Facilitating Effective and Reflective Teaching Practice

Goal 1 of the SCD Learning and Teaching Plan is about developing strategies for identifying effective and innovative teachers in the SCD and enabling these teachers to share their pedagogical approach. In this article, Dr Dean Smith shares an activity that moves from a rather ad hoc approach to PD, to a coherent and integrated approach that will greatly facilitate the development of effective and reflective practitioners in private theological higher education.

Dr Smith is the Director of Teaching and Learning & Senior Lecturer in Theology and Philosophy at the Nazarene Theological College Brisbane, Australia.

Facilitating effective and reflective teaching practice through the implementation of a course of directed, outcomes-based professional development
Updated on 5 July 2021

Aim of the activity

To facilitate more effective and reflective teaching practice of NTC faculty by implementing a coherent course of outcomes-based professional development adapting the curriculum and resources utilised in contemporary university higher education courses.

Rationale for the activity

As a teacher who, having undertaken a formal course of study in higher education, seeks to put into practice what it means to be an effective and reflective teacher, I can now appreciate the benefits that have flowed from the opportunity to develop an overarching and coherent theory of learning and teaching.  My greatest professional regret is that I was not exposed to the methods and practice of teaching prior to embarking on my vocation as a theology teacher. For some seven or so years there was a real gap in my educational understanding and practice. It is this that has driven me to develop this activity.

Dr Dean Smith

One of the most significant professional development activities I engaged in after having been a teacher for some seven years was organised by Professor Shirley Alexander and Dr Jo McKenzie from UTS when I was Academic Dean at Booth College, Sydney. I still remember the topic covered – deep and surface approaches to learning. This session made a lasting impression on me, although I was not sufficiently confident at the time about how I could translate the knowledge gained into practice. Nor did I understand the broader pedagogical framework that provided the context for this knowledge. It was my enthusiasm for this learning that motivated me to enrol in a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education at UTS Sydney.

Having recently taken on the role of Director of Teaching and Learning at NTC Brisbane, I now have the opportunity to bring the knowledge gained through formal study to bear on my work so that as a faculty we can together develop our skills for the purpose of becoming more effective and reflective practitioners. In thinking about the topic of professional development and my role as an academic leader, a number of issues, born out of my own experience as a teacher for 2 decades, have converged. Firstly, it is the case that for many teachers not trained in the theories of learning and teaching in Higher Education, professional development days provide valuable opportunities to orient their teaching practice to the best available educational theories.  Secondly, while many of the PD sessions that I attended in my early years of teaching were helpful, insufficient attention was given to showing how each topic covered cohered with the broader learning and teaching framework. Thirdly, both anecdotal evidence and feedback reviews during my time at Booth College pointed to the conclusion that professional development activities had been, to a large degree, less effective than we had hoped. In considering these issues taken together, I now have good reasons for implementing a course of directed, outcomes-based professional development for the purpose of facilitating effective and reflective teaching practice within the NTC faculty.

Setting the activity in context

My work in higher education is primarily as a teacher. I also hold the position of Director of Learning and Teaching at NTC Brisbane. In reference to the later, I am responsible for organising the professional development of faculty at NTC. It is therefore my intention to bring what I have learned about quality higher education to bear on my work as Director for the purpose of helping those engaged in theological education, myself included, become more effective and reflective practitioners.

Now while there is a move within the public tertiary sector to have academics formally trained in teaching and learning strategies, there is a lag in training academics in the higher education sector. This is due to the fact that until recently academics have not been required to possess qualifications in education. This is interesting given that educational qualifications are required in early childhood, primary and secondary school settings. While teachers in SCD Member Institutions like NTC usually possess a PhD in a specialised field of theological study, few have undergone formal training in learning and teaching. Of course this does not mean that highly qualified lecturers are poor teachers or that they are non-reflective practitioners. Rather, owing to the sometimes ad hoc nature of professional development strategies, lecturers may not have benefited from a more coherent approach to teaching pedagogy. A major assumption behind this activity is that developing, and indeed embodying such an approach, is considered a necessary condition for ensuring that those teaching within NTC are effective and reflective theological educators.

Value of doing the activity

The value of this activity is that it will address a problem I have identified in the professional development of academic faculty as currently organised. Moving from a rather ad hoc approach to PD to a coherent and integrated approach will greatly facilitate the development of effective and reflective practitioners in private theological higher education.

Approach the learning activity will take

The purpose of this activity is to articulate an overarching pedagogical framework for NTC faculty that is currently taught and practiced within the Australian higher education sector and from this to develop a program of professional development utilising the normal cycle of professional development activities organised within the college. It will involve the following steps:

    1. Articulate the overarching pedagogical framework currently being taught and practiced within the Australian higher education sector.
    2. Outline a course of programmed professional development that aligns with 1
    3. Implement a professional development activity from 2
    4. Review and reflect on that activity
    5. Repeat 3 and 4.

Step 1
Articulate the overarching pedagogical framework currently being taught and practiced within the Australian higher education sector.

The Need of an Overarching Pedagogical Framework

Over a number of years now Member Institutions of the Sydney College of Divinity including NTC have become familiar with the language of constructive alignment. However, my early introduction to the concept was framed in the context of a curriculum review and the requirements set down by the national quality assurance and regulatory agency for higher education rather than as an overarching approach to learning and teaching. No doubt the requirements set down by the national agency reflect an overarching pedagogical framework, but awareness of the requirements without full knowledge of that framework does not necessarily lead to the best educational outcomes, especially when it comes to curriculum reviews. I have had cause over the past few years to seriously question the value of my involvement in such a review. After all, establishing Learning Outcomes and aligning these with Assessment Tasks is but part of a much broader picture and pedagogical framework requiring significantly more knowledge than I possessed at the time. What I have since gained from the above experience is a growing realisation of the importance and need of an overarching educational framework in the making of effective and reflective teaching practitioners (and curriculum reviewers). It is to this that I now turn.

