Today we hear from Associate Professor Suzie Attiwill, Deputy Dean Learning and Teaching in the School of Architecture and Design. Suzie offers us a response to a reflection by Professor Peter Corrigan, around curriculum-as-plan vs curriculum-as-lived.

The following article is composed of two parts. The first is a reflection by Professor Peter Corrigan, a distinguished professor in the School of Architecture and Design at RMIT University. The School’s Dean, Professor Richard Blythe invited him to “prepare a short reflection on his view of a university, calling on his own experiences as a student and also on his extensive experience as an inspirational lecturer and professor”. Richard then invited Peter to present his reflection to the School’s senior leadership group as part of the School’s strategic planning. Following this, each member of the group was asked to write a short response.

The purpose of this process, Richard notes, was “to remind us all of the core values of tertiary institutions and what it is, above all else, that we should be striving to achieve”. It is an important time for these kinds of reflections because universities are in a period of rapid change and every one of us, students included, need to be thinking about the consequences, what we value, and where we would like to end up.

The second part is my response – an inflection as Deputy Dean of Learning & Teaching and an associate professor of Interior Design. As the academic year draws to a close – almost! – this article is poised as an extended invitation to other colleagues to reflect on what we are trying to achieve.

University Reflections: a paper by Professor Peter Corrigan   

Recently when I was approached to consider my university days and reflect on my teaching method, I was reminded of Vladimir Nabokov’s remark that “MEMORY IS MERELY A TOY SOLD WITH A KEY”. All I can offer are opinions which are entirely personal.

At this year’s Venice Biennale, the question was asked “has neo-liberalism caused architecture to lose its moral mission?” In other words, have the architects lost touch with the responsibilities of yesteryear and thrown in their lot with developers, entrepreneurs and multinational corporations? Is the architect simply pursuing a narrow aesthetics at the expense of history, culture and context? We recognize that this is the world of cost–benefit ratios, of public interest versus the private gain. My education led me to believe that ideas would shape the world I would come to inhabit.

As a young man, I received a Commonwealth Government Scholarship and travelled daily by tram from St Kilda to the university (where I was surprised to discover that some students owned cars). Then, the undergraduate architecture degree was a six-year program. The Student Union possessed a very large room containing twelve billiard tables where I spent many dreaming hours sitting in the shadows on banquettes watching what I took to be mature men (often law students who play football) engrossed in competition beneath clouds of cigarette smoke. In this building there was a room given over entirely to the reading of magazine and newspapers, another room was dedicated to the game of chess, and yet others enabled students to listen to recorded music. Rooms were set aside for the playing of musical instruments and a very large space called The Student Lounge allowed for private discussions and the playing of cards. An enormous cloakroom with attendants guaranteed the secure daily storage of personal items and also enabled luxuries such as cameras and cricket bats to be borrowed. Shoes would be cleaned upon request. The engine room of the Union was a vast cafeteria which provided three cheap home cooked meals a day (with daily specials) and incidental home cooked snacks for between times. Above the cafeteria sat an equally large ballroom which was given over to dancing, concerts or large and splendid dinners. There were of course generous-sized toilets, wash-rooms, a laundry and showers. There were meeting rooms, a 500-seat fully operational live theatre-cum-cinema with a fly tower containing twenty five lines and a capacious workshop in the rear, with large dressing rooms located below stage. Students took all of this, plus an art gallery and a bookshop, for granted.

The next academic institution I attended was Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and here the facilities available to the student body quite shocked me. The Beinecke Rare Book Library (by Gordon Bunshaft of SOM), the Colleges, the Gothic gymnasium (with its competitive swimming pools and basketball courts), the hockey rink (by Eero Saarinen) and the art gallery by Louis Kahn were just the start of it. But these and other extravagances, however, were trumped by the eighteen-hole golf course which I found hard to believe even existed, until I visited it and was told by the resident professional (in a luxurious nineteenth hole shop) that on a busy day, at least 12 students played the fairways. In my first year in the Architecture and Design building, I was surprised by the generous service in its cafeteria and the existence of a nurse in a medical room.  But I did occasionally nap on a lounge on the roof terrace and I marvelled at the size of the in-house library. In my first year I became ill (from the excessive consumption of food and drink) at a Thanksgiving dinner given by an exuberant Italian American family. I was taken to the Yale infirmary, a boutique hospital exclusively given over to students, where I remained for three days. The following year I badly gashed my leg, while crossing Central Park at night, after attending the Rockefeller Center. I was returned to the infirmary where the ugly wound was treated with antibiotics and the latest technology, including a sterile staple gun fresh from the killing fields of Vietnam. Again I was put to bed for three days. All this care was again free of charge. The food, the clean sheets, the peace and quiet, still shine in my memory. I felt a duty of care being enacted.

