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Identity, Roles and Professional Development of Sessional Teachers

Wednesday 3 July: Conference day one, 2:30pm – 3:00pm parallel session



Room 2 – 303-G14, Sem



Aparna Datey
The University of Queensland, Australia


The Issue

This roundtable invites interdisciplinary discussion of targeted recruitment, training and mentoring of sessional teachers to reveal obstacles to quality teaching and to expand opportunities for their support and professional development as teachers. Due to the hierarchical nature of their relationship with subject leaders, fewer opportunities and incentives for teaching development, little or no influence over the curriculum, assessment design and course feedback and involvement in research, the sessional teachers’ role may be limited to that of a mediator “filling gaps” in student learning (Tait 2002). But research on student evaluations shows that teaching is not “teacher-proof” or embedded in curriculum design alone (Richardson 2005). The quality of student learning is affected by classroom practices, disciplinary knowledge and skills, conceptions of teaching and learning, roles and identities of sessional teachers.

The author’s experience as a sessional teacher and ongoing doctoral researcher explores reflexive work practices of sessional teachers in architectural design, their accounts and perceptions of roles, ideas about what it means to teach, learn and assess and feelings they associate with their work. Addressing their roles and professional development has the potential to show how sessional teachers enhance their professional learning about teaching and shape their academic identities. Considering the differences between continuing academics and sessional teachers, be it contractual, workloads, nature of work, opportunities and incentives, sense of belonging and access to formalized professional development programs, professional learning in the university and academic identity formation of sessional teachers needs further attention to address the perceptions of risk they pose to quality education (Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency 2015).


Intended outcome

 This roundtable seeks to reframe perceptions of sessional teaching as a risk to quality education and aims to generate discussion on sessional teachers’:

  • Roles in the classroom/studio
  • Conceptions of teaching and learning
  • Professional development, support and mentoring by institutions of higher education for improving their teaching
  • Influences of professional learning in the university towards shaping their academic identities

The outcomes and benefits, in view of increased casualisation of higher education, are in providing a better understanding of the effect of sessional teachers on the quality of student learning and the future of work in a swiftly internationalizing knowledge economy.



Byers, T. & Tani, M. (2014). Engaging or training sessional staff. Australian Universities Review, 56(1), 13-21.
Knight, P., Tait, J. & Yorke, M. (2006). The professional learning of teachers in higher education, Studies in Higher Education, 31(03), 319-339.
Marsick, V. J., Watkins, K., Callahan M. W. & Volpe, M. (2009). Informal and Incidental Learning in the Workplace. In M. C. Smith & N. Defrates-Densch (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Adult Learning and Development, New York, NY: Routledge, 570-600.
Richardson, J. T. E. (2005). Instruments for obtaining student feedback: a review of the literature, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 30(4), 387-415.
Tait, J. (2002). From Competence to Excellence: A systems view of staff development for part-time tutors at-a-distance. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and eLearning, 17 (2), 153-166.
Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, TEQSA (2015). Part A: section 3.2 on ‘Staffing’ in Chapter 3 titled Teaching:


Presentation topic

Academics – Work and Identity

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