RESEARCH: Reflecting on the UWA Postgraduate Teaching Internship Scheme

Sessional Staff Assoc

I’ve had a mad few weeks finalising a pet project I’ve been working on – a report reflecting on the UWA Postgraduate Teaching Internship Scheme. I completed an Internship in 2014, and while I found the workload punishing I also thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to develop my teaching skills. It was with quite a lot of sadness that I learnt that the Internship Scheme was abolished in 2015. In its place would be an online course, a half day orientation session and responsibility for other seminars etc devolved to faculties.

I couldn’t help but think that these three elements couldn’t possibly replace the breadth of experiences I had under the internship. These experiences included coursework, a curriculum development project, feedback from peers, students and staff, support from a teaching mentor and pedagogical staff and exposure to other pedagogical research through attendance at the WA Teaching and Learning Forum. However, the new program would have advantages above the Internship in that it could provide professional development opportunities to a larger group of enthusiastic new teachers. What I wanted to know was whether the new program could be developed to maximise teaching development opportunities.

Based on this idea I created an online survey for former interns to complete, asking them about their perceptions of the elements of the scheme that they thought were most important to developing their teaching. Unsurprisingly the opportunity to tutor or lecture was considered most important for developing teaching skills. However, the next most important element of the Scheme was the face-to-face nature of the scheme, with coursework being delivered in person and interns continually engaging in a conversation about their teaching experiences. The opportunity to receive feedback from students, peers and pedagogical staff was also important for developing teaching practices. Postgraduates thought the internship led to them being more reflective, confident teachers with an awareness of a diverse range of teaching approaches.

Now that I’ve received advice from these 62 former interns the next question is what am I going to do with the findings? The first step was to write and publish a Report summarising the findings and making a few clear recommendations. Next I presented the findings at the 2016 WA Teaching and Learning Forum, a great opportunity to feed back the findings to the internship community.

The next step is to try to use the findings to convince the university executive to accept some of the recommendations. The report has been developed under the auspices of the UWA Sessional Staff Association, which has a regular meeting with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education). This could be a great opportunity to see where the recommendations of the report align with the interests of the university. The report has also been forwarded to other members of the executive and Chairs of the faculty Teaching and Learning Committees.

I put quite a lot of work into the research and the report and can’t help but wonder, as I often do, whether the time was well spent. The report was well received by my peers and provides a substantive platform to make requests of the executive. However, the university is in such a state of flux that I can’t help but wonder if the abolition of the Internship Scheme is evidence of a larger and more fundamental shift in the university that will see teaching, and any opportunities to improve teaching, sidelined.

But for the moment I remain optimistic that the report will be useful, if not inspiring, in making the new leaders of teaching and learning think twice about the kinds of programs they will develop and implement. There are a whole lot of postgraduates out there who would love an opportunity to learn how to teach well!

You can find a copy of the Report here and find out more about the UWA Sessional Staff Association at their website.

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