Teaching@Sydney

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An Education Manifesto from the DVC(E)

Professor Derrick Armstrong outlines his vision for education at the University of Sydney.

He writes:

In her inaugural address on becoming Vice Chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire Patricia Broadfoot challenged all universities when she argued that personal relationships are lost in the modern university ‘maelstrom’, that university teaching is ‘profoundly unsuitable’ for today’s world and that universities have been ‘backward’ in understanding how students learn and how best to teach them.

Has Broadfoot got it right? Too often academics are apologetic about their value to society but surely, universities have a responsibility, in Alfred North Whitehead’s words, to ‘make the future’. Just as our research tries to imagine the future, the goal of education is to imagine and embrace the future. Imagination and creativity are at the centre of learning in a university. We work and live in an environment in which the boundaries of human experience and understanding are continually expanding. Members of the university community commonly believe and invest in an educational project that binds teaching and research together in pursuit of a common purpose of learning.

At the beginning of the 21st century myriad expectations have been placed upon universities and their staff. It would hardly be surprising if individual academics were to lose a sense of what it is to be part of a university and instead focused their efforts upon what they perceive to be the best way of advancing short-term career goals.

Yet, despite the difficulties we face, academics continue to produce outstanding research and through their teaching make inspiring contributions to the life-long learning of their students.

In this spirit I want to suggest what a commitment by and to the university stands for as a learning community might entail – an ‘education manifesto’ which provides not only principles but the concrete actions to achieve a university for our future society.

First and foremost, an approach to learning and teaching that is fully integrated into the mission and practice of the university– a commitment to one learning community rather than to the discrete and fragmented activities of teaching and research.

From this follows the importance of institutional recognition of the centrality of learning and teaching to the professionalism of the academic role; a recognition made concrete in the university’s approach to appointments, promotions, rewards and professional development that matches or exceeds best practice internationally.

Arguably nothing impacts more negatively on the student learning experience than shabby, overcrowded and neglected teaching spaces and inadequate teaching resources. So, a third critical element of an education manifesto should be investment in teaching and learning facilities, as we hare doing with our new Learning Hubs, together with integrated planning to align the university’s mission for learning, teaching and research with the allocation, use and management of resources.

In a discussion about how we measure our performance at the very least a university should declare its targets in respect of infrastructure investment, staff:student ratios, and the quality and timing of assessment feedback. If a university truly aspires to educational excellence it should also be brave enough to set the standard for quality performance and outcomes in the sector and to defend its policies and practices on that basis.

The fifth element of my manifesto is a commitment to social inclusion with targets for low SES and Indigenous student participation for which the university is responsible and accountable together with financial support for students and an engagement with communities and schools that makes such a strategy meaningful. The idea of a university claims universality: the universality of thought, of knowledge, of understanding and of participation in learning. A commitment to inclusion therefore goes to the heart of what a university stands for.

Finally, an unequivocal commitment to the highest teaching standards and the broad educational mission of the institution.

To take seriously the challenge that Broadfoot presented, an education manifesto should demonstrate a commitment to the university as a learning community in which students and staff are together engaged in thinking critically about our futures. This might be seen as a cultural transformation but is it really so great a transformation? Perhaps the spirit and the strength of this manifesto lies in affirmation of the traditional educational values of a university in which students, teachers and researchers are all fundamentally engaged in the pursuit of learning.[close]

Professor Derrick Armstrong outlines his vision for education at the University of Sydney. He writes: In her inaugural address on becoming Vice Chancellor of the University o...[more]

OLT Awards and Grants for teaching and learning

The Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) offers awards and grants to support teaching and learning.
While these are nationally competitive, the ITL can offer assistance with preparing an application.

Citations and Awards
The University may nominate up to eight individuals or teams for Citations for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning, which are worth $10,000. Applications for nomination are due at the ITL on 9 May.

For the Program Awards which are worth $25,000 there are seven categories: widening participation; educational partnerships; the first year experience; flexible learning and teaching; innovation in curricula, learning and teaching; postgraduate education and services supporting student learning.

In the Awards for Teaching Excellence, also worth $25,000, there are eight categories: five discipline categories, the Neville Bonner Award for Indigenous Education, an Early Career Category and the 2012 priority area, teaching a diverse student body.

