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Positively impacting on students

Originally from overseas, this coordinator in building and construction has found it difficult to adjust to the operational anomalies he has encountered. Nevertheless, he gains great satisfaction from the positive impact he has on his students. More...

I came to Australia a few years ago from the USA and coordinate units in building and construction at the university.  I undertook on-line induction, which informed me about policies but my induction into teaching was more of an adventure, particularly in assigning grades.  It took me a while to work out how things operate in Australia but I like to see the greater value placed on teaching here.

I developed my units using the university’s generic unit guide.  I try to include topics that are not covered in other units, but even the program director has little idea about what is being covered by others.  This is complicated by tying in large groups of first year students who attend from different programs.

Sometimes I feel I am losing control.  For example, we were given two weeks’ notice to up-load all our materials onto Blackboard when I discovered that copyright for readings you distribute to students is different from those you place on-line.  In another instance I negotiated with the Head of School not to take a unit I did not feel competent to teach.  He changed his mind after I had already timetabled another class that clashed.  I employed a tutor to cover for me, who then complained about the unit content.  Another time I had to teach a large class in a nearby picture theatre.  The light was poor and the seats too comfortable so some of my students fell asleep.

Having all materials up on Blackboard, readily available to students when they want them, has translated into the students thinking I am always available.  They are not happy if I take a week to reply to their emails. I found I was delivering to 15% of my student cohort so I left blanks in my slides to encourage attendance. I resisted video recording my lectures for the same reason.  Nevertheless, having access to notes and slides beforehand has enabled them to listen to me rather than writing them up during class, and to answer the weekly quizzes that we provide on line.

There seems to be little accountability with student evaluations.  If scores decline I thought that management would keep track and talk about why, but there is no follow up.  I do not think students realise what type of feedback they are supposed to give and, although I find it difficult to readily interpret the data, I try to integrate their feedback into my future planning.

Locating sessional staff tends to be managed at a higher level, but we also help each other by sharing our contacts.  To maintain consistency, I explain to my new tutors how we assess and distribute marks, about deadlines and content, and my expectations about outcomes and knowledge that our students must acquire by the end of semester.  I emphasise that what is written in the unit guide must be communicated correctly.

My greatest satisfaction comes from students who tell me years later that they found my unit useful.  I find it motivating that I impact in a positive way on my students and they realise I don’t do the job just because I am paid to do it.  I enjoy my role and believe I have a good work/life balance.

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