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Supporting the Supporters II, 21 st January 2008, University of Gloucestershire, UK Developing Support Staff in GEES Departments Carolyn Roberts Centre.

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Presentation on theme: "Supporting the Supporters II, 21 st January 2008, University of Gloucestershire, UK Developing Support Staff in GEES Departments Carolyn Roberts Centre."— Presentation transcript:

1 Supporting the Supporters II, 21 st January 2008, University of Gloucestershire, UK Developing Support Staff in GEES Departments Carolyn Roberts Centre for Active Learning University of Gloucestershire, UK

2 ‘I work in the University..’

3 Departmental Administrators and ICT Technicians An invisible army?

4 Field and Laboratory Technicians

5 An invisible army? Cartographers and Map Curators

6 An invisible army? Resource Centre Managers and Librarians

7 ‘As universities move away from ‘the curriculum’ in a fixed sense, and closer to meeting the learning needs of diverse individuals and groups who are lifelong learners but not usually full- time students, they find almost every aspect of designing and supporting learning opportunities alters earlier pedagogic assumptions and relationships.’ (Duke, 2002)

8 Assisting students with basic information Assisting staff with specific administrative tasks relating to core functions such as teaching and research Providing guidance to students in technical areas e.g. GIS, maps, laboratories, fieldwork Undertaking analyses for research and knowledge transfer activities Producing or presenting technical information Keeping Departments running smoothly, brokering information Teaching? Diverse Support Staff roles

9 ‘The organisation of work can be such as to give it meaning, make it learningful, and mobilise or liberate the energies and talents of those at all levels of the job. Its full flowering requires the recognition that those closest to and more familiar with a particular task are quite likely to have unique understanding and expertise – whether they be Bangladeshi or Thai peasants or technical and clerical staff in a western university.’ (Duke, 2002)

10 Project Goals..to establish What roles do GEES support staff actually play in the learning process? To what extent are they supported in these roles, and part of academic communities of practice? To what extent do support staff have opportunity to influence academic policy? Are there potential improvements which could be made?

11 Data Collection Semi-structured telephone interviews with senior Support Staff in 25 contrasting UK GEES Departments/Schools/Faculties Anonymous feedback from individual participants in first UK GEES Support Staff conference In-depth focus groups with 7 additional GEES Departments, conducted by a trained member of a Support Staff team

12 Organisational structures – example 1

13 Organisational structures – example 2

14 Organisational structures – example 3

15 How is your department organised? A)I work alone in my academic department B)I am the only in my department, but there are others in a small team C)I work as one of several in my department, and there are other support staff in the department too D)I work as part of a large multidisciplinary team of support staff in my department E)Other

16 Lines of communication ‘A weekly review and issues relating to students are discussed on an ongoing basis’ ‘We only discuss student issues if something particularly significant’ ‘There is an open relationship within the team. We support each other’ ‘Informally – we meet over coffee and lunch. Two of the team are married to each other’ ‘Informally – small team favours face-to-face communication…Ad hoc. Everybody attends School meetings. Everybody is included – none of this “them and us”’

17 How do you mainly communicate about student matters with your colleagues? A)I work principally alone, or discuss things directly with one or more academic staff B)We usually discuss student-related matters informally amongst the support staff team C)We have formal support staff meetings at which student-related issues and policies are discussed D)I contribute to Departmental meetings at which student-related issues and policies are discussed Question 2 (9)

18 Communication lines Some teams are very large and complex, with powerful managers Formal structural hierarchies, suggest top down In reality, informal communication lines typically dominate There also some very small teams or individuals operating alone Many support staff are very isolated

19 Formal structures ‘The team works very closely on a daily basis and issues are tackled as they come along. More formal input is directed via the Chief Technician to senior managers or lead academics’ ‘..Lab user groups that the senior technician attends, which other team members feed into’ ‘The IT support in the Department sit on a cross- university group and meet once a year to be briefed re: developments and consistency of practice and feed into IT developments..’ ‘The more senior staff participate in cross- institutional working groups. The School Manager attends meetings on behalf of academics’

20 How are your views about student matters taken into account? A)My views are not usually sought B)I tell only my immediate manager about issues which concern me C) My manager contributes to a formal Departmental or University committee or group on my behalf D)There is a formal committee at which I personally am consulted Question 3 (9)

21 How do you typically support students’ learning? A)I work only occasionally with students B)I work sometimes with groups of students on pre-ascribed, specific tasks C)I spend considerable time supporting individuals or groups and generally assisting their learning D)I spend most of my time supporting individuals or groups and generally assisting their learning Question 4 (9)

