Good Practice Awards 2015

In 2014 the BLASST project called for nominations for Good Practice with Sessional Staff.

Ten finalists from Australian higher education institutions were selected to present their Good Practice as a pecha kucha at the BLASST National Summit in 2015. 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:

  • Michelle Fox – Queensland University of Technology, Winner (Institutional level)
  • Kathy Bain – Queensland University of Technology, QUT, Winner (Institutional level)
  • Kelly Matthews, Julie Duck, Emma Bartle – University of Queensland, Finalist (Institutional level)
  • Gordon Brooks & Linda Carlaw – Macquarie University, Finalist (Faculty level)
  • Charlotte Taylor – University of Sydney, Finalist (Faculty level)
  • Dimitra Lekkas & Tracey Winning – University of Adelaide, Finalist (School level)
  • Kellyann Geurts – RMIT University, Finalist (Facultyl level)
  • Owen Shemansky – RMIT University, Finalist (School level)
  • Sandra Walls – Box Hill Institute, Finalist (TAFE)
  • Carolyn J Barker AM – Endeavour College of Natural Health, Finalist (Private HE provider)
AwardInstitutionNomination teamAwarded forPecha Kucha
Winner (institutional level)Queensland University of TechnologyMichelle Fox
Photo of Michelle Fox by Michael Catabay
“The Sessional Teaching and Reflection Showcase (ST★RS) supports Sessional Academics to achieve their full potential, and to be recognised for their learning and teaching innovations, as it celebrates and inspires good practices in Sessional teaching at Queensland University of Technology.”

The Sessional Teaching and Reflection Showcase (ST★RS) promotes, recognises and celebrates good practices in Sessional teaching at QUT. Sessional Academics are supported within QUT’s broader Academic Development (AD) program, to develop and implement innovative approaches to supporting student learning within their teaching context. Then, within the ST★RS program they are mentored to develop their initiatives into good practice case studies in the form of an abstract and Pecha Kucha presentation.

ST★RS originally emerged out of the Sessional Academic Success (SAS) program, which is a framework through which experienced Sessionals offer local and focal academic development, provide timely access to support and build a sense of academic community within schools. ST★RS was piloted in the Creative Industries Faculty in 2013 by SAS Advisor, Michelle Fox, with an expanded implementation run across QUT’s Schools in 2014.

ST★RS enables Sessionals to reach their full potential by providing academic development in the form of scholarly and communication capacity building in a community of practice. Through a blended model of semi-structured workshops and individual consultations, with a scaffolded process of mentoring, sessional teachers engage in reflective practice, foster a scholarly approach to their teaching, and evidence the impact of their initiatives on student learning. They develop effective approaches to communication and presentation skills, in preparation for showcasing their case studies.

Sessionals are recognised at School-level ST★RS events well-attended by peers, academics, professional staff and the University senior staff. Excellence is acknowledged through the awarding of ‘Peoples choice’ and ‘Panel adjudication’ (comprised of the Faculty Executive Dean and Head of School) on the basis of:

★ Innovation in motivating and engaging students in learning
★ Influence on teaching and learning culture
★ Inspiring presentation and explanation of good practice.

The two successful award recipients from each School then present at the QUT ST★RS Grand Final. The 2014 final was attended by an audience over 100 academic and professional staff. Speeches and trophies were presented by the adjudication panel comprised of the Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching), the Associate Director,  Indigenous Knowledges and the Director, Student Success Retention.

Representative feedback from ST★RS participants and staff who attended the presentations demonstrates the impact.
Participants write:

“The STARS process proved, for me, to be an extraordinary catalyst. It prompted distillation [of] diverse work across multiple disciplines, domains, and scales, from a period of 3 to 5 years. Bouyed by Michelle and the team’s enthusiastic belief, patience, unbounded effervescence, and passionate support, the process distilled a singular word, which I sense may provide a guiding star in what comes next; in my unfolding future as a sessional at QUT; and in my professional work beyond”.
 “[STARS] has given me an important opportunity to make connections with other Sessionals and given me a sense of belonging. I hope [others] moving into academia avail of the wonderful system you have put in place”.
Audience members write:

“…impressive and uplifting– your STARS have motivated me to make a difference through my teaching–to engage, inspire and unlock the talents of every student I teach”.
“Through STARS, Michelle introduced an effective mechanism for rewarding and recognising Sessional Academics, which has long been an elusive goal for QUT (and the sector)”.

ST★RS contributes to the high level of engagement of Sessional staff, which rated 85% in the 2014 Sessional Staff Opinion Survey. ST★RS was recognised for its significant and superior contribution to the work of the university through a 2014 Vice Chancellor’s Performance Award.

