Teaching and Learning Forum 95 [ Contents ]

Resources to help lecturers develop their teaching skills: A collaborative effort from a lecturer and a librarian

Yvonne Burgess
Faculty of Education

Carol Newton-Smith
Senior Librarian (Division of Arts, Education and Social Sciences)
Curtin University of Technology

As part of the Curtin University's commitment to focus on the development of excellence in teaching and learning, each Division, Branch, School and Area responded in different ways. This year's Quality Portfolio was focused specifically on Teaching and Learning programs, many which were initiated or coordinated by the Teaching Learning Group. One program was to adopt a devolved model of staff development in which a lecturer in each teaching division was given time release to support fellow colleagues in their professional self development activities. An outreach approach to the provision of relevant library services to client groups was adopted by the Library and Information Services in 1993. As a result the Division of Arts Education and Social Sciences was able to have the services of a Senior Librarian, and an "Associate" Staff Developer. When the two people concerned compared their respective roles and discussed the perceived needs of their clients within the Division, they decided to collaborate and eventually combined their skills for a joint project.


At Curtin University the responses to the Quality Movement have taken many forms. Each area within the University has developed goals or "vision" statements and strategic plans to improve the quality of all aspects of teaching and learning activities. Because of the size of the University and the devolved nature of its management structures, it is unusual for people in one area to be aware of the procedures and plans of another group. In the Division of Arts, Education and Social Sciences, (DAESS). however, group isolation is being overcome to some extent. This paper outlines how two people independently appointed from different organisational sections of the University decided to join forces to help fulfil the goals of the University.

The adventures of a lecturer who became an associate staff developer:


Professional development activities for the academics at Curtin are coordinated by the Teaching Learning Group (TLG). Within this group, responsibility for academic staff development was, until recently, the responsibility of four people. Since 1994 however, TLG initiated an innovative scheme to harness the energies of more people by deciding to adopt a "devolved" model of staff development and employ associates.

Each teaching area chose a lecturer to act in a liaison capacity between their fellow lecturers and the staff development team. Not one of these associate staff developers had any previous background in staff development, and no training was given. However, the "associates" did meet once a week with the staff developers from TLG for discussion. The roles of each associate were not defined because it was acknowledged that each teaching area had different subject specific needs, strategies and resources. Each associate was given an open brief to assess the needs of fellows lecturers, feed the information to the TLG and, where appropriate, either show support personally or seek help from specific staff in the TLG with the required expertise.

The Initial Strategy of the Associate

The general aim of the Academic Staff Development Associates Scheme was to be "responsive to specific discipline based needs within the Division" (Curtin University Quality Portfolio, 1994) The question was, how could one part-time person fulfil this goal? Yvonne used the Induction Program as a starting point to make friends with as many new staff as possible from each of the teaching areas. As an initial strategy the role was seen in terms of marketing. It seemed sensible to conduct market research to assess the needs of "clients", then "advertise" to raise awareness of the professional expertise available at the TLG, and to respond as a "customer service agent" by supplying information. After giving short "commercials" to school meetings and informal groups, and after many coffee sessions with colleagues it became clear to this "associate" that much more was required of someone in this position.

Further Developments

Although working in an environment where tertiary institutions are increasingly adopting the language of economic rationalism, the role of a "marketing agent" trying to "sell" the idea of quality teaching and learning seemed to be over simplistic. A one-way transmission of a concept is counter to a philosophy of developmental learning which involves partnership, shared responsibility and common interests. Thus it seemed more appropriate to investigate the metaphor of the mentor as suggested by some other staff developers. A reading of the literature soon revealed that this can mean many different things, such as coach, guide, resource person, amateur trainer, reflective listener, carer and so on (Borthwick, 1994). With such a wide range of possible roles and functions it was helpful to read the ideas of Sands et al (1991) which indicates there are four main types of mentor operating in University settings:-
  1. The Friend
  2. Career Guide
  3. Information Source
  4. Intellectual Guide
There are over 400 academic staff in a variety of disciplines in our Division (for example Arts, Social Sciences, Communication, Aboriginal Studies, Social and Education). This effectively ruled out types two and four, "Career Guide" and "Intellectual Guide" as being far beyond the level of expertise, experience, knowledge and status available.

