Teaching in Focus

Jessica Shipman Gunson, Elizabeth Abery, Lindsay Krassnitzer, Christopher Barton, Ivanka Prichard, from Flinders University, Adelhyde, Australia describe in their article in Student Success the value of implementing a program specific teaching support project for staff wellbeing and student success. Below some parts of the article are presented. The complete article Gunson, J., Abery,E.,  Krassnitzer,L., Barton,C. , Prichard, & Willes, E. (2016). Teaching in Focus: The value of implementing a program specific teaching support project for staff wellbeing and student success. Student Success, 7(2), 51-57. doi: 10.5204/ssj.v7i2.341.

"The Bachelor of Health Sciences [BHS) degree at Flinders University is a multi-disciplinary health-related degree and accounts for one of the largest course enrolments at the university. The large student numbers inherently require large teaching teams, many of which—as with the national trend—are staffed by sessional casuals. In addition to the large numbers of students and teaching staff involved in the BHS, the degree is unique in that core topics need to cater for students who require professionally accredited degree qualifications, as well as students wanting a broadly based health education that will provide transferrable skills. This requires staff development tailored to meet both student expectations and the development of professional competencies.

This paper describes a project put in place to better support teaching staff within the BHS degree. The "Teaching in Focus" project was established as a strategy to provide discipline- focussed support and training for teaching staff to achieve the following:

  • Foster improved quality in teaching and learning,
  • Promote consistency across topics within the course,
  • Provide the opportunity to develop new skills and approaches in teaching and assessment methods,
  • Develop strategies for managing specific situations, and
  • Encourage collegiality amongst new and experienced teaching staff."

"Overview of project
Henard and Roseveare (2012) identified that support for quality teaching has institutional (policy and quality improvement focus), program (design, content and delivery) and individual (innovation to support learning and learner-orientated approaches) level dimensions. The three major pillars of the Teaching in Focus project were a workshop program, peer support activities, and the development of a practical resource in the form of a handbook. These pillars impact at the program and individual levels and are outlined below."

In addition to the evaluation tailored specifically to the three aspects of the project, a focus group was carried out with casual staff. The focus group was intended to have a dual role—to seek feedback on the Teaching in Focus project activities, and to undertake a needs analysis to inform decisions about continuation and expansion of the project. The feedback received on the project was overwhelmingly positive. However, the most notable theme to come from the data was the impact of the project on staff wellbeing and their sense of commitment and connection to students. Staff concerns for the wellbeing of their students were also a key theme with participants concerned about how they felt their role as teacher often shifted across boundaries into pastoral care. Participants felt that the workshops offered as part of the project were an important way in which staff could feel a sense of community; and they felt valued as part of a group. These findings are significant and support other literature that has suggested that staff wellbeing needs further research in order to consider the relationship between the emotional labour of staff and how this impacts on student wellbeing and success (Berry & Cassidy 2013)."

"The approach taken in the Teaching in Focus project has parallels with the innovative "distributed leadership model" (Jones, Lefoe, Harvey, & Ryland, 2012; Hamilton et al., 2013). We concur with Hamilton et al., in that we argue that by providing carefully tailored programs that map institutional, program, and individual support relationships, staff wellbeing and retention will be improved; and this in turn will improve student wellbeing, success and retention. As we have discussed elsewhere (Abery & Gunson, 2016), student wellbeing and success are cyclically related to the wellbeing of staff. Thus, high quality programs need to address the emotional as well as knowledge- and skills-based aspects of teaching. Hamilton etal. (2013) estimate that, at a university level, the economic value of well scaffolded casual support programs that improve staff and student retention is significant. Thus, we argue that initiatives such as the Teaching in Focus project need to be supported as core business in university settings, in order to provide meaningful learning experiences and to maximise both staff and student engagement."

Student Success: A journal exploring the experiences of students in tertiary education.
The citations are from an article which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Licence. As an open access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings. ISSN: 2205 -0795.