Winner (institutional level)Queensland University of TechnologyKathy Bain
Photo of Kathy Bain by Michael Catabay
“QUT’s Sessional Career Advancement Development (SCAD) program is for sessional academics who are higher degree research students and aspire to become full time academics. The program enhances understanding of the sector, academic roles and guides sessionals in creating a career plan and evidencing their capabilities.”


QUT’s Sessional Career Advancement Development (SCAD) program is a capacity building initiative for sessional academics who are higher degree research students and aspire to become full time academics. SCAD consists of two (paid) workshop days, in which expert facilitators and speakers from across the University assist sessional staff from all faculties prepare for a career in academia.  The program enhances their understanding of the sector and academic roles, guides them in creating a career plan and evidencing their capabilities.

The program is coordinated by Human Resources in collaboration with Chancellery, the Learning and Teaching Unit, Office of Research and Careers and Employment. Together they provide:

  • Understanding of the Australian Higher Education Sector (delivered by the Vice-Chancellor)
  • Insights into the role of an academic
  • Strategies to develop an academic portfolio evidencing capacities in learning and teaching, research, and service and engagement
  • A career action plan focused on obtaining an academic position

SCAD complements a holistic QUT framework for enabling sessional academics to build teaching capacity through academic development, and supporting sessionals at university and faculty levels through a Sessional Academic Success program. This program contributes to the high level of engagement of sessional staff which they rated at 85% in the 2014 Sessional Staff Opinion Survey.

Since its inception in 2010 more than 300 sessional staff have completed the program.  Quantitative data from 2014 shows the overall session satisfaction at 4.6 on a 5 point scale. A pre and post workshop activity revealed participants to have significantly greater clarity of career direction as a result of participation in SCAD. Since 2010, 25% of SCAD participants have acquired academic positions at QUT.

Finalist (institutional level)University of QueenslandKelly Matthews, Julie Duck & Emma Bartle
Photo of Emma Bartle by Michael Catabay
“Sustained through collaborative partnership between the centralised teaching and learning unit and faculties, the Tutors@UQ program prepares new tutors by emphasising and modelling good practices that define quality learning environments.”


The Tutors@UQ program is designed for new tutors so that students can engage in tutorials that foster active learning. The program specifically addressed the concerns raised by two AUQA Audit Panels that student learning at UQ was being inhibited by inexperienced and unprepared tutors. Much more than tips and tricks for surviving the first days of tutoring, Tutors@UQ emphasises and models good practices that define quality learning environments: active engagement, inclusive pedagogies, reflective practices, and student–‐centredness. Tutors@UQ is framed around guiding questions and involves five hours of face–‐to–‐face engagement over three sessions. The curricular materials are accessible online. In addition to Tutors@UQ grounding in good practice principles, the innovative collaborative partnership model for developing and implementing the program has ensured disciplinary relevance and ongoing sustainability of the program. Tutors@UQ is implemented at the faculty level and co–‐facilitated by staff in the Institute for Teaching and Learning Innovation and academics in the faculties. This allows for contextualisation whilst achieving the core program objectives, and contributes to the development of tutor peer networks within faculties. All tutors are paid for attendance, a cost that is shared between the Office of Deputy Vice Chancellor and the Faculties. While led out of a centralised unit, the collaborative partnership model and shared funding arrangement have seen the program adopted by all UQ faculties and sustained by the majority since 2010. Approximately 2000 new tutors from diverse disciplines have participated in Tutors@UQ to date. The evaluation approach is responsive to issues that arise and allows for ongoing improvement of Tutors@UQ that align to the program’s purpose. These data show the high level of satisfaction from hundreds of new tutors each semester with qualitative evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of Tutors@UQ. The program has been recognised institutionally. The next stage will be modifying the program to address challenges faced by clinical educators, most of whom teach off–campus.

Finalist (Faculty level)Macquarie UniversityGordon Brooks & Linda Carlaw
Photo of Gordon Brooks by Michael Catabay
“By providing Faculty-based induction, negotiating long service leave, and subsidising parking, Macquarie University’s Faculty of Business and Economics supports Sessional Staff and enhances sustainability.”


The Faculty of Business and Economics, Macquarie University, has implemented the following initiatives for Sessional Staff.

Faculty-Based Sessional Staff Induction
The Sessional Academic Staff Unit (SASU) provides paid, 2-hour induction sessions for all new Sessional Staff within the faculty.  This provides a comprehensive introduction to teaching with the Faculty of Business and Economics, and a necessary grounding in the University’s and Faculty’s expectations and supporting resources.   Attendees also receive a kit of stationery items.   This demonstrates the Faculty’s commitment to achieving quality management standards in employment, administration and professional support.  Feedback has been very positive. Many comment that induction helps to make them feel a part of the university, and helps alleviate first day nerves.

