Teaching@Sydney

Welcome to Teaching@Sydney. Stay informed about teaching and learning news and events with this monthly bulletin produced by the Institute for Teaching and Learning.

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Vice Chancellor's Awards: Outstanding teaching, student support and supervision

Five University of Sydney staff were recognised for Outstanding Teaching in this year’s Vice Chancellor’s Awards. The selection panel commented on the very high standard of the applications and strong competition in the category. Engaged enquiry was a feature of the winning applications.

  • Professor Rick Benitez, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, is commended for the outstanding quality of his own teaching, his leadership of the teaching development program for new staff, and the range of his involvement in teaching activities in the Faculty. A colleague commented, "Just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your lecture. Absolutely wonderful. I was sitting at the back and all around me students were hanging on every word".
  • For Dr Laura Beth Bugg, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, critical thinking, reflexivity and craftsmanship are fundamental to her philosophy and practice of teaching. Her Early Career Award for Outstanding Teaching acknowledges the qualities reflected in the 2012 Counter Course Guide comment that, "She makes research and theorising relevant and interesting and constantly links it back not only to those things that are real or tangible and close to home but exciting and engaging".
  • The teaching of Giuseppe Carabetta, Sydney Business School is recognised as being innovative. He ensures that his students engage in creative research-based learning and assessment, resulting in what one student called "an exceptional learning environment", while another described him as "the most engaging lecturer and tutor with an incredible knowledge of the topic".
  • Dr Patricia McCabe, Faculty of Health Sciences, is committed to fostering the sort of learning that will enable students to work effectively once they become graduates. Her leadership, creativity and vision are exemplified in the national impact of her work through an ALTC project and the sharing of her case-based pedagogy. One student acknowledged her knowledge base as "awesome", adding that she "encourages lifelong learning and motivates all students to be passionate about Evidence Based Learning".
  • In the Faculty of Science, Dr Siegbert Schmid’s enthusiasm about his teaching is reflected in a comment from the Head of the School of Chemistry, stating that he is a "distinguished chemical education researcher who applies his research to introducing new and original teaching developments". The Selection Panel was impressed by evidence of his respect for students and his influence on the teaching of Chemistry beyond the university.

Two teams gained awards for their Support of the Student Experience.

  • In the Faculty of Health Sciences, the Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy Teaching teamDr Debra Shirley, Associate Professor Leslie Nicholson, Dr Robert Boland, Dr Trudy Rebbeck and Peter Colagiuri – provided evidence of a useful initiative that was effectively embedded in the teaching program, transferable, and had achieved an impressive level of buy-in. The systematic building on the resources through the use of master classes enhanced the impact and effectiveness of the work.
  • Associate Professor Fiona White and Dr Caleb Owens of the Faculty of Science are the First Year Psychology Curriculum Team responsible for the Constructive Feedback and Plagiarism Reduction Program. Although the approach of linking the development of writing skills and the reduction of plagiarism is not unique, the program they initiated has clearly had a positive, wide-reaching effect on the student experience, and is sustainable, scalable and timely.

Two awards were made for Excellence in Research Higher Degree Supervision.

  • Professor Anita Bundy (pictured), Faculty of Health Sciences, has provided systematic and co-ordinated support for more than 60 higher degree research students. She tailors her practice to a diverse range of individual students while creating a forum that research students recognise as unique. Her contributions as a supervisor and mentor are reflected in her students' research publications and comments about her, such the following from an alumnus: "[She has] played an important role in shaping my scholarly ability, not only as an HDR student, but also as an academic member of staff".
  • Professor Carol Pollock, Sydney Medical School, is commended for the exceptional quality of her supervisory practice, in a very demanding environment. Her committed, caring attention to students involves providing pathways and carving out time for them, with strong evidence that her achievements in this regard exceed normal practice. Students report that Professor Pollock managed to change the research culture for the better, and a referee commended "the outstanding research foundation" that students receive under her supervision.

