Fostering a sense of value

A comment on the experience of Unit Coordinators, and their issues, is shared here by a senior Academic Developer who teaches into the GCHE and frequently talks with those working at the coalface. More...

Our Centre for Learning and Teaching is full of passionate people who want to make a difference with students.  In my role as coordinator of the GCHE I talk frequently with our Unit Coordinators so I know many of their issues.  One view held is that information about what they need to do is ‘almost purposefully hidden’.  I offer that a key to finding out what we need to know is through forming relationships with the people who manage timetables and rooms, and are experienced in university operations.  Approaching them in a cordial manner produces good outcomes.

I am trying to develop awareness and interest in scholarly approaches to teaching and evidence based practice, although it is difficult for academics who pursue scholarly teaching research to get published in A-class journals.  This type of research is not valued as highly as discipline research.  It is easy for them to be distracted from research, so I advise them to let people know their ‘research day’ and treat it like a teaching commitment.  If they are teaching they would not be able to attend a meeting, and research should be held in the same regard.  It is a dilemma, though, because entry into an academic role may only be facilitated through teaching, and this is where they must start.  Research takes a lower priority, at least initially.

Sessional staff is generally located from industry.  Our university has recently placed a cap on the number of sessional staff we employ because there is a feeling that quality and commitment may be compromised.  Unit Coordinators are challenged to produce an experience that maintains a commensurate level of quality for all students across all tutorial groups within the time constraints.  It is difficult to do when tutors, for example, are paid the equivalent of 15 minutes to mark a 4,000 word essay.

Internationalisation of the curriculum has been put in the ‘too hard basket’ for many because people are so busy and have so many competing demands and it represents another thing that a Unit Coordinator has to attend do.  We have pulled back but we still have 6,000 overseas students here.  I do not know how many academics have embedded the intercultural and international perspectives into their teaching.  I suspect it is hit and miss because there is no advocate for it.

It is hard to know whether Unit Coordinators are able to foster a sense of value in their busy schedules.  Some complain about the university but they are still working here.  I think that most will put up with a lot because they gain much satisfaction from what they do with students.  I think those who feel isolated do not feel in the loop or meet irregularly with their program directors.   Fragmentation of the student experience is a likely result.

I will often take work home, and am able to work from home from time to time.  I think that is a good mental health thing and I am inspired to put in a longer day when I am here.  I have a philosophical view on the nature of work, which underpins my general approach to planning my work as well.  There is only so much you can achieve in a day and I have recently given myself permission to say ‘I have not yet completed a task’.

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