Applications for nomination for both sets of awards are due at the ITL on 30 May.

Grants
The second round grants for Innovation and development projects address many of the University’s current teaching and learning priorities: curriculum renewal; improving tertiary pathways; innovation and development in learning and teaching, including in relation to the role of new technologies; research and development; and internationalisation.

The Leadership for Excellence in Learning and Teaching Program provides funds for programs which build leadership capacity and Seed projects, which are pilot projects that test and evaluate an original idea, are available under both programs.

The internal deadline for the grants is 27 July, prior to 3 August submission to the OLT. Information about the internal processes is available on the ITL website, where you will also find information about National and Mid-Career Teaching Fellowships.[close]

The Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT) offers awards and grants to support teaching and learning. While these are nationally competitive, the ITL can offer assistance with pr...[more]

Sydney students are engaged enquiry learners

More than three quarters of Sydney University coursework students agree that their current degree course encourages them to be enquiring learners. Less than 6% disagree.

The 2011 Student Course Experience Questionnaire (SCEQ) responses from 8472 students show that while 71% of first year students agree, the average agreement for fourth year students and for postgraduate coursework students is 79%.

When students strongly agree that they are encouraged to be enquiring learners, they are more likely to report experiencing higher quality teaching, to see themselves as being a part of a learning community, to be more likely to acquire graduate generic skills and to report that they are more satisfied with the quality of their degree course.

Engaged enquiry is one of the university’s two key values. It is described in the current Strategic Plan as being about “seamlessness in the learning of our students and researchers as they work to sharpen their skills in critical thinking and analysis to advance knowledge and understanding. Second, while building on the traditional disciplines, we bring them together to solve complex problems in cross-disciplinary education and research. Third, the work of our University is engaged with the communities of which we are a part, both in Australia and overseas.” This is the first time students have been asked about their experience of this aspect of their learning context.

Two existing SCEQ items provide some insight into a part of the research enriched learning and teaching (RELT) aspect of engaged enquiry. 54% of undergraduate students agree that they feel their learning benefits from being in contact with active researchers (item 30), with the agreement ranging from 47% among commencing first years up to 64% for fourth year students. Disagreement ranges from 13-11%.

Item 36 (My degree course is developing my capacity for research and inquiry) is agreed to by 73% of students, with 69% of first years and 79% of fourth years agreeing. Disagreement ranges from 5-6%.

The new item on engaged enquiry was also accompanied by a new item that focuses specifically on community engaged enquiry [My learning on this course has been supported by contact with the wider community (e.g. industry, society)]. This CELT element of engaged enquiry is not experienced strongly by students, with a mean agreement score for undergraduate students of 44.7%, and disagreement at 24%. For postgraduate coursework students the results are agree: 46%, disagree 22%.

While this reported experience provides a picture of an active, engaged and enquiring student body, the value of these data lie in providing a baseline from which to monitor the progress of achieving this strategic goal of enhanced engaged enquiry.

Further SCEQ results can be obtained from the ITL website.
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More than three quarters of Sydney University coursework students agree that their current degree course encourages them to be enquiring learners. Less than 6% disagree. The 20...[more]

New opportunities for supervisors of research students

Are you new to research supervision, and seeking some guidance, information and collegial discussion about supervision issues at this University? Or are you an experienced supervisor who might enjoy contributing your expertise to colleagues or discussing supervision issues in the current climate? Either way, there are some opportunities that might interest you.

New supervisors are encouraged to undertake the ITL-run Foundations for Research Supervision, which is a largely online program that you can work through at your own pace. In March, a substantial revision of this program was launched, based on an analysis of participant feedback on each module in the program over a five year period, and in consultation with a range of academics with supervision and teaching expertise. The revised program includes up to date information about University policies, procedures and expectations; links to relevant research; advice and suggestions; downloadable documents for use with students; and an online Discussion Space in which you can post and reply to comments by colleagues across this University.

If you have never seen the program, it’s free to enroll and have a browse (all you need is your UniKey). If you already completed the program some time ago, you might want to log in to check out the new and updated resources and the new look! To see the FRS website click here.

