Part-Time Tutors’ Development Initiative 2004-2005

Part-time teaching, Postgraduate teaching

Author

Dr Joanna Moody
University of York

Summary

A culture of professional development for part-time tutors (PTT) in English and Related Literature was needed at York. I devised a project, presented it to my Department’s Board of Studies, applied for funding, and implemented it through 2004-5. As organiser and mentor I facilitated eight workshops for the dissemination of good practice. I also developed resources, particularly online, wrote a handbook, ran a teaching circle, and held problem-solving meetings.

  • The broad aim of the project was to enhance undergraduate teaching and the support of student learning.
  • Specific aims were to investigate innovative learning and teaching issues in the subject discipline, and, in the light of this, to build a bank of resources available to all.

Background / Context – Provision

There was no specific provision for PTT at the University of York for pedagogical training in English, although there was a well-established generic skills programme for graduate students wanting to teach. There was no professional development for the several independent, qualified, mature PTT in English. In the light of recent findings (NATFE, 2001; Bryson, 2003; Holland 2004) that this staff group has been comparatively neglected, my Department supported my application for special project funding from the University’s Teaching and Innovation Development Committee. This was to pay academic salary training entitlement for myself as facilitator and for the other PTT to attend workshops. I was thus able to set up a one-year project in which, for the first time, PTT were remunerated for professional development and pedagogical discourse. This has since become institutionalised in the English Department.

Background / Context – Those who took part in the project

There was work for 27 PTT in the English Department during 2004-5. 14 tutors taught, with several teaching in more than one term (Autumn=10; Spring=11; Summer=6). Of these, 6 were independent, experienced tutors with PhD qualification; the rest were post-graduates who teach. Although there was no obligation on them to do so, all but 3 PTT participated in some or all of the remunerated workshops and teaching circle. However, for various reasons (teaching elsewhere; PhD completion; travel) not all PTT were able to participate fully. In addition, 12 research students took part in separate graduate training workshops.

Activities / Practice

PTT workshops

I ran six workshops for PTT, providing opportunities to reflect on teaching and on the student experience. Each was focused on an aspect of innovative practice in English Literature, and I wrote booklets including relevant information (copyright issues prevent publication here), ideas for discussion, and with a variety of case studies from our own Department experience:

  1. Ethical Reading and Literary Study (Autumn Term, Week 1)
  2. Online Resources and Learning (Autumn Term, Week 5)
  3. Peer Assessment (Autumn Term, Week 8)
  4. Teaching Long Texts (Spring Term, Week 4)
  5. Teaching Poetry (Spring Term, Week 8)
  6. Teaching Drama (Summer Term, Week 4)

Issues raised were developed in the teaching circle, individual problem-solving meetings, and also with other full-time members of the Department.

Feedback from participants was exceptionally positive. Evaluation forms indicated strong approval and satisfaction, with participants wanting more and longer workshops:

“The possibility to talk with other PTT was most effective”;

“Just speaking with other tutors, and getting my head around the complexities of teaching”;

“It was a brilliant idea to create a forum in which we can ask questions about teaching”;

“I particularly appreciated the discussion about how to deal with difficult/demanding students….also, the question of course content”;

“A useful support mechanism that should be encouraged”.

Consultations with the Head of Department, with the Chair of the Board, with the Chair of Examiners, and with module convenors, indicated satisfaction and led to discussion with other colleagues on innovatory teaching and learning issues.

Graduate workshops

I ran two further workshops for research students who wished to register for teaching in the Department. These covered more general matters about learning and teaching as well as reflecting on some of the innovative issues from the PTT Workshops.

Feedback from participants was again positive:

“It was extremely useful”;

“It would be a good idea to have a series of this kind of seminar – four or five times a year”;

“Quite the best workshop I’ve been to this year”;

“The workshops demonstrated a perennially positive attitude towards students, which is always good!”

Consultations with the Head of Department and Department colleagues indicated general satisfaction and the workshops are now incorporated into the Department’s Graduate Training Programme.

