Dr Kevin Larkin is the winner of a 2018 Award for Teaching Excellence in the Social and Behavioural Sciences category for motivating and inspiring future teachers to overcome their anxiety with mathematics and to develop their teaching skills as creative, motivated and knowledgeable mathematics educators.

Kevin is also the 2018 Australian University Teacher of the Year!

What motivates and inspires you in your teaching? 

My main motivation comes from changing undergraduates experience of mathematics, given they often come with negative feelings based on prior experiences of the subject in school, where it is often portrayed as a set of procedures often divorced from the real world experience of the students – hence the oft repeated notion of “when will I ever use this”. Therefore in my teaching I address the head and the heart – the heart in terms of changing students’ attitudes towards mathematics so that they want to teach mathematics – and then the head in changing the way that mathematics is understood – that it is a fundamental way of understanding the world. Teaching invigorates me and continues to motivate me to make a difference in the lives of students I teach and thenceforth into the lives of the students they will one day teach. 

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

Two effective overarching practices I use are Metaphors and 1+1+1 Model 

My teaching is deliberately structured around a metaphor, represented using an equation – positive relationships + innovative pedagogy + purposeful evaluation + sustained scholarship = maximum learning. Any teaching decisions I make, or any changes I consider, have to align with one of the four elements. I am explicit with the students about this metaphor underpinning why I am doing what I am doing. Often teaching is based on tacit knowledge, at university our teaching needs to be more explicit in terms of why we are doing what we are doing i.e. our teaching needs to be scholarly.  

The (1+1+1) model consists of a one hour online pre-recorded lecture (split into manageable chunks), focussing on theories of mathematics learning; a one-hour weekly face to face (F2F) workshop focussing on demonstrations of correct mathematical language and use of mathematics materials; and a one-hour (F2F) tutorial which specifically enacts mathematics pedagogical content knowledge in various teaching scenarios.  

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

In terms of university teaching in my discipline, the major change requiring the effective use of digital technologies is the move towards blended and online. To manage these modes of delivery I am guided by Transactional Distance Theory (Moore, 1973). This theory suggests that educators can modify various structural and dialogic elements to develop student autonomy. In this theory, online blended and face-to-face modes are structural elements, requiring adjustments to dialogic elements in supporting student learning. For example, this might mean chunking longer lectures when delivered online or using synchronous communication tools to maintain relationships with students.   

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

I have been working on a national STEM in the early years of schooling, which is likely to expand in 2020, so I am looking forward to the teaching opportunities the project provides, as it can minimise problems with mathematics at university later in life. At university, I am looking forward to further expanding the role of digital technologies in the teaching and learning of mathematics and further developing the teaching capabilities of my teaching team.  

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

An upcoming challenge for university teaching is to be more flexible in how and where learning happens. This is necessary to maintain relevance as the most significant provider of adult education as there are increasingly more alternatives for adults to further their own education – YouTube, Micro Courses, Non University Providers etc.  However, the basic challenge of teaching remains – that is connecting with students as individual learners and caring about what sort of professional they will become.