Negotiating Long Service Leave for Sessional Staff
Sessional Staff are entitled to LSL after ten years continuous service.  The SASU works in conjunction with Human Resources to facilitate LSL application processing.  Importantly, SASU helps Sessional Staff assemble appropriate evidence of work history, which frequently extends beyond payment periods.  Since January 2014, three Sessional Staff have applied for and received LSL.  Further applications are in process.  This initiative improves sustainability through:

  • reducing turnover, by providing an additional incentive to stay with Macquarie.
  • encouraging Sessional Staff careers, as LSL provides substantial evidence that Macquarie is supportive of long term careers.

Subsidised Parking for Sessional Staff
To park on campus, Sessional Staff generally purchase full- or half-year permits.  For Sessional Staff who work a minimum of 48 contact hours across a calendar year, the Faculty has a reimbursement scheme returning 50% of the cost of their permit.  SASU promotes and administers this scheme.  It has been well received by Sessional Staff.  Whilst it is only a token, it is significant, and Sessional Staff appreciate the recognition and support shown by the Faculty in this gesture.

Finalist (Faculty level)University of SydneyA/ Prof Charlotte Taylor and Zinnia Sahukar
Photo of Zinnia Sahukar by Michael Catabay
“All new sessional staff (tutors and laboratory demonstrators), teaching undergraduate students in Science degrees, are inducted and mentored in learning and teaching via a paid Faculty-level program which has run annually since 2003. ”


All new sessional staff (tutors and laboratory demonstrators), teaching undergraduate students in Science degrees, are inducted and mentored in learning and teaching via a paid Faculty-level program which has run annually since 2003.  The program consists of a pre-semester orientation workshop that introduces participants to their responsibilities as members of academic staff, and the university’s responsibilities as employer and mentor.  Mentors lead discussions on models of small-group teaching practice, ethics and practical class safety.  Discipline-specific online and face-to-face training provided at the Department level covers administration, information technology, and matters relating to substantive content.  A follow-up workshop in week 3-5 allows participants to discuss specific issues encountered in their teaching with a team of mentors.  An end-of-semester evaluation of participants by their Head of School or subject coordinator and a guided self-reflection submission with mentor feedback completes the program.

Key aspects of the program include: a) Informing sessional staff of policies and procedures affecting learning and teaching, with an emphasis on their relevance to teaching in the science degree. This is particularly important due to safety issues in laboratory demonstrations and due to large cohort sizes, b) Providing examples of pedagogical resources and approaches to teaching, and explaining their relevance in the science teaching programs, c) Encouraging sessional staff to reflect on their own experiences as a student, d) Mentoring of sessional staff by senior tutors/demonstrators, who also share their experiences in workshops, e) Explicitly stating that sessional staff are significant ‘front-line’ members of the faculty teaching team and of the wider academic community f) Encouraging sessional staff to pursue further professional development, including a fee-free Graduate Certificate in Higher Education; and g) Providing the opportunity for staff from different disciplines (which typically have hundreds of students in common) to discuss their approaches to teaching, curriculum design, and student interaction.

Finalist (School level)University of AdelaideDimitra Lekkas & Tracey Winning
Photo of Dimitra Lekkas by Michael Catabay
Use of the BLASST SSSF/B-BIT Tool enabled us to identify strategies for fostering a professional community to enhance the professional development of our sessional staff as educators in an Australian dental school.


Reliance on sessional staff for learning/assessment in higher education is widespread, eg, our School employs 150 sessional educators as clinical supervisors for 515 undergraduate students. Effective support for sessional educators is critical for ensuring quality learning. Our example involved conducting workshops using the BLASST SSSF/B-BIT Tool to evaluate our practice for supporting sessional clinical educators.

The tutor co-ordinator and Learning & Teaching (L&T) committee member facilitated the workshops. Ethics approval was obtained (H-2014-121). The B-BIT Tool was used at ‘individual’ sessional educator and ‘departmental/co-ordinator’ levels. Workshop resources were ‘in-house’, eg, administrative staff, computer suite and break-out room. A fellowship funded printing costs, car-parking and catering. Challenges related to attendance; 11 sessional staff co-ordinators (48% co-ordinators) but only 12 sessional educators attended. Several sessional staff co-ordinators had other meetings precluding attendance. Invitations were sent to over 100 sessional educators.  Their limited attendance may relate to only providing evening workshops or them being unclear of any benefits.