As for type one, as much as it is pleasant to meet colleagues, it is not possible be a friend to so many lecturers , but it is possible to be friendly to a selection of people. Thus, the idea was adopted of developing networks of enthusiastic contacts from each teaching area. Then, through discussion, it was attempted to encourage the contacts to promote the idea of peer support.

Yvonne learned about University life through "osmosis" and through "critical incidents" which prompted frantic questioning of whoever was around. Thus she could identify with the role in type three, seeing the need for a "mentor" who could smooth a path when seeking information. That prompted her to collate information for her fellow workers, such as, course outlines, examples of evaluation instruments, a handbook for tutors (written by the TLG) and a checklist for course coordinators put out by the library. Armed with these, and the accumulated knowledge of where to find out about many aspects of teaching in the University, she began to spread the word! One recurring theme in chatting to colleagues (lecturers, tutors) was that once they had found out an answer to a small problem they would then like to read around the subject to expand their knowledge base. Simple examples spring to mind. One colleague, (not teacher trained), was intrigued by the idea of tutoring a unit which had very specific behavioural objectives which in turn tied into specific evaluation measures. He wanted to spend time learning about the importance of objectives. Another had just discovered the use of an Advance Organiser and wanted to discuss this strategy. Having to be responsible for planning a unit outline stimulated a relatively new member of staff to seek information on curriculum planning. All were mindful of the need to read more, after the initial "survival" stage had passed. When asked what was uppermost in their minds, new colleagues spoke of shortage of time, the worry of presenting interesting lectures, surviving the stress of mass lectures, holding the attention of students and the need to develop other presentational skills.

Frustration caused by lack of time and knowledge about how and where to find information was often mentioned. It seemed logical to compile some handy bibliographies which gave references about the subjects people needed to investigate, put in it the items which were easily available, and give precise details where to locate them. The topics which seemed to be most generally needed were lecturing techniques, types of assessment and evaluation, and small group skills. Since the TLG had already published a guide for tutors which was very helpful about conducting small group sessions, it was decided to concentrate on the first two. It was at this stage that our Divisional Librarian was approached for help.

The adventures of a roving senior librarian

In 1992, Curtin University Library and Information Services (LIS) initiated a new strategic plan which involved the entire library staff. The library developed a vision for the future which included:
"...a client focussed, dynamic service that provides clients and client groups with ready and timely access to information, including document delivery"
"...to function with state-of-art systems and technology as an integral part of the University's teaching, research and learning programs"
As part of the planning process, staff workshops were held on the management of change and staff were asked to identify one area that they would change and how. One of the areas chosen was the "Development of the role of an information specialist" who could work out of the library and consult with clients in the division to diagnose information needs and work with Library staff to ensure that services, and collections are designed to accommodate these needs. One of the driving forces to this idea was the realisation that as academics were connected to the Internet many information sources would be available to them on their desktop. How would they need help?

The literature was explored to find examples of other libraries who had tried this type of activity. The world of the 'circuit rider' (Plunket, 1982), 'subject specialist' (Hay, 1990; Neway, 1982), and access engineer' (Campbell, 1992) were examined and ways of dealing with the changing needs of clients in an increasingly electronic world were assessed. It is a reflection of the commitment of LIS senior management to staff ideas that in 1993 a position was created for a Senior Librarian in DAESS for a trial period of one year. This position would be located in the Faculty of Education (ie. outside the library) but with the brief to analyse the information needs of the whole Division and report back . Carol was launched with a portable Macintosh and a coffee cup.

"Finding information is not easy" is one of the most often repeated phrases the Senior Librarian hears from clients. Collections and indexes to those collections are all organised differently and are often very idiosyncratic. Just knowing which index to look in to start with is overwhelming. All the indexes have very different methods for efficient and effective searching; often use different and totally different computer software. It is no wonder that staff need help. It has been found that what most academics would like, when facing any new situation (eg. teaching in a new area or finding information on the Internet), is a few quality resources as starting points. Thus when approached by Yvonne for help preparing a bibliography on lecturing techniques it was a bibliography of selected, easily available resources in a variety of types of material that was in Carol's mind.

