Raechel Wight - Winner of the Teaching by a Casual or Sessional Staff Member Award

The Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards and Citations acknowledge and celebrate the many ways that teaching and professional staff at UTS are creating the best possible learning experiences and outcomes for our students. We chatted with Raechel Wight, the 2019 winner of the Teaching by a Casual or Sessional Staff Member Award to learn about how she designs learning experiences for accounting students.

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

I am a casual academic tutor at UTS in the Accounting Discipline Group, and received my 2019 UTS Vice Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Award for ‘Continuous creative resource development and leading a community of practice’.

I am constantly reimagining how we can give our students a better learning experience so have designed quite a few engaging and collaborative tutorial experiences for our accounting students. For example, in our tutorials we get students to collectively “draw” what they know about a Harvard business case, or create tangible objects in class to frame our discussion and make our theory come to life.

I have developed authentic online learning quizzes for our first year accounting students. In particular these are not multiple choice questions, they are designed to authentically replicate the accounting process so students can get feedback on what they need to be able to do. These quizzes have been used by Professor Sally Kift as an exemplar of the assessment curriculum principle of the transition pedagogy, which is quite a compliment for a casual academic!

But I also recognise that I’m not the only casual academic with great ideas. As such I have developed a tutor community of practice where we share ideas on what works to engage our students in their learning. One of the issues with casual academics is that they lack the power to implement their ideas, and can feel reticent to speak up or question current practice because they fear of losing their employment.

In implementing this community of practice I acted as a tutor liaison to collect ideas and share them with the subject coordinator and worked to embed them in our lesson plans. This has the advantage of relieving the subject coordinator of the burden of coming up with all of the ideas. But to work it does need a supportive culture of accepting “mistakes” and things that do not work as beneficial learning experiences from which we all grow.

Other things I have done include creating marking rubrics to facilitate consistency across accounting subjects for common criteria such as written communication, and mentoring of both casual and full time academic staff new to UTS, giving them ideas to engage their students in collaborative learning.

…In following Raechel’s advice I found that my students engaged more with each other and thought more creatively about the issues. It also increased the participation of my students as most of my students engaged in the class discussion. I would recommend asking Raechel Wight for advice in regards to effective teaching as she has an exemplar set of teaching tools available that she is happy to share.

New Accounting tutor

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

Seeing the Zoom tutorial from the student perspective: I have recently had the privilege of witnessing my twin sister attend her online law classes (at another uni), which really hit home the student experience of online learning in the current environment. I saw the sheer terror in her face when her 2 hour online exam did not appear at the scheduled time, and helped calm her by collecting evidence, emailing those that can help, and explaining that from my experience those responsible will be panicking on their end too! (They worked it out but it took 40 mins of emails!)

Or the time when no one in her online law class was responding to the teacher’s call for students to suggest a solution to a really hard problem. No one knew how to even start to answer the question, and all the students were silent with their videos off. Frustrated, the teacher told the students “well if you are not going to participate, then there is no point in continuing the class. If you want feedback email me” and promptly ended the online class! My twin was so shocked and nervous about contributing to that class for the remainder of the term. Learning shutdown!

These experiences really hit home how students are affected by online learning and our reaction to it. I must confess, I have also felt frustrated at silence in my Zoom tutorials (it happens to all of us!), but I continued to encourage and smile, and reassure my students that it’s OK not to know, and to contribute what they can.

It was a humbling reminder of the fragility of student wellbeing, and how essential that is to their learning. Which leads me to…

What’s something new you are hoping to try or explore in learning and teaching in 2020/21?

A focus on student wellbeing: as a response to seeing Zoom tutorials from the students’ perspective, my focus this session is on my students’ wellbeing. I’m being really honest and explicit about the difficulties we are all facing right now.

Some of the things I’m doing are:

  • Using Zoom breakout rooms and encouraging students to get to know each other, reminding them weekly that this connection is as important as the content that they are to work on in their groups.
  • In our tutorials the students construct their responses on a shared excel document in Microsoft Teams, and I let them know that once they click out of a cell no one knows who wrote what, and even if they see you writing they will not remember anyway.
  • I also encourage students to private message me questions in the zoom chat so they can feel confident to ask a question without feeling embarrassed that the whole class can see. I then respond publically, but will not name the student.
  • Encourage students that are not confident to unmute and speak to post their responses in the zoom chat – even if someone else already has. I saw my twin frequently stop typing and then delete her chat response as a student with faster fingers beat her to it – but as a tutor I really want to know that students like my twin are engaging too!
  • Using anonymity to encourage students to feel safe to contribute. Of course I also encourage public questions, but am very mindful to ensure that all students feel comfortable to contribute.
  • Respond over-enthusiastically to all questions, confirming that all questions are valid and helpful. We lose a bit of ourselves on screen, so I’m trying to make up for that by being super friendly and encouraging.

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

For me as a casual academic tutor, it is what I have lost from being online vs in the classroom – not being able to see all students and read their reactions makes it so much harder to gauge their understanding, not to mention that zoom is exhausting! But as I mention to my students, I didn’t have email when I started uni, so I am grateful that we can continue to learn together despite what is happening around us. This challenge just gives us a new opportunity to do what I received this award for, which is to continually reimagine how we can give our students a better learning experience, develop new creative ways to engage them online and to share our ideas with our broader community.

Watch the L&T Awards ceremony livestream

You can watch Raechel receive her award at the 2019 Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards on 24 August in the video below.

You can also catch Raechel at an upcoming Q&A event. Check out the link below for more information and to register.

Feature image by Christopher Burns on Unsplash.

  • thank you Raechel for caring for your students – and focusing on their wellbeing – ensuring students are connected, and feel comfortable to contribute in the zoom sessions – your enthusiasm for creating a safe space for students to learn and interact is examplarly. The creation of the community of practice with your tutor colleagues, to share practice, meet challenges, and build colleagiality, not only benefits the wellbeing of your peers, it enables the subject coordinator to draw on their experience. Congratulations on your award!

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