John Biggs: a career of teaching achievements

John Biggs was awarded the 2021 Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) Career Achievement Award last week. This is why

by MITCH PARSELL 

Professor John Biggs has had a profound and lasting impact on learning and teaching in higher education. His work has helped define how we all engage in curriculum design and assessment, and how we support student learning in higher education both nationally and internationally. Teaching at university would be unrecognisable without his articulation of constructive alignment for adult learners and his development of the SOLO taxonomy. His seminal text, Teaching for Quality Learning at University, now in its fourth edition with Catherine Tang and with a fifth edition on the way, has been cited over 21000 times since it was first published in 1999.

Professor Biggs did his undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Tasmania in 1957, before undertaking research at the National Foundation for Educational Research (London) and gaining his PhD from Birkbeck College, University of London, in 1963. He held multiple academic positions across Australia, Canada and Hong Kong before officially retiring in 1995. After retirement, Professor Biggs continued to hold honorary professorial positions at the University of Hong Kong and the University of Tasmania, and consult widely across Australasia and internationally on the implementation of constructive alignment in higher education. Professor Biggs was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2017 in recognition of his “significant service to tertiary education, particularly in the fields of curriculum development and assessment.”

Professor Biggs has devoted his career to an evidence-informed approach to improving student learning. Constructive alignment is inherently student-centred, grounded in the understanding that students learn through their own activity. On this firm outcomes-based foundation, Professor Biggs articulated a clear approach for adult learners in higher education. His focus on intended learning outcomes is clearly evident in the threshold standards of Australia’s Higher Education Standards Framework. Because of Professor Bigg’s work, the idea that education should define what we want students to achieve, create opportunities and an environment for them to learn, and assess whether they have achieved those outcomes, no longer seems radical. In fact, this student-centred approach is, due to Biggs, business as usual for all Australian academics.

Professor Biggs has produced an enduring legacy and outstanding contribution to learning and teaching, for which an entire generation of tertiary educators in Australia and beyond are deeply indebted.

The 2021 AAUT awards are here.

Professor Mitch Parsell, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education, University of Tasmania mitch.parsell@utas.edu.au @mitchparsell