Preface: Learning to Teach in Higher Education

Learning to Teach in Higher Education, © Paul Ramsden 2003.

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Preface to the second edition

Learning to Teach in Higher Education aims to provide a unique introduction to the practice of university teaching. It has a simple message: to become a good teacher, first understand your students’ experiences of learning.

Since it first appeared over ten years ago, it has become one of the most popular books on university teaching. I hope that this new edition will be as attractive to a new generation of university teachers as the first one was to their colleagues. The message is the same, but I have taken the opportunity to reflect a changed environment by reworking some of the practical examples and the discussion of evaluation and quality in several chapters. I have also added suggestions for further reading and some new research findings to bring the story up to date. Chapters 1, 7, 9, 11 and 12 are substantially different.

Designed as a text for practising lecturers, both new and experienced, Learning to Teach in Higher Education starts from a conviction that university teachers can improve their teaching if they apply evidence from research into student learning. It does not present a series of teaching techniques that they might follow; it does not suggest that there are any right answers to the question of how to teach students better. It argues only that there are solutions that may work better or worse for each individual teacher, each department, each university, and each group of students. The idea of the book is to help readers find their own way through reason combined with intuition.

The book is addressed chiefly to teachers of undergraduate students in systems of higher education based on the United Kingdom model.  I have revised it at a time when academics continue to be under pressure to demonstrate their effectiveness and efficiency, and to widen access, while not sacrificing excellence. You can read the book as a text on the evaluation of courses and teaching in this taxing climate of concurrent restraint and expansion. It returns again and again to issues of the quality of teaching, students’ perceptions of how effective it is, and indicators of teaching performance.

But it is a text written from a certain point of view. Another of its themes is that the demands of performance measurement and quality review, while they form part of the environment in which today’s lecturers have to work, can never in themselves make learning and teaching and better. We can only hope to improve teaching in higher education if we understand that the process and outcomes of improvement are worthwhile ends in themselves.


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