The PsychREADY Team: Dr Nicola Sheeran, Dr Amanda Duffy, Dr Dan Cummings and Dr Sharon Scrafton from the School of Applied Psychology, received a 2019 Griffith Group Learning and Teaching Citation. Dr Nicola Sheeran is the Program Lead.
What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?
I feel like student’s embracing tertiary education have the opportunity to change their lives and I see myself as someone helping them to succeed on their journeys. Students come from all walks of life, I want to give each of them the very best opportunity to succeed. I truly believe university can be a transformative experience and feel privileged to be shaping the professionals of tomorrow.
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?
I think it has expanded the ways in which we can engage with students. In the face of busy schedules and competing demands, we often see students disengaging with the more traditional face to face ways of connecting. Technology gives us new tools to try to maintain some sense of connection with our students. I personally find social media platforms like Facebook to be great tools for communicating and connecting with students. I think it is important to have a safe, positive space where I can engage with students who might otherwise be unreachable.
Can you tell us more about how increasing student engagement through attending the PsychREADY workshop has led to improved academic achievement?
Starting university is a time of uncertainty and difficulty for many students. The PsychREADY team recognise this. To help students adjust we developed a program to help students recognise and appreciate some of the skills they already have, while also developing skills that they might need. We believe that engaging students at this early point and facilitating their capacity to be connected, engaged, self-regulated learners can only have a positive impact on their subsequent performance. As such, I think that the program might help achievement both directly, through the development of academic skills, and indirectly, through fostering engagement, connection and confidence.
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 believe our job as educators is not just about disseminating information for students to learn, nor is everything about academic performance. Some of the things that students need and that we can help with may be less tangible but no less important and our job is to create a climate where students can grow and develop. Imposter syndrome kicks in early for individuals in academia; first day at university typically produces equal feelings of thinking you do not belong and that everyone else does. Over the years, our team have learned that making it “ok to not feel ok” in these early days is crucial in helping students settle in and establish peer support. If students feel relaxed, and supported and start to develop a sense of belonging then, their true academic potential can show. And I guess the learning from what hasn’t worked is that you can’t make students engage in these opportunities and sometimes imposter syndrome wins.
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?
Don’t give up. Do what you can, when you can. Change doesn’t need to be big or grandiose. It is about taking risks and trying small innovations.
What is something new you are looking forward to trying in your learning and teaching practice over the next year or so?
I looking forward to seeing how new technologies change the face of teaching. I suspect we will have some very new and novel ways to connect and engage students in the coming years.
What advice do you have for educators looking to enhance their teaching practice?
Find others who are also interested in enhancing teaching and form your own peer support networks. Share information with each other, brainstorm and get crazy. Then support each other when it doesn’t go to plan!