Lately I have noticed that when I’m under my morning shower and thinking back over this particularly unsettling incident, the scar on my right leg, below the knee starts to throb and I realize that I have turned the key in that particular memory box. These buildings and their floor plans can still be recalled; they remain part of the furniture of my mind. At the time they offered security and identity; they gave promise of a future.

But in the end, it was the intellectual communities that shaped me. At Melbourne, I still vividly remember the political activist and poet (and there did seem to be a natural confluence between politics and culture then), Vincent Buckley. He was a small man with a large head and a commanding presence, who was often to be seen striding across the campus to his room in the Old Arts Building, trailing a retinue who hung on his every casual judgement on “how should we live”. Buckley haunted Carlton’s hotels, its student parties, and academic conferences.  He couldn’t resist a racehorse (“Peter, in Ireland they race around in the opposite direction, and there are no grand stands”). He revelled in life’s contradictions but always seemed at ease. But his relationship to his wife and children, however, always puzzled me. As if intimacy was always a vulnerable and enigmatic thing for him.

Vincent Buckley and his circle, those public intellectuals, those men and women of letters who lived in the service of ideas, seeded ideas into our young lives for us to reflect upon then. Was life really a meaningless experience or not? How do we make sense of the implausible? Students were encouraged to take on intellectual lives in order to prepare for responsible futures. Knowledge, (and ideas) were not simply designed to improve us in a practical or commercial sense. It was valued for its own sake; there was no essential justification for the life of the mind. Our values were informed by our exposure to better minds, minds that knew more than we did, from whom we could learn. And eventually experience would bring our values into sharp relief. These hard won values would eventually form the basis for our life’s decisions, the personal and professional, the good along with the bad.  

An elite university training in an ivory tower confirmed my sense of VOCATION. It also sharpened my CLASS HACKLES. It identified a circle of FRIENDS. It informed my TASTE. It firmly established a sense of SELF. And to this day, these attributes for better or for worse have shaped my architectural practice and my teaching. My university education of yesteryear was designed to prepare me to enter a SOCIETY. Today, our universities prepare students to enter an ECONOMY, and what a world of difference there is between these two things.  

My university education taught me to understand that we think with words and that we need to develop an expansive vocabulary to gain entry to the world of letters and conversation, if we aspire to have minds that can deliver content with authority. Nowadays, conversation seems to be in decline while we inhabit a pictorial world of short attention spans.

My university education gave me a sense of boundaries which also, provided me with a reassuring sense of identity. Today, boundaries and the security that goes with them are far less in evidence.  

My university education encouraged me to develop an inner life: an inner reflective life, that sometimes gave pause, and perhaps even, on occasion, the beginnings of patience.


Today’s universities are engaged in an amenities arms race. The University of Technology Sydney in New South Wales recently built a Frank Gehry building, and it is hard not to see this as a public exercise.  

Those employed in university administration now outnumber those employed in teaching and research, which is unnerving, particularly as the bureaucratic burden on academics has also increased.

We live on a large island (considerably larger than Europe) that is remarkably endowed with natural and agricultural resources and we have a small diverse population. With reasonable management and a degree of good fortune, we should have a bright future.

But to fulfil this promise, we need to reconsider the University Project and its present priorities should be examined. We need to look at the values that underlay these priceless institutions otherwise our universities will lose their way. They cannot afford to lose the respect of the society they are meant to serve.

Thank you.

Peter Corrigan

16th December 2014

some notes in response to Peter Corrigan’s text

Suzie Attiwill

An idea of life courses through Peter’s writing. He remarks, in conclusion, “my university education encouraged me to develop an inner life. An inner reflective life, that sometimes gave pause, and perhaps even, on occasion, the beginnings of patience”.

Much of his paper discusses spatial and temporal relations with rooms (many of which are described as vast volumes). These encounters make close distant events (such as “the sterile staple gun fresh from the killing fields of Vietnam” that was used to repair an “ugly wound” and continues to “throb” in the present when he thinks back). There is also reference to an intellectual engagement with questions of “how should we live”.

This focus on life connects with something I was reading recently: “The question of how a life might go is intimate to the fundamental problematic of education …. The word ‘curriculum’ relates to currere and is implicitly concerned with the ways in which the course of ‘a’ life might be composed”.

