I really love teaching… it is an amazing profession. I am not sure what I like the most about it: possibly introducing students to new concepts, seeing that moment when they grasp a new idea or the ability shine a light onto something that has not been part of their consciousness before! Or maybe it is is when the students teach me something new.
I have just returned from a lecture tour of China and Taiwan which included, amongst other things, running innovative teaching workshops (see photo). In these workshops I asked people what they enjoyed most about teaching: they invariably say it is the student interactions… an answer that is the same in each and every country I have asked that question!
And what do they hate the most? The answer is always when students focus on the results and not the learning!
This is a by-product of our education system that is focussed on outcomes. This outcome has been the focus in Australia over the last few days as students receive their Higher School Certificate results. It is a single number – a percentage – and it often comes to define how people see themselves!
One focus of my research areas has been to consider the skills that, as educators, we should be teaching our students. It is a project which includes a collaboration with Dr David Hornsby (from Wits University in Johannesburg, South Africa) – who has co-edited an excellent book discussing large class teaching.
In my previous post, I discussed some of the skills that students need in preparing for the ‘jobs of tomorrow’. One of the skills I mentioned was ‘literacy’ – and asked ‘what does literacy mean today?’ We have rapidly moved from a time of information scarcity to information abundance – and as IBM recently noted, 90 percent of data is been created in the last two years. In this way, we have moved from looking for the perfect book or report in the library to having to decipher 1.7 million hits on Google!
As such, literacy today must include the ability to quickly assess what information is relevant, what is needed, combine it and present it in a way that is accessible.
Another dimension of contemporary literacy must include ‘internationalisation': that is, the ability to work in a cross cultural environment.
Recently I did a presentation for the Careers Advisers Association (NSW/ACT) – CAA – at my university and the program I run – The Academy at the University of Western Sydney. The CAA is an important organisation that, according to their website, “promotes career education as a central and vital part of schooling”.
I started the presentation with a challenge: how do we educate our students at a time of rapid change? I mean, IMB estimates that 90 percent of all data has been created in the last two years. Everyday there are new potentially disruptive technologies that can alter the way we think, live, work and see the world.
I do this exercise with my classes: I ask them to draw me a mobile. Anyone under 30 year old draws me a mobile phone – whereas less than a generation ago a mobile meant one of those dangly, cute things that hang above a baby’s bed!
As a result, I have started developing the skills (not the knowledge) that are necessary in preparing graduates for the jobs of tomorrow. I presented seven of these at the CAA function: Continue reading
Over the last decade I have met, consulted and advised hundreds (perhaps thousands) of students and their parents about which courses to study at University. As we sit and talk about the choices of degrees, one question always emerges: ‘What job can I get when I graduate?’
Historically, this may have been quite a straightforward answer: If you studied accounting, you would be an accountant and so on.
Today, the answer is more complex for at least two reasons. The first is that the pace of change within the economy means that new employment opportunities are always emerging – and some of these now happen to be the most sought after and prestigious.
How do we educate in what has been described as the ‘data age’ where the amount of data is said to double every five years.
The second is that employment opportunities are so competitive that employers are looking for the best people not always the graduates with the ‘right degrees’. For ten years I worked in the banking and finance sector followed by seven years working for human rights organisations. In that time, I employed and worked with people whose degrees had very little to do with the ultimate position that they were fulfilling: architects working in money market dealing rooms; accountants working as human rights advocates; arts graduates working as business analysts and the list goes on.
The attributes these people displayed included creative and critical thinking, ability to work in close-knit teams under high performance demands, and flexibility.
I believe that a more appropriate question to consider is: ‘What graduate attributes will I receive?’
And this is what education for tomorrow – or what the Vivid Idea’s Festival I am speaking titled ‘Education 3.0’ – is all about: preparing graduates in a different way for the different challenges of tomorrow.
There are two issues that relate to the future of universities that are on my mind at the moment that I think we, as academics and administrators, must address.
The first is the issue of educating students in a rapidly changing world. Knowledge is not linear but rather exponential and it has been argued that we live in ‘an age of data‘ where the amount of information doubles every two to five years.
This is an extraordinary concept and we must ask, how do we educate in this environment? How relevant will something that we teach a first year student today when they graduate in three or four years time?
The second concept relates to the credentials that universities issues: the monopoly universities have in issuing degrees. Given the rapidly changing environment, the question must be asked: If we lose our monopoly on issuing degrees, why should someone come to a university? What is it that we offer ‘beyond the degree’?
One of my favourite things about living in a multicultural society is the opportunity to work with people from many cultures. Diverse and multicultural societies are fulfilling, from the sharing of food, music and traditions, to an appreciation of the rich and varied ways we see, interpret and understand the world.
