A Case for Teaching & Learning Sabbaticals.

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Across the UK higher education sector I know of a number of institutions who provide opportunities for research sabbaticals.

These often vary depending on the discipline (varying in length or even availability), but generally it is recognised that these sabbaticals provide opportunities for staff to undertake research or study activities (example here from University of Southampton).

Universities recognise the value of this activity (after all they’re seeking a return on their investment) and this may come in the form of improved REF outputs for example.

So I did some searches for any examples of (paid) “learning and teaching” type sabbaticals in higher education and couldn’t find a single example. That’s not to say they’re not locked behind local HR intranets but they’re certainly not as prevalent. (Although I did come across a recent government initiative for school teachers taking sabbaticals https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/may/04/teachers-to-be-offered-years-paid-sabbatical-to-improve-retention).

So I thought I would put forward some reasons on why we should develop a case for offering learning and teaching sabbaticals (from my perspective of having been responsible for developing programmes and for supporting others in developing their programmes).

  1. With TEF now clearly on the agenda the importance of the student experience in relation to that teaching is becoming more if a priority for Universities.
  2. Organisation & Management of programmes/courses generally scores low in NSS results.
  3. Assessment & Feedback generally scores low in NSS.
  4. Well designed curriculum can help address 2&3.
  5. Designing & developing curriculum (especially full programmes & courses) is complex (meeting required national benchmarks, PRSB & institutional needs etc).
  6. Holistic programme design needs leadership to have oversight of student journey, assessment diet, feedback strategies, digital tool use etc.
  7. Finding quality time and space in amongst teaching & research activities is challenging.
  8. Administrative process are usually complex and not familiar to those who do not regularly undertake them.
  9. Engaging all stakeholders in the process requires considerable planning and organisation.
  10. Dedicated time with a dedicated focus is proven to achieve higher quality results.

There are many more I could add here, but for the purpose of keeping this post succinct I’ll leave them off for now. But imagine a University that values curriculum design and learning & teaching so much that they give staff significant dedicated time to lead on and undertake this activity.

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