Teaching and Learning Forum 95 [ Contents ]

Implementing a devolved model of academic staff development

Lesley Parker and Mario Zadnik, Teaching Learning Group
Yvonne Burgess, Education
Kate Finlayson, School of Mines
Rob Guthrie, Business Law
Rick Ladyshewsky, Physiotherapy
Deborah Pritchard, Agronomy
Curtin University
The provision of appropriate forms of academic staff development is always a challenge for any tertiary institution. In a large, diverse institution, with a devolved management structure, such as Curtin University, the challenge is particularly great. This set of papers provides a variety of perspectives on the implementation of a model of academic staff development which appears to have considerable potential in such an institution. It describes a project in which six academic staff members (one in each of Curtin's four teaching Divisions and two Branches) were granted time-release to devise programs of academic staff development specifically to suit their own Division or Branch. These six staff, known as Academic Staff Development Associates, began by identifying staff development needs within their Division/Branch, then acting as facilitators, change agents and mentors, in attempting to meet those needs. As described in this set of papers, the project evolved rather differently in each Division or Branch. Overall, however, the experiences of the participants provide a sound basis from which to develop further this model for provision of staff development programs in an institution with a devolved structure.

Background: The Curtin context

Curtin University of Technology was established as a university in 1987, 20 years after its founding as the Western Australian Institute of Technology. Currently, Curtin has approximately 21,000 students and 300 staff. Structurally, it has four teaching divisions (Arts, Education and Social Sciences; Curtin Business School; Engineering and Science; Health Sciences), two Branches (the Muresk Institute of Agriculture; the Western Australian School of Mines (WASM) at Kalgoorlie) and three support divisions (Academic Affairs; Finance and Property; Research and Development). Each of the Divisions and Branches is further subdivided into Schools and Areas, which are regarded as the basic organisational units of the University. The institutional administrative structure is relatively flat, with considerable responsibility and authority devolved to Divisions/Branches and School/Areas.

Responsibility for academic staff development at Curtin rests with the Teaching Learning Group (TLG), situated within the Division of Academic Affairs and reporting directly to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor. During the past two years, activities typical of those initiated and carried out by the TLG's Academic Staff Development group (of 4-5 academic staff) include:

Other groups within the TLG provide support for distance education/open learning and instructional design/media and are heavily involved in alternative and innovative modes of delivery. Thus, as a whole, the TLG is extremely well-placed strategically to respond to special needs, interests and concerns with regard to off-campus and on-campus teaching and learning which arise across the University. This position was recognised recently through the major responsibility carried by the two senior staff of the TLG for the production of Curtin University's Strategic Plan for Teaching and Learning. The completion of this task added to the list of TLG endeavours which have helped to raise awareness of quality teaching issues on the part of staff and senior management across the teaching Divisions and Branches.

The concept of the Academic Staff Development Associates scheme

In further pursuit of the quality teaching agenda, the TLG, in late 1992, conceived a decentralised model of academic staff development whereby the work of the 4-5 academic staff development staff in the TLG would be complemented and extended by a teaching staff member from each of the four teaching Divisions and two Branches. It was envisaged that these six staff members, to be known as Academic Staff Development (ASD) Associates, would be released from their normal teaching duties in order to act as facilitators, change agents and mentors in academic staff development in their respective Division/Branch, with support from the TLG. A proposal for such a project was submitted to the Commonwealth Office of Staff Development and ultimately, was funded in the 1994 round of OSD grants.

In general terms, the main purpose of the initiative were:

Implementation of the scheme

Following some initial contacts by the Head of the TLG with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor in each of the four Divisions and the Director of each of the two Branches, the scheme began in earnest in early 1994. Responses to the project varied across the Divisions/Branches. Some were very enthusiastic, and agreed to supplement the available funds with funds of their own, in order to ensure that their ASD Associates had ample time to undertake the various tasks. The means of selection of the ASD Associates also varied. Some Divisions/Branches called for applications amongst all staff and instituted a rigorous selection procedure. Others identified a staff member who had shown interest previously in this area. In two cases the formal identification of an ASD Associate took several months.

From the outset, regular (usually weekly), informal meetings between TLG staff and ASD Associates were an important part of the scheme. Where it was not possible for the Associates from the Branches at Muresk and Kalgoorlie to attend these meetings, video-conference links were set up, so that they could still be part of them. In the early stages, the TLG's role in the project involved the provision of support and training for the ASD Associates, including (I) information about national and local agendas in higher education and about innovations in university teaching and learning, (ii) access to key literature and, (iii) skills in needs diagnosis, facilitation, change and empowerment processes. As time went on, TLG staff worked with the ASD Associates in planning and/or conducting workshops, surveys and action research within their Division/Branch. The weekly meetings became a forum for the exchange of ideas and discussion of what did and did not work well and, in this sense, the ASD Associates were able to learn from one anothers' experiences.

The final stage of evaluating the relevance and usefulness of this decentralised, partnership model of academic staff development is now underway. Impressionistic evidence attests to the success of the model and the intention for 1995 is to continue the model, with two specific foci - one on the development of resources to support part-time, sessional academic staff (funded from a second OSD grant) and the other on the piloting of a new instrument for student evaluation of teaching (funded from Curtin University's allocation from the Quality committee).

Please cite as: Parker, L., Zadnik, M., Burgess, Y., Finlayson, K., Guthrie, R., Ladyshewski, R. and Pritchard, D. (1995). Implementing a devolved model of academic staff development. In Summers, L. (Ed), A Focus on Learning, p203-205. Proceedings of the 4th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, Edith Cowan University, February 1995. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf1995/parker.html

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