How have academics used knowledge developed through a foundations program, in the longer term? A case study investigation

  • Rosemary Thomson, Teaching Development Unit, University of Western Sydney, Penrith, Australia

    This paper reports the findings of a study to investigate the longer term impacts of a compulsory teaching development program for newly appointed academic staff at an Australian university. The program takes two semesters to complete and is the equivalent of one unit at postgraduate level. The study builds on an earlier evaluation of the first three years of the program which reported end-of-program outcomes from the perspectives of graduates and heads of school. That evaluation showed that graduates had become better teachers, more confident in their ability to improve their teaching, learning and assessing practice. The current study has investigated whether and how graduates have used knowledge gained during the program to continue self-developing their teaching and learning practice in the longer term (longer term indicates a period of between one and three years following completion). It has investigated what connections graduates see between their completion of the program and their current practice, and how they know that any changes in their practice have had a positive effect on student learning. Eleven of forty-six graduates volunteered to participate in the study.

    The Foundations program promotes individualised outcomes for participants through applied contextualised learning (Butcher & Stoncel, 2011) and engages participants in learning with and from school-based peers. The design of the program recognises that learning about teaching in higher education occurs in various ways, formally through program activities and non-formally through intended and unintended means (Knight, Tait & Yorke, 2006). Key concepts taught in the program represent those most commonly taught in postgraduate certificates in higher education (Kandlbinder & Peseta, 2009).

    A case study approach was used, enabling the exploration of individualised outcomes (Yin, 2009). Multiple sources of evidence for each informant were a semi-structured interview and subsequent review by the interviewee of main points; unit and teaching documentation provided prior to and following the interview; post-interview email discussion to clarify points of interest from the interview and analysis of documents; and formal student feedback on teaching and unit results. The researcher maintained a chain of evidence throughout the study documenting progressive analysis of each case, and engaged in debriefing sessions with a peer uninvolved in the study.

    Various studies have investigated the long term impacts of compulsory teaching in higher education programs. Stes, Clement & Van Petegem (2007) and Gibbs & Coffey (2004) used survey methodology to report a range of impacts. Cilliers & Herman (2010), and Postareff, Lindblom-Ylanne & Nevgi (2007) used surveys and interviews for similar purposes. This study presents a detailed and nuanced perspective on a range of ways that graduates have developed their teaching and learning practice in the longer term. Results of the study are reported through a cross-case analysis based on research questions and reflecting the conceptual frameworks underpinning the program.