Exposure to multiple methods of seeing, interpreting and understanding is, in itself a process of knowledge making. When this occurs on a societal level, we create a more resilient and robust culture – a culture that evolves, one that is open to learning, and is flexible in response to the unknown: the new, the surprising, the intriguing, the other.
This is not the ‘other’ identified by shock jocks, who, in a narrow and inflexible sub-culture of their own, simply present an ‘us-and-them’ viewpoint: we, the civilised; and them, the alien, who must learn to be like us. This pushes us towards a homogenised culture that excludes and marginalises. It is a violent culture. While stopping violence is a goal on which all can agree, both society and the state allocate resources to not only exclude and marginalise but to forcibly remove those who can be described as not being ‘like us’. And here is the challenge: what does ‘like us’ mean: is it those with the same religion, skin tone, family structure?
One of the disclaimers I always make when invited to speak about my teaching is that I am not someone who has been trained in pedagogical theory. Rather, my journey into teaching has been about figuring out what I loved (and hated) about being taught, a bit of trial and error, not being afraid of making mistakes, learning from those mistakes and asking the students around me for honest and constant feedback.
Once some sort of pedagogical breakthrough emerges from these approaches, I review the literature, seeking pitfalls, opportunities and lessons.
So when I am asked ‘what advice can you give me about lecturing’, there are seven tips tend to share… Here they are and I hope you find them useful!
1. Want to be there…
Have you ever been on a date that you do not want to be on? The lecture room is exactly the same. Unless you want to be there, the students will wonder what they are doing there! I know we have bad days or even bad weeks, but I do believe that being an educator is a real privilege, and we should never forget that.
Just before I start a lecture, I always look at the classroom and think, ‘How lucky am I… I am about to introduce a bunch of exciting ideas and start some amazing conversations…’
It has been an amazing year for me both professionally and personally. Professionally, the highlights are almost too numerous to mention but include being promoted to full professor, delivering 21 keynote presentations, giving five conference papers, publishing a new book on citizenship, appearing on a massive billboard and running a subject with over a thousand students yet still receiving some of the best student feedback ever.
It was the year that I was the Prime Minister’s University Teacher of the Year and carried that honour with pride. On the advice of my University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Corporate Strategy and Services) Rhonda Hawkins, I took every opportunity to promote ‘good teaching’. It was invaluable advice and established a framework in which I assessed my work. While I also facilitated a number of workshops giving advice on ‘good teaching’, I also learnt more knowledge than I had to give.
On reflecting on all this, here are eight lessons I learnt this year:
One. It is easier to be a cynic than supportive:
For some reason, most academics think it is cooler to be cynical than give credit. Recently I saw someone’s enthusiasm dismissed as ‘not collegial’ rather than celebrating that individual’s passion. Rather than being excited and supportive about each other’s work, it seems it is easier to be dismissive.
It would be hard to argue against the idea that the current political environment is toxic. We have reached a point that political point scoring outweighs what is in the national interest.
This kind of politics tends to split the electorate along party political lines: we take sides, wanting ‘the other side’ to fail no matter what the consequences.
There is no doubt that Tony Abbott and his Coalition made an art form of this in Opposition. The Gillard Government was attacked at every turn and in the move to bring down the government, Mr Abbott made some strange bedfellows – most notably at the anti-carbon tax rallies.
Mr Abbott also said some things that in hindsight, we can only presume he regrets. Most notable is the time when Mr Abbott, referring to the Prime Minister during a debate, stated that:
‘Now, are you suggesting to me that when it comes from Julia, no doesn’t mean no’
The connotations of sexual violence could not be missed.
Now in Opposition, the question is how will the ALP react?
More importantly, how do we progressives act more generally?
I do believe that some things are beyond politics and not only in the national interest, but important for our society.
As established university-based lecturers, it is easy to forget how unnerving attending your first weeks at uni can be.
This is particularly the case if, like me, a student is the first member of their family to make it into university. We forget that it is like visiting a foreign country with its own cultural rules, regulations and expectations.
I have spoken about this experience in detail including in an interview with The Department of Industry to promote their Opening Doors program. While my story is available here, I would certainly recommend looking at the other inspiring stories that outline the many opportunities that outline the opportunities that university offers (click here!).
One of the strategies I use to make the students feel comfortable is to try and make them to feel excited before they even arrive at uni!
The way I do this by setting up an ‘Out of Office’ reply that congratulates them for coming to uni, gets them excited and answers any ‘frequently asked questions’ that most are too shy to ask. I have built these up over the years from queries I have received as well as feedback from students.