Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

“An essential right”: Findings from an evaluation of a professional development program for tutors (#93)

Vanessa J. Fredericks 1 , Agnes Bosanquet 1
  1. Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

 The higher education sector is increasingly reliant upon casual staff (Smith & Coombe, 2006), who perform the bulk of teaching (Percy et al. 2008; May et al., 2013). The casual academic workforce is arguably less experienced than ever before (Sutherland, 2009). Although novices, tutors face a lot of pressure to provide high quality learning environments (Sutherland, 2009). Casual teachers are expected to develop and maintain their knowledge-base, but unlike continuing or fixed-term staff, they are not usually paid to do so (Brown et al, 2010). There is a need for more systematic, ongoing professional development in order to ensure quality teaching and to support the career pathways of sessional staff (Rice, 2004; Harvey et al, 2005).

This showcase describes the evaluation of a professional development program for tutors at an Australian research-intensive metropolitan university. The Tutoring Induction Program (TIP) is a University-wide initiative run by the central academic development unit. TIP consists of both face-to-face and online workshops and tutors are paid to participate. The data collected in this study (via interviews with staff involved in the development and delivery of TIP, surveys of participants in the program and a review of the literature and program content), was used to inform the development and implementation of a revised program for 2015, as well as a set of program level learning outcomes and requirements for TIP. The findings demonstrate that TIP is an essential program that responds to a growing need to provide a scholarly approach to tutoring, which benefits tutors, students and the University community. Participants and stakeholders indicate that payment is essential, a whole-of-program approach is necessary, tutors value the opportunity to discuss issues with other tutors face-to-face, and tutors would like further paid professional development opportunities (including discipline specific workshops).

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

 This showcase aligns with the overall conference theme of Learning for life and work in a complex world. It engages with the sub-theme of Navigating uncertainty and complexity. University tutors appointed sessionally are emphatic about the need for paid professional development. Sessional staff experience uncertainty in establishing academic careers.Supporting sessional staff has been the focus of key projects in recent years (Lefoe, 2011; Harvey 2013).  Nevertheless, sessional teaching staff consistently report issues with employment conditions, induction (Bexley, James & Arkoudis, 2011), limited professional development (Knight et al., 2007) and poor management (Percy et al., 2008).  This has been recognised as a management and human resources risk by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) (2012). The findings of this evaluative study reveal tutors learn from participation in professional development, and apply practical strategies to their teaching contexts. For many, TIP was the first time they had received payment for professional development. TIP equips tutors withthe skills and dispositions required to access, filter and critically engage with new knowledge and ways of knowing about teaching and learning.

  1. Smith, E. & Coombe, K. (2006). “Quality and Qualms in the Marking of University Assignments by Sessional Staff: An Exploratory Study.” Higher Education, 51 (1): 45-69
  2. Percy, A., Scoufis, M., Parry, S., Goody, A., Hicks, M., Macdonald, I., Martinez, K., Szorenyi-Reischl, N., Ryan, Y., Wills, S. & Sheridan, L. (2008a). The RED report, Recognition - Enhancement - Development: The contribution of sessional teachers to higher education. Sydney, CADAD & Australian Learning and Teaching Council.
  3. May, R., Strachan, G.; and Peetz, D. (2013). “Workforce development and renewal in Australian universities and the management of casual academic staff.” Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 10 (3).
  4. Sutherland, K. A. (2009). Nurturing undergraduate tutors’ role in the university teaching community. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 17 (2): 147-164.
  5. Brown, T., Goodman, J. & Yasukawa, K. (2010). Academic casualization in Australia: class divisions in the university. Journal of Industrial Relations, 52(2), 169-182.
  6. Rice, M. (2004). Discomfort at the Coalface: Issues for Sessional Tutors Teaching in online enhanced learning environments.” In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 798-801). Perth, 5-8 December.
  7. Harvey, M. Fraser, S. & Bowes, J. (2005). Quality teaching and sessional staff. Paper presented at Higher Education in a Changing World, 2005 Annual HERDSA Conference, 3-6 July, Sydney.
  8. Lefoe, G., Parrish, D., McKenzie, J., Malfroy, J., & Ryan, Y. (2011). Subject coordinators: Leading professional development for sessional staff report. Sydney, Australian Learning and Teaching Council.
  9. Harvey, M. & Luzia, K. (2013). How do you measure up? Standards for sessional staff teaching: moving from periphery to core. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice,10(3).
  10. Bexley, E., James, R. and Arkoudis, S. (2011) The Australian Academic Profession in Transition. Canberra: Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
  11. Knight, P., Baume, D., Tait, J. & Yorke, M. (2007). Enhancing Part-time Teaching in Higher Education: a Challenge for Institutional Policy and Practice. Higher Education Quarterly, 61(4), 420-438.
  12. Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency (2012). Regulatory risk framework, February 2012. Retrieved from Framework_0.pdf
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