A key strategic priority of the National Forum is to support teaching and learning enhancements that are based on the particular requirements, disciplinary cultures and contexts of individual academic subject areas.

At a time when Irish higher education institutions are being challenged to evaluate and develop their current systems in a rapidly evolving environment, the Disciplinary Excellence in Learning Teaching and Assessment (DELTA) Framework places a strong, integrated focus on teaching and learning enhancement and help heads and leaders of disciplinary units to capture, articulate and support teaching and learning enhancement plans.  The Framework provides a capacity building and planning tool for forward-looking discipline groups. Further, the framework enables disciplines to ensure that teaching and learning enhancement can also be effectively linked to other core activities – including professional development, teaching and learning in a digital world and student success – in ways that have clear benefits for learners. It assists disciplines to link teaching and learning developments coherently with key relevant institutional, national and international drivers, while also enabling a discipline- and context-specific approach to teaching and learning enhancement.

The DELTA Framework provides a structure which can be used by institutions, disciplinary groups or institutions to plan and prioritise their efforts to enrich understandings and practices within disciplinary contexts. The Framework has five elements:

Leadership, Policy Development, and Professional Development of Staff

Teaching and learning enhancement (T&LE) is concerned with the unit’s alignment with the institutional and external strategies and its support for building staff capacity driven by a committed senior leadership.

  • T&LE is situated within and informed by key policies, priorities and drivers at international, national and institutional levels. Additionally, priorities of the academic unit must be considered, including, for example, reviews and professional body or other regulatory requirements.
  • Successful T&LE requires senior leadership and a committed team representing all key stakeholders, including active student engagement, to drive enhancement and evaluate progress.
  • T&LE requires clear identification of enhancement priorities, resourcing and how any organisational system opportunities/challenges that might impact on the success of enhancement efforts will be incorporated/addressed. T&LE may include development of specific policy initiatives.
  • T&LE requires consideration of the capacity of academics to deliver on the enhancement strategy. Building staff capacity through planned professional development requires that there is an appreciation of the current knowledge, skills and competency base of staff, and that consideration has been given to the professional development needs of staff. In addition, professional development opportunities (accredited, structured nonaccredited, unstructured accredited, collaborative non-accredited), that are aligned with the National Framework for Professional Development for Those Who Teach in Higher Education, are planned, provided and facilitated for staff to meet these needs.

Engaging Teaching/Learning Approaches, Supporting Students in Transition, and Blended/Online Approaches

Teaching and learning practices are central to T&LE. They include increasing the engagement of students in their learning and supporting them in this process, in particular during times of transition. The critical application of digital technologies in the enhancement of teaching and learning is also a key consideration.

  • T&LE takes into consideration the implementation of innovative and engaging teaching and learning approaches that are in alignment with the institution’s strategic plans and with programme outcomes. T&LE requires maximising student engagement in the curricular and co-curricular activities, including the development of students as partners. Successful T&LE requires supporting diverse student cohorts and implementation of inclusive approaches to teaching, learning and assessment. In addition, it should support proactive access and retention policies for diverse student groups.
  • T&LE processes and practices are informed by relevant scholarship, and by knowledge of industry practices and/or professional body requirements where appropriate.
  • A key current focus for enhancement is supporting students in the transitions in their curricular activities and through guidance, mentoring, student peer support and specialised student learning supports (e.g., maths support/first year student supports) and cross-disciplinary learning and of the international and national connections in the curriculum.
  • The current focus on T&LE includes the development of the blended/online teaching and learning environment and maximises the potential of the unit’s and institution’s digital capacity and digital skills.

Designing Curriculum, Connections and Collaboration; Learning Environment

T&LE takes into consideration the decisions, structures, processes and practices that are required in the design of learning. It emphasises the importance of making connections and collaboration to enhance learning. This design is situated in the changing learning environment.

  • Successful T&LE requires systematic and coherent planning and review of curriculum activities, including co- and extra-curricular activities. This can include designing and enhancing graduate attributes/programme outcomes linked with societal and institutional needs; programme mapping; programme coherence; programme structure and alignment; inclusive learning and assessment design; the design of students’ co- and extra-curricular activities; management and oversight of effective design.
  • Curriculum design is informed by relevant scholarship, by knowledge of industry practices and/or professional body requirements, where appropriate, and by the experiences of current and recently graduated students.
  • T&LE requires consideration of the important connections and collaborations that support student learning. These can include the enhancement of interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary learning, intra-institutional collaborations and the internationalisation of the curriculum. In addition, T&LE can include the development of connections with industry, the workplace, employers and other relevant stakeholders in partnership and collaboration with students.
  • T&LE requires consideration of the design of an effective and efficient learning environment including design of the digital learning environment, the physical learning environment (infrastructure), library/learning commons, laboratory resources and other learning spaces.

Assessment Purposes and their Rationale

Assessment is a key driver of student learning and has been given particular recognition for this in some current enhancement of teaching and learning policies and practices.

  • T&LE requires systematic, coherent, creative planning and development of assessment approaches within a programme. This should include a recognition of the different ways in which assessment drives and demonstrates learning (i.e., assessment of, for and as learning). Enhancement plans should not just consider assessments that are summative and made public for the purpose of certifying student learning (Assessment OF Learning), but also those that occur throughout the learning process and provide feedback to students and staff (Assessment FOR Learning) and those used, often in class/online, for the purposes of developing students’ self-monitoring skills (Assessment AS Learning).
  • Given the unique identities of the disciplines, assessment should strive to be authentic and innovative to motivate learners in their programme(s) of study. T&LE fosters diverse, inclusive and innovative approaches to assessment that challenge and energise students and enhance a wide spectrum of their knowledge, skills and capabilities.
  • There is a need to strike a balance between competing assessment challenges, ensuring assessment strategies are creative, engaging and motivating while at the same time being sustainable, efficient, valid and reliable.
  • Assessment policies and procedures should highlight a commitment to a student-centred approach to assessment and feedback, developing students’ abilities to peer-review and self-monitor so they can regulate their own learning, and demonstrating a commitment to students-as-partners in Assessment OF, FOR and AS Learning.

Evaluation, Scholarship of Teaching and Research-Informed Teaching

T&LE should be evidence-based and should inform the incremental steps required for planning enhancement.

  • T&LE takes into consideration the qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the impact of teaching and learning approaches at programme, module and / or sessional level. For example, through learning analytics, student feedback (e.g., ISSE), focus groups, student evaluations of teaching, module feedback, mid-unit feedback, staff peer review of curriculum design, and peer observation of teaching.
  • T&LE supports the scholarship of teaching and learning by encouraging, for example, sharing of disciplinary teaching practices, presenting at teaching and learning conferences and research into and dissemination of teaching and learning approaches within disciplines.
  • T&LE should be evidence-based and informed by feedback, participation and involvement from various stakeholders, including students. It should encourage the development of strong approaches to research-informed teaching. The impact of discipline-led academic research and research into the T&L process and practice should be explicit in the decision-making process.