All that matters is research

This coordinator discusses the tension between teaching quality units and the expectation of writing 4 papers a year. As Assoc. Dean in L & T she has tried using innovative approaches to assisting new staff but finds that a direct approach to individual Unit Coordinators works best in terms of finding out what support they need. More...

I have been a Unit Coordinator in biological sciences for more than 13 years.  I have put a great deal of time and effort into revising and improving my Units over the years but, recently, a colleague told me that I was wasting my time. He said that all that matters at a Go8 university is research and that promotions are based on our research excellence.  Our university does well on the research outputs ladder, but our VC wants us to improve on it.  The expectation is to publish four research papers a year.  How does one do this and prepare a good unit?

Our teachers are intelligent people and the teaching quality is adequate.  However, because class sizes are large, we engage six or seven lecturers to teach and the Unit Coordinator is the person who oversees it all.  Sometimes, courses lack coherence and quality as a result.  We get lots of support from our Centre for Learning and Teaching but some people are not aware of what the Centre can do for us.  New staff must undertake an intensive teaching and learning course. It is run for one week full time before the beginning of semester so there is a lot of information to absorb.  I think it would be better to space out some of the modules to link in to where you might be up to in a course.  For example, creating and delivering content first, followed by information about exams and assessing students.  I think the structure is being looked at now.

At the School and Faculty levels we receive little support.  In the past we met to discuss learning and teaching in our Faculty to help engage the sessional staff, but the new Dean could not see the point and disbanded it.  Major grant applications are due before semester starts at the same time as your research students commence and at the same time as we are organising students into laboratory groups.  It can all be quite hectic and overwhelming at times. For the new starters, this is particularly so because there is no system in place that tells them about timetables, text books, library resources or marking deadlines.  Experienced academics forget this but it would be really useful if someone told new academics what is urgent and necessary.

I have taken on responsibility for teaching and learning in my faculty and my priority is to help new staff come to terms with how to do this kind of work.  The nine schools in my faculty, though, are spread throughout our very big campus, making it difficult to keep track of people.  Recently, my team came up with an innovative idea to capture people’s attention.  The idea was based on the show Master Chef.  We wanted to bring together in one place our best teachers and researchers to design a great teaching activity and then showcase it to others.  We provided lunch and offered a lucky door prize. We had a new Dean and we thought that academics would want to impress him, however, of 200 staff we had only 36 participants including 18 from Medicine.  Now, the teaching and learning team have decided to approach new academics individually and find out what they need in terms of knowledge and support.

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