24 July 2010

Learning how to teach at university

Last week I spent the evening at a local tutors’ induction evening. It was a pretty simple affair: a presentation by one of our lecturers – The First Tutorial, a presentation from the head of the academic skills unit – Diversity, and a panel discussion.

The tutors came in nervous and left full of confidence, so we’ve found the right mix … just enough information to get them started, but not so much that they feel overwhelmed. Most of those who attended will work very closely with their course convenors, who will plan the tutorials and give the new tutors solutions to the worked examples that usually take up most of the time in tutorials in my part of the University. Those who will be facilitating discussions for the first time will get an extra bit of help.

I should be pleased, but I’m not.

It really bothers me that there is an expectation in many institutions that it is possible to learn how to be a good university teacher on the job.

Most of those who take their PhD from the University I currently work in go on to careers in academia. In recent years, the University has introduced a program that gives them some idea about how to teach, but there are still some who slip through with only a tutors’ induction evening and a bit of part-time tutoring or lecturing to prepare them for a career that will probably include teaching and committee work as well as the research for which they have been well-trained. Universities in Australia generally don’t require their new recruits to have a teaching qualification.

Surely this isn’t good enough.

Perhaps the new quality agency – the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency – will work with DEEWR to change this situation. I hope so – our students deserve teachers who know how to do their job properly. That calls for more than content knowledge.

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