Good Practice Awards 2013

In 2012 the BLASST project called for nominations for Good Practice with Sessional Staff.

Eleven finalists from Australian higher education institutions were selected to present their Good Practice as a pecha kucha at the BLASST National Summit in 2013. The following examples of institutional good practice were recognised and awarded with a BLASST Good Practice Award.

View the award-winning BLASST Good Practice winning and finalist entries:

  • Jillian Hamilton – QUT, Winner (institutional level)
  • Gail Crimmins, Greg Nash and Marama Leibergreen – University of the Sunshine Coast, WINNER (department /unit level)
  • Adriana Del Mastro and Dora Poulakis – RMIT, Highly commended
  • Ann Luzeckyj and Heather Smiegel – Flinders University, Highly commended
  • Dimitra Lekkas – University of Adelaide, Highly commended
  • Ursula McGowan – University of Adelaide, Highly commended
  • Michelle Adamos – ECU, Commended
  • Andrea Chester – RMIT, Commended
  • Jackie Walkington – University of Canberra, Commended
  • David Birbeck – University of South Australia , Commended
Award WINNER (Institutional level)
Institution QUT

Associate Professor Jillian Hamilton

For dedicated role supporting sessional staff: Associate director academic: sessional staff
For two programs dedicated to sessional staff learning and teaching, support and sustainability. Both specifically directed towards sessional career advancement development and progression.
1. SAP (Sessional Academic Program)
2. SAS – Sessional Academic Success program
Associate Professor Jillian Hamilton with QUT Deputy Vice-Chancellor Learning and Teaching Professor Suzi Vaughan
Jillian Hamilton Suzi Vaughan Photo credit: Tony Dwyer

The Sessional Academic Success (SAS) project is a sustainable, distributed model for supporting sessional staff at QUT. Developed by the Learning and Teaching Unit. SAS complements our Sessional Academic Program (SAP): a sequence of formal academic development workshops explained in complementary nomination. SAS recognises that while these programs are very well received and a crucial aspect of preparing and advancing sessional teachers, they are necessarily encapsulated in the moment of their delivery and are generic, as they address all faculties (with their varied cultures, processes and pedagogies).

The SAS project extends this formal, centrally offered activity into local, ‘just in time’, ongoing support within schools. It takes a distributed leadership approach. Experienced sessional academics are recruited and employed as Sessional Academic Success Advisors (SASAs). They provide sessional staff in their schools with contextually specific, needs based, peer-to-peer development opportunities; one-on-one advice on classroom management and strategies for success; and help to trouble-shoot challenges. The SASAs are trained by the Learning and Teaching Unit co-ordinator, and ongoing support is provided centrally and by school-based co-ordinators. This team approach situates the SASAs at the centre of an organisation map (see diagram of support relationships below).

The SAS project aims to support sessional staff in their professional development by:

  • Offering contextual, needs-based support at school level by harnessing local expertise;
  • Providing further development opportunities that are local and focal;

SAS aims to retain Sessional Staff by:

  • Responding to self-nominated requests for support and ‘just in time’, safe and reliable advice in times of need;
  • Building sessional staff confidence through help with dealing with challenges from a trusted peer;
  • Building a supportive academic community for sessional staff, which helps them feel a part of faculty life, and a community of teaching practice.

SAS aims to support sessional staff in the development of academic teaching careers by:

  • Recognising the capacity of experienced sessional staff to support their peers in ways that are unique, valuable and valued and providing the agency to do so;
  • Providing career advancement and leadership opportunities for sessional staff.”

The QUT Sessional Academic Program (SAP) has scaffolded levels, each with experience-appropriate objectives:

  • SAP 1: Introduction to Learning and Teaching aims to develop confidence and build awareness of pedagogy and managing class-room scenarios.
  • SAP 2: Learning and Teaching in Large Units focuses on aligning curriculum and assessment through learning activities and builds a community of teaching practice with sessionals and subject coordinators.
  • SAP 3: Developing your Teaching Practice focuses on whole of university and classroom strategies to ensure student success through effective feedback; reflective practice and learning communities.
  • SAP 4: Enhancing your Teaching Practice applies these factors to teaching success.

