The Australian Awards for University Teaching (AAUT) celebrate and reward outstanding programs and practices that support students and enhance learning. We chatted with 2019 AAUT Citation winner, Dr Cherie Lucas to learn more about her approach to teaching and her commitment to lifelong learning in her guidance as an academic and educator at UTS.

Please tell us a little about what your Citation was given for

I am honoured to be the recipient of the 2019 Australian Award for University Teaching (AAUT) Citation: for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning: for Influencing and motivating Pharmacy students to become lifelong reflective learners prepared for the diversity of future professional practice contexts.

What’s something new you are hoping to try or explore in learning and teaching in 2020?

Repurposing online technologies for formative feedback. Over the last 4 years I have been working collaboratively with the Director (Prof Simon Buckingham Shum) and researchers at the UTS Connected Intelligence Centre, assisting with the piloting, evaluation and co-design of the web application tool AcaWriter for automated immediate formative feedback on reflective writing tasks.

We originally piloted in the pharmacy curriculum to assist students to critically reflect on their clinical placements in order to improve future practice which has been working really well. So now we are extending the use of the tool (now open source for other institutions to use) to include other contexts in Pharmacy in particular as a strategy to help students critically reflect on their research processes in the pharmaceutical sciences.

What’s one trick or tip you wish you’d known when you first started out in university teaching?

The value of finding an academic mentor, someone who has ‘walked that line’ previously and is there for you to discuss direction and their perspectives on effective teaching/research strategies.

What’s your approach to keeping students active and engaged in a large group situation?

Tell them something that others may not know about you. I think it is important to know something about each other before engaging in a large group. I usually start out by disclosing something about me first which is totally unrelated to my academic role and more about drawing from my experience, something that students may be surprised to know about me and is unique for me.

For example, as a 19-year-old pharmacy student, an unfortunate event occurred that required me to conduct CPR on someone. These types of experiences shape the person that you become (hence the importance I now place in preparing students with Senior First Aid and Mental Health First Aid). Then I ask students to find out something about another person in the cohort whom they have never met before.

I think this process breaks down the barriers and perhaps engages students on a more personal level with students now having a deeper understanding of their ‘journey’ and the ‘life journey’ of others. Once we know a little about each other, engaging in a large group doesn’t seem so daunting for everyone involved. In my experience, students who are comfortable in a learning environment to be open and themselves are more active and engaged. 

What’s been your most memorable learning and teaching moment – as a teacher, or as a student?

That is a difficult question because there have been many memorable moments, however to single out one, I guess it would be in 2017 when I led a team of diverse health professionals and developed a novel interprofessional model of learning: the RIPE model (Reflective Interprofessional Education Model) where pharmacy students were required to work with other healthcare professionals such as nurses, working on simulated patient cases, using high fidelity manikins and standardised patients.

Students really had no idea of the importance of effective communication and collaboration and its effect on patient outcomes until they actually immersed themselves into this simulation experience – ‘A day on the wards in the hospital’ – where the student progressed through a number of hospital stations (bedside stations) unpacking and unfolding multidisciplinary stroke case from admission through to discharge, while collaborating with other health professionals and ‘communicating’ with the high-fidelity manikins (admittedly, I also had fun engaging with the students in ‘real time’ with the ‘voice-over’ manikin technology).

It was really great to explore the students’ responses to this novel way of learning. The anonymous student feedback indicated that 100% of students agreed or strongly agreed that it was an effective approach that inspired and motivated their interprofessional learning. Not only did the students find this approach to their learning effective but notably were inspired to volunteer their time as student mentors for the next cohort of students, building their mentor/mentee capacity to help future student learning.

I have since led a team to expand on this model (RIPE-N: Reflective Interprofessional Education-Network model) which now includes health professions from a number of health disciplines including: pharmacy, nursing, physiotherapy, orthoptics and speech pathology. With the current success of Virtual OSCEs (Objective Structured Clinical Examinations), Virtual RIPE-N Zoom (with ‘breakout’ patient hospital rooms), is a sustainable approach to adapt to the changing online teaching environment.

What’s the most challenging aspect of teaching in universities today?

Teaching is not the only role for academics, although the one that most relate to. Most academics in universities have what is considered a 40:40:20 position (40% dedicated to teaching; 40% research and 20% service). My position is exactly that with an additional challenging role in managing all clinical placements for the entire Master of Pharmacy degree. What I find most challenging is the balancing act between teaching, developing curriculum design, grading, research, and service, and managing changes/adjustments in student placements, while responding to students in a timely manner.

Do you think teaching practices in your discipline area have changed a lot with the introduction of new technologies?

Yes, new technologies are emerging all the time and I am changing my teaching practices and adapting them to the changing teaching environment. What I have realised over the 20 years of teaching is that it is important to pick the ‘right fit’ for the context of learning, and ensuring that it works for the students.

Testing new technologies or another teaching practice keeps things interesting, however more importantly is understanding how the students apply these to their learning. If I do test a new technology or another way of teaching, I usually follow up with the students to gain an understanding of how they felt that the new technology or practice worked, and if it didn’t I seek their perspective on how could things be improved. Listening to their feedback allows me to reflect on my own teaching practices, and continually fine tune and adapt teaching practices/new technologies for better success teaching in the following cohort.

Finally, I would like to add that I am continually learning from my students and feel privileged to be in the position to gain insights from them. They are the ones that motivate and inspire me to be a better teacher.

2019 Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards Ceremony

We are looking forward to recognising the achievements of UTS academics who have received AAUT awards alongside recipients of the UTS Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards at the upcoming ceremony. Click on the event below to register and secure your place for this year’s online ceremony.

Main banner image by Mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

    • Thank you Maria for those kind words. It is a pleasure working with you over the years in providing our students with the opportunities to engage in diverse clinical placements.

  • Thank you for your kind words Dr Vincent Nguyen. I am also very excited to embark on a cross disciplinary teaching and learning project with you this year!

  • Congratulations to Dr Lucas for winning such prestigious award and I also like to mention that I am privileged to collaborate with her on our teaching and learning project this year.

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