Friday, March 13, 2020

An Approach to Sessional Teaching Staff

Recently I was asked about an approach to sessional teaching staff at university. These casual staff are called tutors, teaching assistants, or graduate teaching assistants. They may be undergraduate students in the later years of their study, postgraduate students, retired academics, or working professionals who teach part time. I have occasionally carried out this role, studied the topic as a student of teaching and helped train tutors. I have come to the conclusion there is an inherent problem which needs to be solved by universities: university teachers are not required to be qualified to teach. I suggest this could be best solved by offering teacher training as part of degree programs, and would remove many of the problems with recruiting and administering tutors.

Offer teacher training as part of degree programs

University teachers are required to be qualified in the area they are teaching. Tutors who are students are typically at a later stage of their studies than those they teach. Such students make good teachers, as they can relate better to students than someone who has not been a student for decades. However, these tutors typically receive, at most, one day of training in how to teach, and there is not time before classes start to give them more training.

The solution to under-trained tutors, I suggest, is to offer concurrent training as part of their formal degree program. Students who wished to be tutors would be required to enroll in a teaching course as part of their degree, and would undertake this study at the same time they are teaching. Tutors would be required to complete at least a one semester course (one quarter full time study: about 100 hours study). Students would pay the normal course fee for this course and receive credit towards their degree.

Those who are not students would be required to undertake the same teaching course as the students, unless they already had some form of teaching qualification (such as a Cert IV T&A, or a Grad Cert in Educaiton). Those who were not students would not have pay the course fee, but have the option to do so if they wished to receive a certificate of completion, and credit towards further study.

Such a teaching course would be blended, with optional face-to-face classes, and would model good teaching and assessment practices. Much of the value of this would be from experiencing how to teach.

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