Professor Sara McGaughey, from the Department of Business Strategy and Innovation in the Griffith Business School is the winner of a 2019 Griffith Group Learning and Teaching Citation.

What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?

The greatest joy I get from teaching at a University is when I see students starting to independently critique what is taken-for-granted, question how it came about, make connections between sometimes disparate areas of knowledge, and seek out or create new knowledge. Seeing that is worth a lot of hard work.

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?

Gosh – I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer this.  I don’t even have a Twitter account!

A major challenge in international business is ‘distance’ — economic, cultural, political, legal and geographic.  The availability of real-time data and analyses through new information technologies that can be jointly explored and used to test and challenge assumptions with students has been brilliant.  Related, the ability to form diverse virtual teams across the globe to solve complex problems presents a real opportunity for more authentic learning experiences. 

New ‘technology’ is, however, simply a new way of doing things. Sometimes, the old way is just as good or better, and I am wary of technologies that substitute for (rather than complement) human empathy and direct engagement.  It is all about balance. In the context of studying international business, we are enormously fortunate in Australia to have a relatively multicultural student cohort, both among our domestic students and moreso with the inclusion of international students.  While diversity in the classroom can present challenges – some very significant – it is also a fabulous context in which students can learn about international contexts and cultures from each other. Even those challenges and frustrations arising from, for example, cultural clashes are fabulous learning opportunities. So I actively try to harness these advantages in the way I design learning experiences and assessments that foster student collaboration and co-learning.

Can you tell us more about your approach to assessment, including how you assist learners to become ‘co-educators’?

The Global Strategy course I teach at the Masters level is a good example of where students become ‘co-educators’– jointly crafting and enhancing learning experiences.

The course includes three assessed, team-based case analyses.  Students undertake self and peer assessment (i.e. a score on 4 criteria and 25 words minimum written feedback) after each case study.  The criteria for teamwork are jointly crafted by students at the outset, rather than me as the lecturer imposing what I think matters for effective teamwork.    By giving each other feedback over three successive cases and engaging in self-assessment, students can reflect on their teamwork behaviours and contributions, and make modifications based on the feedback received. Sometimes this includes modifying self-perceptions. Plenary feedback of case analysis content is given initially by me, using exemplars from the students with their permission.  Using the students’ own work shows performance targets as attainable, and the various ways in which the task can be approached.  Over time, as confidence and subject knowledge grows, students are invited to constructively comment on the work of others, commending strengths, identifying alternative answers or approaches and sharing insights.

So, students become co-educators by (1) jointly crafting peer and self assessment criteria; (2) providing each other with formative performance feedback;  (3) sharing their exemplary work; and (4) constructively critiquing the case analyses of others.

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 from the outset had a commitment to research-led education and engaged pedagogies.  For example, I might devise a fun experiential exercise (e.g. a role play) based on a cutting edge piece of research, and following the exercise explore the students’ own experiences in the context of the research findings.  

Generally, this has worked well. But I learned early on that not all students in the classroom may ‘experience’ the experiential exercise in the same way, or as I had intended.  I was once confronted by a student who felt betrayed by me for not disclosing a hidden rule (which was key to the game).  It did not matter that his fellow students did not share the rule with him once they discovered it!  I was the ‘expert teacher’ and had ‘tricked him’.  There was loss of face for him, and no doubt this impacted on his learning experience.  It took time to recover the relationship.   Paying attention to the students as individuals – their motivations, cultural influences, personalities – and anticipating challenges can sometimes make an extreme difference, one way or the other.

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?

Be courageous and creative, but always mindful that the innovations we devise and implement are driven by improved graduate outcomes, and not simply for the sake of ‘innovation’.  Innovation can be such a laden term – almost in danger of being faddish. Yet innovation need not be on a grand scale.  I have found that the smallest of innovations – such as introducing short training on how to give and receive feedback, before expecting students to undertake peer assessment – can have lasting and powerful effects.

I think of the regular small adjustments or tweaks both within and between offerings as I respond to ongoing feedback (e.g. expressions of mass confusion on students’ faces) as ‘innovations’. After all, teaching is really about facilitating learning, rather than simply imparting knowledge, so it is an adaptive process involving collaboration with, and between, students.  It is not always going to work as we hoped. So what? It is what you do next to redress that unsatisfactory innovation outcome that matters.  

Think about ways to track the effectiveness of your innovation – how do you know it is working? 

Especially when introducing ‘radical’ innovations, don’t forget to pay attention to the basics. Sometimes it is attention to those tedious administrative details or governance structures that can make or break the student and staff experience of an otherwise wonderful innovation.

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

When working in Denmark, there was a much stronger tradition of a partnership between students and teaching staff than I have experienced in Australia. I’d like to explore the possibilities for this more in the Australian context – and hear from colleagues that such partnership speak to the roots of Griffith University.

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

I am genuinely impressed by the array of professional development and networking options available within the teaching and learning space at Griffith University.  Don’t be afraid to make use of them! 

In particular, I’d recommend the HEA fellowship program – whatever stage of your career you are at.  It forced me to reflect (yes, forced!) on my T&L practice and how it had evolved over the course of my career.  It can be a confronting – even painful – process, but also very affirming and invigorating, and supported by excellent mentors and assessors.

I’d also encourage professional development around educator self-care. Passionate, innovative educators can so easily get burnt out, especially with all the competing demands in an academic role – whether full time or sessional.  I truly think self-care should be central to our teaching practice.