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Organised chaos

When she reflects upon her role this coordinator thinks ‘organised chaos’, labour intensity and the variety of abilities and skills she requires to perform all aspects of the role. She sees the time spent with staff as important to develop and support them. As a specialist she feels professionally isolated and worries about the rigour of developing a unit on her own. More...

When I think about my role as unit coordinator I think ‘organised chaos’. I mean that the role is labour intensive and involves a variety of different abilities and skills so it covers everything from knowing the content through to delivering the material. I think about the administration, working with sessional staff, timetabling, ensuring equipment is ready for class and making sure appropriate rooms are ready for class. I can appreciate that my experience as unit coordinator in the performing arts may be different to that of others in different fields. For instance, we have specific space, rehearsal and equipment needs.

I began coordinating units at this university three years ago after working as a unit coordinator for a few years previously at another university. My understanding of unit coordination began earlier while working as a sessional and asking what others probably saw as ‘dumb questions’. At first I expected to receive some form of training and when I realised it wasn’t going to happen I started asking questions of my line manager or people in adjoining offices. There were many times I received no pre-warning about timetable request deadlines or deadlines for ordering textbooks and library requests. For much of the first two years I was in reaction mode until the fog cleared and I realised there is an annual sequence and predictable deadlines keep recurring.

Now that I am more familiar with the system I know how to organise most things for myself. I coordinate about seven units each year; teaching in three and delivering lectures in the others. Because I remember the difficulties of sessional work I try to help our sessional staff concentrate on their area of expertise so I look after much of the administration involving their classes. For example, I ensure duplicate sessions are timetabled on the same day for them, do the photocopying, locate recent texts and articles for them and generally monitor their classes’ progress. It is important that I know how students are progressing so I consolidate all marks and often attend the final performance sessions. Each semester I spend time with each sessional staff individually and during these informal, paid meetings I hear how the semester ran, listen to suggestions for improvement in content and delivery and show my support for their work.

I feel valued and supported by my line manager and my peers. Though, as the only full time performance studies lecturer, I sometimes wonder whether it is pedagogically sound that I select the unit content in isolation. On the one hand I can be creative and have fun deciding on material myself, but on the other hand I miss the collegial conversation and moderation possible with others. Where possible I collaborate with colleagues based in other state universities and attend drama conferences to keep my knowledge current.

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