Poster Presentation Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Effective teaching development for sessional staff and early-career academics: A four-stage observational learning model (#318)

Graham Hendry

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)


Sessional teachers play a vital role in Australian universities. However many sessional teachers are also research students who often find themselves in uncertain situations taking on challenging tutoring or lecturing responsibilities without adequate training (Edwards, Bexley & Richardson, 2011) . This poster presents a model for supporting research students and early-career academics to effectively develop their skills in teaching. The theoretical framework for the model draws on Bandura’s (1977; 1997) social cognitive theory, which posits that human behaviour is learned mainly through observational learning. The model fully integrates the processes of peer review and learning from observation of peers (or peer observation). It is based on a study of the benefits of peer review and observation for student facilitators in a peer assisted study session (PASS) program in the Business School at the University of Sydney. Although the participants in the study are student facilitators and not academics, they are casual staff members of the university, selected through a rigorous application process and competitively remunerated.

Research/evaluation method

All facilitators in the PASS program were invited to complete a facilitator self-efficacy questionnaire at the beginning of semester, before they began facilitating sessions, and at the end of semester after completing all their sessions. Participants were randomly allocated to two conditions during semester one, in which they experienced either peer review, or peer observation (in which observers were not required to give feedback to the observed colleague). These conditions were reversed for facilitators in semester two. Of the 38 facilitators in the PASS program, 20 completed both questionnaires and a total of 20 facilitators participated across three focus groups during the year.


Results were that facilitators’ learned about effective small-group facilitation strategies from their observation of a peer in both peer review and peer observation, and their self-efficacy for facilitation was enhanced. Facilitators thought that they benefited in different ways from both peer review and peer observation. Based on these results a four-stage model of integrated peer observation and review involving immersion and positive constructive feedback is put forward. This model could be used to effectively support research students and early-career academic staff to develop effective teaching skills in an increasingly complex academic environment.

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

This poster presents a four-stage model of integrated peer observation and review for teaching development for sessional and early-career academic staff. The model is evidenced-based drawing in particular on research involving casual staff in small-group teaching contexts. The model addresses how sessional staff can integrate learning about teaching more seamlessly with their life and work, and it puts forward a sequence of developmental activities to help prepare students for work in a complex and uncertain academic work environment. University teachers are expected to have high levels of adaptability and excellent communication skills to address increasingly complex challenges in their profession, and the model offers a program of professional learning to help them meet these expectations.