Poster Presentation Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Enhancing employability: Formalising professional development programs for casual tutors (#314)

Lesley E Halliday 1
  1. School of Public Health & Community Medicine, UNSW Australia, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

Background/ Context

In Australian universities, it is estimated that approximately 60% of academic staff are employed on a casual or sessional basis [1]. Qualifications and experience of casual staff tend to vary widely [2], which has raised concerns regarding teaching quality and the lack of professional development opportunities for casual staff [3].  Given the importance of quality feedback in student achievement [4], this poster reports on a professional development program to enhance casual tutors’ literacy of, commitment and capacity to, the provision of ‘best practice’ feedback in internal and external postgraduate courses. 

Research/ Evaluation method

A formal development and support program consisting of a number of strategically developed activities, resources and support was rolled out in early 2014. Seven casual tutors employed on a postgraduate course with almost 300 enrolled students completed the program. Evaluation data showed tutors gained confidence in feedback and grading practices, course convenors noting less discrepancy in marks and students reported improvements in feedback provision.


The success of the program led to securing funding to develop from a UNSW L&T Innovation grant during 2015 a formalised online professional development module to widen access, participation and flexibility for other casual academics.

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

Like all academics, tutors understanding of feedback comes from feedback they received during their own education. Although all new casual tutors at UNSW undergo a one -day workshop on basic facilitation and marking, little attention is given to feedback (what constitutes good and effective feedback). This has led to issues in consistency between markers, grades awarded and the utility of the feedback given to the students themselves. To overcome this issue, we implemented this program that responds to the lack of professional development for casual academics and is therefore aligned with the conference subtheme of ‘exploiting emerging technologies to enable employability’ by developing an online, multi-media module to up-skill tutors and provide documented evidence of their efficacy and knowledge of feedback best practice. This will enhance their employability both within the School, UNSW and the wider academic community. 

  1. May, R., Strachan, G., Broadbent, K. & Peetz, D. (2011). The casual approach to university teaching: Time for a re-think?. In Krause, K., Buckridge, M., Grimmer, C. and Purbrick-Illek, S. (Eds.) Research and Development in Higher Education: Higher Education on the Edge, (pp. 188-197). Brisbane, Australia: HERDSA
  2. Klopper, C. J., & Power, B. M. (2014). The Casual Approach to Teacher Education: What Effect Does Casualisation Have for Australian University Teaching?. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(4).
  3. Lazarsfeld-Jensen, A. & Morgan, K. (2009). The vanishing idea of a scholarly life: Workload calculations and the loss of academic integrity in Western Sydney. Australian Universities’ Review, 51(2), 62-69.
  4. Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77-101, 81–112. doi: 10.3102/003465430298487
  5. Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77-101, 81–112. doi: 10.3102/003465430298487