Experiences of staff new to teaching postgraduate students online: implications for academic staff development


  • Gill Aitken University of Edinburgh
  • Daphne Loads, Dr University of Edinburgh


online education, faculty experience, scholarship of teaching and learning, phenomenography, growth narrative


This study employed a phenomenographic methodology to explore the experiences of academic staff new to online postgraduate education in order to inform a better understanding of their professional development needs.

We identified four categories of development: preparation, initial reflection, evolving awareness of the social aspects of online learning and engagement. These categories show variation in three ways: the perceived role of the educator, the educators understanding of the online environment and the nature of interaction between staff and students. These findings have implications for the increasing numbers of academic staff involved in planning and delivering online education.

Findings are discussed through the lens of a growth narrative rather than considering the traditional constraint narrative considered when starting to teach online. The findings support previously published work but the novel framework suggested for the evolution of understanding online postgraduate teaching gives a more nuanced picture that will be of value to both those involved in online education and those supporting their development.

We recommend that academic developers pay attention to teacher agency and empowerment rather than the delivery of packages of decontextualized skills and knowledge; offer ongoing support rather than front-loaded input; and highlight to educators, managers and policymakers the necessity of adequate time and space for reflection as academic staff undertake new and evolving role.

Author Biography

Daphne Loads, Dr, University of Edinburgh

Daphne Loads is an academic developer in the learning and teaching team at the IAD. Her research interests are in academic identities and academic staff development.



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Original Research