Dr Liam Phelan
School of Environmental and Life Sciences (Education)
- Phone:(02) 492 16464
My primary research interest is sustainability and how to achieve it. I have a long-standing engagement at the nexus of climate change, finance, human rights and ecological sustainability. More recently my research interests have evolved to focus on governance of the Earth system as a complex adaptive system comprising human-social and ecological elements, and its key characteristics, including thresholds, non-linear change, and capacity for surprise. My particular interest is the relationship between the Earth system and the global economy as a subsystem of the Earth system, and how to bring the global economy into alignment with the Earth system. I engage in critical research, i.e. research which seeks both to understand the world and to change it for the better. I aim to equip and encourage students to participate consciously, actively and effectively in wider society as highly functioning citizens. Connections between education, social justice and sustainability are a key interest for me. This is why I teach.
Through my teaching I aim to support students to engage in their own active learning processes and facilitate in them an understanding of complex environmental sustainability issues. I pursue ‘deep approaches’ to learning, associated with outcomes described by students themselves as ‘understanding’, ‘seeing something in a different way’ and ‘changing as a person’; this represents significant ambition for teaching, beyond shallow learning such as ‘increasing one’s knowledge’, ‘memorising’ and ‘applying’. From this philosophical starting point I have developed an approach to teaching that conceptualises learning as a social and interactive activity. I believe online students’ sense of belonging to a learning community is absolutely essential to their success and joy in learning. For students in the online space, interactions are key to their development of a sense of community, and learners interactions, engagement and their sense of community may even constitute a virtuous spiral, i.e. a self-reinforcing process which supports achievement of learning goals. In my teaching practice I create a sense of community in cohorts of online Master students by emphasising students’ interaction with course content, peers and myself as lecturer. My background is in activism for social and ecological justice, and human rights. I have worked with civil society organisations including AID/WATCH and the Australia Tibet Council. In 2005 I was co-recipient of the international Free Spirit Award, created in 2003 to honour individuals working for the cause of Tibetan people. I have also served in several honorary roles with the International Tibet Support Network and with The Mercy Foundation, a philanthropic foundation with a social justice mission based in Sydney, Australia.
In brief Expertise: Earth system thresholds; climate change; finance (especially insurance); complexity theory; critical political economy; interdisciplinary research methodologies; and and pedagogy of online education, especially fostering online students sense of belonging to learning communities. Skills: researching complex sustainability problems by drawing from the physical & social sciences; conceptual development; qualitative research methods. ****************** Research interests My primary research interest is sustainability and how to achieve it. I have a long-standing engagement at the nexus of climate change, finance, human rights and ecological sustainability. More recently my research interests have evolved to focus on governance of the Earth system as a complex adaptive system comprising human-social and ecological elements, and its key characteristics, including thresholds, non-linear change, and capacity for surprise. My particular interest is the relationship between the Earth system and the global economy as a subsystem of the Earth system, and how to bring the global economy into alignment with the Earth system.
I engage in critical research, i.e. research which seeks both to understand the world and to change it for the better. I have also developed a 'second discipline' in online teaching and learning. My current research interest in this area is online students' sense of belonging to learning communities: how this aligns with constructivist understandings of learning, how this supports students' achievement and enjoyment of learning, and how to foster students' sense of belonging. Theory and conceptual development I have worked extensively with complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory, particularly as applied to social-ecological systems, i.e. the Earth system, the global economy, or virtually any other subsystem of the Earth system. CAS theory can serve well as an anchoring theoretical perspective for interdisciplinary Earth system research: one that can engage with cross-scale interaction (e.g. climate change as an expression of interaction between the global economy and the Earth system). I have combined CAS theory with neo-Gramscian political economy and also with diverse economies theory in order to addressing seemingly intractable sustainability questions. I also have working familiarity with climate and Earth system science.
Methodology: I seek to apply interdisciplinary methodologies in my research. While not necessary for all research, interdisciplinary methodologies are often an ideal choice for complex sustainability questions. I am most familiar with transdisciplinary methodologies (i.e. drawing on diverse disciplines from the very earliest stage of defining the research problem), which I used in PhD studies. I enjoy collaborating with colleagues with shared interests and complimentary expertise in order to pursue sustainability research. PhD Awarded 2011, Macquarie University, Sydney. In Environment & Geography. The PhD’s title is The relationship between anthropogenic climate change and the insurance system: Imperatives, options, and reflections on theory. The PhD is a transdisciplinary study of the relationship between climate change, the global economy and insurance. The research draws primarily on complexity theory, critical political economy and climate and Earth system science to (i) ask what climate change means for insurance, (ii) ask if and how the insurance system might be geared to effective and just mitigation of climate change, and (iii) reflect on the use of theory in this research towards further theory development.
