This post is a collaboration between Aurora Murphy, Deborah Nixon, Rosalie Goldsmith, Joseph Yeo, Pam Mort, Wenes Gunawan and Richard Ingold.

Casual tutors are the backbone of our university and we rely heavily on their subject and teaching expertise. Casual tutors across Australia have called out for increased opportunities for professional programs and collaboration. In response to this, IML ran a program of 14 online professional development workshops for casual academics teaching in Spring 2021. Academics were paid to attend two of these workshops on issues pertinent to them. A mammoth 240 casual academics attended at least 1 of the workshops and 90% reported that they would recommend this program to their peers. Attendees particularly liked the ways workshops were presented, opportunities to collaborate and learn from others, and learning practices they could transfer to their own teaching. In this post, we discuss a few of the workshops from the program.

What to do when they just don’t do the readings: strategies to encourage students to do pre-work

Rather than rehashing research on developing academic reading skills, Deborah Nixon and Rosalie Goldsmith found it more useful to provide participants with an opportunity to exchange ideas about their own approaches for encouraging student engagement with reading. This recognised the depth of practice in the Zoom room and also provided the opportunity for collegial exchange, which many collaborative educators enjoy and value. Participants were also given pre-work scaffolding tools and templates, and in-class strategies for dealing with situations where very few students had completed the readings.

Reasons why students don't do pre-work: don't have time, don't see the relevance, don't think readings count, difficulty level, don't see the use.
A few of the reasons why some students don’t do the readings or pre-work,

The workshop showed how giving students a strong rationale and connection to the core narrative of the subject or the assessment tasks encouraged them to complete their readings. Students were also more likely to do the pre-work when they were shown how it connected to the professional discourses of their disciplines. Overall, this workshop was a fruitful way to share the good, the bad, and the eternal frustrations of: ‘what to do when they just don’t do the readings’.

Inclusive teaching for linguistically diverse classes

Joseph Yeo and Pam Mort facilitated ‘Inclusive teaching for linguistically diverse classes’ as a way to harness the benefits of diversity and inclusivity in teaching practice. This was an opportunity to challenge a potential ‘deficit’ model of linguistic diversity, and to cross-pollinate by sharing positive teaching experiences and learning and teaching approaches as a group. A range of interactive tools and strategies were explored, to foster engagement and build familiarity with these tools. These online tools included polling, Mentimeter, and shared documents in breakout room discussions. Participants were sent a Google doc which contained the breakout groups’ discussion points, a handout with suggested inclusive teaching strategies, and a reading list. Overall, participants were appreciative of the opportunity to interact with their counterparts from other faculties, and expressed enthusiasm to have more time to discuss and explore the strategies they could implement in their own context.

Facilitate group learning in Zoom with breakout rooms

Wenes Gunawan and Richard Ingold ran this workshop for casual academics who have been using Zoom for live synchronous classes and are already familiar with its basic functions. While most teaching staff are familiar with using break out rooms to foster small group collaboration, many are interested in managing these so as to maximise participation from all students and minimise confusion. This workshop guided participants through using breakout rooms for small group activities, and provided a valuable Zoom breakout room planner with a formula for managing breakout rooms effectively. 

Warm, wise and personalised feedback

Aurora Murphy and Alisa Percy’s workshop Warm, Wise and Personalised Feedback drew on the notion of ‘warm, wise feedback’ from the practice of Humanising online education. They extended this concept to include a personalised dimension to feedback so that students can know exactly how to act on their feedback. The workshop looked at the role of feedback and showed how critical feedback can be misread as ‘you don’t belong here’ by some students, especially those who feel marginalised by tertiary settings. To combat this, participants were shown how to craft a ‘warm, wise framing statement’ which could be used for all students, either in class, on Canvas, or in Speed Grader or Review. The personalised dimension of this approach to feedback asked participants to identify one or two areas of improvement and specifically show students how to fix this, and where they can go for more guidance. Participants left with efficient and effective ways to give feedback to large cohorts online that ensure a warm teacher presence.

What’s next?

Workshop leaders were inspired by the enthusiastic, generous, talkative, and skilled group of casual teaching staff who truly wanted to hone their teaching practice and do what’s best for their students. In feedback gathered after this series, casual tutors requested that similar workshops run more frequently and before session begins so that they can more comprehensively plan these practices into their own subjects. They also suggested ingenious new ways to support casual teaching staff, like providing a teaching guide to casual academics when they start at UTS and formal mentoring programs. 

A big shout out to all the casual tutors who attended these training workshops and thoughtfully shared their ideas.

If you’d like to catch up on the workshops, you can see all of the recorded sessions in this YouTube playlist.

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