Experience also permeates Peter’s text. Smells, sounds, volumes, people, programs, numbers of things (billiard tables, lines in the fly tower). Atmosphere. Experience continues to be significant in relation to education, and student experience is a key priority for RMIT.

There is a tendency to understand experience as produced by a centred subject. I’m interested in thinking experience as coming before the individual, through a concept of experience that does not limit experience to the individual but instead addresses the experiential world, an art of pedagogy that is more-than-personal (a quote from the reading I mention above), an approach that opens up ways of thinking and attending to student experience other than placing ‘you’ at centre.

be true

Be true to you Latrobe Street building scaffolding, RMIT University, 4 February 2015. Photograph: Suzie Attiwill Enrol Now / Rule Your World Melbourne Polytechnic advertising, Montague Street under City Link Bridge, 21 January 2015. Photograph: Suzie Attiwill

This involves a shift from a subject/object dichotomy to one focussed on relations; an ecological thinking which attends to social, mental, spatial, temporal, material, immaterial relations. This brings in the idea of institution as a process of instituting – attending to the set-up within which relations can be made.

There are different kinds of set-ups, and a distinction in education can be made between the curriculum-as-plan and the curriculum-as-lived.

These thoughts make another connection with Peter’s reflections – in particular, his critique of the shift from a social to economic model in education. In the move to a business model based on an economy of commerce/ commercial/ commercialization, there is an emphasis on standardization and normalization where everything is testable and assessable, where every attempt is made to erase the unpredictable and unknown.

The curriculum-as-plan is a product of this shift from the social to the commercial. Curriculum-as-lived is another matter. The “question of how a life might go” courses through our learning and teaching and the lives of our faculty.

Reference: Jason Wallin (2013). Morphologies for a Pedagogical Life. In I. Semetsky & D. Masny (Eds.), Deleuze and Education. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

School of Art: Feedback notes for Students

This week Associate Professor Peter Ellis, Deputy Head of School, Learning and Teaching, School of Art writes about his school’s guidelines on how to explain feedback to students in the creative disciplines.

School of Art: Feedback notes for Students
Work Integrated Learning (WIL) Group Tutorials
Individual Tutorial Guidelines

Year 1 Student Chloe Caday in feedback session with Dr. Robin KingstonThis week’s Teaching TomTom post seeks to provide staff in the college of Design and Social Context (DSC) with some guidelines on how to explain feedback to students in the creative disciplines. The notes have been designed for students within the School of Art, but may be of interest for other schools too.

Attached to this post are Notes on feedback for students designed to inform students on, what feedback is, the types of feedback, how it is given and by whom.

The main idea behind this document is to provide new introductory students and staff with some useful notes on the importance of feedback and how it can be adapted for individual tutorials, Work Integrated Learning Group Tutorials, and Formative and Summative assessment.

The key points being that feedback is a continuous activity, not just at assessment, that it is the way students learn and that it is designed to:

  • Inform them on how well they are meeting the criteria for assessment
  • Inform them on how well they are meeting the learning objectives of courses or projects within courses.

Feedback is designed to:

  • Be supportive, clear, and honest
  • Assist in moving forward with their work in a confident, positive and manageable way
  • Be delivered in a way that clearly indicates what they should do to improve their work and how to move forward to the next level of their learning

Feedback should focus on the successful things your students are doing well, as well as things that need more attention, in order to improve and make their work stronger. Feedback is inclusive, individual and supportive. It is important that all feedback is given in a collegial, positive and supportive learning environment, where there is respect for individual opinion, gender and cultural diversity.

It includes strategies for conducting tutorials including the use of WIL feedback forms that are designed for students to record and reflect upon feedback provided to them by peers and lecturers during WIL group tutorials. The WIL forms that the student present for assessment clearly enables staff to ascertain if the student has understood the feedback that was offered to them.

The WIL form allows students to upload an image of the art work discussed, six keywords that exemplify the work, a description of the artist’s intentions for the work, a section to record the peer and lecturer feedback, and a section on how they will progress with the work after reflection on the feedback. WIL feedback forms also have a section for students to record suggestions from peers and staff about artists they should research, both historic and contemporary, bibliographic ideas, writers, films, critical theory, websites, magazines, YouTube etc. that may be useful for the their progress.

In an environment where the Course Experience Survey (CES) is an important tool for measuring student responses to the feedback we provide, it is crucial that both students and staff are aware of the importance of explaining and understanding what feedback is, that it is continuous in studios every day and is provided in a positive and supportive way.

The feedback we provide must be informed and supportive to encourage, inspire and provide strategies for continual improvement.