Since 2012 I am Teaching and Learning Coordinator with GradSchool, the unit which administers all of the University's online postgraduate courswork programs. I have served in Course Coordinator, Lecturer and Tutor roles since 2004 teaching Environmental Studies, Development Studies and Geography in the Discipline of Geography and Environmental Studies. In 2007-8, together with colleagues, I rewrote two courses, ENVS6525 Sustainability & Ecosystem Health and ENVS6530 Environmental Management. In 2011 I was honoured with the Newcastle University Postgraduate Students' Association Online Teacher of the Year Award. That year I was also awarded a Vice-Chancellor's Award for Teaching Excellence. I have published journal articles and presented conference papers on the scholarship of teaching and learning, particularly in the area of online students sense of belonging to learning communities. I completed a Graduate Certificate in the Practice of Tertiary Teaching in 2009 and am currently completing a Master of Leadership and Management in Education.
In my role as Teaching and Learning Coordinator I am leading GradSchool's work aimed at supporting teaching excellence across all of the University's online postgraduate coursework programs.
- PhD (Environment and Geography), Macquarie University
- Bachelor of Arts (Honours), University of New South Wales
- Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Education, University of Newcastle
- Climate change
- Environmental Studies
- Complex adaptive systems
- Online teaching & learning
- Neo-Gramscian political economy
Fields of Research
|160609||Political Theory and Political Philosophy||30|
|Title||Organisation / Department|
|Senior Lecturer||University of Newcastle
School of Environmental and Life Sciences
|Senior Lecturer||University of Newcastle
Marketing and Communications
|Senior Lecturer||University of Newcastle
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|1/01/2010 -||Membership - Earth System Governance Network||Earth System Governance Network
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Chapter (4 outputs)
McBain B, Phelan L, 'Building students¿ communication skills and understanding of environmental and sustainability issues interactively and cumulatively with Pecha Kucha presentations', Learner-Centered Teaching Activities for Environmental and Sustainability Studies, Springer International, Cham, Switzerland 279-284 (2016) [B1]
Connor T, Robertson B, Griffiths TG, Phelan L, 'Swimming against the neoliberal tide: The campaign to save Mayfield pool', Radical Newcastle, NewSouth Publishing, Sydney 232-239 (2015) [B1]
|2012||Phelan L, Harwood S, Henderson-Sellers A, Taplin R, 'Adaptation is not enough: Why Insurers Need Climate Change Mitigation', Leal Filho, Walter and Manolas, Evangelos. English through climate change, Orestiada, Greece : Department of Forestry and Management of the Environment and Natural Resources, Democritus University of Thrace 103-118 (2012)|
Phelan L, Henderson-Sellers A, Taplin R, 'Mitigation of the Earth's Economy: A Viable Strategy for Insurance Systems', , SPRINGER-VERLAG BERLIN 81-98 (2011) [B1]
|Show 1 more chapter|
Journal article (24 outputs)
Carbone A, Evans J, Ross B, Drew S, Phelan L, Lindsay K, et al., 'Assessing distributed leadership for learning and teaching quality: a multi-institutional study', Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 39 183-196 (2017) [C1]
© 2017 Association for Tertiary Education Management and the LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management. Distributed leadership has been explored interna... [more]
© 2017 Association for Tertiary Education Management and the LH Martin Institute for Tertiary Education Leadership and Management. Distributed leadership has been explored internationally as a leadership model that will promote and advance excellence in learning and teaching in higher education. This paper presents an assessment of how effectively distributed leadership was enabled at five Australian institutions implementing a collaborative teaching quality development scheme called the Peer Assisted Teaching Scheme. The Scheme brings together expertise from teams of academics, coordinators, and institutional learning and teaching portfolio holders to the shared goal of enhancing learning and teaching quality. A distributed leadership benchmarking tool was used to assess the Scheme¿s effectiveness, and we found that (i) the Scheme is highly consistent with the distributed leadership benchmarks, and that (ii) the benchmarking tool is easily used in assessing the alignment (or otherwise) of teaching and learning quality initiatives with distributed leadership benchmarks. This paper will be of interest to those seeking to assess implementations of distributed leadership to improve teaching quality and leadership capacity.