Congratulations to all recipients of this year's VC's teaching awards.[close]

Five University of Sydney staff were recognised for Outstanding Teaching in this year’s Vice Chancellor’s Awards. The selection panel commented on the very high stand...[more]

Transforming doctoral education: A passion for learning

Losing the passion they once had for learning – that was what many academics at top US universities said when asked what they considered their biggest disappointment with the doctoral programs they were teaching in or running. Losing the passion they once had for their field – that was what many PhD students midway through their candidatures said when asked their biggest disappointment in these same doctoral programs. It does not have to be this way, says Professor George Walker, a theoretical physicist who recently spoke at The University of Sydney about transforming doctoral education.

Professor Walker, fresh from his plenary address at the Quality in Postgraduate Research conference held in Adelaide, outlined some of the main approaches that are being used to revitalise doctoral programs to better engage academic staff and doctoral students in passionate learning. His presentation was based on his experiences heading the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate, which was designed to encourage and support efforts to further improve the doctoral programs at top-ranking US universities.

One of his main points was that academics need to articulate their ‘pedagogy of research’ - or their approach to developing bright, eager doctoral students - because the all too common approach of ‘learning through osmosis’ is inadequate.

Another important point was that academics need to see themselves as stewards of the discipline – and as such, to ensure that all of the activities that comprise a doctoral program are purposeful, accessible, reflective and transparent.

Creating an intellectual community is another key responsibility. This requires effective modeling so that doctoral students learn how to formulate thoughtful questions – not how to attack a speaker by ‘showing off’ via an ‘alpha dog’ approach, which, according to Professor Walker, is common at universities but does not effectively facilitate learning.

To see Professor Walker's slides and listen to an audio-recording of his talk, click here. To read more about the Carnegie Initiative, click here.[close]

Losing the passion they once had for learning – that was what many academics at top US universities said when asked what they considered their biggest disappointm...[more]

Prestigious scholarship opportunities for staff and students

Two of the most prestigious and well-funded scholarship programs available are the Fulbright scholarships and the Australian government’s Endeavour Awards. All interested staff and students are strongly encouraged to apply for the 2013 round of these scholarships, which provide awardees with support and funding to undertake study or research in an approved overseas location.

The Fulbright scholarships are for postgraduate and postdoctoral students, professors and associate professors, and professional staff, while the Endeavour Awards are for undergraduate, postgraduate and postdoctoral students – including international students – as well as professionals.

Two University of Sydney PhD students, Patrick Neumann and Elisabeth Kramer, were awarded the Prime Minister’s Endeavour Awards in the 2012 round. Receiving these scholarships will allow them to conduct research overseas as part of their doctoral degree. Patrick’s PhD research is in physics, and will involve undertaking research at the City University of Hong Kong. His plans include developing, testing and characterising a free-swinging thrust balance for testing pulsed plasma spacecraft propulsion systems in the large vacuum chamber that the Materials Physics group at that university uses to create novel materials. Elisabeth’s PhD research is on the anti-corruption movement and changing perceptions of corruption in Indonesian society since Independence. She plans to study politics at an Indonesian institution, advance her Indonesian language skills, and undertake a placement internship with an anti-corruption NGO operating in Indonesia.

If you are teaching, please announce these scholarship opportunities to your students. A powerpoint slide highlighting key information has been created so that you can easily display it at the start of your classes. To get the slide, please send an email request to catherine.dernee@sydney.edu.au.

The Fulbright applications are due 30 August this year, and the Endeavour applications are due 30 June.

For further details on these and other scholarships, click here.[close]

Two of the most prestigious and well-funded scholarship programs available are the Fulbright scholarships and the Australian government’s Endeavour Awards. All interested...[more]

Teaching Insight: Making 'service' classes relevant to students with various majors

Do you teach large first year 'service' classes to students majoring in a variety of disciplines? Would you like to improve your students'  level of engagement and their perception of the importance and relevance of your subject to their intended major(s)? I've been asked to share some of the success I've had at making mathematics more relevant and inspiring to my students in the life sciences.

