Roundtable Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Advancing academic professionalisation: Balancing quality with flexibility (#185)

Karen Whelan 1 , Christine Slade 1 , Angela Carbone 2 , Heather Alexander 3 , Cecily Knight 4 , Kylie Readman 5 , Cathy Rytmeister 6
  1. Science and Engineering Faculty, QUT, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
  2. Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching), Monash University, Melbourne, VIC, Australia
  3. Program and Teaching Quality, Learning Futures, Griffith University, Nathan, QLD, Australia
  4. Learning, Teaching and Student Engagement, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD, Australia
  5. C-SALT, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, QLD, Australia
  6. Learning and Teaching Centre, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia


In 2014, six partner institutions began an OLT Extension project benchmarking Graduate Certificates in Higher Education extending previous projects on effectiveness indicators for teaching preparation programs (Chalmers, et al, 2012) and commissioned projects on professionalisation of academic work (James, et al, 2013; Chalmers, et al, 2014) . As the project progressed, the team engaged with academic development practices across Australia and noted the emergence of new ways of preparing academics for their roles in teaching. There is some movement away from offering a traditional qualification in the form of a graduate certificate, to disaggregated, modular approaches coupled with different ways to credential through alternative external reference points (e.g. Higher Education Academy Fellowship Scheme). The benchmarking guide developed was broadened to take into account alternative approaches to professionalisation, but this raised interesting questions for the team about how to balance maintaining quality standards with increasing flexibility, disaggregation and alternative forms of credentialing. Of course, this is just another example of a challenge that is being explored across institutions in all disciplines and professions, but does it make a difference when the students we are talking about are our staff?

Our conclusion was that, graduate certificate or not, there were some common standards that needed to be addressed including:

·        Defined and articulated learning outcomes, that are informed by research, theory and contemporary practice

·        A means of assuring achievement of the learning outcomes via a process of expert peer assessment

·        Purposeful design of learning experiences involving a cohort

This Roundtable seeks to address the overarching question: how do we balance the maintenance of quality standards with flexibility, disaggregation and alternative forms of credentialing in preparing academics for their professional roles in teaching? In particular, participants are invited to discuss with us:

1.      If as an institution, we offer ‘qualifications’ should our staff have to demonstrate professional approaches to teaching through qualifications?

2.      Are there other reference points (beyond AQF) that are more useful in informing the design of professional learning opportunities around teaching?

3.      In what ways do disaggregation, modularisation and credentialing through other means, impact on how we should professionalise the teaching aspect of academic work?

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference: Navigating uncertainty and complexity

Uncertainty and complexity characterise the experiences of our students, potential students and graduates, but it is also a feature of academic work. We have chosen this theme because recent debates about professionalising academic work have highlighted this complexity and uncertainty, in a time of increasingly diverse academic staff profiles. Academic development and preparation for teaching must carve out a place in an already frantic higher education landscape. Taking the time for thinking through complex and challenging questions such as those we propose, will help us to focus in on the most important elements to maintain quality teaching, embed flexibility and ensure our students gain outstanding outcomes. The target audience for this roundtable is academic developers navigating uncertainty and complexity in preparing academics for their teaching roles.

  1. Chalmers, D., Stoney, S., Goody, A., Goerke, V. & Gardiner, D. (2012) Identification and implementation of indicators and measures of effectiveness of teaching preparation programs for academics in higher education, Final report to Office for Learning and Teaching, Sydney.
  2. Chalmers, D., Cummings, R., Elliott, S., Stoney, S., Tucker, B., Wicking, R. & Jorre de St Jorre, T. (2014) Australian University Teaching Criteria and Standards Project, Final Report to Office for Learning and Teaching, Sydney. Retrieved from: 15 January 2015.
  3. James, R., Baik, C., Krause, K-L., Sadler, D., Booth, S., Hughes-Warrington, M., Bexley, E. & Kennedy, G. (2013) Academic workforce 2020: framing a national agenda for professionalising university teaching, Abstract retrieved from: 15 January 2015