Drew S, Phelan L, Lindsay KA, Carbone A, Ross B, Wood K, et al., 'Formative observation of teaching: focusing peer assistance on teachers' developmental goals', Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 42 914-929 (2017) [C1]
Ross B, Carbone A, Lindsay KA, Drew S, Phelan L, Cottman C, Stoney S, 'Developing Educational goals: insights from a Peer Assisted Teaching Scheme', International Journal for Academic Development, 21 350-363 (2016) [C1]
Harris KM, Phelan L, McBain B, Archer J, Drew AJ, James C, 'Attitudes toward learning oral communication skills online: the importance of intrinsic interest and student-instructor differences', Educational Technology Research and Development, 64 591-609 (2016) [C1]
© 2016, Association for Educational Communications and Technology. This study examined and compared attitudes of both students and instructors, motivated by an interest in improvi... [more]
© 2016, Association for Educational Communications and Technology. This study examined and compared attitudes of both students and instructors, motivated by an interest in improving the development and delivery of online oral communication learning (OOCL). Few studies have compared student and instructor attitudes toward learning technologies, and no known studies have conducted item response theory (IRT) analyses on these factors. Two independent and anonymous surveys resulted in 255 participants (124 university students, and 131 instructors). Exploratory factor analyses produced final item sets and a two-factor model for student attitudes (Technology Self-efficacy [TSE], and Positive Attitudes [PA]), and a three-factor model for instructors (TSE, Behavioral Intentions, and PA). The OOCL attitude factors showed strong validity through both IRT and classical test theory analyses. Comparisons between students and instructors showed students generally had higher TSE and more positive attitudes towards OOCL. The attitudes most relevant to OOCL were intrinsic interest, behavioral intentions, and perceived usefulness of the technology. This study revealed that technological self-efficacy may be useful for differentiating students and instructors, but not for assessing OOCL attitudes. Further development in this field could focus on the improvement of instructors¿ attitudes and skills, as well as exploring the role of intrinsic interest.
McBain B, Drew A, James C, Phelan L, Harris K, Archer J, 'Student Experience of Oral Communication Assessment Tasks Online from a Multi-disciplinary Trial', Education + Training, 58 134-149 (2016) [C1]
Evans G, Phelan L, 'Transition to a post-carbon society: Linking environmental justice and just transition discourses', Energy Policy, 99 329-339 (2016) [C1]
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd The Hunter Valley, in New South Wales, Australia, is a globally significant coal mining and exporting region. The Hunter economy's strong basis in fossil ... [more]
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd The Hunter Valley, in New South Wales, Australia, is a globally significant coal mining and exporting region. The Hunter economy's strong basis in fossil fuel production and consumption is challenged by civil society campaigns employing environmental justice discourses. This paper analyses how two civil society campaigns in the Hunter region (¿Stop T4' and 'Groundswell¿) have countered the regional hegemony of fossil fuel interests from an environmental justice perspective. However, the discursive dominance of the 'jobs versus environment¿ frame hinders efforts to build solidarity amongst local environmental justice goals on the one hand, and workers and union aspirations for secure, quality jobs on the other. Long-term structural decline of global coal markets adds pressure for economic transition. We argue that campaigns to open up possibilities for transition away from fossil fuel dependency to a post-carbon society can be strengthened by engaging with the 'just transition¿ discourses that are typically associated with organised labour. Doing so can create synergy for social change by aligning community and labour movement interests. Inclusive social movement partnerships around this synergy must address structural disadvantage that creates social and economic insecurity if communities are to prevail over the fossil fuel sector's hegemony.
Connor T, Phelan L, 'Antenarrative and Transnational Labour Rights Activism: Making Sense of Complexity and Ambiguity in the Interaction between Global Social Movements and Global Corporations', Globalizations, 12 149-163 (2015) [C1]
© 2013, © 2013 Taylor & Francis. Abstract: This paper draws on antenarrative research and writing techniques to analyse the long-running transnational campaign seeking to im... [more]
© 2013, © 2013 Taylor & Francis. Abstract: This paper draws on antenarrative research and writing techniques to analyse the long-running transnational campaign seeking to improve respect for human rights in the supply chains of Nike and other major sportswear companies. The antenarrative approach challenges scholars to look beyond pre-existing expectations, both in terms of which actors and processes are likely to be most influential and in terms of what is motivating participation in those processes which are significant. In this paper we construct antenarrative accounts of two aspects of the Nike campaign and counterpoint each of our antenarratives with an established scholarly account based on more traditional narrative approaches. We conclude antenarrative analysis can provide useful insights into interaction between global activist networks and global corporations, particularly by drawing attention to the generative possibilities of the complex combination of ordered and disordered processes which often characterise that interaction.