Please find some time to look at the attached Notes on feedback for students and provide advice.

I acknowledge Sally Mannall’s assistance in the preparation of the attached notes for students.


Share your thoughts, comments or start a discussion on ‘Explaining Feedback to Students’ by leaving a reply in the comments section!

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Twitter: @teachingtomtom

Linking to the recent Sessional Staff Symposium

Connecting Sessional Staff LogoPosted by: Kellyann Geurts, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

The College of Design and Social Context facilitated a Professional Development Symposium for sessional academic and teaching staff on Friday 6 September.

If you missed my last post, the 2013 Connecting Sessional Staff Project aims to:

  • Address individual learning and teaching needs
  • Share, present, discuss and reflect on teaching and learning experiences
  • Support collaboration, peer partnerships and mentoring
  • Connect with other sessional staff and learning networks across the University
  • Link to the online Sessional Modules from the Professional Development for Tertiary Teaching Practice (PDTTP). The Modules are accessible through Blackboard and information is online at:

The symposium workshops were practical and hands-on. They aimed to connect staff with their peers, their curriculum and with their students.

For those who missed the symposium or attended and missed a workshop, here is a brief overview with  the learning outcomes for each.  If you find something  of interest, you can follow the links or even contact the facilitator for more information:

Opening Session

Workshop 1: Technology… you’ve gotta have a Plan B!

Spiros Soulis, Senior Advisor Learning and Teaching, Learning and Teaching Unit

•Design back-up activities to include in lesson plans for when the technology fails
•Know who to call and what to say when you have technical issues in the class
•Identify resources to have on hand to continue to engage your students.

See also:
the teaching tomtom:
Teaching with Technology:

Workshop 2: Assessment

John Benwell, Principle Learning & Teaching Advisor (Architecture and Design)

•Discuss and know how to use assessment as learning activity and a progress monitor
•Create an assignment in blackboard (with e-submission)
•Discuss and understand academic integrity using Turnitin.

See also:
RMIT University Student Assessment
Center for the Study of Higher Education, Melbourne University

Workshop 3: Engaging your students using Inclusive Teaching practices

Andrea Wallace, Educational Developer, DSC

•Identify and discuss challenges in managing a diverse student cohort in your class
•Translate the principles of Inclusive Teaching into your practice
•Design activities that incorporate alternative teaching strategies.

See also:
Inclusive Teaching

Workshop 4: Teaching in Next Generation Learning Spaces

Thembi Mason, Educational Developer and Jon Hurford, Senior Advisor Learning & Teaching (Art)

•Identify the characteristics of a Next Generation Learning space
•Locate relevant resources and discuss approaches to teaching and the use of technology in these spaces

See also:
Next Generation Learning Spaces;ID=xnbgfx4a17h3
Teaching with Technology

Workshop 5: Connecting courses to content

Bernadene Sward, Liaison Librarians and Anne Lennox, University Library

•Make the most of library licensed learning and teaching resources, open access and creative commons content.

See also:
Library Learning Repository
School Liaison Librarians

Workshop 6: Teaching students from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds

Barbara Morgan, Study Learning Center

•Discuss the challenges facing students from diverse learning backgrounds
•Identify and integrate teaching strategies that address linguistic and cultural differences in the classroom.

See also:
Study and Learning Centre Session

Workshop 7: RMIT Peer Partnerships: supported professional development for continuous improvement in teaching

Angela Clarke and Dallas Wingrove, Senior Research Fellows

•Find a focus for the observation of your teaching
•Provide sensitive and constructive feedback for a colleague
•Establish and build networks of professional relationships with DSC sessional teaching staff.

See also:
Peer Partnerships

Workshop 8: Flexible delivery, Blackboard Collaborate & Google Sites

Erika Beljaars-Harris, Howard Errey and Andrea Wallace, Educational Developers, DSC

•Use iPads and other mobile devices for teaching and learning
•Use and manage Blackboard Collaborate
•Setup and manage Google Sites.

See also:
Teaching with Technology

School workshops: Talking about Learning and Teaching

School Senior Advisors of Learning and Teaching with School Liaison Librarians and School representatives

•Identify issues surrounding learning and teaching practice in your School
•Locate key learning and teaching resources at RMIT
•Discuss ways in which you can contribute and feel included in a collegial and supportive environment.

Final Workshop: CES and feedback

Ruth Moeller, Lecturer in Education and Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context

The final workshop for the day focused on what academic and teaching staff will be encountering now students have returned for remainder of the year.

