Teaching Excellence in Higher Education: Creating perturbations in dynamical Student-Lecturer interactions.



Author (s) Joanne Hudson, Professor Keith Davids (Sheffield Hallam University); Dr Laura Mason (Swansea University)


Dynamic Systems Theory (Thelen and Smith, 2006) predicts that development occurs when a stable system undergoes perturbations, producing disequilibrium, which, on resolution, facilitates system stability at a more advanced level. We consider the applicability of this proposition for understanding development of Higher Education (HE) students and lecturers considered as an integrated learning system. We propose that their development requires perturbation of a stable system (e.g., typical student-lecturer ‘classroom interactions’), creating system disequilibrium (e.g., unpredictable system states), leading to more advanced system stability (e.g., improved professional practice, student learning experiences and outcomes). This approach could enhance understanding of barriers to, and facilitators of, development, and, how to facilitate system perturbations via different influences (intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, community, policy: Ecological Systems Theory, Bronfenbrenner, 1979). State Space Grid analysis is considered (Pennings et al., 2014) to record dynamics of system stability and instabilities, relative to personal development, using observations of dynamical Student-Lecturer interactions.


The session will be pretty much dydactic given the length and content as our goal is to provoke reflection on ideas about application of theory from a cognate field to the HE teaching and learning context. The proposal links to the theme by focusing on enhancing development in students and lecturers which are key elements of achieving excellence in the teaching context. Potentially direct application to practice will not be facilitated at this stage as the ideas need more evidence before they are applied in practice but we might stimulate interest in research that could lead to subsequent application depending on results.

Key Words

Student-Lecturer Interaction, Dynamical Systems, Personal Development

Key Messages

We aim to provoke thoughts about the mechanisms involved in development and how we might begin to apply the ideas discussed here within research, and subsequently practice, focused on developing teaching excellence in HE.


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