Carbone A, Ross B, Phelan L, Lindsay K, Drew S, Stoney S, Cottman C, 'Course evaluation matters: improving students¿ learning experiences with a peer-assisted teaching programme', Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 40 165-180 (2015) [C1]
© 2014, © 2014 Taylor & Francis. In the rapidly changing global higher education sector, greater attention is being paid to the quality of university teaching. However, acad... [more]
© 2014, © 2014 Taylor & Francis. In the rapidly changing global higher education sector, greater attention is being paid to the quality of university teaching. However, academics have traditionally not received formal teacher training. The peer-assisted teaching programme reported on in this paper provides a structured yet flexible approach for peers to assist each other in reinvigorating and refining their teaching practice. Academics participated in this national, multi-institutional trial for varied reasons: the majority voluntarily, others to increase low student evaluation of course scores and some as part of a graduate certificate teaching qualification. Here we report on how academics used the scheme, and the teaching areas they focused on. Student evaluation of course scores increased in the majority of courses, suggesting the changes made had a positive effect on students¿ learning experiences. The experiences of the multi-institutional trial reported here may benefit others considering such a scheme to reinvigorate and refine teaching practice and improve course evaluation scores.
Picasso V, Phelan L, 'The evolution of open access to research and data in Australian higher education', RUSC Universities and Knowledge Society Journal, 11 128-141 (2014) [C1]
Open access (OA) in the Australian tertiary education sector is evolving rapidly and, in this article, we review developments in two related areas: OA to scholarly research public... [more]
Open access (OA) in the Australian tertiary education sector is evolving rapidly and, in this article, we review developments in two related areas: OA to scholarly research publications and open data. OA can support open educational resource (OER) efforts by providing access to research for learning and teaching, and a range of actors including universities, their peak bodies, public research funding agencies and other organisations and networks that focus explicitly on OA are increasingly active in these areas in diverse ways. OA invites change to the status quo across the higher education sector and current momentum and vibrancy in this area suggests that rapid and significant changes in the OA landscape will continue into the foreseeable future. General practices, policies, infrastructure and cultural changes driven by the evolution of OA in Australian higher education are identified and discussed. The article concludes by raising several key questions for the future of OA research and open data policies and practices in Australia in the context of growing interest in OA internationally.
Griffiths T, Connor T, Robertson B, Phelan L, 'Is Mayfield Pool saved yet? Community assets and their contingent, discursive foundations', Community Development Journal, 49 280-294 (2014) [C1]
|2014||McGee J, Phelan L, Wenta J, 'Writing the Fine Print: Developing Regional Insurance for Climate Change Adaptation in the Pacific', Melbourne Journal of International Law, 15 444-472 (2014) [C1]|
Phelan L, Henderson-Sellers A, Taplin R, 'The Political Economy of Addressing the Climate Crisis in the Earth System: Undermining Perverse Resilience', New Political Economy, 18 198-226 (2013) [C1]
Phelan L, Jones H, Marlon JR, 'Bringing New Ph.D.s Together for Interdisciplinary Climate Change Research', Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union, 94 57-57 (2013) [C3]
Phelan LP, 'Politics, practices, and possibilities of open educational resources', Distance Education, 33 279-282 (2012) [C3]
Phelan LP, 'Interrogating students' perceptions of their online learning experiences with Brookfield's critical incident questionnaire', Distance Education, 33 31-44 (2012) [C1]
Phelan LP, McGee JS, Gordon RB, 'Cooperative governance: One pathway to a stable-state economy', Environmental Politics, 21 412-431 (2012) [C1]
|2012||Phelan LP, 'Assessment is a many splendoured thing: Fostering online community and lifelong learning', European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 1 1-12 (2012) [C1]|