22 Supporting students ‘The best bit of the job…’ ‘Speaking to students adds value to the day’ ‘…flexible in trying to meet students’ requests for assistance’ ‘Working on-to-one with students when the need arises’ ‘Students just pop in – bring their laptop and we work together’ ‘..seeing students every day, sometimes in tears..’ ‘Confidence building’

23 Working with academic staff ‘Relationships with academics develop over time’ ‘Staff work one-to-one with lecturing staff’ ‘Academics are poor at passing on information so that support staff are able to deal with students more effectively’ ‘Technicians were not allowed to enter the Senior Common Room’ ‘ starting to be more included in the academic content when courses are designed’

24 How would you rate communications between academic and support staff? A)Poor – ‘I often find things out only by chance…’ B)Adequate – ‘I usually find things out in good time…’ C)Good… D)Excellent… Question 5 (9)

25 Mediating between students & academic staff ‘Academics direct students to the technicians and cartographer for assistance on a one-to-one basis…’ ‘Support staff handle general enquiries on behalf of academics and route students to the appropriate member of staff…’ ‘We act as a buffer between students and the academics’ ‘..the frontline…’ ‘..the voice of the School’ ‘…a sounding board’

26 Have you received any induction to Higher Education learning and teaching issues? A)Not really B)Some, mainly informal C)A detailed discussion when I started my current post D)Plenty of opportunities, regularly repeated Question 6 (9)

27 Have you received any induction to learning and teaching? ‘There was no general induction’ ‘Not specifically’ (many responses) ‘Yes, but although ‘customer care’ was included…there was more emphasis on other aspects of the job’ ‘Induction does include pastoral care issues’

28 Adapted from KSA Partnership, 2005

29 Staff Development Value ‘I feel so much more confident in my views as sharing them has shown that I am not alone’ ‘I will make time to keep up- to-date on University strategies such as teaching and learning policies’ ‘ look out for opportunities to stretch my abilities…apply to go on relevant courses…and look at our School’s aims and objectives’

30 Have you had regular opportunities for professional and personal development or training in the last three years? A)No B)Occasionally (less than once per year) C)Yes, approximately annually D)Yes, frequently Question 7 (9)

31 ‘In this uneasy equilibrium balancing change and continuity, some less disturbed corners of large and plural institutions may have been able to get on with their business almost undisturbed. They have shrugged off the interferences of management…’ (Duke, 2002)

32 Do you feel positive about your current post? A)No, I feel undervalued and/or marginalised B)Somewhat, but much more could be made of my talents and skills C)Yes, generally D)Very – I have plenty of opportunities to utilise my talents and skills Question 8 (9)

33 Do you feel positive about your future development within your University? A)No B)Not really. I can see only limited opportunities for progression C)Generally, yes. There will be some opportunities for me to develop my skills and progress D)Very. There will be plenty of opportunities for me to progress Question 9 (9)

34 Resentments? ‘…feelings of depression and hopelessness with the lack of career structure….’ ‘The best thing is realising that all technicians suffer the same pressures and frustrations. The worst thing … is knowing that all technicians suffer the same pressures and frustrations’ ‘This course is only for senior support staff with sufficient power to influence outcomes. Junior staff like me can only do as we are instructed, as we do not have the power to influence outcomes..we have a job with set items to do each day and no flexibility’

35 Better Practice? ‘Much more transfer of information – lecturers need to think of us as people who can be included in things’ ‘Management don’t realise how much support staff do to support the smooth running of the School. We are unacknowledged but always dealing with problems’ ‘Better communication’ ‘Respect’

36 Project Conclusions Learning and teaching is located with, and mediated by support staff as well as academic staff Institutional communication structures are principally informal, and may exclude support staff from policy debate Support staff have limited (frequently no) training in operational t&l issues Some support staff resent this situation strongly, feeling excluded and unvalued There are examples of good practice

37 Generic Issues The research itself raised awareness, and may have provoked demands for change by Support Staff, particularly for staff development opportunities The confidential responses from individual support staff demonstrate levels of resentment well beyond those expressed in focus groups where team leaders were present Diversity in staff roles is largely unrecognised, representing a lost opportunity; there must be changes

38 ‘I will value my position and know that I do make a difference.’ Anonymous support staff member evaluating HEA GEES/UoG conference ‘Supporting the Supporters’, May 2004

39 Please write down one thing which you will do when you return to your Department, to assist your personal development and your Department’s practice

40 Acknowledgements HEA GEES Subject Centre Small Grant Debra Marshall, Researcher, who undertook some of the support staff interviews


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