See also:
FAQs about CES

As you can see from the range of what was covered (and with an hour limit for each workshop) the conversations have only just begun.

We have time to prepare well for our end of year symposium, continue constructive conversations in the Schools and time to develop a firm plan for ongoing learning and teaching support for sessional staff beyond this semester.

A few more useful links for Sessional Staff at RMIT University 

Quick guide for sessional staff

Professional Development Calender

Learning and Teaching Unit

Senior Advisors, Learning and Teaching

If you have any questions please share them in the comments section or contact me (Kellyann Geurts) or your School’s Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching.

Don’t forget you can subscribe to have the tomtom delivered to your email as soon as it’s published and you can follow us on facebook:

The promise of the new

Posted by: Ruth Moeller, Lecturer in Education and Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Tulip among leaves and dirt

(cc) Flickr User: dugspr

Isn’t it rewarding that when you least expect it, you are given a shake and reminded why you do what you do?

Well for me it happened on Sunday, when I gave up my morning and volunteered at the University’s Open Day, and  I am so glad I did. It reminded me that what I have been taking for granted is of importance and significance to others.

When you are teaching you can get lost in the mire that can be ‘teaching’: marking, PowerPoints, student questions (why don’t they read the notes!), meeting deadlines and technology challenges. In doing so it is easy to forget why we are here and what we are offering to our students. In my three hours at Open Day I saw, met and spoke with potential students and realised that for them coming to university is a significant point. It takes them away from the familiarity, structure, and comfort of secondary school and places them into a whole new environment and onto a path to their future.

Now my role on Open Day was traffic direction. This meant wearing a stylish fluoro orange vest, holding a clipboard and greeting and directing the myriad of people who came through the door where I was standing. Can I say it is amazing the power a clipboard gives the holder: people saw an authority figure, or perhaps it was the fluoro vest. Anyway, people were more than happy to engage and ask questions and take my directions.

I spoke with many, often just to confirm what the signs said: “Yes the presentation is on the third floor”. Or to help them navigate through the maze that is RMIT. It is easy to forget that coming to a university for the first time can be physically daunting: buildings can seem to be arranged randomly, and numbers whimsically. Why else would Building 94 be opposite Building 53? Someone might pipe up here that it is probably the order in which they were built or acquired: the new RMIT Design Hub after all is number 100… and that holds until you get to Brunswick and Bundoora. There are little traps too like forgetting that the Art is often listed as Fine Art and that Art is scattered across a number of levels and buildings across what seems like the entire CBD.

What I had forgotten was that this part of going to uni is often a family affair, potential student were there with one, maybe two parents, often a sibling or two and in a couple of cases, I’m guessing a grandparent. There seemed to be two types of groups, one where the potential student was running the show and the rest were following along behind and the other where a parent, often with notes in hand was trying to find out what was on offer and how it would help their child. It was also interesting to consider the siblings who were tagging along, not always voluntary I’ll bet, but nonetheless seeing what the future may hold for them too.

I met a girl, in Year 10 who had come with her Mother to see what uni is all about, spoke with some parents who wanted to know if university studies could lead to a job and how the courses were linked to ‘the real world’ and others who didn’t know what they wanted but had come to look around.

It is interesting isn’t it, that most of the information could be found online but there is still a need to engage with the visual and physical aspect of the university, to see what it is like and to experience the environment and in doing so to get a felt sense of where their future may be.

In the lulls between greetings, I took time to guess, which area are they interested in. My general observations, were that stylish, well groomed young women were interested in Public Relations, those in grungy t-shirts, the Music Industry and those with novelty bags or water bottles – Communication Design.  Yes, it was stereotyping but it was harmless fun, and I was often right, so it also may mean that they were on the right path.

After my three hours I handed over the Clipboard and Vest of Power. I wandered through the buzzing crowds, to Bluebelle, my trusty bicycle. Pedalling home, I had plenty of time to reflect on the day and the positive energy that surrounded it. Over my journey, I concluded that Open Day is all about potential, options and future. Although ATAR was mentioned, it wasn’t the focus.  There wasn’t a sense of limitation, just possibilities, for potential student, their families and even for the staff present who were there to show the University as a place to develop that potential.

So I have decided “I‘ll be back”, because every now and then you need to be given a dose of optimism, as it helps to keep you out of the mire.

PS: Question of the day: “Where is the lightsaber display?”

Tempted answer: “In a galaxy far, far away.”

Real answer: “Not sure, try ‘Games and Animation’.”

(That is the answer from someone who responsibly wields the Clipboard of Power!)

