Academic developers helping others

Changes to the role during the past 15 years are outlined here, particularly in relation to accountability expectations on Unit Coordinators. The Centre’s responsibilities and ‘tensions’ are also clarified. More...

I have been working in the Centre for Teaching and Learning for 15 years and have seen the work of Unit Coordinators change in that time.  In the past, their work was focused on their administration input, for example, getting their results in on time.  Now, the focus is on improving learning and teaching for the students, and involving their colleagues in their work. Another big change is around accountability.  Regardless of who is teaching a subject, the Unit Coordinator is held accountable for the students’ results.  They have to report on why the students are performing badly, for example.  Some appear before panels and, in some cases, must generate priority reports about how they might address significant outlier results.  Reporting is now university wide and explanations are required in situations where students have performed badly for two or more semesters, or where courses have exceeded 20% failure rates.  There has been this shift from a view that failures are the result of a weak student cohort, to one that puts pressure on Unit Coordinators to explain.  These shifts have now crept into the culture of this university and we have seen Unit Coordinators take on more responsibility for the quality of their units.

Although we receive this data, there are limits to how we can help.  There is a tension between our role of offering support to people who need it and being seen as ‘quality police’.  A different relationship emerges if you try to be both.  So, the formal tapping on the shoulder is left to the Heads of School who, in some cases, have to manage performance issues.

From time to time we respond to a Head of School who seeks help with a Unit Coordinator.  To minimise the chance that an individual may be identified, we will organise a group professional development activity.  On occasion a Unit Coordinator is told by a Head of School to come and see us, which puts us on a poor footing.  Generally, though, we provide help to academics who have an interest in the first place.  They have self identified an issue that they need help with, or they just want to try something different.

About three years ago the first cohort of academics completed the Graduate Certificate in Higher Education.  They told us they wanted to maintain contact with the group and to use more of an- evidence based approach to their teaching.  In response we established an education research group. Each year the group grows in size.  We have to watch some of the science and engineering people because they can treat the students as ‘experiments’.  They also need reminding of their ethical obligations.  These factors do constrain their efforts and some question whether the research is worth doing, however, they enjoy the community of practice they have built and the encouragement they provide one another.    Our role is to watch to ensure rules are complied with and to provide guidance when needed.

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