Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

I have no teaching education or experience’: Preparing sessional teachers for diversified classrooms (#32)

Kathryn Harden-Thew 1 , Bonnie Dean 1
  1. University of Wollongong, Wollongong, 2500, NSW, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

Student numbers in higher education are growing, bolstered by the Federal Government’s removal of ‘caps’ or quotas for university numbers in 2012 and universities’ overt strategies to attract greater numbers of international students.  Students now entering Australian universities are characterised by a greater diversity in age, cultural and economic background, nationality, experience and pathways of access.  The implications of such diversity are far-ranging affecting both tenured and sessional teaching staff.  While professional development for tenured staff is generally well developed, often less well defined and resourced, are the strategies employed to support or prepare casual teaching staff for the classroom (Percy et al, 2008).

The purpose of this project was to evaluate a one-year blended professional development course for sessional teachers at the University of Wollongong (UOW).  Flexi ULT is an auxiliary, voluntary course available across faculties and campuses. The research undertaken evaluated the design, relevance and implementation of an online interface; motivations for enrolling in continuing professional development; and impact on sessional teachers’ knowledge, confidence and practice.  Data was collected through three mediums: an evaluative questionnaire at the end of each module; a questionnaire disseminated after the conclusion of the course; and individual interviews, highlighting the voices of sessional staff.

Study outcomes suggest that sessional staff often felt unprepared for teaching, with one participant stating ‘primary school teachers need a teaching degree, high school teachers need a degree but here I was teaching tertiary students and I had no teaching education or experience’.  Perceived benefits of the course included its ‘just in time’ nature; the face-to-face and online options for modules; practical, hands-on examples; and community development.  While the challenges included the time commitment required for participation.  The results of this study are compelling and are now informing the transformation of professional development at UOW.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

Sessional teachers in higher education are employed on a casual basis to teach the increasingly diverse student body that universities are experiencing nationwide.  These teachers work from contract to contract without formal commitments to ongoing paid work or professional development.  They must navigate the support they offer their students within the structures imposed by subjects, co-ordinators or faculties, including assessment types, class format, feedback and marking constraints.  Many sessional teachers receive no training prior to employment and yet are required to undertake teaching of diverse cohorts of students at various levels and with differing learning styles, preferences, backgrounds and prior knowledge.

This presentation reveals the data collected from participants in Flexi ULT, an online, asynchronous platform for professional development of sessional teachers at the University of Wollongong.  It highlights the methods used to present teacher development and outcomes collected from the one-year course.  This presentation and indeed the research it represents, highlight the complexity and uncertainty that casual, sessional staff face as they enter the university classroom and navigate its intricate parameters.

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