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Into the unknown: professional development for future educators

One of the greatest challenges faced by schools and universities today is preparing students for an unknown future. Our graduates will likely have multiple careers, work in new and emerging industries, grapple with technologies we can’t even imagine yet. And so we’re asking our staff to equip students with the skills they need to thrive in a potentially very different world to the one we live in now.

A decade ago, when I was at university, I don’t remember anyone talking about ‘graduate attributes’. Today there’s a much greater emphasis on transferable skills, rather than just subject knowledge. Working as an Educational Designer at the University of Canberra (UC), I have the opportunity to engage in initiatives around authentic assessment, scenario-based learning, students as partners/generators, work-integrated learning… These will help us to support our students in developing the skills that they need, not just to secure a job in the short term, but to enjoy a fulfilling and varied career in the longer term.

Earlier this year, students taking a course in Artificial Intelligence at Georgia Institute of Technology discovered that Jill Watson, one of their Teaching Assistants, was an AI creation. ‘Watson’ was able to participate in online forum discussions, answering students’ routine questions, posting reminders about deadlines, and introducing mid-week conversation topics to encourage students to share their thoughts. It’s exciting to think of the potential benefits of this kind of technology, but it also leads us to question the role of the (human!) educator and for some the concept of technology-enhanced learning can seem threatening, encroaching on their professional identity as a teacher.

Today there’s a much greater emphasis on transferable skills, rather than just subject knowledge.

So how can we support our staff in this time of uncertainty and disruption in the sector?

On 5 July 2016, the University of Canberra’s Teaching and Learning team launched a new Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Education (GCTE). In one of the first activities in the course, we invite participants to engage with the Australian Higher Education Industrial Association’s Australian Higher Education Workforce of the Future Report, released earlier this year. The report examines the changes universities will need to make in order to thrive in an increasingly globalised and competitive space and highlighted the need for an “agile workforce” which would be “sufficiently flexible, specialised and self-renewing to be properly responsive for changing stakeholder expectations”. We invite our staff to engage with this report, to take stock of their experience, identify development needs, and articulate their future trajectory.

In other words, we want our staff to reflect on where they are now, where they see themselves in ten or fifteen years’ time, and how they’re going to get there.

We need our staff to be lifelong learners, to reflect on their practice, collaborate with colleagues, students and the broader community, experiment with new tools and technologies, act as advocates and promote best practice. We hope that the new GCTE will help them to do this, as well as providing formal recognition of the amazing work our staff do at UC.

A version of this blog post first appeared on Epigeum Insights.

Featured image credit: Student-typing-keyboard, by StartupStockPhotos. CC0 Public Domain via Pixabay

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