Share your thoughts about the possibilities of Open Day in the comments!

Developing Your Teaching

Posted by: Kellyann Geurts, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

logo for Developing Your Teaching DSC opportunitiesThis year, there are three projects that we at the DSC have united under the banner of ‘Developing Your Teaching’. The projects focus on developing teaching practice and providing staff with many opportunities to engage in hands-on, practical professional learning. Schools will also be able to customise sessions to suit their teaching needs. The projects address university strategic directions, namely teaching in new learning spaces, inclusive teaching and particularly support the professional learning of sessional staff in the DSC.

Sessional staff are key players in a productive and engaging learning and teaching environment but many are positioned in uncertainty. This uncertainty is pressured with increased demands on compliance, increased student numbers, changes in accommodation and new educational technologies, shifts in course offerings to accommodate student diversity, student expectations and industry needs. In this demanding environment, accommodating the needs of sessional staff in the teaching and learning space is critical. Connecting with a community of learners to advance practice is a priority to improve both staff and student satisfaction.

1. Connecting Sessional Staff

The Connecting Sessional Staff project will provide paid professional development for sessional academic and teaching staff and is to begin in Semester 2. With staff and School guidance, a symposium and School workshops will be designed to:

  • address individual learning and teaching needs
  • share, present, discuss and reflect on teaching and learning experiences
  • support collaboration, peer partnerships and mentoring
  • connect with learning networks across the University
  • link to the online modules from the Professional Development for Tertiary Teaching Practice (PDTTP) program designed for sessional staff.

2. New Learning Spaces

School-based peer learning networks will be offered in all DSC Schools for all staff teaching in New Learning Spaces in Semester 2 2013. Staff teaching in these spaces will be invited to join a School network that will run regular meetings, facilitated by the Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching. These meetings will include support for staff to trial new ideas and invite expert speakers to talk about their teaching practice. Additionally, staff will have the opportunity to undertake one of four approaches to enhance their professional learning. These include:

  • self-directed study supported by extensive web resourcesProjects3CirclesTEXTSM
  • peer partnership program
  • peer review of teaching
  • a module from the Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Education.

3. Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices

This project addresses the needs of a diverse student population through an ‘inclusive approach’ to curriculum design, teaching delivery and assessment. The project team will work collaboratively with academic and teaching staff to:

  • design and trial existing and new inclusive teaching approaches, learning activities and assessment tasks
  • produce hands-on teaching resources and assessment materials which support inclusive teaching practice
  • provide and assist with professional development resources and delivery in inclusive teaching.
  • promote the principles for inclusive teaching practice across the university.

The six principles developed are: Design Intentional Curriculum; Offer Flexible Assessment and Delivery; Build a Community of Learners; Teach Explicitly; Develop a ‘Feedback Rich’ Environment; and Practice Reflectively.

What next?

All three projects are in their planning phases and now is a good opportunity to ‘feed forward’ about what areas of learning and teaching most need developing, enhancing or advancing.

1. Connecting Sessional Staff: A Google survey form will be posted from your School’s L&T committees in the next fortnight to gather your ideas. Results from this survey will launch us into arranging schedules, themes and facilitators. We will keep you posted.

2. New Learning Spaces: L&T Committees will soon be advised and Program Managers and staff timetabled into these spaces will receive email notifications early in Semester 2.

3. Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices: This project and its website will launch on 7 June. Andrea Wallace will be providing an update in a future post on the tomtom.

If you have any questions please share them in the comments section or contact me (Kellyann Geurts) or your School’s Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching.


L&T events coming up in the City and in Bundoora:

If you want to learn more about how to ditch your PowerPoints and teach like a pirate, James Arvanitakis (recipient of the 2012 Prime Minister’s Australian University Teacher of the year) will be sharing his stories and model practices in a series of workshops (11 and 12 June) to coincide with the lunchtime launch of the Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices project.

Tuesday 11 June 10.00-11.30, City Campus 080.02.003
Wednesday 12 June 10.00-11.30 and 1:30-3:00, Bundoora Campus – 205.3.10

Register now with DevelopMe.

What does ‘Work readiness’ mean in a creative discipline?

An array of powerplugs and brightly-coloured cabling

Untitled © Kellyann Geurts, 2009

Posted by: Kellyann Geurts, Senior Advisor, Learning and Teaching, Design and Social Context College, RMIT University.