Using the B-Bit Tool/BLASST SSSF Framework we identified gaps and strategies to improve practice. New sessional staff did not recognise a need for professional development as teachers. Our action plans include: pairing new and experienced sessional educators who have completed teacher-focussed professional development at induction activities/workshops; using our sessional educator e-newsletter to promote L&T professional development, eg, workshops and online fora; using our e-newsletter to seek and reinforce methods for sessional educators’ feedback, eg, email, annual survey, or in-person; implement a School-wide plan to obtain and review student feedback for all sessional educators; establish a sessional educator representative on the School L&T committee; and disseminate good practice approaches between co-ordinators.

Preliminary findings were disseminated at the Australian and New Zealand Health Professional Educators Conference (July 2014). We will repeat the workshops to corroborate sessional educators’ experiences and monitor the impact of our actions plans.

Finalist (Faculty level)RMIT UniversityKellyann Geurts
Photo of Kellyann Geurts by Michael Catabay
Connecting Sessional Staff program in the College of Design and Social Context, providing coherent and tailored support for sessional staff in seven Schools”.


The Connecting Sessional Staff (CSS) program provides timely, practical professional learning for sessional staff in the College of Design and Social Context. An initial short online survey determined areas of greatest need amongst sessional staff. A series of events, from whole of College symposia to tailored school-based workshops and online resources, were designed to meet these needs and align with University strategic directions, including teaching in new learning spaces, inclusive teaching and supporting the professional learning of sessional staff.
Key to the success of CSS program has been:

  • timely, well-designed PD responding to staff needs that models best practice teaching
  • dedicated academic development staff, committed to sessional staff development to develop, implement and evaluate the program
  • funding for sessionals staff to attend the CSS program

Since its 2013 introduction, CSS program has delivered:

  • college-wide induction for sessional staff, with engagement of more than 400 staff over the two years
  • a sessional staff steering committee involving more than 20 staff
  • a summary of sessional staff professional development needs
  • symposia responding to staff identified needs
  • an online handbook – Sessional Staff Essentials:
  • overwhelmingly positive evaluation of each event – used to feed forward. Some examples of general comments:

“Thank you very much for this PD opportunity.  It was very positive and supportive.  You thought about us and our needs as sessionals and you paid us too!”

“It was FANTASTIC to get structured, face-to-face professional development – it would be great to get continued support like this to better our teaching practice and the experience of our students”

“This is an excellent initiative that recognises the contribution and commitment we make to RMIT”

“5 stars for delivering the best sessional staff symposium ever!”

Next challenge:

  • Determine Schools’ future needs using the BLASST tool.
Finalist (School level)RMIT UniversityOwen Shemansky
Photo of Owen Shemansky by Michael Catabay
“The School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT ensures an outstanding experience for sessional staff through proactive induction and access to a wide range of support including training, peer networking and subject matter experts”.


The School of Economics, Finance and Marketing implements a number of strategies to assure quality administrative management and professional support of its sessional staff. Following acceptance of a written offer of employment, sessional staff receive RMIT login details within 24 hours and are able to access email, blackboard, the employee self-service system and other relevant systems.

New sessional staff attend a one hour face-to-face induction with the School Services Officer where they are given an overview of the most important operational aspects of the role. Sessional staff learn how to operate classroom technology, are given a tour of Building 80 and in the process meet key School contacts as well as sessional staff peers. Induction is followed up with a comprehensive staff handbook which includes links to the School’s Intranet page for new staff and College of Business Learning & Teaching guide for sessional staff.

A secure sessional staff database is actively maintained which tracks completion of induction and online compliance modules, collection of CVs and qualifications and contact details for current communication and future employment opportunities.

The outcome of the School’s commitment to sessional staff support is a group of sessional staff who are well supported and appropriately trained from the outset. Sessional staff are proactively provided resources to succeed in their work and are personally networked with School staff who can help them with operational, pay and Learning & Teaching questions during the semester. In addition, sessional staff are invited to attend staff meetings and social functions, involving them in the School community and giving them a voice in its operation. This translates to sessional staff in classrooms who feel more confident in their understanding of RMIT and its processes, thus providing enhanced support to students which significantly contributes to RMIT’s focus on an outstanding Student Experience. 

Finalist (TAFE)Box Hill InstituteSandra Walls and Christine Hepperle
Photo of Christine Hepperle by Michael Catabay
“For the eleven years that the Box Hill Institute Group (BHI Group) has delivered higher education degrees, sessional academic staff have been supported to pursue professional development via internal communities of practice and postgraduate education courses with established university partners.”


