The Bioscience Team (Dr Matthew Barton, Dr Michael Todorovic and Grant Williams-Pritchard) from the School of Nursing and Midwifery, received a 2018 Griffith Award for Excellence in Teaching for their supportive, engaging and innovative bioscience courses that incorporate student-centered, collaborative learning experiences across their three large cohorts.

We asked the team to tell us a bit more about their teaching practice and some of the strategies they have used for creating an active learning environment in large first and second year courses.

What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?

Our primary motivation centres around our students and the drive to produce Australia’s most knowledgeable and competent nurses. We are inspired by students’ reactions to learning, and their enthusiasm and passion to understand how the body works. There is nothing more rewarding, as an educator, than to witness a student’s ‘light-bulb’ moment – when things suddenly fit together.

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?

Technology has greatly enhanced the ease, frequency, and speed by which we interact and engage with our students. For example, social media platforms such as Facebook – where our students are already heavily engaged – can easily be transformed into an online discussion forum for collaborative learning. This allows for synchronous interaction, providing instant feedback for course administration and content acquisition.

What strategies have you used for creating an active learning environment in large first and second year courses?

It can be very challenging delivering active learning environments to large student cohorts such as our own (>250 students). We have utilised a number of evidence-based strategies to increase student interactivity in our face-to-face lectures. For example, we break lectures into 20 minutes ‘segments’ interspersed with short collaborative activities that encourage discussion between students and verify their understanding of content. To facilitate this, we use approaches such as Think-Pair-Share and Kahoot quizzes. We also provide an extensive array of online content such as YouTube mini-lectures, designed and produced by the teaching staff, to explore concepts, covered in lectures, in greater detail. This ensures that we can focus on the most important topics in the lecture, using active learning techniques, while providing students with a flexible online learning environment that provides validation of understanding. We also utilise problem-based and case-based learning activities in tutorials and workshops to enhance the student’s critical thinking skills and allowing them to apply their content knowledge to real life clinical situations.

What have you learnt throughout your academic careers about creating an engaging learning experience for students, and what have you learnt from experimenting with new approaches that didn’t quite work out?

We have learnt that creating an engaging learning experience for students can be challenging but very rewarding when you get it right. While the use of technology can be highly beneficial and engaging for students, there are occasions when too much technology is distracting. Sometimes reverting to the old-fashioned pen and butchers’ paper may work best.

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?

One of our main pieces of advice would be: don’t be afraid to try something new. You can always briefly trial an activity or approach, and if it proves successful, expand on it. There is a great deal of literature available regarding what others have tried. These ideas can be duplicated directly or modified to suit your context. Finally, we encourage you work with other colleagues, either from the same University or same discipline outside of the University. This way you can develop, share, and trial ideas directed toward a common goal.

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

We are looking forward to incorporating an adaptive learning platform, such as Smart Sparrow, for our students. We also are excited about the role virtual or augmented reality will play within our practical labs to help students explore and understanding human anatomy and physiology.

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

Ensure you have a reliable method of evaluating your teaching. This allows you to determine the efficacy of your innovation and increases your ability to publish and share your success. Don’t be afraid to work with your students, they usually are more than happy to share their experiences with you and appreciate that you involve them.