Shifting the focus from teaching to learning

Friday, 15 April 2016

Sustainability scientist Dr Bonnie McBain implements highly creative and cutting edge practices in online teaching, an approach that is winning-over her students and was recognised with a Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence.

The sessional academic and Conjoint Fellow in UON’s School of Environmental and Life Sciences, believes in learner centred teaching.

“Shifting the focus from teaching to learning really helps our students actively engage and make meaning from their study,” Bonnie said.

“The field of environmental complexity, sustainability and resilience is challenging to learn because it requires students to reassess their assumptions about ‘how the environment works’ and challenge the current paradigm of environmental management.”

Bonnie’s teaching enables students to engage in deep, transformational learning through pedagogical approaches that support critically reflective, student-centred, participatory and active experiential learning.

“This means that students explicitly practice and implement the theory that they learn through case studies and practical, vocationally relevant assessment tasks,” she said.

Bonnie has been teaching three Masters level online sustainability courses since 2012 and the success of her pioneering practices and innovative approaches to online delivery is reflected by her excellent student feedback scores of 4.65 out of 5.

At the end of 2015, she was awarded a prestigious Vice-Chancellor's Sessional Staff Teaching Excellence Award, which recognised her contribution to strengthening the teaching quality of the program and informing curriculum development at the institutional level.

“My hope is that the award gives my students greater confidence that the teaching they receive is well considered, pushing the boundaries a little but also very strongly based on the latest evidence of what best practice learning for sustainability is understood to be.”

Bonnie has a multidisciplinary environmental background across the fields of Ecological Footprints, climate change, surface water quality, catchment management, sustainable forest management, air quality, and groundwater and fisheries management. Her work aims to build solutions which increase the resilience of communities and the natural environment they rely upon.

“I always knew I wanted to be a sustainability scientist even before there was such a profession,” Bonnie said.

“Over time I have collected, created and wrestled through a range of projects to contribute to the future I want for my community and family.”

Most recently Bonnie, together with colleague Liam Phelan, co-led a project to develop learning standards for the field of environment and sustainability in collaboration with academics, employers, Aboriginal peoples, students and environmental educators from other sectors from all around Australia.

“We now have an understanding of the essential learning required of all students graduating from an environment and sustainability degree anywhere in Australia.”

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The University of Newcastle acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands within our footprint areas: Awabakal, Darkinjung, Biripai, Worimi, Wonnarua, and Eora Nations. We also pay respect to the wisdom of our Elders past and present.