|2012||Phelan LP, 'Clean Energy, Climate and Carbon [Book Review]', Air Quality and Climate Change, 46 13 (2012) [C3]|
Phelan L, Taplin R, Henderson-Sellers A, Albrecht G, 'Ecological Viability or Liability? Insurance System Responses to Climate Risk', ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY AND GOVERNANCE, 21 112-130 (2011) [C1]
Phelan LP, 'Managing climate risk: Extreme weather events and the future of insurance in a climate-changed world', Australasian Journal of Environmental Management, 18 223-232 (2011) [C1]
|2010||Phelan LP, 'What to make of COP 15?: A ringside report', Air Quality and Climate Change, 44 14-15 (2010) [C3]|
|2010||Phelan LP, 'All hands to the pump: Notes from NCCARF's 2010 International Climate Adaptation Futures Conference', Air Quality and Climate Change, 44 16-17 (2010) [C3]|
Phelan L, Henderson-Sellers A, Taplin R, 'Climate change, carbon prices and insurance systems', INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND WORLD ECOLOGY, 17 95-108 (2010) [C1]
|Show 21 more journal articles|
Conference (6 outputs)
Lindsay KA, Lindsay KA, Phelan L, 'A multi-institutional trial of a peer assisted teaching scheme: positive changes in course evaluation scores, (authors Carbone, A., Ross, B., Lindsay, K., Drew, S., Stoney, S., Cottman, C., Phelan, L.,)', ICED 2014 Educational Development in a Changing World, 16 June 2014 to 18 June 2014, International Consortium for Educational Development, Stockholm Sweden,, Stockholm Sweden (2014)
Phelan L, Cottman C, Tout D, Carbone A, Drew S, Ross B, et al., 'CREATING COLLEGIAL FRAMEWORKS TO TIGHTEN AND CLOSE STUDENT FEEDBACKS', 6TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE OF EDUCATION, RESEARCH AND INNOVATION (ICERI 2013), Seville, SPAIN (2013)
|2010||Phelan LP, 'Engaging online: Potential for deploying Brookfield's Critical Incident Questionnaire to support the online learning experience', Rethinking Learning in Your Discipline. Proceedings of the University Learning and Teaching Futures Colloquium, 2010, Armidale, NSW (2010) [E3]|
|2010||Phelan LP, 'Structuring for sustainable assessment: Case study of a disaggregated interdisciplinary assessment task from environmental studies', Rethinking Learning in Your Discipline. Proceedings of the University Learning and Teaching Futures Colloquium, 2010, Armidale, NSW (2010) [E3]|
|Show 3 more conferences|
Other (1 outputs)
Sherval M, Phelan L, 'Opinion: Clever Country Dreams Fade', ( pp.19). Newcastle: Newcastle Herald (2014)
Report (2 outputs)
McBain V, Phelan L, Brown P, Brown VA, Hay I, Horsfield R, et al., 'Learning and Teaching Academic Standards Statement for Environment and Sustainability', Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching, 32 (2015) [R1]
Phelan L, Drew A, McBain V, Archer J, burns T, harris K, et al., 'Teaching and assessing oral communication skills online: Gauging interest and trialling diverse approaches across the University of Newcastle', University of Newcastle (2014)
Grants and Funding
|Number of grants||1|
Click on a grant title below to expand the full details for that specific grant.
20141 grants / $219,552
Learning and Teaching Academic Standards (LTAS): Environment and Environmental Sustainability – ID13-2819$219,552
Funding body: Office for Learning and Teaching
Number of supervisions
Total current UON EFTSL
|Commenced||Level of Study||Research Title||Program||Supervisor Type|
|2018||Masters||Developing Food Sustainability Knowledge in the Hunter Region, NSW, Accounting for a Changing Climate||M Philosophy (SustainResMngt), Faculty of Science, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2016||PhD||Rethinking Resilience: A study in Australian grain farming.||PhD (Human Geography), Faculty of Science, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2016||PhD||Working within, without and between: identities, power/s and mis/recognitions of Third Space professionals in higher education||PhD (Sociology & Anthropology), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
|2014||PhD||Exploring the cultural learning journey of students in online first year courses at The Wollotuka Institute, University of Newcastle||PhD (Aboriginal Studies), The Wollotuka Institute, The University of Newcastle||Co-Supervisor|
Dr Liam Phelan
School of Environmental and Life Sciences
Faculty of Science
|Phone||(02) 492 16464|
|Fax||(02) 492 18636|
|Building||Industry Development Centre (IDC)|
Callaghan, NSW 2308