What is the Postgraduate Teaching Internship Scheme?
The University of Western Australia Postgraduate Teaching Internship Scheme is a competitive, paid internship that gives Higher Degree by Research (those doing a Masters by Research or PhD) the opportunities and responsibilities of full academic teaching staff members.
What’s the difference between being an Intern and a regular postgraduate casual teacher?
Firstly, Interns complete coursework. We start with a three day Foundations of Teaching and Learning course, and then each semester there are five additional half-day teaching coursework sessions. Any casual teaching member can apply for short teaching courses by the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning, but only academic staff can access the Foundations course.
Secondly, Interns don’t just tutor and lecture, they are required to complete a curriculum development project. This means changing some element of course delivery (lectures, tutorials, assessment, online delivery) and assessing its success against pedagogical research (which is really a fancy term for research about teaching).
Third, Interns are treated like full academic teaching staff members and are required to attend staff meetings.
Finally, we have to strut our stuff at the end of the year, showing how much we have learned! This means giving a PowerPoint or poster presentation on our curriculum development project, writing a report or academic paper on the same material and preparing a Teaching Portfolio. We work on our Teaching Portfolio throughout the year, including by peer reviewing other Interns’ work and being assessed by our own students through ‘Student Perceptions of Teaching’ reports.
What were the highlights?
The Internship presented a fantastic opportunity to put my mark on a unit. During first semester I co-delivered the Masters-level Climate Change Policy and Planning unit, including giving five three hour lecture/tutorials, developing a new assessment and getting involved in developing the entire course content.
I used the assessment I developed as my curriculum development project, surveying students on how they thought the assessment went, comparing my process with those in the teaching literature and finally preparing a presentation and paper. I’ll be presenting my findings at the Western Australian Teaching and Learning Forum in January, and – fingers crossed – will be submitting my paper to a teaching journal sometime soon.
Getting to meet a great bunch of Interns was also fantastic. We had 15 Interns in our cohort, from across the University. This proved to be an excellent opportunity to find out how teaching practices vary throughout the campus. I think we learned as much from each others’ stories as we did from the literature we were tasked with reading.
What were the low points?
The first two weeks of November! I had a huge amount of work due at this time, and not just for the Internship. Still, completing a 15 minute presentation, 7,000 word paper, 45 page Teaching Portfolio, and marking six 6,000 word assignments in the space of a week put me under some pressure!
There were also some real frustrations with the Internship – but I think this had as much to do with being emotionally invested in teaching as it did with the Internship itself. The problem with teaching is that so much of what you want to do depends on how committed students are to a process – and the difference between commitment levels at the Masters-level (first semester) and First-year level (second semester) is palpable!
What did I learn about teaching?
There are significant challenges associated with teaching in the 21st century. Given students have the power of the internet at their fingertips, teachers can no longer assume a position as expert. Instead, teachers are expected to facilitate a learning process. This means providing worthwhile learning experiences to students studying on-line and on-campus, providing learning experiences that suit a range of learning styles (visual, audio, tactile) and also recognising challenges posed by providing quality teaching to students with language difficulties, disabilities and differences in previous learning experiences.
Students are also more assessment-focussed than ever before – we now know that if it isn’t assessed, students won’t do it! So we have to develop assessment mechanisms that challenge students, reflect a range of learning outcomes (not just rote learning but analysis skills and elements of creativity) but are also sensitive to time pressures – universities are likely to be under increasing budget pressures in future, with class sizes growing alongside teaching commitments.
Finally, students are coming to university for different reasons. Once upon a time students came to university because of a sense of valuing education; many students now come to university to develop skills to gain employment. Therefore, we have to adapt our delivery to provide authentic learning experiences that develop skills that students can apply in future work scenarios.
Would I recommend the Internship to other people?
Absolutely! Being an Intern is a great opportunity to learn more about teaching, get your hands dirty and will look fantastic on any resume. Be warned though, there is a lot of work involved. But it’s worth it!
Are you tempted to apply for the Internship? Drop your questions below and I’ll give you an insider’s peek into how it unfolds!