Discussion point: sessional staff training

Medical Sci 01

The ACDS launched its report on demonstrator training at the ACDS TL conference 2013.  The report authored by Dr Paddy O’Toole presents a snapshot of professional training for sessional staff in university science.   The launch was followed by a series of presentations as “Case studies in demonstrator training”.  The following report from the session was put together by :

Andrea Crampton (Charles Sturt University)

Gerry Rayner (Monash University)

Alison Beavis, Stephanie Beames and Peter Meier  (University of Technology, Sydney)

Julian Cox (University of NSW)


Demonstrator/Tutor Training – a common concern and call for a common solution

The ACDS report on demonstrator training provides sobering evidence of the considerable lack of professional development for our front line science skill developers and laboratory demonstrators in the higher education sector.  This issue is concerning on several fronts; not only does it point to missed opportunities for enhancing the undergraduate student experience of laboratory science but also indicates that we are not meeting the professional development needs of many of our postgraduate students who make up the bulk of our teaching associate teams.

At the recent ACDS learning and teaching meeting three demonstrator/tutor-training programs were presented,  with their merits and concerns vigorously discussed.  The programs from UNSW, UTS and Monash demonstrated clear adherence to developing relevant quality learning environments that foster reflective practitioners.  The Monash program is mandatory for sessional staff and and UNSW Science is now showing preference in employment for those who have trained but more common, non-mandatory programs  suffer to an extent from levels of attrition and non-participation.  Further, there was variability in the financial remuneration provided to the demonstrators during training, an issue that was seen by other universities as a barrier to developing and providing ongoing training for this group of important sessional academics.  Attrition and remuneration-mediated engagement were seen as possibly being indicative of a lack of a sense of professionalism by the demonstrators and the institutions.

The meeting also noted that while course developers and subject coordinators were actively working to integrate sector practices and requirements such as the Science (and sub-discipline) Threshold Learning Outcomes, the Australian Quality Framework, inquiry-oriented learning, and so forth, such embedded intentions were not typically being actively disseminated to demonstrators/tutors nor embedded in their practices although well-covered in some.  The commonality of this concern leads to a call to the ACDS to facilitate the development of professional development systems that address these key areas, while also providing a level of recognition to enhance the professionalism of demonstrators and tutors.  Such a system would enable demonstrators and tutors to provide evidence of professional development in sector-relevant areas and subsequently enable universities to actively recruit staff with the appropriate level of current knowledge, as well as good practice and commensurate skills with which to apply such knowledge”.