Anglia Ruskin University (UNITED KINGDOM)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN19 Proceedings
Publication year: 2019
Pages: 73-82
ISBN: 978-84-09-12031-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2019.0026
Conference name: 11th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 1-3 July, 2019
Location: Palma, Spain
In this paper, I present preliminary findings from a research project investigating the possible relationship between reward and recognition (specifically via Teaching Fellowships) and teaching excellence in higher education.

Many commentators have remarked upon the difficulties of deciding on a concrete definition of Teaching Excellence. Skelton (2003), for example, points out that, ‘It is important to recognise that ‘teaching excellence’ is a contested concept which is situationally and historically contingent’ (2003: 188). However, as Hillier (2002) explains, that, ‘excellence in teaching and learning is another example of a social constructed concept which is inherently problematic, but to fight shy of it is no more helpful than to straitjacket our practice with criteria’ (2002: 4).

Having developed a model of Teaching Excellence, I interviewed excellent teachers (i.e. five recipients of National Teaching Fellowships, and 21 recipients of University Teaching Fellowships at three UK universities) to determine the extent to which the model matched their lived experience. I asked participants to offer their personal definitions of teaching excellence, to comment on the fit of the model to their experience, and to explain their motives for achieving excellence in teaching. I also asked them to discuss the impact receipt of the award had on them, their colleagues, their managers, and their students.

I analysed the interview transcripts using Thematic Analysis, aided by NVivo. This resulted on over 150 themes across the ten questions. Participants described experiences that differed little between the national and local awards, and between institutions.

Preliminary findings suggest that reward and recognition schemes have little impact on recipients beyond the initial ceremonial elation, and, in extreme cases, are reduced to little more than email signature accessories. Similarly they have no motivational effect, and teaching excellence is an almost entirely driven by intrinsic drives, either to be excellent regardless of the undertaking or, more frequently, an altruistic drive to facilitate students’ development to reach their full potential.

Crucially, awards have no impact at all on the student experience. Since they are retrospective awards, students already have an excellent teaching experience which doesn’t become any more excellent as a result of a Teaching Excellence award. Indeed, in the vast majority of cases, students are entirely unaware of the award.

This challenges the primary discourse around reward and recognition schemes for teaching excellence, which is that they are, in and of themselves, highly valuable. Identification and dissemination of excellent practice is an extremely important element of academic practice, this may be achieved without ceremony (perhaps via a journal of pedagogy, for instance), and the financial rewards attached to fellowships could be more directed to support the development of lecturers who are working to achieve excellence.

[1] Hillier, Y., 2002. The Quest for Competence, Good Practice and Excellence, [Online] Available at: [Accessed 1 September 2014].
[2] Skelton, A., 2003. Promoting ‘Teaching Excellence’ Through Fellowship Schemes: Three Important Issues to Consider, Medical Education, 37(3): 188-189.
Reward and Recognition, Teaching Excellence, Student Experience.