Charanya Ramakrishnan is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Computing, Faculty of Science and Engineering, and the Course Director for the Bachelor of Information Technology. If you are a Unit Convenor, you’ll find her 10 step checklist below an invaluable guide for ensuring you are ready for the start of a new session. Over to Charanya….

Convening a unit can be an exciting and rewarding experience, but it also comes with much responsibility. As a convenor, you are responsible for your students and your team of academics, especially the sessional academics who work alongside you. Having been in the role for several years and having convened the largest unit in the Faculty, COMP1000 (Introduction to Computer Programming with 1400 students), I have learnt that organisation, flexibility, and a supportive teaching team are critical to running a unit successfully.

Below is a comprehensive checklist that I have found helpful over the years for preparing before the start of a new session. The assumption I am making here is that classes are all delivered by sessional academics.

With the timetable for next session soon to be finalised, it’s time to get planning.

There are many moving parts to manage prior to the start of session!

1. Review the draft timetable and start contacting your teaching team

Once the draft timetable for the upcoming session is released, it is essential to check the availability of your sessional academics. You can then reach out to them, expressing your interest in working with them and highlighting their strengths and importance to your teaching team. It would be helpful to create a draft allocation and share it with your team, which will help them better prepare for the unit and plan their schedule accordingly. Contacting the sessional academics at the earliest opportunity will give them a sense of security, especially if they work at multiple institutions.

2. Check assessment details in CMS are correct

Ensure all the assessments are correct in the Macquarie Curriculum Management System (MQCMS) before the deadline, as iTeach populates the unit guide from it. Note the important dates for MQCMS amendments to meet faculty approval deadlines so that MQCMS approvals are finalised at least 3 weeks prior to the start of the session.

3. Confirm the final staff allocation

It is essential to communicate with your teaching team regularly. Make sure to re-confirm the draft allocation, double-check their availability, and if there any tools provided by your faculty for this, please use them to confirm their allocation. Create an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the final allocation for yourself and your sessional academics. You can share this file once the session begins to track workshops and class covers (and even record passwords for quizzes).

4. Monitor enrolment numbers

Enrolment numbers may increase and cause classes to fill up. To address this, request scheduling for additional classes, allocate additional staff and make sure your workshop list is up to date.

5. Set-up the iLearn site

Using iTeach, create an iLearn page and add sessional academic staff. Set the iLearn page availability to allow access a week before the session starts and up to a week before the following session begins to handle any deferred special considerations for a supplementary exam. Follow these 5 steps to ensure your iLearn unit is laid out according to the MQ Online Learning Standards.

6. Create the Unit Guide

Using iTeach, create the unit guide for your unit. You will have a reference guide sent out by either the Faculty or the Director of Education of your School or Department that will guide you through the policy sections for text and links you need for the current offering. Once you make the final edits, send the unit guide for approval, and get it published. Unit guides should be approved and published 2 weeks prior to the start of session.

7. Finalise the iLearn site

Hide any assessments and weeks you do not want to be available yet. Add academic integrity module checks if necessary. Additionally, create an announcement forum and upload the unit guide as a PDF or link for students to access. The iLearn site should be made public a week prior to the start of session.

8. Create a welcome announcement

Create a welcome announcement (or welcome video) and publish it on the iLearn announcement forum at a specific time, preferably by Thursday or Friday of the week before the session starts. The announcement should include details about the lectures and workshops, the link to the unit guide, and what students should expect from the unit. Additionally, express your enthusiasm for the upcoming session to build excitement among the students. Throw in some GenZ language, and your students will say you’re rad!

9. Collaborate on Microsoft Teams

Create a team on Microsoft Teams for collaboration (if you do not have one for your unit already). You can share files, post updates, tag people for shout-outs, create a task board, assign tasks, and more. If you have a large unit, building a community around it is crucial, and Microsoft Teams is an excellent tool for achieving this.

10. Set up a meeting to welcome your teaching team

Meet your team before the start of session, set expectations, and offer support to create a sense of community. Using a poll, find a suitable time that your team can meet weekly to discuss what is working, what isn’t, and what can be improved (a retrospective meeting). Send a calendar invite and block the time in your calendar. Consider recording the meetings for any teammates who cannot attend.

Remember that your team is your biggest asset, so look after them, and they will look after your students.

Have I missed anything? Do you have any more tips? Please email if you have any questions or would like to discuss this further.

Further resources

Charanya Ramakrishnan is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Computing, Faculty of Science and Engineering, and the Course Director for the Bachelor of Information Technology. Charanya is a recipient of multiple awards, including the AAUT Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning (2023) and the Macquarie University Vice Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Student Nominated Award (2022). Her research interests include Higher Education Retention with a focus on different equity groups, Computing Education, Learning analytics, and AI in Education.

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Post edited by Kylie Coaldrake

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