Dr Ivan Gratchev, from the School of Engineering and Built Environment in Griffith Sciences is the winner of a 2019 Excellence in Teaching – Group Excellence in Teaching Award.
What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?
I enjoy interacting with students and sharing my knowledge with them. It is a rewarding experience when you see how your students learn and engage in your course. My students motivate me to become a better teacher.
How have teaching practices in your discipline changed with the introduction of new technologies, and how has technology changed the way you interact and engage with your students?
Although teaching in engineering typically requires face-to-face interaction with lots of practical work, new technologies have become a nice adjunct that helps us to engage with students after class. For example, I use Griffith online tools (quizzes) to provide students with more practice during a trimester and keep tabs on their progress and performance in the course. We also use PebblePad for some assessment items which allows students to easily reflect on their performance.
How have you created learning experiences for your students that are authentic and industry informed?
During my teaching practice, I have come to realize that students often do not see the practical value of what they learn when they solve abstract textbook problems. Using my industry background, I have developed project-based assignments that integrate theory and practice in which students are required to perform a sequence of tasks similar to what engineers do in their daily practice. This has enabled students to realize the true value of the course content and helped them better engage in the learning process. In addition, I organize industry guest lectures to demonstrate to students how knowledge gained in the class could be successfully applied in practice. It not only makes the course content industry-relevant, but it also helps students see how professional engineers think and what goes on in the industry.
What have you learnt throughout your academic career about creating an engaging learning experience for students, and what have you learnt from experimenting with new approaches that didn’t quite work out?
I have learned that engagement is very important for better student learning. It is also important to show to students the practical application of what they are learning and how it will be useful for them in the future. For example, during lab sessions, I give students real-life engineering problems which they can solve by conducting relevant lab tests, analysing the obtained results and applying them to construction sites. Some problems are open-ended, which encourages students to exercise their judgement and think as engineers.
Given it isn’t always easy to innovate within a learning and teaching context, what advice do you have for colleagues looking to try something new in their teaching?
New things that you try may not work at first but don’t let that stop you. Keep reflecting on student performance, see what went wrong and why, consult with the relevant literature or more experienced teachers, and try again. For example, I have long struggled with explaining some engineering concepts related to rock mass characterization. My class demonstration and extra quiz questions didn’t produce the desired results as many students just could not get it. It was not until I built a small model of rock slope surface and asked every student to characterize it, that the vast majority gained a good understanding of this concept.
What is something new you are looking forward to trying in your learning and teaching practice over the next year or so?
In our teaching practice, we often use exams to assess student performance in the whole course. I would like to see if a more engaging project-based approach can be a better alternative to it.
Also, with the development of new technologies, teaching approaches change as well, and traditional methods may not work as well as they did decades ago. We should try to adopt new things that will lead to better student experience and performance. I like the idea of flipped classes that I may try to implement in my courses.
What advice do you have for educators looking to enhance their teaching practice?
This may sound banal, but I have learned a lot from other teachers (my peers) as well as L&T workshops and seminars. There is always somebody who does something interesting in their class and you can learn from their experience. Also, don’t become complacent with your teaching, there are so many different approaches and ideas that you can pick up and implement in your class.