It’s only natural that some of RMIT’s six graduate attributes (Work-readyGlobal in outlook & competenceEnvironmentally aware & responsiveCulturally & socially awareActive & lifelong learnersInnovative) align in different ways to different programs. Educators and policy-makers at RMIT have always acknowledged a ‘complex conception’ of these attributes; in short, that they mean different things in different disciplines. Fine art students, for instance, can be seen as some of the most work-ready of all RMIT graduates, having been through a degree structure which is studio-based and involves the continual feedback and critique of artists (peers, lecturers and visiting industry professionals). Their study years prefigure the life of a working artist.

But I now have another convincing position about employment prospects in fine arts with the recent expansion of the internship program in the School of Art:

VART3510: This is a Work Integrated Learning course designed to facilitate a practical working relationship between you and selected arts and cultural organisations. You will participate in an internship or artist in residence program in an arts or cultural organisation, company, festival, gallery, museum or studio, through dual negotiation with the industry and School. You will be expected to work as negotiated by the host organisation, to address and solve real issues in an arts industry workplace environment.

Open Day always buzzes with energy and eagerness for the RMIT School of Art offerings. It is an opportunity for students to ask questions directly to faculty. One stands out; maybe because answering it with certainty tended to be quietly problematic. The question, framed in all sorts of ways, is essentially: “What employment opportunities exist for me when I complete my fine art degree?”

Foremost on my mind was the employment prospects for graduates referred to in a recent post on ArtsHub: “…only 2%, will make a decent living from it (an art practice), the rest will usually have to supplement their earnings as artists with a second or third income, and even then they will earn less than most people” (Isbel, 2012). 

Investigating further, I found supporting evidence in the report published by Australia Council for the Arts titled: “What’s your other job?”, a census analysis of arts employment in Australia (2010).  This report states that the average annual income for visual artists occupations in 2006 was $31,200.  More recent figures from the Graduate Careers Australia (2011) state the median salary for Bachelor Graduates for visual/performing arts is now around $40,000 (under 25 years of age it reduces to $38,000).

On Open Day, I preferred to follow along these lines:

  • Our highly qualified staff train students to: practice as a professional artist; work in a studio; exhibit locally, nationally, internationally (with Artist-run Initiatives, commercial galleries, public spaces); apply for funding, commissions and residencies opportunities; enter major art awards and contribute to the ever-expanding arts and creative industries.
  • You may go on to further study ie. Honours, Masters or PhD. Often I needed to elaborate why they would wish to do this; according to the Graduate Careers Australia, in 2011 the median salary for artists with further study increased to $50,000
  • Teaching is a real option with good employment prospects.  Here’s a brief overview:
  1. Secondary teaching – you will require a Diploma of Education in addition to your Bachelor degree
  2. TAFE – you require industry experience, an established art practice and a Certificate IV Training and Assessment
  3. HE academic and research positions – you will require industry experience and an established art practice, as well as devoting a substantial period of time to postgraduate studies (MA or PhD).  In addition, all ongoing HE staff now require a Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching and Learning and quality contributions to the body of knowledge in your specialist area.

Regarding ‘industry experience’ – this may encompass the arts industry, the creative industry and cultural industry. This can be confusing and clarification was often requested from the prospective students (and their parents). Regarding an ‘established art practice’ – this requires dedication to practice and generally a significant outlay of money to establish an artist profile so, in the meantime, most will probably need another job…

Brightly coloured wires/threads on a black background

Digital Thinking © Kellyann Geurts, 2010

Introducing the internship opportunities seemed to be well placed at this point. Keeping in mind that most of the aspiring fine art graduates will not make a living from their work but instead need to be realistic about what related professional position is best able to complement their practice, if indeed they wish to practice. Students need some time to consider where are the graduate skills and knowledge best placed in the industry and identify at an early point in their study, what skills and knowledge they need to develop to meet industry needs.

So, back to Open Day, in the last couple of years I have been able to continue with something like this:

  • In your final year, we offer an arts internship program that helps position you in a related field of work (that may serve to complement your practice).  Preparations can begin as early as first year:

VART3510: Learning in this course is primarily ‘on-the-job’, complimented by a series of tutorials and workshops aimed at assisting you in identifying and developing employability skills, develop an awareness of the arts and creative industries and workplace culture, prepare for placement and be able to demonstrate reflective processes in response to the experience.

I was enthusiastically engaged in expanding the internship program for students over the last two years to better prepare a higher number of undergraduate students for industry related employment and professional practice. Enrolment numbers have tripled in this time, the interest continues to grow and real employment outcomes are possible for students. In many cases students who have completed their placement continue relationships with their chosen host.