Experienced supervisors will be able to take part in a new initiative this year that will be based in the faculties with central support and coordination provided by the ITL. The initiative aims to further build the capacity of experienced supervisors while strengthening faculty research cultures and improving the quality of research students’ experiences. It seeks to recognise, extend and disseminate supervisory expertise by involving experienced supervisors in the planning, leadership and provision of events and resources to benefit less experienced supervisors and research students. Faculties will be identifying and addressing key supervision issues that are most relevant to their own students and staff and to the University at large.

For more information on either program, please contact Dr Cynthia Nelson, ITL.
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Are you new to research supervision, and seeking some guidance, information and collegial discussion about supervision issues at this University? Or are you an experienced superv...[more]

Teaching Insight: The research supervisor as learner

Research supervision is centred on learning. As the ‘primary learner’, the supervisor has the opportunity to build on their experiences as a supervisor and gain insights to improve the outcomes for each student. It is well understood that, as with any relationship, those involved in the ‘supervisor - research student partnership’ jointly share responsibility for the outcomes. Because the supervisor repeats the experience multiple times they can make changes to reflect their learning. Postgraduate research supervision is primarily based on leading by example so any expected change in the performance of the candidate must start with oneself as the leader in the partnership.

Learning through reflection is the first strategy I use to ensure excellent supervisory practice. This starts with self-awareness and honesty about one’s own strengths and weaknesses, observing the methods of people I admire, and listening carefully to feedback. Attention to formal reporting tools, and the ‘exit interviews’ I conduct with postgraduates, provide me with perspective and wide scope for reflection.

At the beginning of the supervisory process my focus is on the activities that we have influence over: recruitment, project design, setting expectations, monitoring progress, and giving feedback. Do the skills and background of the student prepare them for the project? What career aspirations do they have? Does the need for quick results or publications obscure the deficiencies in the candidate’s writing ability? The evolving needs of students throughout their candidature will be reflected in the supervisor’s changing practices.

My second strategy is to model the process. As the research progresses we need to adapt to the student’s growing independence, and capacity to interact as colleague or collaborator. I aim to foster independent creativity based on critical thinking, innovative methods and flexible strategies tailored to the individual by encouraging students to set aspirational goals and to achieve them by developing detailed and realistic plans. My strategy is to model the process for them, discussing how to apply it to their individual circumstances to ensure they achieve high quality research outcomes within the constraints of time and resources. Many are truly surprised at what they can achieve with this support and clear structure.

A third key strategy is to establish clear lines of communication and build relationships based on trust and mutual respect to create a supportive and stimulating intellectual community. To foster creative work it is essential to take risks by exposing emerging ideas to critique and to receive timely, constructive, feedback. I meet regularly, even daily, with students to set goals and review progress and use email, Skype or phone calls for quick turnaround. The key outcome of this approach is that I can identify issues at earlier stages, avoid escalation and increase options for solutions.

Inspiring students to achieve academic excellence by developing their capacity for independent enquiry, critical thinking and sustained problem solving is best done by modelling these to them directly.

Associate Professor Glenda Wardle is an ecologist in the Faculty of Science. She was the recipient of a 2011 University Teaching Excellence Award for Higher Degree Research Supervision.[close]

Research supervision is centred on learning. As the ‘primary learner’, the supervisor has the opportunity to build on their experiences as a supervisor and gain insig...[more]

Student Viewpoint: Inequities of base funding review

From a student perspective,  last year’s Lomax-Smith Base Funding Review would have significant implications. I want to give an idea of just what a rationalized contribution scheme could mean for students. To summarize, the fee students pay will be exactly 40% of the cost it takes for the university to run the degree program. This could lead to some radically inequitable outcomes.

The current system charges students more to study law than nursing. This is for the fairly obvious reason that being educated in law gives you, on average, a far higher career income than someone who works as a nurse. However, the proposed model pays no notice to equity of access. It costs very little to teach law – all you require is a teacher and a classroom. Nursing, however, requires a lot of practical training and technology in order to give nurses the experience they need for the job. The result is that, while the NTEU estimates a law student will pay $4,800 a year, a nurse will be expected to contribute $7,680 ($3000 more!) Clearly, this isn’t fair.

