Engaging casually employed teachers in collaborative curriculum and professional development : change through an action research enquiry in a higher education 'pathways' institution

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This thesis is an account of a curriculum reform initiative that took place in 2005 at the Pathways College of Australia (PCA) [a pseudonym]. It is an investigation of an innovative collaborative educational development project in an Australian higher education pathway institution. The research highlights the neglect of the professional development of casually employed teachers and makes contributions to the literatures of educational development, curriculum and collaboration. It suggests ways to improve quality in the current higher education context through a process of action research enquiry and organisational change In recent times the higher education landscape in Australia has transformed with growing numbers of casual and part-time teachers, many more international students and an increasing focus on quality assurance. This changing context has led to the emergence of a number of private institutions providing an alternative entry pathway to tertiary study for students who do not meet standard university entrance requirements. The story of PCA and its growth during this time comes out of an increasing focus on quality and accountability underpinning the funding changes to, and the internationalisation of, higher education. This study presents a curriculum development framework which engages casually employed teachers and supports curriculum reform. It addresses a need to ensure quality in the teaching and learning at PCA by developing an integrated curriculum. The framework allows for the professional development of casualised teaching staff in a pathways higher education institution and encourages a critical reflection on the process through action research. An exploration of the usefulness of communities of practice theory for examining the workings of this group-based educational development process frames the data analysis. The research contributes to the literature by analysing how the participants engaged in the project cycles and illuminates the different ways in which they were working. Insights into curriculum reform are given through building collaboration under adverse conditions. The discussion adds a new dimension to communities of practice theory as it does not account for the important set of tensions found in the data. It furthers our understanding of its application in an environment with mostly casually employed teachers. The story about this research reveals the complexities in the relationships between the researcher, the participants and PCA and shows a successful collaboration can be achieved under challenging employment conditions.
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