Teaching@Sydney

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Doing the dirty work of higher education?

The next talk in the Sydney Ideas series is by Professor Gareth Parry, Professor of Education at The University of Sheffield. In the age of near-universal access, what should be the division of labour between colleges and universities? Fifty years ago, the distinguished American scholar Burton Clark described colleges as doing much of the dirty work of higher education. As open-door institutions, they transferred some students to selective universities and persuaded the rest in strongly vocational directions.

This free talk will explore the issues of access and equity posed by a larger role for universities in widening participation and by new remits for colleges and schools in higher education. This is a timely topic given the University’s commitment to broadening participation in higher education articulated in the White Paper.

Professor Parry’s research focuses on policy reform and system change in tertiary education. He was a research consultant to the Dearing committee of inquiry into higher education in the UK (1996-97) and the Foster review of further education colleges in England (2004-05).

The talk will be introduced by Professor Trevor Gale, Director National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. It will be held on Tuesday 5 October 2010 at 4.00pm followed by drinks and canapés from 5.00pm - 6.00pm in the New Law School Foyer, University of Sydney. RSVP by Tuesday 21 September 2010 or (02) 8627 8456.[close]

The next talk in the Sydney Ideas series is by Professor Gareth Parry, Professor of Education at The University of Sheffield. In the age of near-universal access, what should be...[more]

Learning spaces: Room for improvement, by SRC President, Elly Howse

This month we continue our series of articles featuring the student voice.

During September, the University can be breathtaking to behold! Its buildings, avenues and courtyards are reminiscent of some of the world's most highly regarded institutions. Some, although certainly not all of its indoor spaces, can inspire great learning and teaching. My work and research on the Learning Networks Project: Teaching Learning Space User Group, an offshoot of the SEG Education committee, has taught me a huge amount about how physical space directs and enables specific styles of learning and teaching.

Understanding how to use space effectively to enhance learning not only has a tremendous impact on students themselves but also on the academic teachers and staff at the University. The Teaching Learning Space User Group is looking at how physical space might be directed so as to enhance learning in the redevelopment of the Carslaw, Peter Nicol Russell and Wallace buildings.

Learning is now more than ever about dialogue and the creation of interpersonal relationships and ideas. Ultimately students need to feel comfortable in a space where they can direct the flow of ideas, discussion, conversation and learning. Students want flexible learning spaces that are technology-enhanced without being technology-driven. The University needs to invest in learning spaces that can be used in a variety of ways depending on the learning situation. Students want spaces that are comfortable and flexibly furnished, that can be used for social interaction, that have accessible and easy wireless and are open for longer hours. Variety and flexibility are the key terms I have been hearing from my peers.

This is not just about learning spaces for students. It is also about re-conceptualising the way we teach, taking into account the contribution our experience of space has to offer. It’s about understanding that the quality of spaces and their furnishing can psychologically restrict or enhance engaged learning. Listening to what students are saying is necessary if the University is going to enhance its students’ capacity to learn, discuss, research and evolve as motivated and resourceful graduates. The place to start is by looking at learning spaces and rooms, and improving them in terms of students’ and staff needs for engaged learning and teaching.[close]

This month we continue our series of articles featuring the student voice. During September, the University can be breathtaking to behold! Its buildings, avenues and court...[more]

Supporting future champions of social inclusion

In August, the first of a series of lively and engaging sessions brought together key people from the Social Inclusion Unit, the ITL and the ten successful recipients of the University's Scholarships for Academic Staff to attend one of two social inclusion conferences.

Introductions saw participants explaining why and how social inclusion matters within their respective faculties and what each hoped to bring back from attending the conference. Professor Barbara Holland outlined the University's direction and vision for community engagement and social inclusion,  Ms Annette Cairnduff explained what is happening now and what is developing across the University and Associate Professor Simon Barrie outlined a new strategy for developing teaching and learning champions across the university.