How the bibliography was created

A search of the Curtin library catalogue showed that a lot of material could be found on lecturing technique but which were the most useful resources? It was at this stage that it was realised how useful the collaboration of a librarian and a lecturer could be. The librarian had the knowledge of which indexes to use, how to search them effectively, and how to obtain the material located. The lecturer collaborated in the searching of the indexes and appraised the material found.

Quality, availability, currency and relevance to the topic were the main criteria we used in the evaluation of material. Sources searched were the Curtin Library Catalogue (books and audiovisual material), ERIC (journal articles and ERIC documents) and Australian Education Index (journal articles and books). Results were all downloaded electronically for easy incorporation into the bibliography. Items were obtained, evaluated for relevance and the bibliography annotated.

The bibliography was also designed to explain how to find further information and includes a number of helpful hints aimed at improving the information literacy of staff, one of the library's objectives. Another benefit for the library was that the compilation of the bibliography with critical evaluation by an academic led to collection development in some areas. Some gaps in the collection were identified.


To date over 150 copies of the first bibliography have been requested by academic staff. However, we venture to suggest that the "invisible" outcomes have been as satisfying or even more satisfying as the production of a publication.

Firstly, each of us had very wide ranging briefs which needed to be refined. Discussions of our respective roles and functions revealed many features in common. We were both involved in a similar pattern of "spadework" on talking to people, setting up networks then responding to perceived needs. Some of our clients had difficulty in articulating their needs, and considerable time was spent in tactful questioning, and discussion, to diagnose the various causes of staff concern and frustration, especially new academic staff who "did not know what they did not know." By discussing our strategies and experiences we believe we were able to enhance our understanding of the interpersonal and organisational skills needed to define and fulfil our respective roles.

Secondly, our interests coincided in that we both wanted to provide simple and speedy information to our clients. Many new academic staff spoke of panic induced by the sense of overload. The librarian has the expertise to select and organise information quickly. The lecturer has a background in teaching and could supply content knowledge and an understanding of the terminology of teaching. Together we are doubly effective.

Thirdly, the publication, although useful in itself, had an unexpected effect. When giving copies to staff, the publication became a stimulus or catalyst for discussion. Lecturers wanted to know "what else" was available from the TLG to assist them in their professional development of teaching and "what other ways" could they receive help from library staff. Could Carol please show them "how to" access other information.

Fourthly, the nature of our respective roles was operating in peer relationships. We had no status barriers to being approached for help and information. For example, Yvonne's received invitations to look at course outlines and even comment on fellow teaching initiatives which would not, we believe, have been issued to anyone who was seen as a University authority figure. As Harnish and Wild (1994) suggest, the peer mentoring approach may have "potential for serving as a powerful intervention strategy" for the "creation and dissemination of instructional innovation" (p192) through informal peer interactions.

Finally, our adventures have been such that we are now in the process of planning for a second, improved, annotated bibliography on "Student Assessment and Evaluation". This bibliography will include electronic resources available via the Internet and will be more efficiently created by using EndNote as a bibliography creator. We hope also to organise a display in the Library Staff Reading Room to focus on new publications available to help staff in their teaching and learning.


Borthwick, J. (1994). Multiple models of mentoring and one particular project. Paper presented at the HERDSA Annual Conference, July 1994, Canberra.

Campbell, J. D. (1993). Shaking the conceptual foundations of reference: A perspective. References Services Review, 20(4 ), 29-34.

Harnish, D. and Wild, L. (1994). Mentoring strategies for faculty development. Studies in Higher Education, 19(2), 191-201.

Hay, F. J. (1990). The subject specialist in the academic library: A review article. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 16(1), 11-17.

Neway, J. (1982). The role of the information specialist in academic research. Online Review, 6(6), 527-535.

Plunkett, L. [et al] (1983). Circuit riding: A method for providing reference services. Special Libraries, 74 (1), 49-55.

Sands, R., Parson, L. and Duane, J. (1991). Faculty mentoring facility in a public university. Journal of Higher Education, 62(2), 174-193

Please cite as: Burgess, Y. and Newton-Smith, C. (1995). Resources to help lecturers develop their teaching skills: A collaborative effort from a lecturer and a librarian. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p24-28. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/burgess.html

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