In conjunction with:

  • Sessional Career Advancement Development: for Higher Degree Research students/ sessional staff who aspire to become academics provides guidance on developing an academic portfolio in teaching, research and service. And
  • Sessional Academic Success program providing ongoing, local support (see separate nomination).

The program is led and delivered by the Associate Director Academic Sessional Development. A critical factor in its success is its praxis approach. Theoretical principles are modelled. Eg, ‘active learning’ is explained and modelled through learning activities, which participants evaluate ‘on the fly’ against the criteria of learning, engagement and connection with peers. The topics ‘learning communities’ and ‘reflective practice’ are explored as a learning community–then applied in participants’ classes, with reflections shared in the next session. This produces a ‘meta-awareness’ of theory and principles, as they are explained, applied in practice, and critically analysed for their effectiveness in workshops.

In 2012 approximately 400 sessional academics participated in SAP. On a scale of 1–5, average aggregated evaluations were 4.6 (program) and 4.9 teaching with 99% satisfaction. Qualitative feedback evidences its impact such as increased confidence, competence, connection to students and a community of teaching practice:

“It was unbelievably helpful and has transformed me from a nervous, ill-informed tutor into one with confidence and a passion for what I am about to take on! it was beneficial ten fold!”

“I had classes after lunch and already felt that I was doing a better job – or maybe I just felt more confident! 🙂 ;Can’t wait to go back and reflect on the materials again to prepare for next weeks classes.”

WINNER (department /unit level)
University of the Sunshine Coast
Gail Crimmins, Greg Nash and Marama Leibergreen
For a strong and embedded philosophy around supporting sessional staff


We each stand on the shoulders of giants:
Students stand on the shoulders of committed sessional staff;
sessional staff stand on the shoulders of attentive course coordinators;
course coordinators stand on the shoulders of astute and compassionate researchers, professional developers;
We each contribute to a strong pyramid of learning.

You’ve heard the expression ‘it takes a village to raise a child’? Well, in COR109, a foundational first year course at USC, we believe it takes a community to support student learning. This nomination is as much about this conceptualisation of student learning as it is the direct action adopted to support sessional staff. Pisani and Stott (1998) claims that integrating ‘casual’ staff into academic departments is a strong predictor of commitment to students. Please let us share with you our commitment to student learning. We offer:

A tutors’ mentoring system where all new tutors to COR109 team up with an experienced tutor for their first semester;
An on-line tutors’ forum within Blackboard (virtual learning environment) so that tutors can get support even when they are not on campus;
A comprehensive tutors’ guide that contains descriptions of all the learning and assessment exercises they will facilitate and assess;
Weekly tutor meetings with all main ideas and consideration raised onto Blackboard;

Five COR109-specific PD sessions each semester which include:

  • an orientation to engage in the culture of L & T in COR;
  • three marking and assessment workshops;
  • an end of semester ‘debrief’ where tutors more formally suggest improvements to the course content/management;.

12 hours of ‘other activity’ pay (on top of payment for marking) to engage in PD workshops and face to face assessment feedback with students (FFF). This final strategy supports tutors and students more fully engage with their faculty, tutor and learning community.”

Highly commended
Adriana Del Mastro and Dora Poulakis


The School of Computer Science & Information Technology provides for administrative and academic preparation and support.

There is a 2-3 hour session for all new Sessional staff involving school professional staff, experienced sessional teaching staff and external guests. The orientation session is run in a relaxed and informal venue where we provide snacks and have the opportunity to meet and greet each new Sessional staff member and provide them with the support that they may need to have their employment at RMIT University run smoothly.
We include a:

  • Welcome from either the Services Coordinator or the School Manager and we discuss housekeeping matters speaking about any pay enquiries, technology, stationery et cetera.
  • There is a presentation from our OHS representative, usually in the format of a Powerpoint presentation on how to report incidents and how to evacuate students in an emergency
  • Timetable staff presentation with information and answers to questions regarding room scheduling and access to these rooms if outside the main building
  • Presentation from a Sessional academic staff member on their experiences and what they can expect from teaching, what tasks are involved in the position, how to prepare and where to seek support.