Approaches to Teaching and Learning

The theories and practice of teaching and learning at tertiary level have shifted significantly over the past few decades. My early experience at university as a mature-age student reflects these changes. When I started my university education, success was very much up to the student, depending on their abilities and attitude to learning, and it seemed had little to do with what the teacher did in facilitating that learning. To illustrate this one dimensional approach to learning, at an early stage in my study I hesitantly asked a lecturer what I would need to do to move up to the next grade level. The response was that if I had to ask the question it was doubtful I would achieve the improvement sought. These were the years of grading according to the bell curve where a student’s ability was statistically determined. This approach reflects what Biggs and Tang identify as a level 1 approach to teaching where the focus is on what the student is. That is, there are good students and poor students and the role of the teacher is to simply know and expound content well.[1] Good students will flourish and poor students will struggle.

A level 2 approach to teaching on the other hand focuses instead on what the teacher does. This is a more nuanced approach to teaching and while still focused on transmission, the transmission of concepts and understandings and not purely information is seen as important.[2] Both of the above models are blame models according to Biggs and Tang. The first blames the student for a failure of learning the second blames the teacher. In both these models/approaches little consideration is given to individual students potential, context, background or to what stage in the process of learning students find themself.

A level 3 approach to teaching integrates learning and teaching. It is a student-centred model of teaching where the focus is on what a student does and where teaching supports learning. “No longer is it possible to say ‘I taught them, but they didn’t learn.’ Expert teaching includes mastery over a variety of teaching techniques, but unless learning takes place, they are irrelevant; the focus is on what the student does and on how well the intended outcomes are achieved.”[3] It is this last approach that informs constructive alignment as the overarching pedagogical framework that will provide the resources for our program of directed, outcomes-based professional development at NTC.

The Framework of Constructive Alignment

Guided by SCD learning and teaching policy direction we at NTC take a level 3 approach to learning that is outcomes-based and informed by the pedagogical framework of constructive alignment, which is “a marriage between a constructivist understanding of the nature of learning and an aligned design for teaching that is designed to lock students into deep learning.”[4] According to a constructivist theory of learning, learning is not primarily about the passive reception of information or propositions by students but involves the student in the active construction of knowledge utilising both quantitative and qualitative aspects of learning. This view of teaching is not just about the facts, concepts and principles to be covered and understood, but being clear as to what it means to ‘understand’ content in the way it is stipulated in the ILOs.[5] Intended Learning outcomes address the different kinds of knowledge and levels of understanding and describe by use of verbs what students will do during their course of study to achieve those outcomes.

In their “Teaching for Quality Learning at University,” Biggs and Tang identify two main kinds of knowledge. These are declarative and functioning. Declarative or propositional or content knowledge refers to knowing about things.[6] It is the foundational knowledge of any field of study along with the assumptions informing that knowledge. Functioning knowledge, on the other hand, is knowledge that informs action where the performance is underpinned by understanding.[7] Functioning knowledge brings higher-level skills of analysis and problem solving to bear to deepen, extend apply and even restructure knowledge. The distinction between declarative and functioning knowledge is of course reflected in the intended learning outcomes expressed in terms of 2 knowledge, 2 skill and 2 application requirements.

Equally important in the process of understanding is the recognition that in constructing knowledge students progress through various levels building upon previous less complex stages of understanding to more complex stages. In order to develop appropriate ILOs and then test how well these are achieved at every stage in the process of understanding, requires us, as a teaching faculty, to determine, given the distinction between declarative and functioning knowledge, what level of understanding can be expected at each stage in the theology degree program. This understanding, with reference to the SOLO taxonomy below, will inform the way we deliver the curriculum at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. [8]

Step 2
Outline a course of programmed professional development that aligns with Step 1.

A Program of Directed, Outcomes-Based Professional Development

In developing this program I have drawn on my own experience as a graduate in Higher Education Teaching and Learning at UTS and specifically on the material covered in the textbook, Teaching for Quality Learning at University. I first identified the following 7 central topics that relate to the main theory of constructive alignment and from these developed the NTC 4-Year Professional Development Plan (Below).

  1. Approaches to learning
  2. Using constructive alignment in outcomes-based teaching and learning
  3. The teaching context/environment
  4. Teaching and learning activities for declarative and functioning knowledge
  5. Aligning Assessments with intended learning outcomes
  6. Assessing and grading declarative and functioning knowledge
  7. Levels of understanding

NTC 4-Year Professional Development Plan

Constructive Alignment Nov-20
Approaches to Learning May-21
Contexts for Effective Learning and Teaching Nov-21
Teaching/Learning Activities May-22
Aligning Assessments with ILOs Nov-22
Assessing and Grading May-23
Kinds of Knowledge and Levels of Understanding Nov-23



[1] Biggs, J. and Tang C. Teaching for Quality Learning at University 3rd edn. (Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press), P.16.

[2] Ibid., p.17.

[3] Biggs, J. and Tang C. Teaching for Quality Learning at University 3rd edn., p.19.

[4] Ibid., p.54.

[5] Ibid., p.19.

[6] Biggs, J. and Tang C. Teaching for Quality Learning at University 5th edn. (Buckingham: SRHE and Open University Press), p.81.

[7] Ibid., p82.

[8] https://www.johnbiggs.com.au/academic/solo-taxonomy/


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