The winners of all seven categories in the AFR Higher Education Awards 2023, which recognise and celebrate the outstanding efforts of Australian universities during the past year, have now been announced. These are the finalists in the Teaching and Learning Excellence category of the AFR Higher Education Awards.
Interactive Oral Assessments
Potentially replacing lengthy essays and written exams, Griffith University’s revolutionary Interactive Oral Assessment (IOA) is based on a short but comprehensive discussion, on-line or face-to-face, between a student, or a group of students, and an educator. The student verbally demonstrates his or her expertise and understanding of a given subject, prompted by responses and queries from the educator. The educator assesses the responses according to a rubric, or assessment tool.
The project began as a response to a growing higher education need to combat contract cheating and plagiarism and the need for a tool to deter rote learning.
“We wanted to find a way to enhance student learning that was genuine and unscripted,” says Griffith program leader Danielle Logan-Fleming. “We wanted our tertiary students to really demonstrate their learning in a scenario-based, genuine, unscripted conversation.”
Her fellow program leader, Popi Sotiriadou, says this type of oral assessment does not disadvantage less naturally eloquent students, nor those for whom English is not a first language. Only students’ knowledge and understanding of the subject is assessed, she adds, not the speed of their answers or the correctness of their syntax.
The pandemic demonstrated the value of IOA, Sotiriadou says, which has proved to be a time-saving and efficient way of marking students’ understanding. A well-structured IOA is expected to take about 15 minutes and elicit a response equivalent in learning and understanding to a 4,000 word essay. Griffith has now introduced the program to 16 institutions around the world, spanning 29 disciplines.
Monash Virtual School
The placement of Monash University teaching students in schools was suspended when the Covid pandemic descended, but mentored on-site training is a Victorian government requirement for student teachers (also known as pre-service teachers).
So the then-director of Monash teacher education, Michael Phillips, set up an online Virtual School to provide teaching experience for the university’s teaching students. The Virtual School offered free Victorian Certificate of Education revision to chemistry and physics school students – the courses were booked solid within an hour.
Now pandemic restrictions have been lifted and the Virtual School has pivoted to fill a different pressing educational need. “We have philanthropic funding for the next seven years to deliver free online educational opportunities particularly designed for disadvantaged girls and young women interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths),” Phillips says. In 2022, over 25,000 places were booked in the Virtual School’s seven year 12 subjects.
The Virtual School also provides educational support, assisted by Australian and international volunteers, for displaced children in conflict-riven nations including Ukraine, Afghanistan and Myanmar. In 2022, students in Australia, Ukraine, and Myanmar booked more than 100,000 places in the Monash Virtual School’s free, online classes.
Central Queensland University
A “hyper-flexible” Master of Business Administration degree is also one of the most affordable in Australia and the Central Queensland University course has proved popular with a range of non-mainstream students. The MBA Leadership course (MBAL) is taught on-line and it is structured to allow students to work at their own pace, says course leader Anja Pabel.
“This hyper-flexibility wasn’t in the market,” Pabel says, adding the MBAL course consists of 11 units, including marketing strategies, business operations, and leadership content and it’s not structured in semesters. “Students go through the course at their own pace; they submit assessments at their own pace, they enrol in units at their own pace. They can literally enrol at any time.”
This flexibility caters for students who are older, who study part-time, who live in the regions or who have children or other carer demands on their time. “Some students are running their own businesses or working full-time, and they squeeze in the MBA program,” Pabel says.
Twice-weekly on-line discussions are there for students who might live as far afield as Mount Isa in Queensland’s Gulf Country or Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory to drop in and ask for help.
Designed to eliminate wasteful duplication of effort in developing and delivering professional health courses, the Connected Curriculum program at Macquarie University delivers subject material in online modules that are continually reviewed and updated.
The university has 60 of these modules so far, covering a wide range of professional health subjects from reflective practice to First Nations cultural safety.
Committees of teaching academics reach a consensus on how any given subject should be taught, says Connected Curriculum team leader Morwenna Kirwan, and the teaching material is curated in an interactive on-line module which often includes short videos.
“There’s a lot of commonality between health professional degrees,” she says. “The module itself is embedded into the curriculum of the unit the students are studying.”
Macquarie’s student doctors, physiotherapists, chiropractors, exercise scientists, audiologists, speech pathologists, public health practitioners and psychologists can use the modules, and Kirwan says the student feedback has been good.
“Online learning is a popular, flexible way to access content,” she says, “and students can access it for the duration of their studies, it’s not locked down to one unit where they lose access after the semester.”
University of Technology, Sydney
Embedding English Language
English language ability is screened at the University of Technology, Sydney, and students who lack the academic language they need to read and understand a research article or an information-heavy textbook are assigned to a series of language development tutorials.
This academic language, the “disciplinary discourse”, has to be acquired, says UTS program leader Rosalie Goldsmith. “It’s part and parcel of what students learn but it tends to be the invisible part.”
All commencing students at UTS are given an online post-enrolment language assessment, a test of language which takes about 30 minutes. They are scored basic, intermediate or good. Students given a basic score are assigned to discipline-specific compulsory language development tutorials (LDTs) taught by language-trained tutors face-to-face and online. Since the program began, nearly 50,000 UTS students have been screened and about 6,400 referred for tutorials.
Students who don’t achieve the required level after the tutorials attend a one-week intensive writing, speaking, listening “bootcamp” before the next semester.
Students have been “really positive” about the benefits of the program, says Goldsmith. Sydney University now has a version of language enhancement modelled on the UTS program and other Australian universities are interested in instituting something similar.