The Office for the Quality of Teaching (Oficina per la Qualitat Docent, or OQD) of my university asks me to pass onto the Department’s students a link where they’ll find a survey about which competences are desirable in a teacher. Curioser and curioser, I discover that the survey demands no ID, so I take it (I do tell them about this odd omission…).

The questions are based, as I eventually discover, on the work of the Grup Interuniversitari de Formació Docent (GIFD), to which UAB’s OQD belongs. In particular, the survey refers back to the results of the research project “Proposta d’un marc de referència competencial del professorat universitari i adequació dels plans de formació basats en competències docents” (RED-U2012). RED-U is, by the way, the Red Estatal de Docencia Universitaria ( I do recall having taken the survey addressed to the teachers. The rationale, as you can see from the project title, is that if a set of necessary competences that all good university teachers should posses is established with the participation of teachers and students, then better teacher training can be offered and, so, higher education improved. Fair enough.

Now, the questions I asked the OQT are 1) whether they are aware that the competences which the survey highlights are by no means the qualities students prefer in teachers, as suggested by our habitual semestral surveys; 2) when they are going to elaborate a set of similar competences for students and survey teachers on these… No answer so far.

Have a look at the very interesting article “Identificación, desarrollo y evaluación de competencias docentes en la aplicación de planes de formación dirigidos a profesorado universitario” by the members of GIFD, published in the monographic issue of REDU. Revista de Docencia Universitaria (10:2, May-August 2012, 21-56) on “Competencias docentes en la educación superior.” ( After selecting competences from different sources, the team established a set of six competences: communicative, methodological, interpersonal, planning and management, innovation, team work (which I have reproduced here in the order preferred by the teachers themselves).

Logically, the authors are concerned that teachers are resisting the idea that constant teaching innovation and team work are very necessary competences. I do find this worrying, although I’m quite sceptical about the idea that innovation should be tied up to the use of digital technologies. Team work, yes, by all means: as I know first hand sharing a subject with someone else is always being in good company and does not detract at all from the freedom to teach in your own style in class.

My point today, I’ll insist, is that there is no corresponding set of competences for students. Having written the competences for ‘Literature and Culture’ in our BA degree in English Studies I know very well what I’m talking about. We do have an impressive set of competences (just revised) but none that really refers to basic study skills. I’ll take, then, the teachers’ own and offer a similar set of students’ competences (in the order I prefer):

1) methodological: students read carefully the Syllabus as soon as it is published in July, buy the books and read them in summer; students prepare in advance of the lectures/seminars the necessary texts and exercises; students follow the teacher with their full attention and make notes (preferably not of what the teacher says but of what they think).

2) planning and management: students, having read the Syllabus for all their subjects in July, plan their work week by week, taking advantage of the assessment calendars we publish; students check at the beginning of September, when the complete programmes are published, that these match the assessment calendar; students complete the agenda for the academic year making sure that they adequately combine study and assessment; students are completely autonomous and do not depend on the teachers’ reminders for specific tasks.

3) innovation: the real innovation, as things are now –sorry to be, possibly, offensive to some students– is that students apply competences 1 and 2 to their work; innovation competences also refer to student’s ability to use competently the internet for study, the databases we teach them, the library catalogue and any other digital resource.

4) communicative: students see the classroom (both presential and virtual) as a space for intensive dialogue and for the debate of ideas with their peers and the teachers; students always participate in class discussion and never assume a passive role.

5) interpersonal: students use their teachers’ expertise as a resource from which they can greatly benefit by establishing a friendly, respectful dialogue with them; students value their teachers for the work they do and not for their availability, personal charm or for how easy it is to pass a subject with a particular teacher; students take advantage of the teacher’s office hours to benefit from the teachers’ guidance.

6) team work: students understand teaching as a collaborative effort and see themselves as part of a team (the whole class) helping the teacher do his/her work; students show a clear disposition to make higher education work for all involved.

Now that we know what’s an ideal teacher and an ideal student, let’s see how we can help real people match the ideals…

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  1. What amazing thing surveys without ID are…! (just teasing). My own university also encourages students to take these questionnaires (both about their opinion of specific subjects, teachers or general aspects). Syllabi and “Guías Docentes” also determine a myriad of competences and skills we are supposed to have in our genes or be taught in primary school (for, I have not come across any teacher who devoted a bit of the subject’s time to ‘research skills’ or ‘innovative thinking’). And yes, I say that teachers – always in general – expect from their students things that they themselves normally do not pay attention to, wanting students to have developed a set of skills overnight during the summer (mainly, in first year).
    Nonetheless, I do admit the sheer basic importance of these skills as keystones of the student’s development and I would enjoy having a subject entitled “Student Skills 101: research, bibliography and thought”.
    As regards specifically thought, how can we expect students to develop their own thoughts and ideas and not to take notes of what the teacher says in class when what they are asked for in the exam is – normally – absolutely memorized knowledge with very few room for speculation? Of course, one of the best things of university is the development of that ability to THINK (capitalized) but sadly, this can be applied very scarcely to exams. The organization part is very interesting… of course we, students, could devote a little bit of our time to organize ourselves before the classes begin in September, yet I can assure most times the disorganization of a class only reflects the disorganization of the teaching team: the same course lectured by different teachers tends to be completely different, the assignation of tasks normally is a bit on the chaotic side… students could be much better, though.
    All in all, I would say that the attitude of the students is in many cases product of the lack of knowledge and some “skill training” would be productive. On the other hand, teachers must enjoy certain freedom to teach in their own ways, without the obnoxious presence of ‘compulsory’ PowerPoints or VirtualCampuses…

  2. Thank you, Jaime. It’s VERY refreshing to read students’ opinions. I can only agree that teachers are far from ideal in many cases and that, on the whole, the system demands much from all of us, students also, without giving the time or tools to help. I’ll go back to my idea of organizing teacher-student workshops, see if we can progress in any way.

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