Informing our prospective students and first year students of the placement opportunities begins the discussion around career planning and identifying employability skills. From first year, students can prepare with industry-related volunteer positions, making contact with RMIT Student Services for Work and Careers resources, leadership (LEAD) and mentorship programs.

My hope is that the course continues to strengthen, providing more opportunities for students to meet RMIT’s graduate attributes. Work-readiness and its allied principle of career development should be seen as a uniting principle in the learning and teaching strategy. There is more work to do in establishing richer relationships with hosts and a clearer picture of how industry would like to work with us.

For the majority of art students who are not able to ‘make it’ as a professional artist, (remembering that this may only be the first phase of life, and of their artistic lives, after their university study) it’s important to have a solid plan in place to build confidence and prepare them well to contribute to the culture that nurtures art practice.

Share your ideas about internships, work readiness or any of RMIT’s graduate attributes in the comments below!


Stuart Cunningham, Peter Higgs, Simon Freebody and Peter Anderson (2010), What’s your other job? A census analysis of arts employment in Australia, The Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney

David Throsby and Virginia Hollister (2003), Don’t give up your day job: an economic study of professional artists in Australia, The Australia Council for the Arts, Sydney

Paul Isbel (2012), What it takes to become an artist for keeps, artsHub

Australia Council of the Arts

Australian Association of Graduate Employers Ltd

Graduate Careers Australia

Arts Hub Australia

RMIT Graduate Attributes

RMIT Strategic Plan 2011-2015

RMIT Academic Plan

Work and Careers at Student Services

learning takes time & mastery even longer

Post & photo by Kylie Budge.

There’s nothing quite like being a student again, if only briefly. It’s a good thing to do from time to time. For example, it helps us get perspective and reminds us of what it feels like to be a learner. It also helps us remember what it feels like to know very little about something and the immense frustration that can accompany trying to learn something that isn’t quite making sense. It can also remind us of how students’ expectations can impact on their learning experience.

I was a student briefly for a week recently when I participated in a weaving trip to a remote indigenous community in North-East Arnhem Land (in the Northern Territory, Australia). It should be noted that I was a complete novice – I had no background or experience in weaving at all prior to this trip. Yet, as an adult, I had expectations about what I could learn in such a short time and what I hoped I could produce. In hindsight these expectations were unrealistic and reflect the kind of learner I am – big picture, grand expectations, and someone who wants to learn and master an area quickly (and hopefully painlessly).

In short, I hoped to be able to produce a beautifully woven bag/basket by the end of the week (and if I’m honest I hoped to make two – both exquisitely beautiful of course!). Quite ridiculous expectations when you remember I entered the week with no previous weaving experience.

And so while I loved sitting, watching, learning and weaving each day with the local weavers, who are masters of their art, I experienced frustration as a learner because I wanted it all fast. I didn’t want to be making clumsy (and ugly) beginner pieces. I wanted to skip ahead and produce the kind of wonderful end products that the master weavers in the community were making. At the time I was so focussed on the final product that this stopped me from being able to learn.

On the flight home I thought about my week as a learner and what this might mean for teaching.

1. students often come to our courses with big, sometimes very skewed expectations about what they can achieve in a short period of time. We need to remind them of the time it takes to master an area and (in most cases) the extensive practice and experience required before they can work at a quality level. And that learning can be frustrating.

2. it sounds clichéd, but the learning journey is life-long. Our students need to know this and we need to find ways to communicate this in a compassionate way.

3. hanging onto unrealistic expectations might mean that students miss out on other stuff that’s important to learning. We can be so blinded by what it is we want, or what is it we want to be able to do that we miss opportunities to learn and to see things from a different perspective. In that learning blind spot there is often something really interesting waiting to be discovered.

What ultimately helped me through the week was the patience and compassion of the weaving teachers, women who have developed their skill and expertise from many, many hours of practice and effort. They patiently watched me fumble awkwardly through my beginning weaving moments and provided support and advice on how to approach the work in different ways. They didn’t expect me to be an expert in a week and they were able to communicate this with subtle words and gestures. Through this interaction I could see their compassion for the novice that I am. Their good humour also helped to lighten my mood and thankfully, towards the end of the week I was able to get some perspective. This, coupled with the supportive atmosphere generated by my fellow weaving students really worked in helping me see that a week is a very short time to master a skill which others have spent a lifetime practicing and perfecting. Sometimes, just being a student again for a brief time can help to remind us of how things like expectations can impact on the learning experience of our students. As an adult it’s also a humbling act to be a student again. And sometimes we all need a reminder of what if feels like to not know very much about something.