Saturday, May 2, 2020

Training Tech Professionals to Teach: Part 15

In 2016 I started looking at how to training computer professionals  to teach, and wrote 14 posts over the next three years. Part 14 was on some existing teacher training at a university.  This training has to satisfy several needs. There are experienced students who want to tutor at university, and industry professionals who want to teach part-time at university. Also this is a way to introduce new teaching and assessment techniques to university. In the previous 13 parts of this series I looked at the definition and recognition of education as part of the computing profession, and how this could be provided in a university level course. Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic has provided an added impetus for training in online learning.


It might be asked why a semester long course in teaching is needed. University staff are already offered short courses (I have undertaken many, many of them), and whole qualifications in education (I have a couple of those). They can also undertake the excellent teacher training provided in the vocational education sector (one of those also). However, I suggest the short courses are insufficient and the longer qualifications tend to be more than is needed, at least for a beginning teachers. Also university education qualifications for academics tend to be too "academic". Someone going into teaching for the first time needs help with how to teach, then and there.

It needs to be kept in mind that most teaching at university is not undertaken by tenured professors, it is by more junior casual and part-time staff, many of whom are students themselves. It is very difficult to convince a tenured professor to undertake a teaching course, and learn new ways to educate, but it is much easier with someone just setting out on a career, less secure in their position.


A pragmatic reason for suggesting a formal university course in teaching for professionals is that it can also be offered as part of degree programs. Teacher training is normally thought of as a cost to the university, draining the training budget. If the course can be offered to fee-paying students, that can offset some of the cost of development. This also provides a way to fill the class of a new course.

May tutors are students themselves. These students can be given the opportunity to gain credit towards their degree, not just a little cash, by having their teacher training formally recognized. This benefits the student, as they need not undertake teacher training in addition to their regular studies: it is part of their studies. Also this provides the soft skills employers ask for, but which it is difficult to find space for in the curriculum. Having tutors enrolled in a teaching course also has direct financial benefits to the university, as the tutor will be paying for their training. As the teaching course is a regular course, this is something the student pays the standard course fee for. 

Teaching Techniques

Teaching is a skill best learned by doing, with others. So I suggest a teaching course should be structured to provide just enough theory in online modules, and then require the students to teach, and help each others, in practical assignments. Students can undertake this concurrently with their teaching, and use that teaching as the subject of their assignments. This approach is commonly used in teacher training. The course can also provide an exemplar for the way university education should be provided, with the emphasis on students working in teams on practical projects which are assessed, assisted by a teacher. There need be no lectures or examinations, as these are not particularly effective teaching or assessment techniques. The assessment can be pass/fail, as that is more effective than the complex scales currently used by universities.


There have been many proposals for micro-credentials. That is a qualification much shorter than the typical six months full time study required for the shortest AQF aligned university qualifications.  Micro-credentials are an appealing idea, but difficult to implement. To simplify the process, a course in teaching could be divided into three or four micro-credentials. These could then be offered to industry professionals for development. Those who complete all the micro-credentials would receive one course credit.

Government Funding for University Teacher Training

The Australian Government is  funding undergraduate and graduate certificates as part of the COVID-19 response. These are six month online full-time programs. It is not proposed to create a CECS teaching certificate, just one course. However, the Minister for Education mentioned micro-credentials, and so it may be possible to obtain funding for these:
" We had a major report done on the Australian Qualifications Framework, and they, it suggested that we should move to what this, what they call, micro-credentialing, short courses. So, we’ve used these opportunities to say, ‘Alright, well, let’s push ahead with this, and let’s really give it a go for the next six months'."

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