The University of Newcastle, Australia

Modern teaching techniques shaping students’ learning experience

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

As an inaugural recipient of a DVC(A) Merit List Award for Teaching and Learning Excellence, Lecturer in the School of Education, Dr Emma Shaw, shares how she uses modern teaching techniques to shape her students’ learning experience.

Dr Emma Shaw

The increasing shift to online learning platforms can be quite challenging for teaching. Especially for Specialist Studies courses. While much of these courses are face-to-face, online components are often neglected by the students. However, while this can be challenging, it is also exciting. New technological advancements, which the University embraces with excellence, are changing the teaching landscape. I love that we have avatars for students to practice their own teaching on! In one course I work on, we use iMovie and green screens to reconceptualise how history is reproduced, we explore how different software applications can be integrated into their planning, and the students get to use VR! Flexibility and a willingness to keep learning ourselves is the key here.

A good course is organised to scaffold student success. Strong alignment between learning activities, course outcomes, course readings, and assessment is crucial, as is a strong correlation between what is delivered in the lecture and what is practised in the tutorial. Outlining clear, explicit expectations is also important, as is useful and timely feedback. I think that courses developed using a Cognitive Apprenticeship Framework – whereby a process of scaffolding/modelling, joint construction, and then independent learning is employed - are the most successful. This is how I develop my own courses, and I know several of my esteemed colleagues, whose courses I also work on, do the same. ​​​​​​​

Student feedback is important to me. I try to make my courses interesting, engaging, and useful so it’s always good to know what I am doing right, and where I can tweak things to improve.  One of my most recent improvements to one of my courses is the development of a Resource Sharing Network. Some students in a previous year were unsure of the types of resources they could/should use in their planning, so I made a group that students could join (voluntarily) and I showed them what to use and how to use it through the application of key concepts. The students loved it, and actively began to share additional resources they found with each other.

I prioritise the learning experience of my students. I find that students who are interested and engaged find learning the actual content much easier. I like to have a variety of different activities to teach essential skills, and wherever possible differentiate them for individual students (or groups). Student success is another of my main priorities. It is so rewarding to see them master the content and be able to apply it in different real-world contexts. I also prioritise the development of good collegial relationships with my students. To me, positive and supportive relationships are one of the keys to good teaching.

The most important thing I strive to teach students is confidence. Generally speaking, much of the content I teach have practical applications for students’ future careers, so instilling a sense of confidence in their own abilities is important to me. I am passionate and enthusiastic about education, and I hope some of that rubs off on my students!

I learn from my students every day. To me, a great teacher is passionate, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable. They genuinely care about their students, and provide a supportive and safe learning environment. They challenge their students to strive for success and are flexible in their teaching approaches. They are observant (so they can see who requires extra support) and get to know their students as individuals with distinct requirements and needs. A great teacher should make all learning experiences relevant for their students, and it is essential to be well-prepared. Keeping up-to-date with educational policies and practices is crucial, as is dedication to your own life-long learning. A great teacher is collaborative and collegial, and open-mindedness is essential.

Students are drawn to the University because they know they can get a world-class education in one of the most beautiful cities in Australia. One of the most exciting things about working at the University is the diversity of learners from many from backgrounds. The International students bring a richness to the learning environment, which is welcoming and wonderfully multicultural, and we provide many pathways to tertiary education for domestic students who may be considered non-traditional, such as first-in-family, Indigenous students, or students who – for whatever reason – struggled in mainstream schooling. I myself was one of these students, so I can appreciate this flexibility. However, I think the staff are the strength of the University. It can be hard to balance teaching, research and other commitments, but my colleagues and I approach this with dedication, passion, and determination. I feel very fortunate to work here.

About Emma

A secondary history teacher ‘by trade’, Emma has worked at the University since 2012. She has taught a multitude of courses including humanities specialist studies (History 1 and 2; Society and Culture, Studies of Religion, and Aboriginal Studies) courses, elective history courses, foundational curriculum courses, Multiliteracies, sociology of education, and educational research. Her doctoral work explored how history manifests, is understood, and produced in public pedagogic spaces and repackaged for popular consumption.

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