Richard Fabb, from the Griffith Film School in Arts, Education and Law is the winner of a 2019 Griffith Group Learning and Teaching Citation.
What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?
I believe students (who are mostly young) can produce great work. In the LiveLab office there is a portrait of Orson Welles, who had his first big successes in his 20s. I also worked on two ABC shows, Hungry Beast and The Roast, which had very young, talented teams, many of them straight out of university. And like many people, I had several teachers – at school, college and university – who inspired me, and helped me make new discoveries and find out what I was best at.
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?
Most of the commercial production I run in LiveLab, and the livestreaming in multicamera TV, is only possible because of huge technological changes that have taken place over the past decade. The emergence of high quality, yet comparitively inexpensive film equipment and software, coupled with the expansion of the internet, means students can produce polished work and reach audiences in a way that was hard, if not impossible, before. There is also a dialogue with students and alumni, online and via social media, that is valuable in helping them find work and internships. Literally as I write this, a graduate messaged on Facebook to follow up about a job I had referred him for at the ABC, on their new A-League TV show. I’d been able to cross-reference students and alumni, who I knew had the necessary skills and experience, with their support for Brisbane Roar on social media. Sadly that didn’t result in anyone getting hired (but how did the ABC executive who reached out to me get in touch? via Messenger of course).
How do the active and authentic learning experiences in your courses prepare students for their future careers?
The work we do exposes students to the realities and pressures of client-based work (and the dynamics of client-based work are common across the entire screen industry, not just in corporate production). Because the work we produce is for real clients (it is not just a role-play exercise) students learn by doing. The rest of the degree teaches strong production skills, so our focus is on soft skills, especially communication, which we know are increasingly important for employers. We hire freelance professionals to supervise projects (who are mostly our alumni), so students begin to develop networks in the industry, and they also leave with commercial work on their CVs and showreels.
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’m supportive of the Students as Partners (SaP) movement, which seeks to break down the ‘us and them’ thinking underpinning some staff/student relationships. It seems a fitting model for the teaching I do, with the focus on realism and ‘real-life’ experiences. I try to see students as colleagues, and I also try to remember they are somebody’s child, thinking how I would like my own children to be treated. I’ve also been struck by the mental health issues some students deal with, and as much as WIL models like LiveLab can be seen to say “it’s a tough world out there”, we have a duty of care and pastoral support is important. So I believe the way we engage with students on a personal level can influence how engaging the learning experience is. But there are certainly times projects fail to engage. Sometimes the client input isnt what we expect and that negatively impacts the student experience. Sometimes we’re competing for student attention in a very crowded trimester. And I have attempted to extend SaP to give more student input into course structure and delivery. But within the trimester system – when we have real production demands from day one – it’s hard to enact and can be a distraction from the job at hand. And students are just not used to this. I’ve learned that we can’t do everything at once!
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?
We work in a brains trust and sometimes it’s easy to forget that. So dive into that collective wisdom; whether that’s fellow academics in your element or other elements, or the real theory and design specialists in Learning and Teaching. At the same time, don’t lose sight of your own expertise and experience. If you have got an idea to innovate, it’s likely because you can see something isn’t working, or working as well as it could. But it can be nerve-wracking, with student experiences and outcomes at stake. If something you try doesn’t work, be prepared to drop it or adapt. This is where Students as Partners helps, if we try and do things with them, rather than to them.
What is something new you are looking forward to trying in your learning and teaching practice over the next year or so?
I’ve been working with colleagues in the Bachelor of Film on a complete program re-design, which will see the degreee launch in intensive mode in 2020. My main input is a new strand called ‘Screenshot’, which was inspired by Diana Tolmie’s work in the Conservatorium’s ‘My Life as a Musician’ (that brains trust at work). It will embed employability through the entire degree, drawing on some existing practice (such as CVs) but create space for extra focus on developing professional identities, with students completing an audit each trimester. It’s hoped this will also help students navigate their time at Griffith better, with more support around course selection. We are establishing mentor groups (like a home group at school) with a dedicated ‘go to’ academic staff member for each student, which we hope will create a stronger sense of belonging.
What advice do you have for educators looking to enhance their teaching practice?
With the growing empashis on student outcomes for university funding, I think we’ll all need to consider how employability is addressed in our teaching. Which doesn’t mean a slavish obsession with jobs, but asking how what we do with students aligns with the world they’ll work in. Look outside our own silos. I’m fortunate in the work I do through LiveLab, to have worked with a wide range of colleagues in other groups. Cross-disciplinary work is a constant source of education and inspiration. Talk to your students. What do they think would enhance their learning experience at Griffith? And recognise that what you teach is never perfect, but needs to constantly evolve. Bring students, academic collegaues, professional staff and external partners with you in the process.
You can see some of Richard’s work below:
Ky’s Story (with Hugo Weaving):
RSPCA AD (from Industry Engagement 2016 – one of the best we’ve produced):
Mitchell Farm Rescue (from Industry Engagement 2017 – a project I also supervised). The video gained over 50,000 views on the Rural Aid Facebook page and prompted a $200,000 donation to the charity:
Twisted Fates. A series of short horror film/special effects makeup tutorials we produced for the SasEffects YouTube channel, as part of Create Queensland. It won a silver trophy at the New York Festivals Best of TV and Film.
Griffith Social Sports, Netball Livestream (part of the TV Outside Broadcast course):
Get it Together, the latest TV series produced through the TV Studio Production Advanced course: