23 November 1998

UQ wins three national teaching awards

The University of Queensland, which earlier this year was named Australia's University of the Year, has scored an unprecedented double by winning three 1998 Australian Awards for University Teaching - the most by any Australian university.

In a significant coup for Queensland, UQ won the following sections of the prestigious national awards:

* health category - Associate Professor Laurie Walsh of the Dental School;
* social science category - Associate Professor Doune MacDonald of the Human Movement Studies Department;
* institutional awards category for services for Australian students - the University of Queensland Cybrary entry prepared by University Librarian Mrs Janine Schmidt.

The University of Queensland had a record number of four finalists in what is seen as the higher education equivalent of the Oscars held at the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra on November 23, 1998. Michael Pemberton of the University's Mathematics Department was also a national finalist in the engineering category.

(Information about the four UQ finalists is attached)

Last year the Commonwealth Government established the Australian Awards for University Teaching to highlight the importance of excellence in university teaching for the benefit of students and the community.

Individual awards are valued at $40,000 each and the Prime Minister's Awards for University Teacher of the Year provides a further $35,000 to the overall winner from the individual teaching awards. In addition to the teaching awards, two institutional awards valued at $100,000 each are made for "Services to Australian Students" and "Support for the Special Needs of International Students".

Last year the University of Queensland's Dr Nadja Alexander of the T.C. Beirne School of Law won an inaugural Australian Award for University Teaching in the law and legal studies category.

University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor Professor John Hay said the success of UQ staff showed the quality of teaching was second to none nationally.

"It is a great tribute to the excellence of University of Queensland staff that all who entered became finalists", Professor Hay said.

"It is also a great achievement for UQ staff to follow up the Australian University of the Year award with such a dominant representation in the nation teaching award finals. Teaching quality is clearly a major contributor to the outstanding outcomes for graduates that earned for UQ the University of the Year award from the Good Universities Guides," he said.

Tonight's event, to celebrate the achievements of the best university teachers in Australia was hosted by Minister for Education, Training and Youth Affairs Dr David Kemp.

Further information: Professor Hay (07) 336 51300

o The University of Queensland Cybrary - Australia's first - integrates state-of-the-art information technology with traditional services to create a "virtual library" in a "wired university." From any of hundreds of high-end Pentium computers within the Library, and day or night from home or office, students can explore or target the world of information as they wish.

University Librarian Janine Schmidt said the Cybrary was an indispensable, integrated approach to meet the information demands of lifelong learning and problem-based teaching. It was a powerful support for flexible learning and enhancement to flexible teaching.

"The Library has taken a leadership role in applying this innovative approach to addressing the real needs of students in the 21st Century, and is working collaboratively with students and teachers to develop and refine the Cybrary as new possibilities open," she said.

In a recent Commonwealth Benchmarking Club exercise, the University of Queensland Library scored the highest possible grading on all criteria assessed - the only library in the group to do so. All library activity is designed to improve the student learning experience.

The Cybrary grew out of the University of Queensland Library, the State's largest, with 12 branch libraries containing 1.8 million volumes, 11,000 videos, 20,000 journal titles and extensive microform, multimedia, digital and primary source collections. Stretched end-to-end the collections would reach from Brisbane to the Gold Coast. However, Mrs Schmidt said bigger did not necessarily mean better for students as the Library's size could be confusing, hence the need to develop the Cybrary.

The Cybrary had been developed for the generation which had never wound a watch, dialled a phone, plunked the keys of a manual typewriter, written on a blackboard, spun an LP, or spent a penny. "But they think nothing of formatting floppy disks, downloading music off the Internet, heating a drink or meal in the microwave or setting the clock - not to mention the actual recording - on a video cassette recorder," Mrs Schmidt said.

"They are a new breed of teenager, the leading edge of a generation that promises to be the richest, smartest and savviest ever. They drive beamers not bombs. They are technophiles not technophobes. They fax, phone and email their friends rather than meet them in the mall. Call them Generation Y, Millennials, Echo Boomers or Generation 2000. By any name, they are the cool, coddled, confident offspring of the baby boomers. This library is for them."

For more information about the Cybrary, visit the Internet site: http://www.library.uq.edu.au/cybrary.html
Media contact: Janine Schmidt, telephone 07 3365 6342, mobile 041 141 7121.

o Associate Professor Doune Macdonald who teaches undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Human Movement Studies Department at the University of Queensland, believes students learn best in a supportive, active and fun environment.

"We want students to enjoy being here, so we spend a lot of time laughing in our classes," she said. "We know students are busy, going from subject to subject so it's important that they don't feel they are learning dry material. We also structure tasks so that students can learn from each other and appreciate each other's input."

As many students will become health and physical education teachers in schools, she believes it is important they be given time to develop communication skills for use in their subsequent careers.

"Our department conducted a project to identify the skills employers looked for and consequently we try to develop generic skills such as communication throughout our courses," she said.

Dr Macdonald said staff across the pedagogic group in Human Movement Studies tried to model good practice, and teaching was a group effort. An orientation camp is held in third year to set the pattern for close staff-student and intra-student communication relationships. As part of their course, students turn the tables on teachers, interviewing staff about the highlights (and sometimes uncomfortably, the disappointments) of their lives.

