Improving teaching

From June-December 2009 we evaluated the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) project, Preparing Academics for Teaching in Higher Education (PATHE).

Background to the PATHE project

The PATHE project is scoping the different approaches currently adopted for the induction of academic staff as they commence their teaching practice in Australian higher education as well as reviewing best practice.

Currently induction programs for training and development of academic staff new to teaching in higher education are diverse in content, duration and process. They are also variable in quality and have no systematic sector-wide approach to their development, or the development of the staff who design and teach in them (Dearn, Ryan and Fraser, 2002).

The project aims to devise a framework for teacher induction programs that will benefit the sector by promoting a set of shared expectations and understandings about the nature of university learning and teaching, and locating induction programs in that wider context.

Over 30 institutions have become partners and provided endorsements for the project. More information is provided in Appendix 1 about the project’s objectives, structure and sub-groups.

Evaluation purpose and question

The purpose of this evaluation is to provide the PATHE Steering Committee with an independent evaluation of the outcomes, to date, of the project. It is a summative evaluation focusing on the effectiveness of the overall project.

The key evaluation question is “What are the initial, overall outcomes of the project?” The use of the wording “initial outcomes” reflects the fact that a number of outcomes are expected to emerge with the further passage of time, after the conclusion of the project in late 2009. This evaluation was designed to summarise immediate and emergent outcomes.

Major findings

The major findings from the interviews and focus group were aligned with and validated by the survey of 40 people in November 2009, enabling the tabling of the following combined findings:

  1. The individual resources produced by the five sub-project teams are highly likely to positively influence practice in the field of foundations programs. It is expected that each university will use the resources differently to suit their context.
  2. The overall framework for foundations programs produced by the project identifies elements that can be contextualised for each different university. The framework is ground-breaking, as no similar framework was identified in the international literature.
  3. The project is likely to have more outcomes than originally predicted because the project is embedded within various communities of practice that will continue the learning journey: the community of practitioners among the steering group, the community within and across the sub-project teams; the community within the Foundations Colloquium; and the community of Council of Australian Directors of Academic Development (CADAD).
  4. The full outcomes of the project will take several years to be realised, as universities use the resources and adapt the framework and as key stakeholders present and disseminate papers on the project.
  5. A major outcome of the project will be the ongoing interactions and informal networks amongst university professionals.
  6. The project’s model of distributed leadership was ambitious and took time to put in place, but it heightened participation and led to better outcomes than a more directive approach would have produced.
  7. key success factor was the availability of funding from the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC). Also crucial were the support of participating universities and the willingness of key participants to share their expertise and knowledge.
  8. To obtain high returns from its investment in future projects, the ALTC might take note of the value of funding projects that are already located within a web of communities of practice and where a collaborative approach is adopted, based on a distributed leadership model.

Major themes from the evaluation

The outcomes of the project are high because of the effective cross-university collaboration. This collaboration was fostered by the distributed leadership model used by the steering group. The collaboration was also based on pre-existing goodwill, trust and support from the members of the Foundations Colloquium.

PATHE has shown the potential for such national collaboration, has provided a very good model for such collaboration, and has established for the ALTC a benchmark as a model of collaboration.

Because of this underpinning collaboration and the involvement of many people in the self-managing sub-project teams, there is a high likelihood that the products of the project will be adopted, adapted and implemented in many universities acrossAustralia.