T. De Fazio

Victoria University (AUSTRALIA)
The casualization of higher education teaching staff is characteristic of the staffing composition in many universities throughout the world. The Australian AUTC report (2003) found that the higher education sector has been the most casualized of all sectors with casual – or, as termed in Australia, sessional staff, representing 40% of the teaching load in Australian universities. This presentation offers learnings and insights into engaging casual/sessional teaching staff and their supervisors in capacity building opportunities around positive teaching outcomes. Further, how a strategic approach to the creation of a culture and dialogue on developing casual staff teaching competence contributes to the ameliorating of constructive outcomes such as retention and overall student progress.

Sessional staff are defined (Red Report 2008 p.4) as ‘including any higher education instructors not in tenured or permanent positions, and employed on an hourly or honorary basis’. Universities employ casual teaching staff to address such factors as: fluctuating enrolments, funding uncertainty, access to expert knowledge and skills etc. Sessional teachers undertake a significant portion of, a ‘full range of teaching activities’ (Red Report, 2008 p. 16). These activities (lecturing, tutoring, marking, workplace, and clinical supervision etc.) contribute directly to the strategic directions, retention outcomes, student progress and satisfaction and overall learning and teaching experiences at a university. Yet casual teaching staff are often marginalised from supported capacity building opportunities with little or no access to these (Dearn et al. 2002) compared to their more permanent colleagues. Kimber (2003) describes this cohort as on the ‘tenuous periphery’ making reference to the significant contribution yet marginalised manner in which this cohort is engaged in the professional learning agenda of the organisation and sector.

Further, supervisors of casual staff find there is limited, if any, sustained institutional dialogue to ensure they themselves are supported in their leadership work in this area. Prebble et all (2005) point out that there is little support to develop the leadership and management of those involved in supervising staff. Sheridan (2008, p.4) states that there is “a dearth of suggestions in the literature as to how to help those responsible for the management of sessional staff” and notes that training for middle management and such leadership position is a ‘next-step’ research area.
This presentation focuses on a particularly innovative initiative at one Australian university, Victoria University which is based in Melbourne, to address the issues of professional learning for casual/sessional teaching staff and their supervisors. The research around this initiative questions the social practices of sessional staff engagement with capacity building opportunities and the experiences of sessional supervisors in terms of leadership to facilitate learning and teaching outcomes. The research reports on a longitudinal action research study, framed as a practitioner-researcher model of research which is currently being undertaken at Victoria University. The presentation challenges present practices of providing an ad hoc approach to capacity building opportunities around developing teaching competence. It reports on initial findings around positive engagement strategies and how these reflect on good teaching and learning outcomes.