For the eleven years that the Box Hill Institute Group (BHI Group) has delivered higher education degrees, sessional academic staff have been supported to pursue professional development via postgraduate education courses with established university partners.
BHI Group shows commitment to achievement of quality management standards for its sessional academic staff in provision of access to the development of professionalism in pedagogical practice, best demonstrated by the fact that BHI Group offers these staff the opportunity to undertake a Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching at The University of Melbourne and also a Master of Education at Monash University.

The Master of Education at Monash University has been offered to BHI Group staff since 2003. This postgraduate degree provides sessional academic staff with the chance to pursue a research project in an area of professional interest within the education field.

From 2008-2011 sessional academic staff were offered the opportunity to undertake a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education and also a Graduate Certificate in Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Deakin University. From 2012 the Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching was offered. This course is designed to develop an understanding of teaching, learning and scholarship in higher-level qualifications delivered within mixed-sector institutions

As the suite of higher education degrees has expanded at BHI Group so has workforce participation in the professional development program, as TEQSA require that staff undertake scholarly activity in their discipline and in their teaching practice. In an effort to further professionalise within the mixed-sector space, completion rates for sessional academic staff of the postgraduate education courses are high, particularly for the Master of Education, which has ten BHI Group staff enrolled in 2015. BHI Group sessional academic staff are also involved in active Communities of Practice and can apply for grants to enable conference attendance and to facilitate small research opportunities. As budgets are slashed, the programs are under constant review. At this stage, however, they remain essential components of the commitment that BHI Group has to quality teaching and learning in higher education.

Finalist (Private Higher Education Provider)Endeavour College of Natural Health (Private Higher Education ProviderCarolyn J Barker AM
Photo of Carolyn J Barker AM by Michael Catabay
Sessional Staff – Ensuring our Institutional Ambassadors Protect our Brand in the Classroom.


The Higher Education division of Endeavour College employs approximately 75 permanent academic staff and 250 sessionals or contract academics. We believe that Endeavour displays good practice in support for sessional staff based on the organisational view that this group needs induction and access to communications, policies, systems and processes equal to that of permanent staff.

Essentially, sessional staff represent our brand in the classroom. It is their connection to the institution and their belief in that connection that ensures that brand does not deteriorate.

Our Values are deeply embedded within the institution, and in many ways are audacious. For example, the values of student centricity, embodiment and happiness are especially important when it comes to managing and communicating with this Australia wide sessional staff cohort, which is two and a half times as large as our full time staff cohort. That means they must be aware of the national policies and procedures which are always going to change as a result of continuous improvement initiatives. They also need a place “to go” to learn or when they need to debrief or give feedback to the organisation.

Specifically Endeavour provides paid induction sessions for sessionals twice a year prior to each Semester start. These ‘live’ meetings undertaken by the Director of Education, the Associate Director of Clinical Services and the relevant Campus Manager are well advertised, agended, catered and attendance tracked. Participants receive meeting packs, access to policies and procedures and afterwards, a video of each local campus presentation (should they wish to review the meeting or should they not be able to attend).

Endeavour supplements this with the provision of nationally consistent lecture notes and resources. Sessionals are required to deliver these materials as a base, but also embellish with their own examples and student engagement methodologies. Sessionals often teach late at night or on weekends with few organisational support structures. It is essential that Endeavour does all it can to integrate sessionals with a wider organisation (albeit often electronically) in order to help them deal with incorrect student expectations, mythology and frustration.

For example, all sessionals receive access to the “Academic Hub” on the Learning Management System. This is edited and curated by the Director of Education and contains important academic messages and communications, as well as hot topics regarding each modality, updates and revisions to courses/course material. Ideological discussions about teaching, the profession and internationalisation of content and trends is also canvassed.

Sessionals are asked to complete an annual Sessional Staff Satisfaction Survey (which is closely aligned to the permanent staff survey). On it we measure the usual staff satisfaction areas as well as happiness (as this is a key organisational value).

As a private institution it is Endeavour’s aim to cut through the red tape and to be agile and creative as an organisation, while still being acutely aware of our responsibilities under regulation. It is our private sector culture, as well as our pursuit of academic quality that we purposefully share with sessional staff through formal induction, support mechanisms, evaluation and continuous improvement.

Congratulations to all of our National Good Practice finalists and winners!

From left to right: Vanessa Fredericks, Marina Harvey, Michelle Fox, Kathy Bain, Kellyann Geurts, Zinnia Sahukar, Christine Hepperle, Owen Shemansky, Emma Bartle, Dimitra Lekkas, Carolyn J Barker AM, Gordon Brooks.
Photo credit: Michael Catabay