher education. However, empirical evidence of the impact of cooperative learning at the university level is still limited (Herrmann, 2013). There is much research surrounding student-centred learning and active learning and this has gained traction within the past two decades (Baeten et al., 2010; Hyun et al., 2017; Lea et al., 2003; McCabe & O’Connor, 2014). Machemar and Crawford (2007, p. 11) assert that ‘if active learning is doing, then cooperative learning is doing with others’. Consequently, when planning my lectures, I have used previous experiences of group work and cooperative learning, alongside research, to provide active learning experiences for all students. As previously mentioned, towards the beginning of my new role in teacher education, I was provided with the opportunity to lecture the whole cohort of secondary PGCE and School Direct trainees. This included a three hour slot, approximately 80 students on campus, with the learning outcome centred around creativity in education [A2, K2, V1].

Alongside my target of including more questioning and opportunities for discussion (Appendix C & D), I planned to include a cooperative learning task with a focus on creativity (Appendix E) [A2]. I planned a simple, creative task that required everyone’s contribution: creating a paper plane. The focus was on the individuals creative characteristics; however, each member of the group had a different role and responsibility [V1, V2]. This is an idea I have borrowed from a PE pedagogical model called ‘Sport Education’ (Siedentop et al., 2019) [V3]. The responsibilities were construction designer – how to build the plane; graphic designer – what the plane looks like; resource manager – sourcing and control of equipment; PR officer – to explain to others the decisions the group have made; and group assessor – to peer assess each group member against the set criteria (Appendix F) [A2, K3]. Providing each group with the same task but adding different roles and responsibilities helped to give each member accountability, purpose, and value within their group (Herrmann, 2021). This meant that most were on task and motivated to complete the challenge well as a group [K2, K3]. There are potential tensions with this approach as some students might not take their role seriously or may not enjoy the role they have been given (Ghaith, 2018). To counter this, it is important to move around the room to monitor and interact with the groups to ensure the expectations are being met.

The inclusion of the group assessor role provided an opportunity to model an example of peer-assessment, a form of assessment for learning that is regularly used in schools (Black et al., 2003; Fautley & Savage, 2008; Wiliam, 2011) [K1]. Whenever there is an opportunity to do so, modelling practice as a teacher educator is significantly beneficial for trainee teacher development (Korthagen et al., 2005; Loughran, 2006). With the topic of the lecture surrounding creativity, I felt it was important to experiment with a different approach and on reflection, I feel it went very well. This was also an example of a teacher educator modelling expected professional standards of innovation, using evidence to inform practice and reflection (Lunenberg et al., 2007). It is not only important to model pedagogy in action, but to be a role model of standards and behaviours expected of good teachers [V1, V2]. The lecture was positively received by many of the students, which resulted in positive feedback via email and Twitter (Appendix G & H) [A2, V3].

Through investigating the ways in which I teach and support learning, there has been a consistent thread running throughout, that thread being strong links to active learning, student-centred approaches, and cooperative learning. I feel this is partly because of my social-constructivist philosophy and my experiences of teaching a physically-active subject like PE. Exploring appropriate strategies that can transform a traditional lecture format to a more active and student-centred experience has been challenging. Despite that, this is something I will continue to explore and develop moving forward [A2, K2, V2, V3].

[A4] Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance

Student voice and choice

If curriculum and programme design is seen as a process, then the interactions between teachers (lecturers) and students are crucial. Student voice, as a way of integrating the ideas of young people into primary and secondary schools has re-emerged over the last 25 years (Bron & Veugelers, 2014; Bovill, 2013; Thiesen & Cook-Sather, 2007). Regardless of the method used, responding to student voice involves more than simply listening to their opinions, their voice should have an impact. Cook-Sather (2020) postulates that for student voice to be effective, a shift in power is required. Students should be recognised as those with essential perspective on learning, thus power and responsibility between teacher and student should be shared (Cook-Sather, 2006; Mayes et al., 2017).

By sharing power with students, by listening to them and seeking to follow their advice, we have learned that educators, researchers and policy makers are more likely to promote contexts through which the voiceless have voice, the powerless have power and from such spaces hope can emerge.
(Freire, 1994, p. 491).

Further research suggests that student voice has the potential to produce and support more ‘socially just’ school environments (Salisbury et al., 2019), whilst helping to ensure that ‘disenfranchised youth’ are included in curriculum design and decision-making (Cammarota & Romero, 2011; Salisbury et al., 2019). Although the research contains many positives, the apparent tensions concern the feasibility and logistics of listening to every voice, how best to collect the data, finding appropriate time to convene, and the restrictive nature of policy and curriculum (Mayes et al., 2017; Morrison, 2008). Educational decision-making and curriculum design are rather grandiose concepts that require significant time, planning, and justification. That said, much of the information gathered from a student voice perspective is usually aligned with this bigger picture, rather than day to day learning experiences (Baroutsis et al., 2016).