Teaching Development
Tutor PD

  • The school conducts a 6 week tutor training session which we encourage all new Sessional staff to enrol in. It’s run once a week for 2 hours where the Sessional staff are paid to participate, are where they are required to follow-up with out of class activities. These sessions are conducted by Dr. Sue Wright and there is acknowledgement of their participation with an Achievement Award.

Laboratory Demonstrators PD

  • All new Laboratory Demonstrators attend a single training session of 2 hours conducted by Dr. Sue Wright and can receive a one-on-one observation with feedback.

The School has a link for Sessional staff where they can access the electronic FAQ for Tutors & Lab URL: to assist sessional staff to familiarise themselves with their newly assigned role. Along with this publication we also provide them with the SEH Introductory Guide for Tutor [] and SEH Introductory Guide for Lab Demonstrators [] “

Highly commended
Flinders University
Ann Luzeckyj and Heather Smiegel


Since 2007, Academic Internship (AI) has provided annual training and support to 24 research higher degree (RHD) students, teaching within their faculty and employed as sessional teaching staff. Quality Learning and Teaching is fostered through two days of intensive introductory work, eight three hour workshops, acquisition of teaching experience and insight into the role of academics. Participants debate Quality Learning and Teaching practices, are exposed to good practice and participate in an Innovative Teaching Activity and a peer review with cross-faculty partners. Sessions are delivered by CUT staff and experts in and/or from the specific field under discussion.

Of the 113 AI graduates, 47 are now in teaching or research-related roles and 27 continuing in their studies and/or continuing to work as sessional staff. Retention of the most successful aspects of the program such as the peer review reports, cross-faculty aspects and innovative teaching activities contribute to its ongoing success as does ongoing consultation with Interns regarding their learning needs. The ongoing impact is demonstrated by the peer review report being the primary aspect most survey respondents had routinely implemented into their teaching. 84% of respondents indicated that AI participation had increased their confidence in teaching and provided them with a good insight into how to deliver quality teaching and learning activities.

AI receives excellent feedback with the 2012 survey of past graduates showing 84% would recommend the program to others. One of the challenges of the program is integrating research-related support aspects more comprehensively into what is primarily a program to develop and support teaching skills in sessional RHD teaching staff. Another is the annual cost of resourcing AI, although it is a justifiable one, with one participant noting “It [AI] raised my awareness of the joy of teaching and also gave me confidence to try it more seriously.”

Highly commendedUniversity of AdelaideDimitra Lekkas
Dr Dimitra Lekkas from the University of Adelaide, receiving a BLASST Good Practice Award.
Photo credit: Tony Dwyer


In the Adelaide School of Dentistry we employ approximately 200 sessional teaching staff to support students’ learning in clinics and laboratories. We offer multifaceted support to our sessional staff so they can undertake their roles effectively. Critical to our success is the involvement of large numbers of School staff e.g., School-level Tutor Co-ordinator, an Academic Support Services Team and academic Year and Discipline Co-ordinators. We provide three main levels of support:

Tutor training
An annual full-day induction workshop prepares our tutors in their academic role of supporting student learning, including feedback and assessment. It provides opportunities for them to interact with and learn from academic and other sessional staff experiences. A further two workshops are conducted annually plus small group assessment moderation meetings. Tutors receive valuable professional continuing education hours and reimbursement for car- parking. Tutors have reported high levels of satisfaction with the quality of our workshops e.g., “information was thoroughly prepared and every year is more useful. Well done.”

Administrative support
Extensive administrative support for sessional staff includes an established tutor recruitment process; a ‘Tutor welcome pack’; access to university email and teaching materials; a tutor room and computer; car-parking reimbursement; an annual tutor thank you function with certificates of appreciation, plus a quarterly newsletter. In 2011, our University developed a Code of Practice for the employment of part-time tutors. We comply to a high standard with all recommendations of the Code of Practice, and this has been acknowledged by senior university management.

