I have coordinated engineering units at this university for 26 years and, currently, I am also Associate Dean. When I started out I had 350 students with 12 tutors and lab demonstrators to also coordinate and timetable. I considered my role a big responsibility and was concerned about the idea of 350 students screaming at my door if I made mistakes. It took a great deal of time to organise this large cohort and fit them in with other staff commitments and, of course, each semester it all started again. I continually worried about forgetting things until I realised how ridiculous it was. I then started developing lists of tasks and deadlines, a process that significantly helped in reducing my stress and workload.
Early on I was unaware of any helpful procedures created by the university, and I did not ask. I happily accepted the role of first year coordinator because I could direct the way things were taught and influence my students’ learning. For these reasons I see myself as a leader. My role is to change and improve teaching and learning, and keep people informed. For example, to improve student engagement last year we re-wrote all the labs. We adopted the ‘predict, observe, discuss’ philosophy and elaborated on the fundamentals to probe students’ understanding. Students are now arguing points with one another and there is a real buzz in the lab sessions.
Our lab demonstrators come and go but I regard our tutors, many of whom are quite experienced, as important to our students. In small groups, they provide opportunities to change and enhance learning in ways that a large lecture may not. When tutors commence they receive a brief induction, although the university is currently piloting two half-day sessions covering teaching skills. I meet with tutors regularly to go through unit outlines and the administration procedures, and have created a marking scheme for them to help maintain consistency. I also developed a pay formula to enhance efficiency with some of the markers. I am open and transparent with my team about systems I develop and why. We employ PhD students because most are intending to become academics, and also sessional staff who are experienced, older, and often from overseas but not employed in full time work. The older tutors can be rigid in their views but they are well organised and reliable. The younger ones are usually more flexible but are not always as reliable.
I am happy to work hard because I care about the outcomes. It is important to me that I am available to students if needed so I am prepared to sacrifice others things. My participation in this School’s educational research group has helped me engage in research around the scholarship of teaching and we are well supported by our Dean who provides the resources to ensure we do it. As Associate Dean, I attend many meetings and have little time for coordinating, but I am more efficient now and do things faster. If I had been better organised early on, I could have saved myself years of worry.