Alongside the wide ranging experiences brought to light within the group, there was a commitment  to bring back to the University insights and understandings gained from the conferences. The scholarship recipients contributions will inform future discussions around learning and teaching initiatives and the identification of key obstacles, challenges and opportunities associated with realising the University's social inclusion programs. The next meeting of the group should see many new inputs to share. Registrations are still open for anybody interested in attending the conferences.

2nd Annual Social Inclusion in Education Summit

2nd Annual Student Equity in Higher Education Conference[close]

In August, the first of a series of lively and engaging sessions brought together key people from the Social Inclusion Unit, the ITL and the ten successf...[more]

Academic Honesty: an education issue

Various University committees have been engaged in discussions recently about how to support students in more effectively learning about academic honesty and, in the context of that educative task, the use of text matching software to support staff and students in identifying possible instances of plagiarism. This is an ongoing discussion which has also played out in articles by staff and students in recent editions of Teaching@Sydney. The current Academic Board policy on Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism was approved late in 2009 following a long period of consultation and development which brought together the two previous policies on this issue. 

Arising from the recent discussions at the Academic Standards and Policy committee and the SEG Education Committee, a Working Party of the SEG Education Committee has been formed to look at the broader issues and risks surrounding the implementation of the policy and particularly the question of the university-wide use of text matching software. The working group’s discussions will be informed by the large body of research on academic honesty and the experiences of other Australian universities who have introduced text matching software as a tool to support decision making by staff and students in relation to academic honesty. The working party will also consider the findings of a Sydney study which is currently investigating how different approaches to using text matching software might influence students approaches to learning.  As part of this project, Unit of Study coordinators in many faculties will receive a short (2 minute) email survey in the next month on their use of text matching software.  If you receive a survey please take a few moments to respond so the University can establish a clear picture of current use. The study will also draw on data gathered from staff and student focus groups following the survey and invitations to participate in those focus groups will also be sent out soon following consultations with the student organisations and Associate Deans L&T.

Text matching software can be used in a variety of ways ranging from mandatory use by staff to voluntary use by students and every possible combination in between. However judging from the experiences of other Australian universities there are some key issues for Sydney to consider in this discussion. These include a clear recognition that such software is a tool only and does not replace academic decision making in regards to academic honesty and plagiarism. It is also clear that staff and students will need support in using any new tools introduced as part of the University’s Learning Management System.  Perhaps most importantly of all, it is clear from the experiences of other universities that academic honesty is not a simple matter of students learning to use synonyms and quotation marks rather it is about our students developing an attitude towards scholarship and the creation and use of knowledge. As such the debate should be more about education than it is about detection.[close]

Various University committees have been engaged in discussions recently about how to support students in more effectively learning about academic honesty and, in the context of...[more]

Helping Honours students: Workshops for students

Are you supervising honours students who are struggling to manage the last stages of their thesis or advising 3rd year students who are beginning to think about their honours year?

These students may appreciate the upcoming Learning Centre courses held in the mid Semester 2 break, September 27- October 1st.

The Learning Centre seeks to improve the quality of student learning by helping all students to develop those skills necessary for acquiring and communicating knowledge and ideas in a university setting. Accordingly, the Centre has prepared a number of workshops targeting honours students such as Writing Introductions, Conclusions and Abstracts or Managing the Final stages and, for beginning honours students, Writing the Honours Proposal.

There will also be other workshops offered at this time for masters coursework students writing essays or literature reviews. For more information, see the program timetable.[close]

Are you supervising honours students who are struggling to manage the last stages of their thesis or advising 3rd year students who are beginning to think about their honour...[more]

Teaching diverse student groups

More than ever our students bring to their experience of learning and teaching a wide range of language and life experiences. Teaching diverse student groups effectively is about taking a human approach that is relevant and engaging, and builds on learners’ diverse and changing needs. Designing teaching and learning which makes the most of student and staff diversity is simply good teaching and learning. However, there are some particular strategies which can very effectively make your teaching more inclusive of student diversity.

Some strategies focus on the challenge that you will probably be teaching in English, which may not be some of your students preferred language of instruction.

