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Organising teaching and learning is a big responsibility

To learn about teaching and learning this Unit Coordinator in engineering reads in the area. He finds coordination complex and prepares for a semester well in advance to reduce pressure. He finds first years have high expectations of being given everything and has adapted his approach. More...

I worked in industry for 10 years before I joined this university 20 years ago to teach engineering. My background gave me ideas on how I should assess my students’ learning. In industry if an experiment does not work, you repeat it, or you go to a library and search for information, or you talk to your colleagues. So, I implemented open book exams and I ran tests in groups. However, this approach was unacceptable to the university and I had to change it.

Organising teaching and learning is a big responsibility. To be effective you need good organisation skills. I do not have a teaching qualification but read as much as I can about the area to keep up to date. Early on, I distributed full sets of notes to students and spoke to them. I became bored in ten minutes and my students became bored in eleven. After trying various approaches I now assess activities in tutorials and hand out notes in classes which are 85% complete. The gaps are filled in by students during my delivery. Participation in class has improved because students feel they are missing out on something if they do not attend.

When I started this job, I managed to stay just one step ahead of the students. This was stressful so I prepared a whole semester’s work and, although the pressure was great for a few weeks, the teaching became easier. Coordinating a unit is complex, particularly for first year subjects where students out of high school have high expectations of being given everything. I try to answer their email queries within 24 hours, which I manage by sitting down at the computer most evenings. Many of my students do not know how to properly structure documents, nor are they aware that engineers write reports, deliver presentations and talk to others, so we have to re-train them.

I like to employ tutors with industry experience because their understanding is better. I run training sessions for my tutors in two parts. The first part explains how to run a tutorial; the second part outlines the content. I advise them to always show students respect and not to belittle them. I ask them to imagine student questions are intelligent even if they are not. I assume my tutors have a good level of technical knowledge; that they are personable and they are able to interact well with younger people. We re-employ or dismiss tutors on the basis of student feedback. Our tutors are now required to sit a subject in the graduate certificate of tertiary teaching, which is great.

Research has become the priority here and, to help improve focus, our Dean introduced a wonderful engineering and science education research group. I have won a few grants and teaching excellence awards so the university allows me to teach the way I want to. I have changed my attitude over the years and do not complain. I now take things as they come and, as a result, I feel better psychologically.

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