Dr MacDonald's classes feature flexible use of spaces, moveable desks, cartoons and video clips. Students are encouraged to find relevant material such as newspaper articles which they can share and discuss with fellow class members.

A former health and physical education teacher, Dr Macdonald graduated with first class honours in human movement studies (education) from the University of Queensland in 1987. She completed her PhD in education at Deakin University in 1992.

Her many awards include a 1997 University of Queensland Award for Teaching Excellence for her commitment to innovation and excellence in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching; her enthusiasm; and her excellent knowledge of subject matter and teaching skills.

She has published widely on research and development projects related to teaching and learning and her research into teaching has attracted $100,000 in grants. Dr Macdonald is a member of curriculum committees at the forefront of changes in her field so she is confident students are at the cutting edge of education policy.

Media contact: Dr Macdonald telephone 07 3365 6769, mobile 0417 727 545

o Associate Professor Laurence Walsh of the University of Queensland's School of Dentistry says he has tried to make the transition from all-knowing expert to fellow learner with his students. He aims to be seen among them, rather than above them.

"I am not ashamed to admit to my students what I do not know," he said. "In fact, it is only when I do this that I can move forward and learn actively."

Dr Walsh says an integral part of being a teacher - a facilitator of learning - is a responsibility to always be on the lookout for improvements in practice by reflecting upon the success or otherwise of each learning encounter.

"I have tried to look at good practice and find ways to make it better practice," he said. "Over the years I have gradually expanded my repertoire of teaching methods to include more student-centred and flexible delivery approaches."

Dr Walsh knew at the age of 13 he wanted to be a dentist. At age 21 he became the youngest dental science graduate from the University, graduating with first class honours and a University Medal in 1983. He subsequently was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy in 1987, and a higher doctorate (Doctor of Dental Science) in 1993, both from the University of Queensland.

Dr Walsh won a 1997 University of Queensland Award for Teaching Excellence and a 1996 commendation for excellence in teaching. He has also received a number of awards for biomedical and dental research. Dr Walsh has secured more than $1.6 million in biomedical research grants and more than $200,000 in educational research grants.

His award citation said he was "well-regarded for his contribution to curriculum and staff development within the School of Dentistry, the University and the wider community. Dr Walsh has attracted numerous teaching grants to introduce innovative approaches to teaching dentistry, such as problem-based learning methods and computer-based teaching tools."

He lists his major teaching achievements as being in the design and delivery of educational materials; implementing student-centred learning approaches, particularly problem-based learning; reforming the dentistry curriculum and continuing professional education; and founding a body to promote dental education (the Australasian Association of Schools of Dentistry). He has served for many years as a Councillor representing the Australasian region on the International Federation of Dental Education Associations. He is also a founding member of the newly-formed Australian and New Zealand Dental Education Network for Teaching and Learning.

Media contact: Dr Walsh telephone (07) 3365 8106, mobile 015 875 989.

o "What remains with you for the rest of your life when you think of your education are those teachers who sparked something special in your psyche, who took you to a new dimension, who made you fly like a bird, who took you to the stars."

So says Mike Pemberton, a lecturer in the University of Queensland's Mathematics Department and winner of numerous teaching awards. Fortunately for University of Queensland students Mr Pemberton is one of those teachers - and not just because his teaching methods include letting off rockets to show the importance of changing mass.

Mr Pemberton said he was fortunate to have had many inspirational teachers in his life, who opened his mind with insights into a far deeper knowledge than he could have imagined.

"From the time when I started my first teaching job in the U.K. at my old school, while still a student myself, I wanted in turn to do the same for my students - to extend their horizons and excite them to go on to greater things," he said.

"As I taught in various countries - Germany, India, New Guinea, the Solomons and then in Australia - I learned that one of the most important things in teaching students was to respect their attitudes and try to understand where they are coming from and where they are going to. Unless you can communicate with your students on their levels and earn their respect and friendship, you can never expect to take them on the journey of exploration into new knowledge which often means hard work and mental exertion.

"After each course I teach I hope to have as many new friends as there are students in the course. Since I have taught about 30,000 students over the years that's a lot of friends."

Mr Pemberton has won numerous teaching awards in his 30-year teaching career, including a 1997 University of Queensland Award for Teaching Excellence. His commendation for that award said he was known for using real life examples and experiences to illustrate complex concepts. "He actively promotes and develops computer models and simulations using problem-based learned tasks, and varies assessment tasks to promote a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts. His research and publications show a substantial commitment to the scholarship of teaching," it read.

For the past 10 years he has introduced computing methods to his classes, an advanced algebra and calculus package known as MAPLE. Mr Pemberton's numerous awards include the 1992 inaugural group teaching award for Physical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Queensland and the 1993 Esso Award for Teaching Engineers.

A master of arts graduate in mathematics from Cambridge University, Mr Pemberton completed English and German honours studies at the University of Queensland in 1973 and a graduate certificate in education in 1995.

Media contact: Mr Pemberton, telephone 07 3365 3263.