The first change I made to the curriculum was to organise the content thematically and to choose headings that use the language of the target disciplines. For example, students see that they will be studying topics such "Resource-Limited Growth" or "Cooperation and Competition". Only once they drill deeper into the lecture notes do they see daunting mathematical headings such as "Approximate behaviour near an equilibrium". The themes can still be ordered so that subsequent and more complicated topics (such as stability and equilibrium) build on the ideas, notation and mathematics introduced in earlier topics (such as linear vs. exponential growth).

Another change I made was to ensure that all the worked examples are authentic. I avoided implausible or contrived problems that might contribute to students' perceptions that the maths is not relevant. This also meant changing the examples I used so that they were from the fields of study that were pertinent to my students: in this case, agriculture, sociology, biology and medicine. (Perhaps I was making a political statement that maths does not only belong to the traditional quantitative sciences!).

In the end, every worked example was of one of two types: an authentic example motivated and explained in the language of a target discipline, or an unashamedly abstract question posed free of any context that exists solely so that students can practice and establish fluency in some very specific mathematical skills. The weekly tutorial sheets took on the same dual structure: each week the first page has questions that practice individual maths skills (free of context) and the second page has context-based problems that require combining skills developed over earlier parts of the unit.

I also showed students excerpts from important historical research papers, recent scientific articles, or controversial topics in the news. Rather than use secondary and digested versions (such as those from Wikipedia) I would show them the original articles. They could see for themselves that there were graphs, equations, arguments contained in these articles that were already within their grasp. Although using journal articles is certainly a common teaching strategy in honours mathematics, it is rare in first year. Receiving many emails from students who missed such lectures and wanted links to these articles was very fortifying.

Finally, I really wanted to show the same mathematics in as many diverse applications as possible. My favourite part of the course is a look at the depletion of oil reserves, sustainable harvesting of fish and the spread of epidemics -– all using the same mathematical model. In addition, this model can be studied using either exact mathematical methods, visual analysis or qualitative methods.

The Unit of Study Evaluations since making these changes consistently show very high ratings for questions about relevance, motivation and graduate attributes. These are three areas in which service courses very typically do poorly.


Associate Professor Leon Poladian is an interdisciplinary researcher in the School of Mathematics and Statistics with interests that span from optical fibres to evolution. He is a recent winner of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.[close]

Do you teach large first year 'service' classes to students majoring in a variety of disciplines? Would you like to improve your students'  level...[more]

The future of eLearning: Collaboration, engagement and practice

What are the implications of virtuality for higher education and work in the 21st century? You are invited to explore this topic at a free all-day workshop at the University of Melbourne on Friday 8 June 2012, 8.45am-5 pm. You may also wish to submit a presentation abstract for the event.

Keynote presenters will include Professor Ray Land (Durham University) and Professor Belinda Tynnian (University of Southern Queensland) as well as several academic, business and industry members who will engage as part of a panel to reflect and engage with workshop participants.

This workshop has evolved from an Australian Teaching and Learning Council grant examining Business Education in the 21st Century. Submission of works relating to virtuality as it applies to team work, student engagement, e-learning and workplace applications are invited for the afternoon paper session. Please register online before 5pm 14 May.

Contributions to the workshop in the form of paper presentations are invited from educators, industry members and professional bodies on the following themes:

  • Virtuality and student learning outcomes
  • E-Readiness
  • Graduate skill attributes and virtual teams
  • Connectivity and e-learning
  • Future of e-learning
  • E-learning innovation and practice
  • Comparison of different e-learning technologies

Presentation abstracts (250 words) can be submitted on-line before 5pm 14 April.[close]

What are the implications of virtuality for higher education and work in the 21st century? You are invited to explore this topic at a free all-day workshop at the University of M...[more]

Shut up and write - an invitation

Do you sometimes struggle to carve out time for your writing? Do other competing demands take priority? Maybe it’s time to Shut Up and Write...