It is important to consider student voice from a more granular perspective, each lesson. Student voice and choice can be implemented into lessons where there is an increased chance for autonomy and agency by incorporating choice of task, equipment, working groups, and challenge, amongst others (Beni et al., 2017; How et al., 2013). Enabling opportunities for choice in lessons is likely to produce self-determined learners (Beymer & Thomson, 2015). Whilst providing students with an autonomy-supportive environment can help to increase intrinsic motivation and, in turn, confidence and competence (Deci & Ryan, 2012) [K1, K2]. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect teachers to provide an option that motivates every learner. Moreover, research suggests that too many options can lead to students feeling overwhelmed and the lesson can become fragmented and unmanageable (Beymer & Thomson, 2015).

Within HE settings, the same challenges are faced when considering the implementation of the student voice. The Advance HE (2022) considers students as partners, and they declare that student voice is invaluable. There are additional pressures on universities due to the current tuition fee structure, and a large body of research identifying the importance of student voice (Blair et al., 2014; Brooman et al., 2015; Healy et al., 2016; McLeod, 2011; Seale, 2009). Subsequently, the question stands: how effectively are universities listening to the voices of all students? How effective are the methods used to collect this data? Finally, what impact is student voice having on teaching and learning experiences? [V1]

Feedback from students is significant and important to consider, as viewing practice through the perspective of our learners is an essential component in meeting the needs of all students (Bassot, 2020; Brooman et al., 2015). However, students often hold unconscious bias, preconceptions, or stereotypical views that are illustrated during the process of feedback, these can often be misleading (Peterson et al., 2019; Rivera & Tilcski, 2019). Students are regularly offered the opportunity to express their voice through mid-module evaluations, Staff Trainee/Student Liaison Committee (STLC/SSLC), the NSS (National Student Survey), student evaluation of teaching procedures, and student experience surveys [V1]. The challenge faced here concerns student engagement with these forms of feedback. Unfortunately, mid-module evaluations and other feedback forms can frequently have few responses or a lack of depth. We must be careful in attempting to respond to student voice. If every voice is not represented, there is the potential to have a detrimental effect through silencing the views of the minority (Cook-Sather, 2020; Ferguson et al., 2011). Another factor to consider is that much of the student feedback received is in retrospect; it is engaged with after the completion of modules. Therefore, it cannot be used to inform the pedagogy and decision making for the current cohort, with many of the issues on modules being addressed for the following years students.

New methods are required to allow student voice to impact teaching and learning at present, enhancing the experience of current cohorts. Healey et al. (2014) indicate that the co-creation of learning and teaching by staff and students is one of the most important issues in HE. Keeping this in focus and borrowing from school-based research surrounding pupil consultation (Morgan, 2011; Robinson, 2017; Scarparolo & MacKinnon, 2022), I have explored a range of methods that have allowed me to use student voice to improve my teaching. The first technique was to introduce a feedback wall. During lectures, I provided students with blank post-it notes, and I asked the students to comment anonymously on ‘what went well’ (WWW) and ‘even better if’ (EBI) [A2, A4, K2, V1]. These comments were placed onto the feedback wall before the end of the lecture. Collating the comments, I was able to identify some takeaway points that I have used to improve my practice. The WWW and EBI terminology are consistent with the evaluation processes that our trainee teachers use whilst on teaching placements. Therefore, this was a pertinent opportunity to model the practices I expect to see. I have also asked students to collaborate and send a reflective email that shares the opinions of the whole group, with a focus on developing my practice [V1]. An example of this was included in the previous reflective journal and peer-review process. As a reflective practitioner, I have used Brookfield’s (2017) lenses to help guide my thoughts, and a core part of this model is the perspective of the student [A5, K5, V3]. I believe that the critical reflection of my practice using this model is an effective way of allowing the student voice to impact teaching and learning, whilst also advocating the principles of a student-centred approach (Gravett et al., 2020) [V1].