  • Speak at an appropriate pace and volume, and use graphic organisers (e.g., charts, diagrams) or other visual material to support your explanations so that students are not totally reliant on verbal and/or textual input. Using an overhead projector or document camera you might work through a visual explanation, for example drawing an electrical circuit or sketching a part of human anatomy to explain a vital function. Consider placing a copy of your drawing and notes online after the lecture.
  • Avoid unintentional stereotypes in your choice of photographs, captions, or phrases (e.g., describing certain countries as ‘third world’; best avoided by using a phrase like ‘other parts of the world’).

Diversity can be seen by some staff and students to pose challenges for in-class interactions.

  • Create an atmosphere where all students are respected and valued as individuals. Don’t ask students to speak for people of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or nationality and don't assume students know the history of their heritage.
  • An effective way to create a respectful atmosphere is to set ground rules with your group at the beginning for how everyone should behave in the tutorial. Ask students to individually write down their views and then to discuss in pairs so as to allow all students to develop confidence in making contributions.
  • Useful ground rules might include listening to others’ opinions; arriving on time; maintaining confidentiality; using preferred names. Learn the names of everyone in your group and how to pronounce and spell them correctly. If there are names you find challenging to pronounce or you don’t want to ask your students again, you may find this pronunciation guide of commonly used names helpful.
  • Of course, the diversity of students in your class is actually a wonderful teaching resource for developing students' global perspectives on your subject. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how we can develop graduates as global citizens without diverse student groups.

Some staff find assessment of diverse student groups a challenge.

  • Design assessment tasks that involve students working collaboratively on 'real-world' tasks wherever possible. These tasks often appeal to all students regardless of background. With diverse student groups, it is particularly important to allow sufficient time for students to develop effective teams.
  • For example, a well designed inclusive assessment task within business education might involve students working in groups to compile risk analyses of setting up businesses in a particular country which none of the students in the class are originally from (you need to know your students’ backgrounds). In marketing, student groups might be asked to assemble explanations of the relevant cultural perspectives of advertisements of their choice from anywhere around the world.

For more ideas about how to teach diverse student groups effectively see the University of Western Australia’s cultural diversity and inclusive practice toolkit and Barbara Gross Davis’ book Tools for Teaching.[close]

More than ever our students bring to their experience of learning and teaching a wide range of language and life experiences. Teaching diverse student groups effectively is about...[more]

Profile: Jackie Nicholas, Maths Learning Centre

Jackie Nicholas is Head of the Maths Learning Centre — a centre that was established in 1984 to support students enrolled in their first units of study with a mathematics or statistics content but who do not have the assumed knowledge in maths they need for their studies. Jackie became the Centre’s second Head in 1991.

The Centre’s students, about 600 each year, mostly study science, engineering or economics and range in age from school leavers to retirees. They attend the Centre’s programs voluntarily and so are typically very hard working. Jackie says the most important and heavily used resource for students is the Drop-in Centre where students can come and work on their maths together in a supportive environment and ask for assistance from a staff member if they need it. "It’s a successful model — most of our students pass their maths or stats units. Some students go on to complete PhDs and one of our former students is now a senior lecturer here" reported Jackie.

Jackie’s background, and first love, was pure mathematics but since coming to work in the Centre her research interests have changed to how mathematics and statistics are learned at university.  Her most recent research, with her colleague Sue Gordon, investigates teachers' reflections on the challenges of teaching mathematics bridging courses.

Jackie became a student again in 2006 when she started studying part-time — a ten-year project.  She now knows first hand how hard it can be to juggle work, family and study![close]

Jackie Nicholas is Head of the Maths Learning Centre — a centre that was established in 1984 to support students enrolled in their first units of study with a mathematics o...[more]

Innovative and enduring assessment: ATN conference

Interested in exploring issues of innovative, enduring assessment? At the ATN's Assessment 2010 Conference, hosted by UTS on 18-19th November, you will share practices in assessment that are demonstrably effective, discuss the challenges of innovation, contribute to the scholarship of assessment and engage with communities of academics and teachers, students and employers. 

