The annual Vice-Chancellor’s Learning and Teaching Awards ceremony was held on 30 March 2022, recognising the most outstanding contributions to learning and teaching in the past 12 months. Over 60 members of staff were celebrated on the night, including the 2021 Learning and Teaching Awards and Citations winners and our 2021 Australian Awards for University Teaching citation recipients.

Among the recipients are a team from the Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT), winners of the Team Teaching Award. We interviewed Tanvi Bhatia, Timothy Boye, Eva Cheng, John Gaspar, Jeremy Lindeck, and Tania Machet to learn more about their work, and in particular its connections to inclusion and diversity in learning and teaching.

Tell us a little more about the initiative recognised by this award…

The award recognises the development of ‘whole of course’ engineering and IT professional practice in our ‘core’ (compulsory) subjects, especially in 1st and 2nd year. As the new School of Professional Practice and Leadership was formed, opportunities arose to connect curriculum across previously ‘independent’ subjects in ways that help students to build professional, transferable capabilities over multiple years, from 1st year onwards. Along the way, we built a collegiate, diverse and supportive teaching team:

We were talking with each other every single day about our subjects and grew naturally from there. Having that connection together, we heard the issues that each other were having […] that naturally built a team.

Now we’ve got tutors who teach across two, three, even four subjects. So they’re beginning to see a much bigger picture and they’re able to give that bigger picture to the students.

Which aspect(s) of your learning & teaching work are you most proud of?

We’re proud of what we feel students get out of our subjects – it’s helped us to develop subjects that are far more complex and interesting for students, especially in their first year. Then as students move through and build on skills and concepts at different levels, there’s a greater emphasis now on explaining why it’s important to do things at a different level or in a different way.

We’re also proud of the development of the tutors, especially online where the subjects can get quite complicated, with a lot of different materials and techniques. Tutors are getting comfortable with these subjects and can take more ownership, suggesting different approaches and ways to improve things, too. We’re able to provide more and more professional development and push to do bigger and better things because we have that core team and time for people to develop, including across subjects.

For me, it’s about the community we’ve set up. Tutors working together, there’s never a situation where we’re faced with a problem we can’t get help with or can’t collectively solve.

What are the challenges for diversity and inclusion in your discipline area?

We know there is a lack of diversity in the engineering sector and we’re not just talking gender – it includes all sorts of diversity dimensions and intersectionality as well. Changing diversity and participation takes a very long time, so it’s something we’re very mindful not to exacerbate and do what we can.

What can we do in the time that we have with our students? One is to think about who is [teaching] in the classroom: our cultural diversity, gender diversity, age diversity, different backgrounds. Not all of us have technical backgrounds and that’s okay, that’s actually really welcome. The other part of this is the importance of having industry professionals in our teaching team, then students can see that the industry also values diversity and inclusion, and that’s what workplace practices should be.

We included and started to build activities in the classroom, talking about diversity differences we have and setting up behavioural norms quite early on. If we don’t introduce these topics as subjects, they don’t really work. 

What changes would you like to see in your profession in terms of diversity and inclusion?

On a broader scale, it’s about challenging perceptions and stereotypes of what an engineer or technologist is, what they do, who can and can’t be an engineer or technical professional (everyone!). This really needs to change, because what’s currently perceived as the stereotype is not accurate, and we’re a very fast-changing sector.

We want greater diversity, so it’s really about modelling it, doing whatever we can to show that you can create a place that is inclusive, where people feel like they belong.

We do see great diversity in the university environment compared to industry, so it’s also about retaining the people we get in our subjects. If we retain students in engineering and IT, with diversity and inclusion built into the curriculum, eventually we will see greater diversity in industry.

What’s next for this project?

We have new core coordinators on board, who will look after our core subjects collectively to continue ‘connecting the dots’ to broaden the process that we’ve taken for later year subjects, not just 1st and 2nd year. We’ll coordinate with other schools and majors, too, make sure that we align with what they’re doing and that when they look at their subjects, we’re involved in those conversations.

We also haven’t been able to run tutor catch-ups for a while! That’s one fun thing that we’re looking forward to next, just seeing everybody. And as the team grows, it’ll be even more fun. People care, our industry professionals enjoy teaching; it’s definitely not just a job and people enjoy working with each other.

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