The University of Newcastle, Australia

Prof. Ljiljana Brankovic receives Vice-Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence

Sunday, 30 November 2014

A 2014 Vice-Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence and Contribution to Student Learning caps off a productive year for Professor Ljiljana Brankovic from the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

The award recognises the role of an academic from each faculty for their outstanding and diverse contribution to the quality of student learning, and Professor Brankovic has been selected as a Highly Commended Recipient among the faculty winners.

With the aim of continually improving her teaching, Professor Brankovic has introduced innovative teaching methods that have been extremely well received by her students. She has adopted the flipped classroom model of pre-recording lectures for students to watch before the scheduled lecture so that time in the lecture can be spent working through comprehensive examples together or simply going over challenging parts of the lecture.

In conjunction with the flipped classroom, she developed weekly on-line quizzes that students were required to complete before attending class. Students reported that the quizzes were helpful for their learning and motivated them to watch the lecture recordings before coming to class.

In 2014, Professor Brankovic introduced dynamic worked examples (DWEs) into her teaching. DWEs are small recordings showing the lecturer solving problems. After asking her students via a survey which topics they were struggling with, she created a number of DWEs. "The DWEs were a great success and without a doubt my courses next year will be full of them", explains Professor Brankovic.

Together, the flipped classroom and DWEs created a blended learning environment that was particularly supportive to part-time working students. Students' results for 2014 showed a decrease in pass and fail results and an increase in the percentage of distinctions and credits.

Professor Brankovic's aim of introducing gamification to her courses is to improve engagement and outcomes. Gamification refers to using elements of games in a non-game context to help engage students, particularly in her theoretical courses that students often see as a 'necessary evil'. Gamification has been applied in workplace, marketing, health programs, education and other areas, with mounting evidence of increased interest, involvement, satisfaction and performance of the participants.

"Ljiljana has gone above and beyond the call of duty with each of her courses. Her teaching techniques (pre-recorded 'reversed' lectures, game techniques) are adaptive and changing to match the dynamic future of education. These methods are considerably helpful to learning and retaining content properly," explains an anonymous student in Professor Brankovic's award nomination.

Another student states, "I think it's a reality of the current age that students have a lot to juggle between uni, work, personal issues etc, and I really felt that you were trying hard to help students achieve in this environment".

Students repeatedly refer to Professor Brankovic as an inspiring teacher who goes above and beyond the realm of her responsibilities to help students. She is known for taking the time to explain new and difficult concepts in an easy to understand manner, and for scheduling extra sessions to help struggling students. 

She is "universally respected by students for her knowledge in the field", states one student, who is among many who commend her for introducing "bold teaching initiatives such as the flipped classroom … that has had great success in other countries but still hasn't caught on in Australia".

Prof. Ljiljana Brankovic

Professor Brankovic sums up why she is repeatedly nominated for teaching and learning awards both within the Faculty and the University.

"Looking after my students, both inside and outside the classroom, has always been important to me. Throughout my teaching career, I have always strived to make time to meet the students individually to discuss both the course material and their progress.

"If ever they indicated that they had a problem with the material, or any other problem that affected their studies, if it was in my power to support them, I always did. I regularly run study sessions on top of regular lectures and tutorial if my students tell me they need extra support."

"It's apparent she loves what she does" is another comment from an appreciative student, perhaps one of the greatest accolades a teacher can receive. It's apparent from Professor Brankovic's desire to incorporate innovative teaching and learning methods and nurture her students that she does indeed love what she does, and her students are the grateful beneficiaries.


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