Ahead of the UTS Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Award Ceremony, I caught up with the winner of the Individual Teaching Award, Dr Katherina Petrou. Katherina teaches in the School of Life Sciences, and won the award for enabling student ownership of learning in Marine Biology.

Dr Katherina Petrou.

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

I believe learning is more effective if it is self-driven. I am an advocate of learning being an active process and as such, my approach to teaching is centred on posing questions to provoke thoughtful interaction and equip students with the tools to identify, analyse and assess arguments and information before them, enabling them to become successful critical thinkers. I encourage dialogue and discussion within lectures and workshops to foster a self-directed learning experience.

I received the UTS Individual Teaching Award for the transformation and sustained improvements to assessment and delivery of the subject Marine Communities, where I challenge science students to improve their critical thinking, self-evaluation and reflection, empowering students to own their learning.

What’s the trickiest thing about teaching in your discipline area?

I don’t really think there is anything particularly tricky about teaching. If you inspire and engage students, guide their learning with empathy and enthusiasm, and empower them to develop a deep understanding of the subject matter, then I find that they’re right there with you and together you work through all the ‘tricky’ stuff as you progress.

What was the most surprising part of teaching in 2020?

For me, the greatest surprise for teaching in 2020 was student enthusiasm and engagement. Notwithstanding the subject being predominantly online, we had great question and answer sessions, plenty of interaction during lectures and engaging peer-to-peer work completed in breakout rooms. The students seemed to enjoy the classes, despite missing the on-campus environment. I was also humbled by the appreciation and recognition expressed by the students towards the academics. For example, my subject normally has a 3-day field trip, which was not able to run due to the COVID-19 restrictions. However, due to the importance of practical experience, I provided students with an optional one-day version. The students were incredibly grateful to be given the opportunity to experience field work and get their feet wet (literally), stating that it made the world of difference to their learning experience.

What’s something new you are hoping to try or explore in learning and teaching in 2021?

I’m excited to test new ways of student-led learning that encourages deeper critical thinking skills. I’m working on new activities and assessments as part of subject redevelopment.

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

For me, one of the greatest challenges for teaching at universities today is the switch towards using or relying on technologies to assist with teaching. The way I facilitate learning is very much guided by a practical, experiential, interactive approach, so for me the challenge is to learn to embrace the technological era and find the right tools to augment my teaching approach.

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

That’s a really difficult question. I’d have to say there are many memorable moments, mostly around student interaction and being able to see them achieve and sometimes exceed their expectations, finding excitement and satisfaction in what they’ve learned.

Congratulations Katherina and all award winners! You can register to watch a livestream of the 2020 Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards Ceremony (31 March) here.

All images supplied by Dr Katherina Petrou.

Join the discussion