Resources

The part-timers agreed as a group that online resources are really more useful than photocopies stored in box files. As a result of this I worked with the Department’s Web Administrator and the University Subject Librarian and was closely involved with the following for tutors and students:

  1. The Archive: building a Department online archive (reading lists,seminar programmes, lecture lists), to be stored for a period of three years (a cohort). All tutors, but especially PTT, find this archive helpful in their planning, particularly when teaching a module for the first time;
  2. Online Research Resources: working with the University’s Subject Librarian to build a new general online list of English and Related Literature Information Sources;
  3. Recommended Reading: building an online list of preparatory reading and wider reading for prospective undergraduates;
  4. PTT Handbook: I substantially revised the online PTT Handbook, which I had written for the Department a year before. This includes necessary information about learning and teaching in the Department, and is updated when appropriate.
  5. Workshops Booklets: I wrote and collated material for printed booklets for each participant in the eight workshops;
  6. Board of Studies decisions: Though I was not (being part-time) a member of the Board of Studies I studied the Minutes and passed on relevant decisions to part-time colleagues, and updated the Handbook as necessary;
  7. Learning and Teaching English Literature: I devised, and submitted to the Head of Department, a Graduate and PTT Training Programme at two levels for following years, specific to the student experience in learning and teaching English at York.
Mentoring

Individual problem-solving meetings were held when called for, and a PTT teaching circle was set up. An updated shared-contacts email list was established each term for regular contact and the discussion of learning and teaching issues, and the circle met regularly each week in the Autumn Term.

I provided individual written records of involvement with the project for future reference in graduate files, and I worked with module convenors and other mentors where necessary.

Contacts

I submitted documents to the Board of Studies for information and/or approval.
I had meetings and email contact with colleagues in the University’s Professional and Organisational Development Office and the Centre for Lifelong Learning. I wrote an article for the University’s learning/teaching Forum magazine and attended the annual Learning and Teaching Conference.

Emails in the course of the project

Most of these were dealt with from home, and included sending attachments. Some were concerned with the teaching circle, and with problem solving; others with resources, administration and contact with colleagues and research students who wanted to teach:

No of emails sent: 405
No of emails received: 263

Recommendations made as a result of the project

(I) Recommendations to the University:

Financial provision to be made available for:

  1. Departments to set up subject specific training programmes for PTT where they are responsible for teaching a term’s module (i.e. planning seminars and tutorials, teaching, marking essays, assessment, and writing reports).
  1. Qualified/experienced PTT who hold such responsibility to be paid a “training entitlement” at the usual hourly teaching rate to attend a two-hour workshop on related teaching and learning issues in the term when they are employed.

(II) Recommendations to the Department of English and Related Literature:

  1. Offer PTT representation on Board of Studies
  2. Establish a Department training programme for graduates and PTT.
  3. Clarify the details in the Graduate Handbook about applying to teach in the Department.
  4. Review the Department’s system for mentoring PTT.
  5. Place records of teaching experience on graduate files for future reference. H) Encourage graduates to keep teaching and learning portfolios.
  6. Appoint a PTT Coordinator, with the following responsibilities:
    • to keep the online Part-Time Tutors Handbook on teaching and learning in the Department up to date;
    • to run a workshop training programme for graduates and PTT;
    • to ensure the Department’s PTT mentoring system is working;
    • to collect the mentoring forms at the end of term and pass them on as designated in the Department’s Administration Handbook;
    • to liaise with the Graduate Training Officers in the Professional and Organisational Development Office.

Conclusions

  • Support for the project was exceptionally positive with considerable satisfaction and approval.
  • The Department of English and Related Literature has appointed a Part-Time Coordinator to sit on the Board of Studies and to carry out the recommended duties listed above.
  • The Department includes learning and teaching in English workshops in its graduate training programme.
  • Qualified, independent PTT in the Department are now given an academic salary training entitlement.
  • The Department’s online learning and teaching resources are substantially enhanced.
  • The broad and specific aims of the project were met and transferred.
  • Contacts were made, and are now ongoing, with the Professional and Organisational Development Office and the Centre for Lifelong Learning.
  • An article on part-time tutors in the Department appeared in the University’s learning and teaching Forum magazine.
  • The Department of English and Related Literature at York made its first strategic response to integrate learning and teaching with training and professional development for its part-time tutors, with long-term effect.

April 2006

Bibliographical references