Associate Professor Sarah Cresswell is the winner of an Australian Awards for University Teaching 2018 Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning for approaches to teaching and the support of learning that influence, motivate and inspire forensic chemistry students to learn and to develop their professional identity.

What motivates and inspires you in your teaching? 

I am motivated by both my colleagues and my students to be the best educator I can be.  Being able to collaborate with dedicated colleagues gives me the confidence to try new approaches to teaching and my students motivate me through their willingness to go along with these new approaches and see how they work out. 

What have been the most effective pedagogical approaches you’ve implemented in your courses? 

Forensic science is the perfect platform for problem-based guided-inquiry learning and this has meant I have been able to use mock forensic cases in my teaching.  In first year this is the scientific investigation of samples recovered from a break and enter at a pharmacy; a red stain on a broken window and suspected illicit drugs seized from a suspect’s address.  The experiments students perform are standard biological and chemical tests but the idea that they are working to ‘solve a case’ makes it seem so much more interesting and it is great to watch student engage with each other to determine the answers! 

How have teaching practices in your discipline changed with the introduction of new technologies? 

Technology is constantly evolving and it is now commonplace for students to be annotating lecture slides in my classes on a device.  This is a great way for them to remain engaged during the lecture and is also something we can make use of in other ways, for example, by setting ‘homework’ activities on-line or, as a colleague has done, using quizlet technology for game learning to make understanding the meaning of scientific concepts more enjoyable.  In addition, we have started to use iPads in the laboratory, pre-loaded with short instructional videos about how to set-up and run specific scientific experiments, so students can obtain just-in-time assistance during a laboratory class.  This has helped encourage their autonomy in class and builds their confidence for future experimental work. 

What is something new you are looking forward to trying in your learning and teaching practice in 2020? 

Firstly I will be creating additional laboratory instructional videos to use in further classes. Their initial success has been encouraging and I am looking forward to the opportunity to work with colleagues to embed these throughout the curriculum. 

Following the successful first year case-based learning course I am introducing a new second year forensic chemistry course which will make use of a similar approach, taking students past initial forensic tests into further instrumental analyses.  In addition, I am looking forward to following my colleague’s lead and embedding quizlet game learning technology into my courses.  It has been very well received by our students and seems a great way to encourage student engagement.  I am also interested in other online learning pedagogies and will be seeking out colleagues for advice and collaborative opportunities! 

What do you see as the biggest challenge or next big shift in learning and teaching? 

The biggest challenge I think is how we manage scientific learning in an increasingly digital world.  A large part of science teaching and learning is practical, hands-on experimentation and although we can approximate this with virtual reality and computer simulations, there is no substitute for getting your hands ‘dirty’ in a laboratory; seeing for yourself what happens when two things are combined together or what the effect of changing instrumental parameters are on the result of a test.