Planning to meet the needs of all learners (Scaffolding, Task Constraints, Challenge)

To become a qualified teacher in England, trainees must be able to provide evidence of meeting and maintaining the Teachers’ Standards set by the Department for Education (Department for Education (DfE), 2011). They are standards that set the minimum requirement for teachers’ practice and conduct, and they define the minimum level of practice for trainees and teachers to achieve qualified teacher status. Teachers’ Standard 5 (TS5) states ‘A teacher must adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils’ (DfE, 2011). Each standard has a set of sub-points that explain the expectations in further detail (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Department for Education (2011) Teachers’ Standards – TS5

TS5 mentions a requirement and knowledge of how to differentiate appropriately; this requires adaptation and scaffolding of tasks to ensure all learners have the opportunity for success and progress. Furthermore, stating that teachers should have a clear understanding of the needs of all pupils and be able to use and evaluate distinctive approaches to engage and support all (DfE, 2011). This standard is closely linked to the UKPSF (Advance HE, 2020) Area of Activity [A4], Core Knowledge [K2, K3] and Professional Values [V1, V2].

In 2014, the Department for Education commissioned a two-year study to assess progress towards an evidence-informed teaching system. This study led to schools being required to provide evidence of the research that underpins their approach to teaching and learning. Following this, various forms of research have proven popular and have been implemented in schools across the United Kingdom. Examples of the omnipresent research are Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction (2012); Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A Champion (2021); Tom Sherrington and Oliver Caviglioli’s Teaching WalkThrus (2020); and John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers (2012) [K1, K2]. Much of the aforementioned research provides strategies that teachers can use to ensure the strengths and needs of all learners are met. A frequently mentioned strategy nestled within this research is the concept of scaffolding and modelling.

‘Scaffolds’ are temporary supports used to support learners, which should be gradually removed as students gain confidence and competence. Modelling can function as a form of scaffolding, as can methods such as the teacher thinking aloud. ‘Thinking aloud’ is a type of scaffolding where a teacher illustrates their thought-processes as they undertake a task that students need to perform themselves (Beale, 2020; Sherrington & Caviglioli, 2020). Modelling helps learning by enabling students see how to solve problems, for example, how to structure an essay. Modelling can be carried out through the use of ‘worked examples’: a form of modelling where a teacher provides a step-by-step demonstration of how to perform a task or how to solve a problem. Rosenshine (2012) argues that the most effective teaching involves many worked examples alongside well-planned forms of scaffolding [A2, A4, K1, K2].

Through observations, I have recognised that many lectures are linear in design. Meaning that, if an activity is included within the lecture, there is usually one task for all students to complete, with no opportunity for scaffolding, differentiation, or adaptation (Murtagh & Webster, 2010). Information regarding current attainment and the learning needs of the students are used inconsistently in the lecture planning process. Subsequently, a one-size fits all approach to lecture design is used (Roberts, 2019). There is significant research that stresses the importance of using the data provided by students who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) or learning disabilities to shape practice (Black et al., 2015; Moriña, 2017; Yssel et al., 2016). In turn, ensuring that all students have access to module content through an inclusive and supportive learning environment. However, there is less research that recognises the importance of using the students current attainment level to inform planning (Doyle, 2018). For example, separating a cohort into three different groups depending on their attainment or competence, three variations of the task with differing levels of support (scaffolding) could be applied. This would provide adequate challenge for all learners whilst working towards the same learning outcomes. This is an inclusive technique that many secondary school teachers will be familiar with.

When attempting to apply this approach to lectures with larger cohorts, I faced some challenges and struggled to achieve the desired impact. I was able to access information about students who have disclosed specific learning disabilities and I was able to cater for their needs when planning (font sizes, colours, seat position, etc) [V1]. However, using student data to construct a variety of scaffolded tasks for a group of this size, was a real challenge. I resorted to designing three different tasks that were pitched at low, middle, and high achieving students, and on reflection this was far too generic to be personalised [K1, K2].


Mapping against the UKPSF Areas of Activity [A2, A4], Core Knowledge and Professional Values, I have explored and presented examples of my engagement and application (Advance HE, 2020). Throughout the essay, I have analysed the use of questioning and discussion; group work and cooperative learning; student voice and choice; and planning to meet the needs of all learners [K1, K2, K3, V1, V2]. This process has allowed for the strengthening of my social-constructivist philosophy by bolstering my confidence in the use of a student-centred approach with active learning opportunities like group work and cooperative learning. The strengths and criticisms provided by the research, alongside practical application within my lectures, has provided some key considerations for my developing practice [V3, V4]. A variety of techniques that are regularly used in secondary schools have been analysed with some proving to have a positive impact, and others deemed less effective. That said, context is key. Within this essay, a large cohort lecture was key to the reflections. Therefore, further work is required to identify how these approaches might work in lectures or seminars with smaller groups. As a teacher educator, I have identified that modelling practice is more authentic and beneficial when the group size is similar to that of a school class. However, when appropriate, I will continue to apply and reflect on the pedagogies that our trainee teachers are taught to use in schools. Thus, modelling professional behaviours and expectations, as well as the use of evidence-based approaches to teaching [A1. A2, A4, K1, K2, V3].


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