Dr Amani Bell has started a Shut Up and Write group at the Camperdown campus. Shut Up and Write, a growing phenomenon at Australian and overseas universities, involves informal, regular get-togethers with a focus on individual writing – not talking about writing, just doing it.

“I heard about Shut Up and Write groups at other universities", Amani said, "and thought it would be great to have one here. Sometimes I find it hard to get motivated about my writing, so I wanted to try something different.”

The format of these groups often appeals to academics who find that the competing demands of their teaching, administration and leadership roles make it challenging to create time for research and other writing. The format also appeals to research students who enjoy the quiet conviviality of writing in the company of others.

Grab a coffee (or breakfast) and then settle in to write for two 25 minute sessions. All you need to do is plan what you are going to work on. It can be anything – a journal paper, a book chapter, a conference talk, a thesis chapter, a grant application, or a blog post.

Please join in at 9.30am every Monday morning for an hour at the Darlington restaurant (174 City Rd, Darlington, next to the Institute Building, see map). All are welcome - staff and students. There is no need to make a booking, but if you have any questions feel free to contact Amani at 9351-5815 or amani.bell@sydney.edu.au.[close]

Do you sometimes struggle to carve out time for your writing? Do other competing demands take priority? Maybe it’s time to Shut Up and Write... Dr Amani Bell has started...[more]

Five easy ways to support student success

Creating learning environments in which students can truly succeed and flourish takes long-term investment and planning, but there are some quick and easy ways for individual teachers and departments to support students. As part of the Widening Participation Scholars Network, invited speaker Professor Sally Kift, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at James Cook University, recently outlined some effective whole-of-institution approaches to supporting the first year experience.

Professor Kift also shared many ideas that individual teachers or departments can adopt and that may be helpful not just for first year students but for all students. Below are a few of her suggestions:

  1. Many university students are concerned about their future careers, and the practical relevance of their education. Ask recent graduates to send you their business cards, with some points on the back about what they are doing work-wise. Use the cards in discussions with your students about the vocational relevance of their studies.
  2. Sessional staff often do a lot of teaching, so make sure the sessional staff in your area have mentoring and support. Even a little bit of mentoring from one teacher to another can go a long way toward improving students’ learning experiences.
  3. Students new to the University tend to have many questions but often do not know who to ask. Provide ‘Ask me’ badges for all staff and senior students who wish to wear one in the first few weeks of semester. New students can be encouraged to ask anyone with a badge anything about university life.
  4. Students can learn much from interacting and working with other students, so create opportunities for peer to peer learning in your classes.
  5. Students need to understand the academic requirements and expectations specific to your disciplinary area and your unit of study, so be sure to discuss assessment expectations, exemplars and standards with your students.

For more ideas from Professor Kift’s work on 'transition pedagogy', see her  website.[close]

Creating learning environments in which students can truly succeed and flourish takes long-term investment and planning, but there are some quick and easy ways for individu...[more]

Conference on teaching and learning standards: Call for papers

Three distinguished Keynote speakers – Professors Mick Healey, Kerri-Lee Krause, and Alan Robson – will be here at The University of Sydney as part of the Australian Conference on Science and Mathematics Education (ACSME), to be held September 26th to 28th. The theme for this year’s conference is Teaching and learning standards – What does a standard mean to you?

Tertiary educators and students in science or mathematics are invited to submit an abstract or a paper using the online submission portal; details and guidelines are available on the conference website.

The closing date for submissions is Friday 15 June 2012.

Conference registrations are now open online, with early bird registrations available until 17 August 2011.[close]

Three distinguished Keynote speakers – Professors Mick Healey, Kerri-Lee Krause, and Alan Robson – will be here at The University of Sydney as part of the Australian...[more]

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