Case #6: Mentoring for Teaching Improvement


DISCIPLINE:Computing Education, Higher Education
RESEARCH AREAS: Improving student learning of programming, academic professional development, peer assisted teaching and learning, developing employability skills in students


Often faculties struggle to support academics whose units (subjects) receive low student satisfaction. The Peer Assisted Teaching Scheme (PATS) provides an example of how educational leadership is applied to utilise mentoring to promote educational excellence, improve teaching practices and unit evaluations, and develop educational leadership within academies.


PATS involves structured peer-to-peer mentoring with activities running pre-semester, during semester and post semester and includes formal educator development. PATS is based around the benefits of social interactions, situated within the context and culture of an academic’s teaching role, and relies on peer collaboration and mentoring.


The 5-Pillar Model of Educational Leadership (Fields, Kenny, & Mueller, 2019) is useful for examining the PATS initiative. PATS builds on the current research that highlights the benefits of Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) programs and draws on Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory (Vygotsky,1978) and Lave’s situated learning literature (Lave, 1988) but applies it to academic teaching staff. Its purpose is to help colleagues strengthen their teaching and learning practices via a peer-to-peer mentoring partnership and overcome barriers that might prevent them from making changes to their units. The program has necessitated both formal leadership from the National Teaching Fellow, providing ongoing leadership regarding strategies, structures and processes, as well as distributed and shared leadership across the institution, drawing on Associate Deans of Learning and Teaching for management and resources, a PATS coordinator to engage with the participants and ensure ongoing momentum of the scheme and the central university services for professional development (Jones, et al., 2016).

“The Peer Assisted Teaching Scheme (PATS) provides an example of how educational leadership is applied to utilise mentoring to promote educational excellence, improve teaching practices and unit evaluations, and develop educational leadership within academies.”

Academics whose units are flagged as needing improvement are invited by Associate Dean Learning and Teaching to participate, along with academics with outstanding reputations as teachers. Participation, however, is voluntary, and the invitation to exemplary teachers is to inspire teaching excellence. Once participation is agreed, the PATS coordinator engages with the participants via touch points throughout the semester. As a leader, it was important to draw on affective qualities to establish trust and build relationships with the partners who participated in the scheme. This was achieved via open communication, regular touch points that were built into the scheme (briefing, debriefing sessions and mid-semester catchups) to address any concerns. The scheme itself is action-oriented; academics were required to set goals and implement strategies to achieve their goals. During the semester the partners mentor and empower each other. They review each other’s mid-term student feedback, undertake a peer observation of each other’s teaching and share insights and offer advice. This was required to achieve longer term transformation. In many cases the partners used the data they gathered to engage in research and scholarship, disseminating the changes they had made to their practices.


The effectiveness of the scheme is measured via changes in course evaluation ratings and a thematic analysis of the focus group data. At the university where the scheme was originated, PATS engaged 30 academics and improved units needing critical attention. The scheme has been adapted by many Australian and international universities to suit their context and serve as a model to enhance unit and teaching performance. Results show an overall improvement in student satisfaction of the quality of units and highlights both the opportunities and challenges PATS provides academics for teaching improvement. More so, the strength of the evidence of effectiveness of the program has led to keynote addresses, occasional addresses and presentations in universities both within Australia and overseas.


Carbone, A. (2014). A peer-assisted teaching scheme to improve units with critically low student satisfaction: Opportunities and challenges. Higher Education Research and Development (HERD), 33(3), 425-439.

Carbone, A., Evans, J., Ross, B., Drew, S., Phelan, L., Lindsay, K., Coffman, C., Stoney, S. & Ye, J. (2017). Assessing distributed leadership for learning and teaching quality: A multi-institutional study. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 39(2), 183-196.

Fields, J., Kenny, N., and Mueller R. (2019): Conceptualizing educational leadership in an academic development program. International Journal for Academic Development, DOI: 0.1080/1360144X.2019.1570211

Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics, and culture in everyday life. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ross, B., Carbone, A., Lindsay, K., Drew, S., Phelan, L., Cottman, C., & Stoney, S (2016). Developing educational goals: Insights from a Peer Assisted Teaching Scheme. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(4), 350-363.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Headshot of Angela Carbone

Professor Carbone has extensive teaching, leadership and research experience, and has held various educational leadership positions throughout her academic career. She was the inaugural Academic Director of Education Excellence for the Office of Learning and Teaching at Monash University. Prior to that she was the Associate Director of the Office of the Pro Vice-Chancellor (Learning and Teaching) and the Director of Education Quality in the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University. Her teaching achievements have been recognised nationally, being the first female academic to be awarded the Australia’s highest teaching award: the Prime Minister’s Award for University Teacher of the Year (1998), and secured two National Teaching Fellowships (ALTC National Teaching Fellowship 2010, OLT National Senior Teaching Fellowship 2012). Angela chairs and engages with a number of national and international networks that are focused on improving the quality of learning and teaching in higher education.


Professor Angela Carbone is the Associate Dean Learning Innovation in the Faculty ofScience, Engineering and Technology at Swinburne University. In this role Angela leads strategic educational development and provides oversight of the operational implementation of strategies relating to Learning, Teaching and Scholarship. Overall, she has accountability for ensuring the implementation of the University’s Learning and Teaching strategy within her Faculty. Often this includes facilitating leadership of teaching and learning innovation, driving specific agendas and ensuring the quality of courses andprograms.



Council of Australasian University Leaders in Learning and Teaching (CAULLT)
Australian Council of Deans ICT (ACDICT)
Australian Learning and Teaching Fellows
Victoria/Tasmania Promoting Excellence Network (VTAS PEN)