What does it really mean to be an Academic Coordinator?
In the ever-changing landscape of education, there’s a vibrant role that consistently acts as a crucial linchpin at our colleges – that of an Academic Coordinator (alongside similar roles like ‘Program Convenor,’ ‘Program Manager,’ and ‘Discipline Lead’). Academic Coordinators serve as important intermediaries between senior management, academic teaching staff and students, balancing a diverse set of responsibilities. Similar to a football coach supporting on the sidelines, when needed, they step into a leadership role to guide their team. But what does it mean to be an Academic Coordinator? Our University Partnerships Australasia (UPA) Academic Coordinators Community of Practice (AC CoP) invited Academic Coordinators across Navitas UPA to share their perspective and peel back the layers of this multifaceted role.
The Core Responsibilities
At its core, an Academic Coordinator’s role blends duties and responsibilities, encompassing the craft of curating a holistic educational journey and fostering vital connections. From shaping curriculum through reviews and re-design, to serving as the linchpin unifying student support, teacher collaboration, senior management, and partner universities, Academic Coordinators play pivotal roles in weaving these elements seamlessly together.
Dr Saad Odeh shares his reflections on his nine years working as a Senior Program Convenor, Engineering and IT, at SIBT, Sydney. “Being an Academic Coordinator, similar to a Program Convenor, demands a unique blend of skills – a synergy of program expertise and the art of collaboration with educators. My journey kicked off with the task of unravelling the intricacies and identifying any shortcomings within units, seeking ways to elevate them. I had to dive deep into understanding each unit’s delivery, before conducting a curriculum review. In response, I initiated a series of transformative steps, breaking down assessments into manageable fragments across the semester, revitalising student engagement through innovative formative assessments. Simultaneously, accreditation required me to refine my knowledge of TEQSA standards, Navitas’ core capabilities, and our partner university’s goals, to ensure compliance and alignment in our curriculum. While tasks like these pose challenges, successfully completing and gaining approval, brought me a tremendous sense of accomplishment.”
As an experienced Discipline Lead, at Murdoch University, Dubai, Faiza Qureshi recognises the need to juggle various responsibilities and priorities. “Being the Discipline Lead of the Master of Education and Foundation programs is an extremely fulfilling role. Not only do I directly support student learning, but also do so by supporting teachers and ensuring that their work is of a high quality. The role requires me to support and mentor academic staff while banking on their expertise for the highest quality of learning for the students. Being a discipline lead in a transnational set up is also unique – I strive to keep all aspects of the programs in sync, ensuring high quality of teaching, learning, retention, growth, and industry alignment – often this is done while working with several Unit Coordinators, teaching staff, professional staff, students, parents, and industry partners. It certainly keeps me busy, thinking of innovative ways to make the programs attractive, relevant, enjoyable, and operating smoothly for all these stakeholders.”
Transitioning from Lecturer to Coordinator
For many, the journey to becoming an Academic Coordinator marks a shift from the role of a lecturer, where the primary focus is on teaching, to a domain where leadership and administrative tasks take centre stage. Essential qualities like time management, prioritisation, meeting deadlines, and interpersonal skills become the building blocks of this role. This transition may necessitate adapting to a new set of expectations and responsibilities, and in some cases, acquiring new skills. It is a transformation that requires a mix of determination and learning to thrive in this dynamic landscape.
Rajinder Kaur, Academic Program Convenor (PQP & Foundation Programs) at Edith Cowan College (ECC) in Perth, reflects on her first few months in the role, which she commenced earlier this year. “Although I had been working as an ELICOS teacher and coordinator at ECC for ten years, I knew I had a completely different task ahead of me. The core responsibilities I delved into were supporting teaching staff and timetabling, ensuring I listened closely to their preferences to boost engagement amongst both staff and students. It is no secret that the role of an Academic Coordinator goes beyond administrative tasks and routine coordination. I also regularly work closely with Unit Coordinators, to ensure that curriculum design and development align with ECC’s educational standards and goals.”
Kate Nicholson, Academic Coordinator for Foundation at Deakin College in Melbourne, found spending less time with students a bit challenging. “Instead of seeing students every day and joining in with their success and learning about their lives, I have become the person they go to see when they ‘need something’ or are in a spot of trouble (such as academic integrity issues for example). It was hard at first, not to become overwhelmed, as I couldn’t see the wins as clearly as working directly with students as a teacher. I would advise new Academic Coordinators to make sure they look out for the positives and celebrate the wins on a regular basis with both their teaching teams and their students.”
Training, Skills Building, and Sharing Transformative Experience
The role of an Academic Coordinator demands effective communication, organisational acumen, team leadership, and conflict resolution abilities, among other skills. Undertaking training opportunities that help prepare new staff for these challenges is instrumental for their professional growth. Embracing a buddy system, mentorship, or participation in a vibrant CoP, can help the transition process and with continuous growth in this role. By sharing their journeys and reflections in the UPA AC CoP, Academic Coordinators support the development of new staff in this role and help drive innovation and excellence across our colleges.
“I have been fortunate to collaborate with three other Academic Coordinators and regularly brainstorm innovative ways we can create a more dynamic and engaging learning experience for our students. Through them, I have been applying data-driven decision-making, to help me identify students at risk early and make informed choices aimed to result in improved learning outcomes. I learnt from the onset that it is important to be flexible, and adaptable to new technologies and educational trends. In addition to webinars and online courses, one of my greatest sources of learning so far has been from the UPA AC CoP monthly sessions. It has been insightful listening and learning from other Academic Coordinators across Australasia. In fact, I would say the most transformative area in my role so far has been the ability to have open communication with my colleagues. It has allowed me to be approachable and open to conversations, and I aspire to be able to do the same for new lecturers and coordinators!” – Rajinder Kaur, Academic Program Convenor (PQP & Foundation Programs) at Edith Cowan College (ECC), Perth.
“A secret to staying vibrant in this role? It’s a regular pursuit of scholarly engagement and staying at the forefront of evolving teaching and learning techniques.” – Dr Saad Odeh, Senior Program Convenor, Engineering and IT, SIBT, Sydney.
By delving into experiences of new and experienced Academic Coordinators across UPA colleges, we have peeled back some of the layers to reveal intricate facets of this role. Adaptability and collaboration stand out as cornerstones to empower Academic Coordinators in their roles, and as stated in the Australian Qualifications Framework Review Report (2019, p 8), and reiterated by Professor Sally Kift (2023, p. 6): “Lifelong learning must become a practical reality for people; it cannot stand as an abstract goal.” For those with years of experience in the role, the journey may extend further into mentoring staff, adeptly managing conflicts, advise on quality assurance, ideas for innovation, and fine-tuning strategy, which become not just areas of interest but pathways for further development and mastery. We invite all UPA Academic Coordinators to continue sharing their invaluable insights with the UPA AC Community of Practice. We also extend an open invitation to Navitas staff to share your thoughts and ideas with us via firstname.lastname@example.org.