Dr Lisbeth Kitson, from the School of Education and Professional Studies, received a 2018 Griffith Learning and Teaching Citation for innovative and exemplary curriculum design and pedagogical approaches in English and literacy education courses.

We asked Lisbeth to tell us a bit more about her teaching practice and her use of Collaborate to facilitate authentic learning activities for students.

Dr Lisbeth Kitson

What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?

As someone who is passionate about what I teach (English and literacy) I try to ignite a passion in students that they will carry with them for their careers outside of university. It comes as many moments: that moment when students either have an “aha” moment in something they are learning about, or that moment when they ask that question that shows you they are thinking deeply about a topic.

English and literacy are subjects that some may come in having negative perceptions of or they have had bad experiences with in their own schooling. Then there comes that moment at the end of the course when they have conquered these perceptions (and other personal challenges) to the point they feel successful. Students’ success and seeing the pieces come together like a jigsaw are what motivate and inspire me!

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?

English and literacy involve the study of texts, and the impact of technology has changed the way texts are offered and how they make meaning. It has also changed the diversity of texts that can be used as well, so ensuring the use of authentic texts is necessary to engage students. Whilst technology is the platform through which information is delivered, it is merely a tool in the process. For both my teaching and my students’ future teaching careers, it is the pedagogy around the use of the technology and texts, which allow for learning and engagement through social interaction and language as a tool for understanding.

Regardless of the medium of delivery (face to face, mixed mode, online, developing relationships that allow interaction and the use of language is paramount. With online delivery, this has been more challenging personally. Over the last few years I have found more successful student engagement and interaction through the use of Collaborate sessions. This technological environment is more conducive to providing a space for feedback and the negotiation and clarification for learning.

How have you implemented authentic learning activities in your Collaborate sessions?

I have structured my learning in Collaborate sessions in a similar format to how I would normally structure a tutorial workshop, through the use of authentic teaching and learning activities for my subject area (English), that students need for classroom practice. This includes access to a range of multimodal text, including Youtube videos, media clips, portions of movies, audio visuals, song clips and web pages that are central to the study of the English curriculum. As students engage with the texts in the Collaborate space, the activities allow students to build the conceptual knowledge (e.g., know what to teach- English concepts) procedural knowledge (how to teach English) as well as conditional knowledge (when/why they may vary/change their approach), as well as the use the appropriate metalanguage to talk about texts. Questions are posed that allow the opportunity for self-reflection of student beliefs, reflection on previous practical classroom experiences, as well as the linking back to the theoretical frameworks that underpin the teaching of English and literacy.

How these activities are offered in the Collaborate space varies upon the number of students in the Collaborate session, as to whether activities are completed together, or whether there is the use of break-out rooms. I scaffold students through the demonstration of the activity or part of the activity myself, with students then going on to independently complete other parts of the task or similar activities in a new context. This builds student confidence, and allows students to see the links to the skills teachers need as outlined by professional accreditation documents and guided by national English curriculum documents.

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 learnt that creating engaging learning experiences for students can be quite cohort specific at times but that there are also key principles that seem to work for all. Overall, there is the need to manage student expectations around their learning, to be organised and to provide clear guidelines, a well-structured [email protected] website, maintain communication with students over the Trimester, and to develop a rapport with students.

I have found the most challenges to date have been around catering to online or mixed mode students (e.g., how to structure online modules for students, the amount and the types of activities to use and online lectures). Like with all innovations in our teaching practice it is a matter of finding what works for our own cohorts of students, whilst maintaining the integrity of the subject area. The biggest aspect is to get to know who your students are, develop a rapport with them through an interactive technology that allows real-time feedback.

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?

Think outside the box and think beyond all notions of what teaching and learning entailed based on your past experiences. Speak to other people and see what they are doing, how they organise their teaching and learning to consider how you might do things differently. Go to the teaching and learning symposiums to see how other disciplines approach their teaching and learning to see what you can “take away” and apply to your practice in your discipline.

What is something new you are looking forward to trying in your learning and teaching practice over the next year or so?

Once a teacher – always a teacher, so there are a lot of new learning practices that I look forward to trying over the next year or so. Assessment is always one of those aspects that is important to the demonstration of student learning, but also to engaging students in authentic activities that prepare them for the workforce. So I am looking to refine some of my assessment tasks, work out ways to break them down for time-poor students, as well as work out marking guides for time-poor markers. I am also looking to find new and different ways to present modular content, and lecture presentations making use of the latest technologies on offer.

What advice do you have for educators looking to enhance their teaching practice?

Keep persevering! As J.K. Rowling said, “Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success”. So just keeping on trying, even if some trimesters you are not successful. Tweak small things to start with and monitor the change. Engage in programs like PACES (Peer Assisted Course Enhancement Scheme) where you get to actively reflect on and within your practice in a focused way, and where you can work with mentors to talk about your practice.