The conference will embrace such issues as assessment of work-integrated and community-based learning and sustainable assessment practices in development of disciplinary standards. Innovative assessment will be considered in terms of opportunities and challenges considering technology in assessment in blended learning environments. Socially inclusive assessment issues will be presented, assessment issues as they relate to both the increasing diversity of student cohorts and diverse assessment practices especially required for assessment of students within culturally diverse classes.

We welcome a broad range of contributions in the form of full papers, short papers, workshops and posters, exploring the key themes of sustainability, diversity and innovation.

Providing provocative perspectives, our keynote speakers include

  • Professor Dai Hounsell - "Assessing the 21st-century graduate: seven challenges"
  • Professor David Boud -  "Sustainable assessment for long-term learning"
  • Professor Keithia Wilson and  Associate Professor Alf Lizzio -  "Assessment in First-Year: Staff and Student Perceptions of Appropriate and Effective Practice"

Visit the Conference website.

Australian Technology Network of Universities.[close]

Interested in exploring issues of innovative, enduring assessment? At the ATN's Assessment 2010 Conference, hosted by UTS on 18-19th November, you will share practi...[more]

VC award winner profile: Systems that Achieve Collective Excellence in Teaching and Learning

Continuing our series of profiles of the 2010 VC’s award recipients, the team at  The Graduate School of Engineering and Information Technologies Research and Research Training Arm aims to make the candidature of its research students enjoyable as well as educational.

Earlier feedback from students indicated that there were some issues with supervision, with management of candidature and with the research climate. From 2007 onwards the team put in place a number of measures to tackle these issues and are now starting to see some outcomes.

As Professor Assaad Masri explains:  “We have over 400 research students who are with us for three to four years and we want to make their experience as pleasurable as possible. We take a holistic approach to candidature from enrolment to completion, starting from day one.  Each student sits down with their supervisor and uses a discussion checklist to talk about expectations and a plan for the candidature. The students find the checklist very useful and informative in being able to understand how it all works and how the relationship with their supervisor will unfold. “

The team uses thesis tracking to support timely completion. Six months before the PhD submission date, students receive a reminder email and then another one three months out. Lesley Vanderkwast says that “Once the student has submitted the form saying that they intend to submit, we organise the examiners and ensure approval. When students lodge their thesis, it can go out immediately. We also send reminders to the examiners.  Our completion rate is excellent – it’s now 3 to 3.5 months on average, where it used to be 6 months or longer.”

Some measures are simple, such as providing a new computer for every PhD student. There’s an annual student conference where senior PhD students present their research. There are prizes for the best presentation from each department and for the thesis with the most promising commercial application. The team also hosts an annual supervision forum where supervisors discuss research supervision issues and best practices in supervision.

“It’s all about taking measures to prevent problems, such as monitoring the progress of each student. We try to identify potential problems as soon as possible.”, says Associate Professor Javid Atai.

Assaad sums up by saying “It’s still early days but we know that we are on track and the initial responses have been encouraging. There’s positive word of mouth, where existing students recommend the Faculty to potential students. Supervisors know that we’re here to help and we work with the entire Faculty as one team. It’s reassuring that we’re heading in the right direction.”

The team includes:  Professor Assaad Masri, Associate Professor Javid Atai, George Carayannopoulos, Lesley Vanderkwast, Dr Alejandro Montoya, Dr Bernhard Scholz, Professor Eduardo Nebot, Professor Lin Ye, Dr Abbas Jamalipour,  Dr Andre Van Schaik,  Professor John Patterson and Associate Professor Itai Einav.

If you want to know more about systems that have been put in place you can contact the team for a chat or read the award application in the ITL front office, Level 3, Carslaw.[close]

Continuing our series of profiles of the 2010 VC’s award recipients, the team at  The Graduate School of Engineering and Information Technologies Research and Research...[more]

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