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UZH News

Innovative Teaching

Shaping the Future of Teaching Together

The world is changing, and so is university teaching and learning. In a six-part series, we shine a spotlight on how instructors at UZH are working together to propel teaching to new heights.
David Werner; English translation by Caitlin Stephens
Teaching also has playful aspects, as this video shows.

Teaching at UZH comes in a wide variety of guises. It could be described as a living organism in a constant state of flux. Scope for development is broad, horizons are wide, and potential is great.

As part of the Future of Teaching at UZH initiative, over the coming weeks a six-part series of UZH News articles will uncover what’s going on in the world of teaching and find out who the movers and shakers are. We’ll take a look behind the scenes, shedding light on an aspect of university teaching that is rarely noticed: collaboration between teaching staff and its importance for innovation in teaching.

The series will examine why instructors find it helpful to work together on finding new teaching approaches. We’ll also highlight the questions, problems and challenges facing groups of university teachers at the start of an innovation process. We will also reveal how staff work together to bring good ideas to fruition and to implement them in the classroom– thus driving development throughout the university.

Visible and invisible aspects of teaching

In the image of teaching that people on the outside have, cooperative aspects play less of a role than say the personality and charisma of the individual instructor. The way instructors challenge and encourage their students certainly leaves a lasting impression, and students’ direct experiences with individual members of staff can have a significant impact on their learning success and future careers.

Nevertheless, the quality of university teaching doesn’t depend solely on the personalities of the individual instructors, but on a complex set of factors, including subject expertise, planning, methodology, facilities and technical infrastructure, which go largely unnoticed from the outside. Many hands spin the web by which a reliable technical, organizational and digital infrastructure is provided. Activities such as preparing teaching content, creating materials, acquiring didactic know-how, evaluating and improving the quality of courses and designing new modules and study programs are also done by teams of staff.

Teaching communities create dynamism

University instructors cannot afford to be lone rangers. They operate within a network of colleagues with whom they can compare experiences and share knowledge and skills, boosting the efficacy and overall quality of teaching.

Gabriele Siegert

Teaching communities are effective idea generators and drivers of teaching development at UZH.

Gabriele Siegert
Deputy President and Vice President Education and Student Affairs

“The importance of networks in university teaching is not to be underestimated,” says Vice President Gabriele Siegert. Networks of colleagues provide individual instructors with professional and personal support. For teaching in general, networks increase dynamism and creativity. “Teaching communities are effective idea generators and drivers of teaching development at UZH,” she adds.

UZH therefore particularly encourages cooperation and collaboration in teaching. This is especially important at a time when university teaching around the world is facing a multitude of interesting challenges. Big questions need smart answers. For example, how can the increasing demand for more flexible, transdisciplinary and international teaching formats be met? What opportunities and risks does the digital transformation hold for teaching? And what does responsible use of generative artificial intelligence in teaching look like?

Bringing innovative teaching ideas to life

UZH is dependent on the expertise, creativity and commitment of its teaching staff to further develop its teaching. With the Future of Teaching initiative, UZH has created a strategic framework with which to orient the further development of teaching, with a firm focus on encouraging cooperation between instructors.

There are now numerous events, workshops and online networks at UZH used by teaching staff from all faculties to discuss current trends, new approaches and practical solutions in teaching – such as the Teaching Inspiration Week, the Tag der Lehre and the Open Channel Education. In another forward-looking step, a network of study program coordinators was established in spring 2023.

The UZH Teaching Fund, meanwhile, offers incentives for teaching teams to develop, test and implement specific ideas for innovative teaching formats. The range of formats already introduced or currently in development through this scheme runs the gamut from practical tools through to entire modules or even programs of study. Many projects have the potential to be rolled out across the whole of UZH, and to serve as stimuli for further developments.

Six characteristics of good teaching

The six innovative teaching projects to be featured in the series of articles on UZH News are representative of many other promising ideas that are currently being tested and implemented at UZH. They were selected based on the UZH Curriculum, the set of guidelines listing six criteria for the development of teaching at UZH. Namely, good teaching is research-based, goal-oriented, engaging, individually tailored, transdisciplinary and international. Each of the six featured projects represents one of the six characteristics. In this way, we hope this small series will demonstrate the huge variety, in terms of both topics and methodologies, of innovative teaching projects in existence at UZH.

Knowhow for teaching staff

The series kicks off with a project that supports individual learning by enabling students to independently deepen their understanding of course contents. After learning their way around the platforms, instructors can adapt such learning environments for their own purposes and use them to effectively support their students’ learning. In order to roll out such individualized learning opportunities across the university, it’s important that instructors who are advanced users share their knowledge with others. An effective solution for this knowledge-sharing was developed at the ECON Teaching Center: an online training course which supports instructors from all faculties in creating customized learning environments for their students.

Read more in the first part of the series.