Evaluation of sessional staff experiences
We administer an annual tutor experience survey. Some key areas for improvement that we have addressed include: more frequent interactive workshops and car-parking reimbursement. Over the past 5 years, via surveys, sessional staff have indicated a high level of satisfaction with tutoring in the School. “

Highly commendedUniversity of AdelaideUrsula McGowan


A flexible series of programs and resources for improved learning and teaching has been developed and provided over the past 6 years, for sessional staff at the University of Adelaide. Support for sessional staff is three-fold:

  • Initial induction by faculty-based coordinators into responsibilities and logistics of their employment status is complemented by interactive workshops for quality learning and teaching.
  • Where needed, workshops on spoken language for EAL staff
  • Online self-access modules, designed and coordinated by McGowan, available at:

Critical factors contributing to the success of the program have been:

  • collaboration between academic developer and discipline-based staff: by pooling expertise, discipline-specific scenarios were devised and used as discussion starters for exploring learning principles and tips for good practice
  • flexibility: multiple avenues available for induction and support
  • workshop interactivity: probing participants’ existing learning/ teaching knowledge and experience; discussion of discipline-specific situations in form of scenarios; strategic questions to guide learning; accessing online modules for theory and practical tips; and periodic in-class reflection: promoting this approach as ‘modelling’ active learning strategies for use in their own teaching.

Early collaborative design with Science Faculty staff (2007) was funded, but continuing evaluation and adaptation has not required additional resourcing. A challenge is to standardise participant attendance payment.
Challenges also include: to increase reach through improved publicity, incentives or mandating; modification of online modules for greater sessional staff interactivity.
Evidence of successes: the Sciences program

  • was delivered and well attended each semester since 2007
  • has consistently received affirming participant evaluations
  • became a model for Health Sciences BEST program (Becoming Excellent Supervisors and Teachers 2009)
  • and for comprehensive Program for the Faculty of the Professions (implementation 2013).
CommendedECUMichelle Adamos


Sessional Staff Professional Development Day is designed to recognise the effort and significant contribution made by Sessional staff at Edith Cowan University. The 4.5 hour session allows staff to attend quality tailored development in teaching and learning with a range of sessions that cater for a variety of needs. This gives staff the opportunity to participate in discussions and to network with other Sessional staff.

Critical factors that contributed to the success of this practice
Critical factors can be recognised as the following:

  • Cooperate hard working team (Organisation Development Team)
  • Strategic marketing
  • Weekend sessions
  • 2nd session run for South West campus staff

Resourcing needed
For the session a team of approximately 6 is needed. Staff were provided with a “goodies” bag containing lollies, chocolates, water, a usb with all related session information loaded, program/guide for the day and other promotion materials. A small budget to pay for catering and a monetary recognition of participant’s time was also needed.

Challenges and areas for improvement
Sessions were 30mins long each. At times it was challenging for presenters to cover all content and manage audience questions within this time. Key feedback from staff encouraged the day to be longer and allow further time for Q&A. Changes have been discussed and made for the next session in March 2013.

Positive outcomes and Evidence of impact and/or success
Workshop evaluations showed a 90% satisfaction rate from participants (60 attended and all workshop evaluations returned for the last session run) with key qualitative/written feedback discussing the positive impact it had on the individual. Participants noted how helpful it was to know there is support there for Sessional staff, how interactive and engaging sessions were and how the day improved their knowledge on good practice in teaching and learning.

CommendedRMITAndrea Chester


The Discipline of Psychology has established a sound, evidence‐based process for recruitment, selection, support and professional development of sessional staff. Our sessional tutors typically begin work with us as post‐graduate students, studying in our department or at other universities. They are generally juggling coursework, thesis and placement requirements. Despite the itinerant cohort and the inherently short‐term nature of their teaching commitments, we have a high retention rate. After their first semester of teaching our tutors nearly always request further work and many continue as sessional staff after graduation.

