When it comes to professional development, let’s not forget part-time lecturers

What could universities do to better support the professional development of part-time teaching staff? Martin W. Andrews and Ruth Lang investigate


The University of Portsmouth,Royal College of Art,London School of Architecture
13 Oct 2023
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Part-time employees made up more than 60 per cent of teaching-only staff in UK higher education in 2021-22, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa). With universities increasingly reliant on part-time tutors to deliver courses, there is a need to address the lack of discipline-specific professional development opportunities for these staff who are often practitioner-teachers. This would ensure that institutions’ teaching objectives and assessment procedures were better communicated, supported and reinforced, and that old ways of teaching – underpinned by social, racial and socio-economic inequality – are not perpetuated.

In 2000, David J. Nicol highlighted the challenges faced by part-time teachers in UK higher education, emphasising role ambiguity, lack of structured mentoring, inconsistent support systems and the need for professional development. This situation remains largely unchanged.

The lack of contract time available for training or collaboration with full-time staff, and potential issues relating to lack of appreciation of codes of conduct, learning outcomes and the misinterpretation of assessment procedures are just a few pitfalls that need to be considered. This article explores how institutions can better support part-time dual professionals in the delivery of high-quality education.

Integrate continuing professional development (CPD) into teaching: To ensure the professional growth of part-time staff, universities can and sometimes do make teaching development a condition of employment, underscoring the importance of these activities.

Programmes for part-time educators should encourage professional skills development – akin to the workshops and courses offered by the Staff Education Development Association (SEDA) and Advance HE relating to pedagogy, instructional technology, research skills and industry updates – but with discipline-specific teaching requirements included.

Too often, part-time employment contracts do not include time or money to attend internal or external events or programmes. If part-time tutors want to become better teachers, they must learn in their own time and pay for attending training themselves.

For institutions to affect real change with regards to the professional training of part-time staff, a root-and-branch review of employment contracts is needed. New contracts could include time allowances and budget for engagement with formal induction programmes, mentoring activities, departmental seminars and annual review meetings to aid ongoing professional development.

Discipline-specific training: Universities could create structured teacher training modules that cover pedagogical techniques, curriculum development, assessment strategies and emerging trends aligned to the specific challenges of the subject being taught. These programmes would equip part-time teachers with tools to deliver effective education through systematic feedback, mentoring, dialogue and peer review, classroom assessment techniques and integration of teaching and research.

A good example is the University of Melbourne School of Design’s Built Environments Learning and Teaching (BEL+T) group, which produces guides, templates and other digital resources as well as running workshops to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the faculty of architecture. Their work is underpinned by research into best practice contemporary built environment pedagogy.

While such an approach requires significant time and funding, there are simpler ways to support ongoing professional development. Bath Spa University’s Undergraduate Architecture Course supports part-time colleagues through tutor observations. In rotation, part of a tutor’s day is spent sitting in on other tutorials with both full-time and part-time teaching staff. Once all tutors have observed and been observed, the teaching staff are brought together to share notes and reflect on their own practice. Thus, subject-specific teaching is improved in an atmosphere of collaboration and collegiality.

Encourage mentorship and collaboration: Mentorship and collaborative opportunities aid teaching development for part-time and full-time staff. Experienced academics can guide and support practitioner-teachers to share valuable lessons on teaching, while themselves gaining valuable industry insights. Part-time teacher-practitioners could even offer full-time colleagues opportunities to work with industry clients, while full-time staff could establish mentoring circles for part-time colleagues to discuss best practice in teaching.

By hosting regular meetings and workshops for part-time and full-time staff, departments can build a sense of community among colleagues and facilitate the sharing of ideas on pedagogical strategies, classroom management and industry practices.

Universities could create online platforms and forums where their part-time tutors can connect, share resources and seek guidance from peers. This frees them from the need for face-to-face meetings, which can be challenging for practitioners based remotely.

Part-time practitioner-tutors play a vital role in bridging the gap between academia and industry. Recognising their unique needs and addressing the current lack of discipline-specific professional development is crucial to the delivery of a high-quality university education, while providing beneficial links with industry to ensure that the skills imparted are current and relevant.

Martin W. Andrews is an architect and associate dean for global engagement and education partnerships in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth.

Ruth Lang is an architect, researcher, curator and writer, teaching professional practice at the Royal College of Art and the London School of Architecture.

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