Dr Tommy Soesmanto, from the Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics, received a 2018 Griffith Learning and Teaching Citation for transforming dry and technical content into insightful, active and exciting large first year courses across multiple teaching modes.

We asked Tommy to tell us a bit more about his teaching practice and some of the strategies he uses to build a community and a sense of belonging amongst learners in his online courses.


Dr Tommy Soesmanto

What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?

I am an academic teaching economics and statistics courses within the Griffith Business School. These courses have traditionally been perceived by students as dry, technical and difficult. I am passionate in transforming student learning experience in these courses. I bring a lot of energy into my class with a repertoire of teaching skills to make studying economics and statistics engaging, insightful and relevant. The joy of seeing my students advancing their wealth of knowledge and having fun at the same time in their learning, motivates me to always teach to the best of my ability. My students do inspire me. Some of them need to juggle between work, family, and study. Despite the time constraint, they still strive to give their best and excel in their studies.

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?

The introduction of new technologies has enabled us to deliver our courses in the non-traditional and more innovative ways. In 2017 for example I embarked in the journey to develop and deliver my introductory economics course using the mixed mode system. The mixed mode course is a refinement to the pre-existing dual mode course with the utilization of high-quality studio lecture recording and extended workshop time. This system has enabled me to provide my two cohorts of students, face-to-face and online, with a more equitable, engaging and interactive learning environment.

Dr Tommy Soesmanto’s introductory economics lecture recordings

What strategies do you use to build a community and a sense of belonging amongst learners in your online courses?

I use ‘online ice breaker activities’ which aims to provide an overview of the course, as well as an encouragement for students to interact with instructor and others in the virtual environment. More importantly, I optimize the use of the online learning application to ‘mimic learning experience’ that is equivalent to that of the face-to-face environment (eg: use of webcams and emoticons in virtual class rooms to display visual expression and enthusiasm, use of virtual drawing board to collectively work with students in drawing graphs and solving problems). I also provide ‘online student lounge’ in the form of group chat forum to provide platforms for students to network and interact beyond the formal course.

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?

Getting students engaged is a crucial element for a successful course. Engaged students would come to class and have fun in their learning. As a result, they would academically perform better. Having engaged students would make teaching to also be fun for the instructors. An engagement strategy that particularly works well for me is the use of ‘problem-first approach’. It helps students to evaluate their knowledge base of the topic and contextualise the topic to real-world relevance throughout the session. I am grateful that the new approaches which I have used in my teaching to engage students have all worked very well. I carefully do my research and take the time in planning and preparing resources to ensure that the new approaches would make positive impacts for student learning.

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?

Before embarking with an innovation, I advise colleagues to have a discussion with an educational designer or blended learning adviser to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges of the new teaching methods. I found such discussion has enabled me to be more efficient in preparing the resources which I need to develop for a successful course.

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

I am seeking to further embed games (in the form of both physical activities and/or online games) in my teaching of economics to enhance student learning, particularly on the topics which students find difficult.

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

I strongly recommend educators to participate in the Peer Enhancement of Teaching (PET) program available through Learning Futures.  Through the program I was grateful having my teaching observed and commented on by two colleagues/mentors.  I was provided with tips and tricks which have been useful to enhance my repertoire of teaching skills and strategies.

Learn more about Dr Tommy Soesmanto’s practice in the Faculty Spark ‘Mixed mode delivery of introductory economics’ on ExLNT (Explore Learning and Teaching)