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Building capability for sessional academic staff through Fellowships

12 Feb 2024 | Barbie Panther and Julia Savage Barbie Panther and Julia Savage at Deakin University in Australia reflect on how we can support sessional academic staff to build their knowledge of learning and teaching through their Fellowship journey. 

We have been offering the Fellowship program at Deakin University for six years. When we started this program, we knew we wanted to offer both an opportunity for professional recognition, but also a process through which our staff could build their capability in teaching and learning. Early on, it was clear that many sessional academic staff who applied for Associate Fellow were looking for opportunities to learn more about teaching in higher education, and the Fellowship seemed like a perfect place for us to offer this support. 

Program outcomes 

Although our Associate Fellows submit their applications as a written reflective narrative, we have built a set of modules and workshops around the program that help them to learn more about the theory of teaching and learning as they develop their application. 

The program, developed by Dr Julia Savage, has been scaffolded to achieve two outcomes.  Firstly, we wanted sessional academic staff to have access to teaching and learning literature so they could apply to their own teaching context and engage with prior to the workshops. Secondly, we wanted to create a collaborative experience where staff could come together in workshops and talk together as they addressed the application writing process. 

The front-loading of a short list of resources about learning theories and active learning provided a key element we knew sessional academic staff were worried about - the teaching and learning literature field. Focusing on the process of drafting an application informally, while together in a workshop, gave applicants the confidence to begin the writing process.   

Reflection and recognition 

Our sessional academic staff often come into the program looking for recognition, with many of them hoping that a Fellowship will positively impact their career progression. As they undertake the Fellowship program, they appreciate the opportunity to take time away from teaching to really think about their practice. 

“Reading and responding to the PSF and detailing my teaching and learning activities allowed me to take a step back from being in a classroom (or online) and think about how I teach and design learning activities.’”   

After completing the modules and workshops, they also recognise the power of reflection on their practice.  

“This course guided me into looking quite deeply into my pedagogical practice. It is always in the back of my mind now as a reminder of how I can find ways to enhance my teaching.’”  

“My students have now a teacher that is willing to improve constantly and to adapt to their needs quicker, as I am always reflecting on this while before, I use to think about it only after I received the end of semester student feedback."

Collaboration and community 

The collaborative nature of the workshops were more than enjoyable opportunities to talk about teaching and to share their practice. For many of our sessional academic staff, the program also provided them with a valuable opportunity to engage as members of the larger teaching and learning community at Deakin.  

“This is the first time I have felt like I am part of the Deakin Teaching and Learning community.”  

How are you supporting your sessional academic staff to build capability through your Fellowship program? 



Barbie Panther and Julia Savage work in the Teaching Capability team in Deakin Learning Futures, where they lead strategic initiatives to build capability in teaching and learning support at Deakin, including the DeakinHE Fellowship program.  

Find out more about the Global Fellowships Relay – #FellowshipsRelay2024.

If your institution is interested in building your Fellowship communities, find out about the range of support we have to offer here


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