The University relies on many different forms of teaching contributions, from guest lecturers to external industrial partners, community organisations, and of course our academic teams. There is also a dependency on postgraduate research (PGR) students to serve as teaching support staff. Often PGRs who teach have the most day-to-day contact with our undergraduate cohorts. On some units, they grade and provide feedback on all assessments. They teach in our labs. They support field trips. They even co-design coursework with unit directors. Our PGR cohorts include future academic staff and this teaching experience is a valuable developmental step on their career journey.
This blog outlines what support is available to PGRs who teach and asks questions about what departments and schools can do as next steps to ensure that such staff are confident in their roles.
The most popular starting point for PGRs who teach is the Introduction to HE teaching at Bristol that runs in both the Autumn and Spring, and is advertised within the BILT events pages. Lots of different types of staff undertake this training, including demonstrators, graduate teaching assistants, associate teachers, and academic staff on all pathways. It’s a great opportunity to meet colleagues from across faculties and levels.
The course provides attendees with the skills and knowledge to plan learning and teaching for flexible and blended delivery. For those new to teaching, the course serves as an introduction to some key teaching and learning considerations:
- current thinking about engaging and interactive learning;
- principles of inclusive teaching;
- good practice in marking and feedback;
- how different technologies can support different types of learning and teaching.
More in-depth teaching training is available via the CREATE HEA Fellowship Scheme which leads to accreditation as Associate Fellowship of the HEA. This is a globally recognised qualification and is suitable for PGRs with some teaching and learning responsibilities. The CREATE Scheme is delivered online and involves a programme of workshops that support deep reflection on teaching practice. Cohorts start in January or September, and the Associate Fellow route takes about 15 hours to complete. The Postgraduate Cert in Academic Practice is another route for the qualification.
BILT also offer a wide range of events through the year, from one-off workshops to inspirational lunchtime talks to all-day conferences.
As student-facing staff, it is important that PGRs who teach are signposted to wellbeing services, policies and procedures, so that they know how to direct students who seek pastoral support. It’s not always obvious that they are not responsible for pastoral care. Guidance on this issue is available in the University in the Pastoral care and student wellbeing section of the PGR Code:
- “… they need to be aware of the University´s system of pastoral care provision and need to know how to direct students to appropriate members of staff if the need arises…”
- “… they must also be made aware of the support provided by the University for students and be included in relevant School and Department processes as appropriate. Schools must provide guidance on how to respond to situations and orientation on the appropriate local administrative processes.”
- “they must be paid to undertake mandatory pastoral care training…” This is well covered by the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust online training for Higher Education.
Resources on all wellbeing services offered to students at the University are available online: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/support/wellbeing/.
All PGRs have access to Develop and UoB essential training modules that include GDPR information security and data protection, supporting student mental health & wellbeing, ZSA suicide awareness training, and inclusion awareness.
There is a need to provide PGRs who teach with information relevant to individual students, such as those who have particular learning needs. As they are not classed as “academic” staff, they are sometimes excluded from conversations about how to support students with special requirements. Tied to this and beyond it, they need to be aware of data protection requirements, such as treating information with confidentiality in mind, not disclosing information to third parties, and how to gain permission for data sharing from students where the need arises. It is the responsibility of the Unit Director to ensure that PGRs who teach are suitably supported and trained in this regard.
After completing all the above training, there are still a few areas that PGRs who teach can need help with. This largely comes down to communicating local practice, expectations and programmatic considerations. Here’s a check list of things to run through before the start of term:
- What level of teaching responsibility do they have?
- Are they a classroom assistant or facilitator?
- Do they work from a pre-made plan of activities, or
- Do they have permission to adapt seminar content and their teaching methods?
- What level of preparation is expected for their teaching practice?
- Provide examples or indicative amounts of time expected to prepare each week, or further in advance.
- How are the intended learning outcomes mapped to each session/week?
- How does this unit relate to previous and subsequent units on the programme?
- What has been covered already? This will avoid potential duplication of materials.
Now that budgets are set for the 2022/2023 teaching year, it’s a great time to plan ahead for PGR teaching provision.
At BILT, we always want to keep up with what’s needed across the University, so if there is something overlooked in this blog, get in touch and tell us!
- Information on teaching and learning training for PGRs: https://bristol.ac.uk/bilt/staff-development/pgrs/
- Previous blog I wrote on principles for supporting teaching assistants: https://bilt.online/supporting-teaching-assistants/
- Disabilities services: https://www.bristol.ac.uk/disability-services/