It’s no secret that Australia’s university sector has been confronted with fresh challenges in recent years. Rapid technical change in many industries has spawned a host of new skills requiring support and development, which has led to increased demands on both research agendas and teaching curricula.
In 2014, UniSA responded to this changing educational environment by offering academic staff the option of uncoupling research commitments from teaching outputs, introducing a Teaching Academic pathway for staff wanting to devote extra attention to curriculum development and prioritise educational outcomes.
As Provost and Chief Academic Officer Professor Allan Evans says, the initiative was designed to allow teaching academics to focus more energy on learning outcomes without hindering their career advancement.
“Previous academic appointments were either research only or full spectrum academics, who had both teaching and research obligations,” Prof Evans says. “But it was becoming increasingly difficult for all of our academics to pursue excellence in both teaching and research. Research was becoming more competitive and, as an institution, we were increasingly reliant on having great teachers committed to furthering the quality of education at the University. So, to provide people a choice in how they built their career, we created the Teaching Academic pathway.”
The pathway was introduced in UniSA’s 2014 Enterprise Agreement. The opportunity to apply for promotion as a Teaching Academic was implemented the following year, with 17 Teaching Academics promoted in 2015.
In 2018 UniSA promoted 59 academics, 13 of whom were Teaching Academics. Significantly, December 2018 saw the first Level D promotion in the Teaching Academic pathway, with Dr Nayana Parange promoted to Associate Professor and appointed Associate Dean: Online Education in the Division of Health Sciences.
“My career spans 30 years, with experience in different roles as a clinician, but I’ve always been drawn to teaching, even before I came into academia in 2007, so this seemed like a great option for me.” says Assoc Prof Parange. “I feel this promotion is very exciting and humbling. It has encouraged and inspired me to continue to mentor, guide and lead colleagues. It paves the way for other academics and I want to encourage people to consider this pathway as a viable career progression pathway.”
Assoc Prof Parange made the switch to the Teaching Academic pathway in 2015 and says it not only allowed her to focus on curriculum development and teaching outcomes, but also provided unique opportunities for personal and professional development.
“It’s been an incredible development opportunity,” she says. “I have been involved in extensive teaching and learning committees, nationally and internationally. These have given me so much opportunity for networking and collaborating and expanding my own understanding, engaging with other academics who are passionate about teaching. Most satisfyingly, this has exposed me to ideas across disciplines, and now with UniSA Online, it’s across the whole University. It’s opened so many new directions for me.”
Assoc Prof Parange’s recent promotion is acknowledgement of her ability to combine extensive clinical experience with innovative teaching practices, driving curriculum development for online programs and emphasising the importance of close industry connections in emerging educational models.
“Assoc Prof Parange has been able to develop curriculum for a professional area, sonography, that is world leading, and engages students across Australia to undertake sonography as external students – where there’s a lot of online material, but also highly integrated practical training within professional facilities,” says Prof Evans.
Assoc Prof Parange suggests her success in shaping her curriculum derives as much from her passion for her profession as it does her passion for teaching.
“I have maintained my industry links and I am very active in my profession,” she says. “I am on several national and international boards, and I am practising. My accreditation is current, and I do a lot of volunteer humanitarian work in my profession. I have always kept my finger on the pulse and I bring that back to the classroom, so it is all very current and very relevant.”
Assoc Prof Parange says she has remained research active throughout her Teaching Academic career, including her research into the scholarship of teaching, and Prof Evans emphasises this is an important aspect of the pathway.
“This is not teaching cut free from research,” Prof Evans says. “The best teaching is based in research, just as the best research derives from an interaction with practice. That’s why Assoc Prof Parange is such a great role model for this pathway – she's research capable, with great research behind her, but also so passionate about teaching. It’s fantastic for the University to be able to reward and recognise that passion and that excellence.”