This post is co-authored by Annette Dowd and Lucy Blakemore.

Teaching and Learning in the mathematical, chemical, forensic and physical sciences is the heartbeat of our School, and the importance we place on teaching and learning needs to be recognised. In establishing new school T&L awards, we wanted to encourage staff in the school to be confident about applying for the UTS Learning and Teaching awards, as individuals and as teams. We hope staff will go on to apply for external discipline-based awards at both national and international levels. 

In applying for these awards MAPS staff are encouraged to: 

  • consciously reflect on the many examples of excellent and innovative practice in our school, 
  • collect different forms of data of the impact of their practice, and 
  • plan future evidence-based improvements in their practice. 

As we prepare for the next set of awards, we’d like to share a few of our recent winners.

Matthew Arnold – Associate Professor, Applied Physics

Matthew Arnold‘s nomination of Enhancing student understanding of physics through interactive computer simulations won the Individual Award under the criterion of ‘Approaches that Influence, Motivate and Inspire Students to Learn’. The judges noted in particular:

A troublesome learning problem has been tackled with an innovative approach to bring high-level, complex research into the classroom in a way that is accessible, flexible, tangible and engaging for students.

Hear more from Matthew below:

What impact did your work have on student learning, engagement, or experience?

The computer simulations I developed enabled students to use an enquiry-oriented approach to enhance their understanding of the invisible behaviour of electromagnetic fields in nanoscale resonators. This is an active area of research that can be challenging to investigate in the lab, so simulators are used extensively for design and analysis. Simulators used in research are typically slow and difficult to set up, but I was able to develop simulators that are faster and easier while remaining accurate. The simulators also enabled students to analyse their experimental results, and proved particularly helpful when lab attendance was limited (e.g. during the pandemic).

Which aspects of the work are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the engagement and understanding that it has developed.  It takes effort for some students, but by working through the process with them, eventually the light bulb switches on and later they’ll use simulators effectively in other contexts.  I’ve continued to refine the experience aiming for the ideal motivational balance between challenge and feasibility.

What impact did this work have on you, personally?

It was rewarding to see the investment result in stronger engagement and understanding.  I also used the tools I developed to start my research at UTS. 

Any advice for colleagues who may be considering submitting for an award this year?

It’s a worthwhile exercise to reflect on and explain your approach to teaching and learning, and also important for good teaching practice to be recognised and shared.  It’s good to have quantitative data if you can get it, but any direct reflection with colleagues and students is valuable.  SFS can be informative, but your response and development over time is important.

Murray Elder – Professor, Mathematics

Murray Elder‘s nomination of Student-centred learning design in 37131 and 37181 was commended for the Individual Award under the criterion of ‘Approaches to Teaching and the Support of Learning that Influence, Motivate and Inspire Students to Learn’. 

The judges noted in particular that:

It was exciting to see old standard teaching (writing maths on a board) being used in new creative ways, with no “front” to the class. Focusing the student learning into small group whiteboard workshops seems to work really well. Also great to see a clear, structured scaffolding of effective feedback using an “agile” approach for the complex concept learning.

The judges also noted that this nomination stood out for an outstanding approach to fostering student development, stimulating curiosity and independence in learning, and developing and integrating assessment strategies to enhance that learning. They noted that Murray demonstrates a clear understanding of student needs, encompassing designs that support engagement as well as improving learning experiences. In particular, students who were not confident in maths (e.g. mature students) seem to have found these approaches useful.

Consider applying for an award in 2023

The MAPS Teaching and Learning Awards seek to recognise the breadth of activities that contribute to students’ learning and experiences within and outside their courses with MAPS. Winning contributions go beyond normal good practice to display sensitivity to students’ needs and make well informed, distinctive and sustained contributions to students’ learning, student engagement and the student experience at UTS

To find out more about this year’s awards and how to apply, please contact Associate Head of School, Annette Dowd. Keep an eye out for another blog soon sharing more inspiration from other recent winners!

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