The Report crudely justifies this change on the grounds that subsidizing course costs in subjects like science have historically not encouraged higher participation rates in those courses. While it is dubious that student numbers have no sensitivity to fee increases (especially those from low SES backgrounds), it is simply bizarre for a model which systematically advantages law and commerce students as ‘progressive.’ In turn, it gives no recognition to the social benefits that come with students studying medicine, nursing or agriculture. We need to avoid saddling our best and brightest with debts they can never pay off.

This month's student perspective was provided by David Pink, an Education Officer of the Students’ Representative Council.[close]

From a student perspective,  last year’s Lomax-Smith Base Funding Review would have significant implications. I want to give an idea of just what a rationalized contri...[more]

Widening participation for regional and rural students

Six projects funded via the Widening Participation grants are making higher education more accessible to students in regional areas. The projects are running in Engineering, IT, Science, Physics, Natural Resource Management and Rural Health.

Indigenous Australian Engineering Summer School
In January 2012, 21 Indigenous year 11 & 12 students from around Australia were involved in engineering activities, site visits and social and cultural activities as part of the Indigenous Australian Engineering Summer School (IAESS).

Kate Thompson, a student from Bundaberg says, "[IAESS] gets you used to university so you know what to look forward to when you get here".

The academic overseer of this year's program, Dr Douglass Auld, says the school gives students an indication of the level of dedication to theoretical study required to become an engineer. "The next step with IAESS is helping students attain the exam preparation and maths skills they need to succeed in first year engineering”, says Dr Auld.

Challenging students to engage with IT
Dr Tara Murphy is building on the success of the National Computer Science School Challenge, an online programming competition in which 2000 students participate each year. The Challenge will be extended to make it more accessible for socio-economically and geographically disadvantaged students, allowing them to have a positive experience of IT in a friendly and well-supported online learning environment. Dr Murphy says, “We want to work directly with teachers to make the Challenge more accessible. This will include supporting regional teachers to set up the Challenge in their classrooms.” The first regional event will run in Mudgee next month.

The four other projects are listed below. Summaries can be found here under the ‘Regional’ heading.

  • Support for teachers from rural and low socioeconomic high schools to attend the Science Teachers’ Workshop 2012
  • Kickstart on the Road (Physics)
  • Targeted extension to understand and develop aspirations for tertiary education in natural resource management among students from rural and regional areas
  • Evaluating the impact of community-university partnership on career aspirations for disadvantaged students in remote NSW.

The Widening Participation grants are part of a joint initiative of the Social Inclusion Unit and the Institute for Teaching and Learning, and are aimed at promoting inclusive teaching and learning and a more diverse student community.[close]

Six projects funded via the Widening Participation grants are making higher education more accessible to students in regional areas. The projects are running in Engineering, IT,...[more]

Ethical Practices in Work Integrated Learning

Registrations are now open for the forum on “Ethical Practices in Work Integrated Learning” organised by the NSW/ACT Chapter of ACEN (Australian Collaborative Education Network) on 14 May at the University of Canberra.  Registration is free for University of Sydney staff.

This will be a cutting edge and thought provoking forum with a number of excellent presenters who will speak on various aspects of ethics as it applies to Work Integrated Learning.  Click here to register online.

Speakers and titles of presentations include:

Professor Gerlese Akerlind, Director of the University of Canberra Teaching and Learning Centre Professionalism, ethics and social responsibility.

Matthew Campbell, Lecturer - Work Integrated Learning, Griffith Institute for Higher Education (GIHE)Educating for the ethical professional through work integrated learning.

Dr Michaela Baker, Academic Director of Participation, Faculty of Arts and Jacqueline Mackaway, Program Research & Development Officer, Learning & Teaching Centre, Macquarie UniversityChoosing ethical partners: one institution’s efforts to engage in ethical partnerships.

Dr Bill Boyd, Professor of Geography, School of Environmental Science & Management Chair, Southern Cross University“First do no harm": Educating for ethical practice.

Teresa Swirski - Postdoctoral Fellow (Practice-Based Education) and Stephen Loftus, The Education For Practice Institute CSU From practice to praxis: ethics in workplace learning.

For any enquiries please contact Freny Tayebjee, Chair NSW/ACT Chapter of ACEN.
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Registrations are now open for the forum on “Ethical Practices in Work Integrated Learning” organised by the NSW/ACT Chapter of ACEN (Australian Collaborative Educati...[more]

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