Two key features of our sessional support program contribute to its success:

  1. We provide a program of professional development, including in‐house training and high quality student
    and peer feedback. Initial and ongoing training provide our sessional staff with generic skills such as
    structuring teaching sessions, engaging students and inclusive teaching strategies, as well as skills specific to teaching in the psychology program, such as marking laboratory reports. In addition, tutors use student feedback, collected twice each semester, to inform their practice and set goals for their own professional development. Student feedback is supplemented by observations of tutorials undertaken by course coordinators. Student and staff feedback are discussed in one‐on‐one meetings with the course coordinator during the semester in a process designed to support ongoing reflection on and development of teaching practice.
  2. We work hard to build strong teaching teams. We understand how isolating sessional teaching can be and we therefore use a combination of online and face‐to‐face communication to build supportive communities of practice. Through these networks, designed to meet the unique needs of each team, sessional staff share teaching resources in a timely way, cross‐mark work and debrief together. As evidence of the strength of these communities many tutors request the same courses and teams for several years.
CommendedUniversity of CanberraJackie Walkington


In 2012 we have instigated a holistic approach to supporting sessional staff that aims to increase a sense of belonging to the faculty. The approach incorporates comprehensive induction, on-going support and monitoring and inclusion. Sessional staff are provided with administrative documentation and paid attendance at workshops that include an introduction to teaching university students, building classroom relationships and core policies and practices particularly around assessment, moderation and evaluation.

On-going support is provided by permanent staff mentors, informal sharing sessions and assistance to access individual teaching evaluation and just-in-time advice.

Sessional staff are included in all faculty communication and events where their input and feedback are valued.
Also in 2012 the sessional staff group has been supplemented by a different staffing model – the secondment of senior teachers from the teaching profession for a period of up to 2 years. While this model is currently being evaluated, there is already evidence of greater feelings of inclusion and commitment than the strictly sessional approach. Our faculty needs both kinds of staffing to meet its diverse needs.

Some ‘clinical specialists’ are already undertaking further study with the view to making the move into higher education. This group has greater opportunity to engage with contextual factors, such as policy and procedures, and therefore provide greater consistency in the faculty.

We have yet to sufficiently tap all of the benefits of this approach, but we hope that the will improve through evaluation of the role.

A continuing challenge is to engage the sessional staff who are working elsewhere full-time and reticent or unable to engage in activities provided. However the general feedback from those who have been with us for some time is very positive in terms of enhanced engagement with the faculty and greater knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a university teacher.

CommendedUniversity of South AustraliaDavid Birbeck


UniSA’s Academic Development team delivers ‘Tutoring@UniSA’, a workshop supporting sessional staff develop their own voice as educators. Tutoring@UniSA is a half day workshop offered three times annually on a University-wide basis. The workshop has evolved over the last 10 years from being largely a teacher-directed “tips and tricks” session to one providing an active learning environment that recognises and extends the teaching expertise of sessional staff.

Sessional staff join the University with significant experience in their discipline, but rarely with formal teaching experience. They may enter teaching spaces unaware of the University’s teaching values, principles and priorities. This can place them in daunting and potentially intimidating environments. The workshop’s aim is to assist sessional staff develop teaching skills that enable them to plan for and respond successfully to dynamic teaching environments.

Tutoring@UniSA is designed using social constructivist learning principles drawing from the lived experience of each participant, thereby facilitating the creation of communities of practice. The strategies used to elicit these experiences are later made explicit and their relation to aspects of good teaching reflected on. The workshop works at multiple levels. Participants’ experiences and teaching strategies are deconstructed and positioned within the scholarship of teaching and learning and scholarly teaching practice. Throughout, the key question for participants remains, “What does this mean for me and my teaching?”

Over the last 4 years approximately 150-200 staff have attended Tutoring@UniSA each year. Each session was evaluated (response rates are approximately 90%) and all receive 100% approval with >80% strongly agreeing that the session was worthwhile.

Tutoring@UniSA is an effective and sustainable way of supporting sessional staff and easily transferable across the sector. Qualitative feedback suggests that Tutoring@UniSA is a key milestone on participants’ journeys to becoming student-centred educators conscious of and deft at teaching rather than mere implementers of teaching tricks.